We don't have any of the original writings of any of the books of the New Testament (the original writings are called autographs). What do do have is many, many copies. Textual criticism is the science of determining the original words by looking at the numerous manuscripts. Here are few of the important facts:
1. We have about 5,600 Greek manuscripts.
2. There are over 400,000 textual variants in these Greek manuscripts.
3. 99% of these variants are either not meaningful or not viable… and therefore inconsequential.
4. The fewer than 1% of the variants that are meaningful and viable do not affect or call into question a single Biblical doctrine.
If you want to learn more about textual criticism, here are some short videos below.
In my years of walking with people and hearing about their journey with Jesus I have heard some incredible stories. Two in particular stand out. Kenton told the story of being abducted and attacked. He was being held by two men and a third was beating him with a tire iron and then stabbed him in the neck. He cried out "Jesus of Nazareth, save me!" The men released him and fled. Though bleeding profusely and he should have been knocked unconscious he was able to make it to a nearby home where help was called and he was saved.
Jennifer told me the story of when she was a younger woman being assaulted by a man in his car. She cried out to Jesus and suddenly the man was flung to the other side of the car. She was saved from the assault.
They are extraordinarily dramatic stories where the name of Jesus was called upon and his presence was undeniable. There are many others I have heard as well from the mission fields around the world of people in dire straits experiencing the presence and power of God, even if they were not yet followers of Jesus. It always leaves me amazed.
I try to remember to end my prayers with the name of Jesus. I don't think it is a magic formula that is a requirement for God to hear and act. I don't believe if someone forgets to pray, "...in the name of Jesus. Amen." that God will neglect the prayer. God is bigger than us getting our formulas right so we can manipulate the Almighty to get what we want in the way we want.
When we know someone's name, we begin to understand the essence of their being. Some parents don't choose their child's name until after they are born and they have a chance to experience who they are and what they are like so they can choose a name that reflects their personality. When it comes to God, his name is hugely important. When Moses asked God who should he say is sending him to the Egyptians, God revealed his name as YAHWEH. His name in essence means "I am who I am." There are numerous other names for God that show his actions, like Jehovah Jireh - the God who provides.
Here's an exercise for you the next time you pray. Pray in the name of God using the character quality of God you most need. If you are stressed out and overwhelmed, pray for that and then say this: "I pray this in the name of the God of Peace." If you are up against a challenge where you are being treated unfairly, end your prayer by saying, "I pray this in the name of the God of Justice." What do you need in your life? What is the character of God he has revealed to meet that need? That is God's name to pray.
When we pray in the name of the character of God, we invoke the whole essence of God. It is not a reminder to God of who he is, it is a reminder to us of who he is.
Peace and Grace,
“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. This is the motive of every action of every man.” -Blaise Pascal
I grew up in a Christian family, attending church regularly and involved in the youth group. After finishing high school, one of the college students in the church invited me to work at a camp for the summer. It was at that camp that I realized that happiness was possible. As I was reading the book of Mark for my morning devotions (this was my first experience of reading the Bible on my own regularly), I came across Mark 8:35.
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. -Jesus (Mark 8:35)
It took me awhile to figure out what Jesus was saying. But finally I got it. Jesus was telling me that if I put my trust in him, surrendering my life to his Lordship, then, and only then, could I experience true happiness.
Now I’ve been a Christian for 32 years, and I am more convinced than ever that real, abundant life is only found in surrendering my life to Jesus and his agenda. The challenge, of course, is to live this out day after day.
Lord, I want my life to be one long prayer of putting your agenda first.
-Pastor Steve York
It's Too Hard…
That's the way I felt about the pre-engineering course, Electrical Fundamentals. It was my washout course that moved me from studying Engineering to Business. I remember my Intro to Engineering course when the guest professional engineer told us all sitting in the room to look around at the others in the room He then told us 2 out of 3 would drop out and not be engineers. I said to myself I wasn't going to be one of those quitters. Well, that didn't happen, did it?!
When my kids were growing up we had a "no-quit rule." If they started something they had to finish it. My saying (and sincere belief) is "Quitting is an easy habit to start and hard habit to stop.”
But when we do hard things, wanting to quit can enter our mind, capture our heart and move us to do things we never thought we would. What does prayer look like when it is too hard?
Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane is about as graphic an example as you can get of "too hard." Knowing he was going to die, and knowing the extraordinary brutality he was going to have to endure sent Jesus to prayer. He prayed first for it to be taken away. It's OK if you do the same in your pain. But then he also prayed to endure it and submitted his will to God's will. And that is what eventually took place.
There are some things we can't go under, over or around. We must go through them. These are the places God is with us and God gives strength. And they are still painful.
As you go through what you are, know God is with you. But invite someone else to be with you, too. It's easier that way.
““I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27, NLT)
Peace and Grace,
A few years ago (haha) when I was in college at UC Santa Barbara, someone gave me the book by John White called The Fight. It was one of the first Christian books I’d ever read. White defined prayer as “aligning my will with God’s will.”
I’ll never forget that definition. Certainly that is not an exhaustive definition of prayer, but it says something important about prayer.
It is true that God invites us to present our requests to Him, but if my prayer life is limited to giving God a 2-do list, I’m missing out on arguably the more important part of prayer: listening.
It has been my experience that when I give God a list of requests and say ‘Amen.’, I have barely begun to pray. The real prayer comes when I am quiet before God and invite the Spirit of God into the tension of what I want and what I don’t have.
It is my experience that the richest times of prayer have been when I start by asking God for what I want, but end by resting in peace beyond understanding, confident that God loves me and knows what He is doing (or not doing).
Yes, It is my experience that some of the richest times of prayer are times when prayer is simply this: aligning my will with God’s will.
Lord, continue to teach me to pray…
In His Love and Grace,
I give up. It doesn't matter anyway.
When's the last time you said those words? Thought them? They are words that communicate powerlessness that can eventually lead to despair if we continue to repeat them.
How about this - have you ever uttered those words when it comes to prayer? Have you ever seen the act of prayer being useless and fruitless? "It doesn't matter..." I have.
When it comes to this thing of prayer, I have found it easy to slip into a Christian Fatalism mindset. Fatalism is the belief that all things are predetermined and therefore out of my control or influence. Christian Fatalism is the same but with the addition of a belief in God. "What's gonna happen is gonna happen." "It doesn't matter."
The problem is, it's bad theology. And bad theology leads to destructive thinking. Which results in destructive living, at worst, and unproductive living at its best. Fatalism is playing the victim card which says everything is against me and I can't do anything about it. The victim gets stuck in the past and won't take responsibility for their present or future. Theology matters.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)
The Bible unapologetically and consistently puts us in the tension of believing in the control of God (He is sovereign over all things) and the importance of personal choice and initiative (human responsibility). Christian Fatalism is convenient but it isn't Biblical. Paul assures us that it is God who is at work in each of us. It is God who gives us the will to engage in our spiritual journey. It is God who is working on us and he is working in us and as he is working through us. Oh, and don't forget to be working as well!
This is important to grasp as we pray. God is already working before we start praying. And praying is our joining in God's working. Various people have put it this way: Pray like it all depends upon God. Live and work like it all depends on you.
In all of this, whether praying or working, the grace of Jesus is what holds and sustains us. The great Christian thinker and man of God, Dallas Willard said this about grace:
“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”
― Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship
This is true of your and my praying too. In our effort to connect deeply with God and intercede for others, his grace meets us and has already been going before us.
Don't give up. You matter, your effort matters, your prayers matter.
Grace and Peace,
Am I praying wrong?
Two kinds of people ask this question, I find. The first is the person who is new to this whole prayer thing. They have come to faith in Jesus in some way either through a quiet shift or a dramatic leap. And now they find themselves engaged with other people of faith, practicing the things that people of faith do. I've noticed that two of the most intimidating things they are asked to do is read weird, indecipherable lists of names from the Old Testament and to pray out loud. It's a little intimidating to come across the name Maherhalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:1,3), Zaphnathpaaneah (Genesis 41:45) or Churchanrishathaim (Judges 3:8-10) even if you did do Hooked On Phonics as a kid.
But then someone asks you to pray. Out loud. For someone. Your heart rate elevates, your mouth dries up, your brain goes blank. (That would be called a stress response.) The problem we are facing is we are being concerned about the wrong person. Prayer is to God, for us. Our stress about praying out loud around other people is we are focused on what they think more than what God thinks.
In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about the wrong way to pray before he talks about the right way to pray. In the examples he gives about the wrong way to pray, it is ultimately about the heart of the person praying. Your prayers reveal your heart.
The only way to pray wrong has nothing to do with words, eloquence, clarity or content. The only way to pray wrong is with pride in yourself.
So here's how to read those weird names out loud and to pray out loud. For the names...just say the first letter. Boom.
The next time you pray out loud, pray to an audience of One - your loving heavenly Father. You're his kid, he's going to love it. And anyone else listening will be just fine.
Peace and grace,
A very long time ago, my wife Pam made me a cross stitch of Colossians 4:2: "Devote yourselves to prayer being watchful and thankful." It sits in a small picture frame, the little fold-out stand on the back long ago broken off so that through the years it has had to lean up against something in my office. It has been an enduring decoration, standing sentinel in the midst of the clutter, often times getting ignored but, like now, getting moved to the forefront of my attention by the Spirit of God.
I like the idea of prayer. When at Oregon State University one of my spiritual mentors was Tom White, someone who now mobilizes people for prayer all over the world. My first request of the church board when I became pastor of First Baptist Church Placerville (now Cold Springs Church) on June 16th, 1998 was to ask Tom White to come and lead a prayer conference. For a number of years it was an annual event. Prayer is a good idea.
Depending on how well you know me, it may or may not come as a surprise that I am quite ADHD. I don't sit still well. In my head or body. I have always struggled with prayer. Look a squirrel! That's my brain. And my body. Sitting still, having a quiet mind to engage with God is always hard, often feels impossible and is regularly a discouragement. And then the Bible says "Be devoted to prayer...". Dang. Prayer is the hardest thing I do in my spiritual practices. I've been doing this following-Jesus-thing for 44 years and I still feel like a rookie when it comes to prayer.
Apparently I'm not alone in the pastor realm. A recent survey asked pastors what their highest ministry priorities were. Evangelism and discipleship were highest at 43%, preaching was next at 35%. The priority of prayer? 3%. (Not a typo - three. As in one-two-THREE.) In the church it is pretty easy to get people to show up at a potluck. Who doesn't like food? But a prayer meeting (arguably the greatest spiritual meal we might enjoy)? There will be leftover coffee.
Regardless of all of this personal whining and corporate awareness of prayer's challenges, 2022 is the Year of Prayer for David Cooke. I've partnered with a Spiritual Director to walk with me. I'm engaged in a 40 day prayer journey that I'm feeling like I will keep repeating on Day 41 throughout the year (Draw The Circle - Mark Batterson). And at Cold Springs Church we are going to explore the Prayers of Jesus. I figure if I and we are going to explore prayer, it would be good to learn from the one who was asked, "Lord, teach us to pray..."
I'm inviting you to join me. Show up on Sunday's at 2600 Cold Springs Rd/ Placerville or online. Each week I'm going to ask us to know something about prayer, experience something about prayer and do something with prayer. I'm pretty sure it's going to be work. But one thing I have learned through the years is anything I am devoted to is work. And the work is worth it.
I wonder what your experiences of prayer have been?
Grace and peace,
to the Cold Springs Blog!