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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Being Nice

This morning on the ride to work I was thinking about the things I've always liked about the Christmas season. As a Christian, there is the celebration of the birth of Christ, which I LOVE, but there's something else. Ideally this time of year, people seem to try a little harder to be nice to each other. There's this "Well hey, I'll do that for you... it's Christmas!" thing going on. As if we are required to have an excuse to do something helpful or friendly to someone! Being nice at Christmas is even a big part of our holiday entertainment selections, such as the story about the Grinch and the one about Ebeneezer Scrooge. Of course, at Christmastime we have historical precedent for "being nice at Christmas" in people like Saint Nicholas (not Santa Claus... the canonized Saint) and Duke Wenceslas (yes, he was real, but no, technically he was not a king, no matter what the song says) who took the opportunity of the season to be very generous to others. But I doubt either of them would want acts of kindness to be limited to the last month of the year! If they were here today, doubtless they would tell us to extend our kindness and generosity every time the opportunity presented itself, whether in December or some other month.

But there's something about this "Christmas spirit" that's imperfect. The problem is that we so often do our kind and generous deeds because we want to be kind and generous people... or even worse, we do them because we feel like we have to. And in reality, good deeds that are done because we feel somehow compelled to do them, or because we want to feel warm fuzzy feelings inside... those good deeds just don't measure up for God. To us, those good deeds seem very altruistic, and certainly they do make a difference to others, but God sees them as dirty, nasty clothes that badly need washing (Isaiah 64:6). (And if you really want to know just how "polluted" those "garments" are, do a little research! Trust me, Isaiah was painting quite a negative picture there!)

But there is a way to do good deeds that is acceptable to God. The key is simply to let those good deeds flow to others, via ourselves, by inspiration from God. As though we were wires carrying power from God to the persons we are ministering to. And how do you know if you're doing something that way or some other way? Well, you certainly need to be in tune with the Holy Spirit, and you get that way through worship and prayer and Bible study; that's just Being A Christian 101. I suspect that while we are on this imperfect world with imperfect bodies and not-quite-totally-renewed minds, there will always be at least a small element of selfishness in doing something nice for someone to whom we owe nothing; after all, it does feel nice to do something kind and then be appreciated for it. But I think that the more in tune we are to the Holy Spirit, the less that matters to us and the more it matters that we are doing what is pleasing to God. And in a nutshell, that is what the Christian Life is all about: doing what is pleasing to God, no matter what happens as a result and no matter what the cost.

As we move out of the "oughts" (I look forward to telling kids in future years that "I remember the great Tulsa blizzard of ought-nine!" hehe) into the twenty-tens and -teens, here's an idea: let's seek to daily be more like Jesus. Let's seek to do only the Father's Will. But let's not do it because we know it's the right thing to do and make up our minds to do it; let's do it because we are so close to God and He has influenced our attitudes so much that it has become natural for us to do His will. Because His nature has become our nature. Not because we are trying to act like Him, but because we have in reality become a little more like Him!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


"Advent" is not a word that is used very much in the churches I've been in my whole life. Some years at my house we've had "advent calendars," and I knew the word meant that Jesus had come to Earth, but I never thought much about the underlying idea of the Advent. It's a pretty important concept to the Christmas season, though, and to Christians in general. There are three "comings" of Jesus that we can celebrate at Christmastime:

1. The most obvious and the most universal in religious circles: at Christmas we celebrate Jesus coming as a human being. Being born, being laid in a manger. A baby, a real human baby, but a baby that was also all that God is. Amazing! Incredible! But that's not all...

2. Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross, he has come into our hearts at the time of our salvation. If He had only come as a human being, we would still be without hope, but because He has come into our hearts, we live in Christ! But there is one last coming that we are still looking forward to...

3. One day Jesus will come again, in the clouds to defeat darkness once and for all and to physically rule on the Earth! This year I've spent a lot of time reading about the End Times, doing serious studies through the book of Revelation twice and for fun, reading the entire Left Behind series. Whatever your views on the circumstances surrounding His second coming, it sure is an exciting thing to think that one day peace really will reign on Earth, and God's goodwill really will be physically present for all people!

Have a merry Christmas. Remember Jesus. If He hasn't yet come into your heart, say a prayer and invite Him into your life. Love your family. The last few days of 2009 can be the best Advent season ever!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oral Roberts Memorial Service

I don't know how I came to know about Oral Roberts University. I don't really remember Christian TV being on at my house that much when I was a kid; probably I first heard Oral Roberts on TV growing up, but I certainly don't remember much about it. When I was in high school I was a pretty Bible-thumpin' guy... I even hauled my NKJV Open Bible to school with me every day... but I was too shy to be very good at sharing my faith with people directly. I did know one thing, though: I wanted to go to college, but I wanted to go to a "Christian" college. If you had asked me why I wanted to go to a "Christian" college as opposed to the state schools that were way cheaper (or other private schools that were maybe more prestigious and which my SAT scores could have gotten me into), I don't know that I could have given you a coherent answer, but I knew what I had on my heart. And for some reason, ORU was the only Christian school that seemed like a likely candidate. (I did briefly consider a denominational school or two, but once I had visited the ORU campus on one of their "college weekends", my mind was made up.) I wound up on campus for classes not knowing too much about Oral Roberts, or Richard Roberts, or honestly, about Tulsa or Oklahoma. But I showed up, and I stayed for four years, and my life has been drastically different because of it.

I've noticed as I've lost loved ones through the years that there seems to be an astounding amount of clarity about the person's character after they die. Whether it's because I finally get to hear what people really think, or it's because I'm finally comfortable taking sides because the person is no longer able to change on me, I don't know. But whatever the reason, after attending the memorial service today, I feel like I understand Oral Roberts now even better than I did the semester he personally taught one of my classes in Mabee Center every week. (Aside: one of my favorite memories of that class is the first time Oral Roberts came up to speak, and started his trademark line, "Something GOOD...!" and the place went to pieces. Like the guy or not, it was fun to hear him say it! The rest of the line, for people born too late to be familiar with it, is " going to happen to you!") Anyway, in the newspaper articles that were in the Tulsa World last week and in the things people said today, a picture of Oral Roberts emerged for me that is much simpler, I think, than the one mentally painted by most people. Oral Roberts was born into poverty. He had some college work behind him, but he wasn't particularly sophisticated. It seems to me that Oral Roberts was actually a quite uncomplicated man; he read his Bible, chose to believe what it said, and... well, that's about it. If the Bible said it, he hung on until the world around him reflected what he saw in the Word.

Even in the immediate wake of his death, I've heard people blasting Oral Roberts as a charlatan. Saying that he bilked people of their money, saying that he trumped-up death threats for God to get people to enrich his coffers. I just don't think Oral Roberts was a complex enough character to have that kind of deceit in him. In interviews and in person, he just seemed to kind of say what was on his mind. I don't think Oral Roberts could have swindled people if he had wanted to. (In fact, I understand that the first time he asked people to give as a seed, he told people if they were unhappy about their gift, let the ministry know and they would give the money back. No one took him up on it.)

I do think Oral Roberts made a few colossal blunders in his day, the most public ones surrounding the City of Faith hospital, about which I blogged a few months ago. Oral Roberts planned a huge hospital complex for Tulsa, and then he went on TV and told the world that God said to him in a vision that if Oral didn't raise the money to build the hospital, God would take Oral home to heaven. It was the only thing approaching a scandal to ever directly hit Oral Roberts' ministry. Ultimately he did raise the money and he did build the hospital... but after only a few years of operation, it was basically closed down (later it became the home to a Cancer Treatment Center of America, and now I don't think there's a medical facility there at all.) Now, I don't know whether Oral Roberts' vision came from God or not, but I can see that the hospital failed. And I would also have to say that even if God gave Oral that kind of vision, it might not have been the right kind of thing to share on television... it sounds like a personal challenge to Oral himself to me. As in a marriage or any other kind of intimate relationship, some things are to be shared only between the participants. Maybe Oral felt like his partners were as close as family members. And maybe they were, but not everybody watching him on TV fell into the "partners" class. But it seems clear to me that whatever Oral Roberts heard or saw, he misinterpreted. Otherwise the City of Faith Hospital would still be seeing patients and preparing medical students to this day.

But the two biggest things in Oral's life that were not blunders were his healing/TV ministry, which reached millions or billions with the Gospel and with healing, and Oral Roberts University itself. Oral Roberts was given both of those dreams by God at the age of seventeen; one of them began to happen immediately as Oral began to hold evangelistic crusades, and the other took a bit longer, but Oral's obedience to God allowed both to come to fruition. Both reached countless people with the Word of God, and as an alumnus of the school who has seen the post-ORU lives of my college acquaintances, and knowing that my graduating class is only one of some forty that have passed through, I can tell you that the impact on lives has been enormous. Whether you agree with everything Oral Roberts said or not, it's hard to deny that he was able to reach people with his message. I loved how he summarized it himself in the biographical video today: "If God says to jump through a wall, jump! And trust God to make a hole in the wall!"

Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, right here in Tulsa, Oral Roberts made a trip to an area hospital. He went up to the pediatric intensive care unit and began to pray for the healing of the babies. I'm told that as he prayed for them, the babies began to improve immediately! One of the babies, a little girl named Linda, had been born with congestive heart failure. She had been in the hospital for weeks, and she was not expected to survive. After Oral prayed for her, her health improved, and she grew up knowing she had almost died but had been healed when Oral Roberts prayed for her when she was an infant. When I met her as an adult, she was going by her middle name, Cathy, and the only trace of her infant heart trouble was a minor case of mitral valve prolapse which was not life-threatening. And even that was healed several years later when someone prayed for her during her pregnancy... with our first child!

Oral Roberts' ministry has affected many, many people in as many different ways as there are individuals. What would my life be like if he hadn't driven down to the PICU that day? Would my future wife have survived? What if he hadn't built the university he had dreamed of for so many years? Would I have been able to formulate the solid worldview that I was presented with there? Would I have ever come to Tulsa at all? Would I have met my wife, or all the fantastic Christian people I've met? Would I ever have done the kinds of things I've been able to do? I don't know how my life would have turned out, but I am grateful that Oral Roberts listened to the voice of God and did what he did. Because he was obedient, "Something GOOD!" certainly happened to me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

ESV Study Bible On Sale

If you've been keeping up, you know that I already have a beautiful new Bible. But if you were paying any attention before that, you also know that I love the ESV translation, and my ESV Study Bible is my favorite Bible study tool EVER. If I hadn't just gotten my new NRSV Bible to carry to church, I would still be sitting here wishing for a leatherbound ESV Study Bible to carry with; the one I have is the hardback edition, which I purchased over the leather version mainly because it was less expensive.

So I'm not really in the market, but check it out... Mardel has the ESV Study Bible with your choice of five different covers on sale at a deep discount! If you love to learn about the Word, you can't do better in one volume than the ESV Study Bible... and this sale takes these imitation leather cover copies below their price for the bardback version. Check out the sale!

If you haven't seen the ESV Study Bible and want a taste of what is like, take a look at It's awesome!

(sale's over now, but it still an awesome study Bible!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

To Live or To Die

The past few months we have become faithful viewers of TV's The Biggest Loser. The reason we've become so enthusiastic about the show is that a friend of ours, Danny Cahill, is a contestant this season! Danny started out at nearly 430 pounds, and by now he's right around 200. In something like 3 months, he's halved his size! It's amazing what the contestants on the show are able to do with the help of great trainers and a lot of motivation (the winner of the contest gets a big monetary prize in addition to the new life they've made for themselves!) In the course of the season you get to witness the emotional battles that the contestants face, many of them long-standing hurts or fears or both, and those things have to be overcome in order for the contestants to reach their goals. It's very eye-opening, and quite inspiring.

Early this season, they took all of the contestants to a doctor for a medical evaluation (they are monitored by medical staff during the course of the show for safety, also, but this was an on-camera thing). The very first day during a short foot race, one of the contestants actually collapsed and had to be airlifted to the hospital; during the doctor visit, the other contestants got a serious reality check about the health issues related to being so overweight. One thing that Danny said several times over the course of the season, and other contestants said similar things, was that he wants to not die young... he wants to survive and be around for his wife and kids for many, many years.

Last week as I was reading through Romans 8 at the from-the-pulpit suggestion of our pastor, I spotted a Scripture that reminded me very much of Danny (who we know from being on the same worship team in years past, and who goes to our church now):
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:13 ESV
The season finale of The Biggest Loser is tonight. Danny has made it into the top 3 finalists; tonight if he has lost more weight than the other two finalists, he wins the season! The man is a weight-loss machine; the other finalists must be quaking in their boots. Good luck, Danny! We are TOTALLY rooting for you! We have talked to Danny several times during the past few months, and we have heard him speak publicly in church a couple of times about what the TBL contestants consistently refer to as their "journey," and it's clear that Danny's "journey" from obese to athletic and fit was one he made with help from the Holy Spirit. He is a living example of Romans 8:13.

Hope you'll be watching!

UPDATE: Danny WON IT! Yay for him! Check out his new Web site:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Charges Dropped

Romans 8:1-2 is probably my favorite passage of Scripture:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. [ESV]
I'm not one who remembers specific events in my life very well. I don't remember the setting, the date or time, or much of anything else about the circumstances the first time this verse impacted me, but I do remember very clearly the fireworks that went off on the inside of me. No condemnation? NO condemnation? There's nothing at all that is condemning me? None of my sin, none of my guilt? To me, the word "no" in that verse was nothing short of revolutionary. I felt a freedom that I had never felt before. And I grew up in the Church! My parents made sure I was exposed to the Word as a child. But this revelation hit home to me when I was in college. Some things you just have to pick up when you're ready for them.

I've been studying and just reading over and over the entire chapter 8 of Romans for the past 2 weeks, at the recommendation of our pastor (from the pulpit, not to me personally) and any number of things other than this verse have sort of woken up in me. One thing comes from this passage:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. -Romans 8:31-34
I love the picture that everyone who could possibly press charges against the accused party is a family member and will not prosecute! Verse 34, "Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us" reminds me of the story in chapter 8 of the book of John where Jesus is actually identified as the only one qualified to condemn a woman who is clearly guilty, and Jesus declines to condemn... he forgives and sends her away free.

Jesus says to us when we sin, when we confess our sin seeking forgiveness, that we are forgiven. He says to each of us, go and sin no more. He is interceding for us, and because of His work, there is no condemnation-NO condemnation-for those of us who are in Christ Jesus. Is that incredible or what?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holidays and Possibilities

I was thinking this morning about people who dread the holidays.

I have a good friend who is in the middle of a separation from his wife. He can't be looking forward to this holiday season too much. Others have lost loved ones this year, like my father-in-law did a couple of years ago; everybody in the family misses Linda during the holidays. For many this year money is tight, and maybe they are wondering how they can afford gifts for their families... particularly for children. Maybe they are trying to figure out which faction of family members to spend time with this year. There are so many reasons why people might have lost their enthusiasm for this time of year, and I pray that if you are reading this and you are one of those people, that God will bring peace to your heart, peace to your situation, and joy to your holidays this year.

But there's another reason why people may have lost their enthusiasm for this time of year, and I know I've been struck by this one before: the "oh no, here it comes again" thing. Where the holidays seem like just another part of the year to be navigated safely. Where you feel like the season is a truck that hit you last time, and there's no chance of getting out of the street in time this time either. Extra responsibilities. Uncomfortable family relationships in close quarters. Expenses. It can seem like all you're trying to to is get prepared to withstand the punch that didn't knock you down last year, but might this year.

Children don't generally have that problem. Kids who have the advantages of loving families (and even sometimes kids who don't have that advantage) lofe Thanksgiving, Christmas, the whole deal. Why is that? Because they don't see the holidays as a challenge. They see the possibilities. They see that there is no school, nothing but playtime. They see that Aunt and Uncle Whoever will be in town for the first time since last year. They see that Mom and Dad will have a gift for them, and then so will Santa! They see getting to sing Christmas carols, and if they're lucky in their part of the world, they may get to throw a snowball or two. Kids see potential. They see what could be, while we adults sometimes tend to see what has been. Actually, I guess what we adults tend to do sometimes is to look into the future and extrapolate disaster. We're looking at what "could be" as well, but we don't see potential; we see heartache, or embarrassment, or tears. We are allowing ourselves to be gripped by the fear or failure or calamity, while our children's excitement grows because they believe that everything is going to be wonderful!

When God is in your life, when Jesus is your Savior, faith means what? It means looking into the future with our mind's eye and seeing that God will make all things work together for our good (see Romans 8:28). The negative version of faith is called "fear" and when we look into the future and forecast doom, we are running away from faith and toward fear. Is that the right attitude for a Christian to have? I think not.

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't plan for the holidays and try to make sure nothing bad happens; we want everyone to have a great time. Foreseeing things that need to be taken care of ahead of time is part of that. But once everything is thought of and you've done your best to make everything perfect, trust in God this holiday season to fill in the gaps in your plans. This is a perfect opportunity for us each to exercise his or her faith and show God that we trust Him to work in our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Little Miracles

So, why are God's miracles so seldom of the "oh wow there's no way THAT could have happened other than a miracle!" variety?

I mean, I know that it's a miracle that I found my contact lens right in the center of a 12-inch square area I had just searched with my face two inches from it after I prayed, looked away, and then looked back. I had looked there. The thing is blue. Even a guy with only one contact in can't miss a blue circle two inches from the end of his nose, if he's desperately looking for it.

Recently I was looking at a Web site that postulates that because there are no thoroughly-documented cases of amputated limbs growing back after prayer, it is proven that God does not exist. That's just preposterous. Even before that, I was reading a book about prayer that talked about just such a thing... certain ailments seemingly not ever healed via prayer. The author of the book doesn't seem to have a satisfactory answer to the question of why not? I've heard that many more miracles from the "spectacular" side of the fence happen in non-Western countries... you hear about miraculous healings from missionaries and such. Some have theorized that it happens that way because faith is stronger in those places than in the West. Others have guessed that God heals them because adequate medical care is not available there; it is available here so God uses doctors to do the work. (Question: why would God force His people to get expensive, time-consuming medical procedures when God could solve the problem immediately, and for free?)

I've also heard it said that miracles sometimes don't happen because people don't have "enough faith" or the right kind of faith or whatever. Blaming it on the sick person, which seems a bit off to me as well.

I once read a book called When Heaven Invades Earth: A practical guide to a life of miracles by Bill Johnson. Pastor Johnson basically says that we don't see more miracles because (1) we don't expect them, and (2) we don't take the opportunity to do things that would create a situation where a miracle could occur (for instance, we don't pray for the sick, so they don't get healed).

So what's the answer? Man, if I knew, I would write a book and it would outsell Pastor Johnson's. I do think he is on to something; I do believe in miracles and I believe that God wants them to happen in the world every day, because signs are what leads the sinner to Christ. There must be a human element to it, too, although I also believe God can (and sometimes does) do whatever He wants to. I may not ever manage to understand God's workings in our world, but I can trust Him and know that His wisdom is much greater than my understanding could ever be!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prayers and Blessings of Paul

I've just added pages listing some (all?) of the prayers and the blessings in Paul's Epistles to the "Sides" on the menu at my Bible verses site, The site is intended to be a quick reference for times when you may know you need something from the Word (verses about divorce, for example, or joy, of even Salvation) but don't have the time, tools, or skills you need to look them up for yourself. I've tried to do as little editorializing as I could in the verse lists, only providing the verses themselves without too much commentary, letting the Word speak for Itself. Some people would consider "Prayers of Paul" and "Blessings of Paul" all to be prayers... what do you think?

The "Sides" part of the menu is something that could come in really handy when you need something extra-fast: the entries point you directly to very famous things in the Bible that people commonly know are there but don't know how to find, like The Armor of God, The Fruit of the Spirit, The Great Commission, and The Ten Commandments. I've even provided a list of The Books of the Bible, just because I can. (Come to think of it, it would be fun to add a list of the books of the Old Testament in the Jewish Bible order... hmm!)

If you haven't visited the site and can't think of a good reason to do so, here's a teaser: there is a page with a list of verses about ESS EEE EX. You know, the three-letter word that everyone is interested in but nobody wants to let on. Go ahead... it's the Bible! Don't be afraid of it! :) Notice I didn't link to that article? Go to for yourself and find it! (It's easy... there's a link right on the front page.)

update: I've got Verse of the Day working on the new server! I apologize to anyone who was used to finding a new ESV Scripture on the page every day and didn't get them for almost a month while I got things squared away. We're back! I don't expect any more downtime anytime soon.

On a sad note, we will miss Pastor Billy Joe Daugherty very much. His accomplishments for God in this lifetime were amazing. I just know he's looking around and laughing that rooster-crow laugh of his in Heaven right now. :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

An Evening With Madeline

A few weeks ago I took Cathy and Mikey to see Newsboys at Mabee Center. As we were on the way into the parking lot, we saw something on the huge LED marquee out front: a picture of none other than legendary Christian songwriter and performer Andraé Crouch! I was stoked... we love his music (who doesn't?) but then we saw that it was a fundraising event with tickets costing anywhere up to $75 or more... it was going to be a night featuring a number of sports figures, and we quickly ruled it out based on lack of funds and generally lack of interest in sports. They handed us a postcard about the event on the way out... it featured pictures of Olympics superstars Carl Lewis and Madeline Manning along with the picture of Andraé and a guy I'd never heard of named Alfred Lee. I dropped it on the dining room table and basically forgot about it.

Fast-forward to about a week ago. My wife got a call from a cousin of hers who had some extra tickets to the event, which my wife didn't even remember until I showed her the postcard. Cathy always seems to become more enthusiastic about things when someone else is interested, and especially someone she is as close to as this cousin, so suddenly we were going!

...And we were SO GLAD we did. The baby stayed with her Meme, but Mikey came along with us. Here's the whole story: since Madeline's Olympic career ended years ago, she has continued to support the teams every year as a volunteer chaplain. However, because there are no certifying organizations for sports chaplains, she goes on her own dime, pays for her own accommodations and meals, etc. while other support staff is allowed much easier access. Training for chaplains is nonexistent, so sometimes they are ill-equipped to deal with things that are peculiar to sports figures' spiritual needs. Madeline has started an organization called United States Council for Sports Chaplaincy (USCSC) (no Web site that I could find) which will be dedicated to training, certification, and then continuing education of sports chaplains. So this was a fundraising event for that, and we did give some money on the way out because we believe in Madeline and what she is doing. But it was FAR from a dull fundraiser. This party was HAPPENING!

It turns out Alfred Lee is an incredible concert pianist, but last night he was doing something very unexpected... he had a keyboard set up in such a way that he could play what sounded like a fully-orchestrated piece, all by himself. Live. No sequencers, no backing tracks. He did it while people were on the way in, and then he did it again at the end as the olympic stars... but I'll get to that in a minute. Suffice it to say that he was amazing.

So were the other entertainers! There were singers, including Madeline herself, Sara Jordan Powell, and Ernestine Dillard (you may have heard Ms. Dillard sing "God Bless America" at the Oklahoma City bombing memorial service years ago; there was the amazing Souls A' Fire Gospel choir/band from ORU; there were dance groups, a drum corps (think marching band without the horns), and of course, the incomparable Andraé Crouch. And that wasn't all! After the intermission, greats from Olympic games in years gone by started coming down to the stage, one at a time, and they kept coming and coming and coming! There must have been almost two dozen of them up there. And these weren't the Olympic losers, either... Carl Lewis is of course legendary, and others included people like Wyomia Tyus, the first Olympic athlete to win a gold in 100m dash at two consecutive Olympic games, and Dick Fosbury, who was the first high-jumper to discover that going over the bar backwards led to better results than going over it forwards, revolutionizing the sport. There were a ton of athletes from the U.S. 1968 Summer Olympics team, and Madeline gave each of them (and the athletes from other years as well) a chance to briefly share something from their heart. It was inspiring, and awe-inspiring.

At the end Andraé came back out, and he and Madeline started singing "My Tribute (To God be the Glory)" with a CD track. Everybody from the whole show was on stage. Then I heard the CD skip once, then again. At first it seemed like it wasn't going to be a problem, but then, horrors... it went totally haywire! What were they going to do? Then I saw someone in the shadows on the edge of the stage make a throat-cutting motion, and the track faded out... and the Souls A' Fire band came in, sounding 100% better than the track, to my ears! The Souls A' Fire choir knew the background vocals, too, and the finale was incredible! My wife looked over at me during the finale and said, "Why are you smiling like that?"

It was friggin' ANDRE CROUCH! Singing MY FRIGGIN' TRIBUTE!! I was in heaven! :)

I'm so excited about what USCSC will accomplish. If you read this and think you might want to help out with a donation, here is some contact information I found on Mabee Center's Web site:

P.O. Box 419
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74101-0419
(918) 296-3967

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NASB Bible Unboxing

A few weeks ago I got an exciting email... I had won a Bible! I had entered a contest run by Logos Bible Software to promote their new Web site, and they were giving away a bunch of brand new Bibles... and not just any Bibles, either. These were really NICE Bibles! I was gunning for a nice leather-bound ESV Study Bible. The one I won was a different one, though... an NASB Side-Column Reference Bible with a calfskin cover. When I started looking at the specs on the Bible, I realized that this was quite possibly a much better choice for what I wanted the Bible for... to take it to church! The cover would be durable, the translation would be VERY accurate (maybe even more than the ESV; NASB has a very good reputation for accuracy), and it would frankly be a little less cumbersome than the huge ESV Study Bible. I was PUMPED! I sent them my address at work so my new Bible wouldn't wind up spending a day sitting on my porch, and began to wait.

Today as I was warming up my lunch, a coworker asked me if I was getting Christmas shopping done early. She had seen something next to my door, and apparently I had walked right past it (if you're reading this on Facebook, by the way, click the link to see the pictures):

It turns out that there were actually two packages I was waiting for, both approximately the same size, and I couldn't wait to see which one it was. I was not disappointed:

"Black Calfskin Leather"... AWESOME!

I was dying to look at it, but I also wanted to share the experience with you, my blog readers, so I waited until after work to do my unboxing. Here's what came out of the shipping box:

My first look at the Bible itself wasn't terribly striking:

Just looks like a plain old black Bible, doesn't it?

Bibles always have plastic on them, but I don't think I've ever seen one completely sealed like this. Even with the plastic on it, though, I could start to smell that "new-Bible" smell... yay!

It's a fairly hefty Bible, pretty thick... the print is nice and big, so there are a lot of pages to fit in there. The cover doesn't look like much, but it is SO soft. You can't really appreciate the cover just by touching it... you have to open it and feel the cover on its own, between your fingers. It's very supple.

I definitely need to fill this out:

The Bible sits open comfortably right out of the box, as though it were already well broken in:

It has two ribbon bookmarks, one of which was marking Ezekiel Chapter 13 and one of which was marking 1 Samuel Chapters 21-22.

I've been slowly studying Ephesians from the ESV, so I decided I would read it first (which is what I did later):

There is an essay in the back about all of the books of the Bible:

I thought this map of the locations in Jesus' ministry was really nice:

There is also a concordance in the back.

This Bible is SUCH a blessing to me. It lists for almost $150, and most of that price is the cover (for comparison, the hardback version lists for $25). I expect the cover to basically last forever. The cover of the ESV Compact Trutone Bible that I've been carrying around is getting pretty worn after several years, and it doesn't have very many study helps. My favorite Bible for studying is still my ESV Study Bible, but this may be the last "carry-it-to-church" Bible I ever need. I can't wait for Sunday!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Of Course!

In my dream, I was a drop of water. I was part of a raging river, and a million other drops of water and I were jostling against each other, rushing downstream. I wondered out loud why we were in such a hurry, but none of the other drops of water seemed to have any idea where we were going. "We're just doing what drops of water do," one told me. "You can't change anything." "Well, I'm doing exactly what I want to," said another. "I'm the master of my fate, the captain of my soul!" It was funny to hear a drop of water talk about his soul that way. It was also funny to hear that he thought he could control where he was going. He was going exactly where we all were, wherever that was.

Then suddenly, as people sometimes inexplicably know things in dreams, I knew what awaited us drops of water at the end of the river's course. The river was taking us hurtling toward a waterfall, but just as we were no ordinary drops of water (ordinary drops of water do not think and talk), this was no ordinary waterfall. I discovered that I knew that this waterfall dropped into a hole, and I also knew that the hole had no bottom. Water that entered the hole would fall, fall, fall and never get anywhere, and it would never come back.

I desperately wanted to avoid the waterfall! I squeezed my way between the other drops until I reached the edge of the river, but I discovered that drops of water cannot climb out of rivers. I did find that when we crashed against the bank in a curve or against a rock midstream, I could actually jump out of the river temporarily, but I would always fall back in among the others. Some lucky drops had managed to jump at just the right time and land in little pools by the side, but I noticed that even those pools were flowing back into the river, a temporary postponing of the inevitable. There was no way we drops of water could save ourselves! We were doomed to go over the waterfall!

In despair I looked up into the sky, hopelessly trying to think of a way out before I got to the edge. If only I could fly like a bird and escape into the sky! If only I could go up into those clouds! If only the sun could somehow draw me out of the river up to where it was! Impulsively, irrationally, I cried out to the sun. Help me, sun! Please!

All of a sudden I began to feel warm. The sun was warming me! It filled me with its own heat, and I began to feel... different. I was still water, but I had absorbed something of the sun into myself. I had been transformed into something I wasn't before. I had ceased to be just a drop of water, rushing helplessly to my doom, and I had turned into vapor. I rose up from the river, and floated up into the clouds. The sun had saved me from the bottomless pit!
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world... -from Ephesians 2:1-2

I waited patiently for the Lord;
      he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction... -from Psalm 40:1-2 ESV

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed... -from 2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. -John 8:36 ESV

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bus Ride To Destiny

Every weekday morning, a bus comes by my neighborhood.

The bus has a destiny.

That bus's destiny is to go to downtown Tulsa. It is destined to get there just before 8am. Unless the traffic is really awful or something happens to the bus itself, it will get to downtown when it is supposed to. I have ridden that bus many times, and it has never failed to get downtown. I have also driven downtown and seen the bus arrive without me. Whether I am on the bus or not, it gets to downtown.

Now, if I get in the bus, my destiny becomes the same as the bus's destiny; the bus is predestined to get to downtown, and if I am on the bus, so am I. If I am not in the bus, I may not make it to downtown, but if I am in the bus, the bus and I are both predestined to the same fate.

Just thought I'd say that. Oh, and here's a Scripture. I added some italics:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. -Ephesians 3:1-6 ESV

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Bible!

NAS Wide Margin Reference Bible, Calfskin leather, Black
NAS Wide Margin Reference Bible, Calfskin leather, Black
By Bible / Foundation Publications Inc

Discover the truth in the inspired Word of God by reading the New American Standard Bible. The updated edition continues the NASB's commitment to accuracy while increasing clarity and readability. Vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure have been carefully updated for greater understanding and smoother reading. The NASB remains the most literally accurate Bible in the English language.
Last night I got an email that has me all excited. Can you believe it? I won a new Bible! Here's a link. It's an NASB with the text in a single column (like a novel, except with verses separated out like an old-school Bible) and with cross-references on the side (if you want to see the layout, click the link to and then find "additional views" and you can see several pages of Genesis). And check this out... we're not talking paperback. This is Premium Calfskin Binding... the cover should last just about forever! I generally use the ESV for my personal reading; the NASB has a reputation for being marginally more awkward in sentence structure than the ESV, but also marginally more faithful to the original texts (although both Bibles get good marks in both areas). So this Bible will be GREAT for carrying to church and using during a service! We don't even have a copy of the 1995 NASB update in our library of physical Bibles... although we do have a little paperback NASB New Testament from way back in history sometime. It may be from when the first version of the NASB was brand new (it was introduced in 1971, and this Bible's cover certainly looks like 1970's styling).

The giveaway is still in progress! As I blogged here, Logos is giving away some truly beautiful (and expensive) Bibles, and they still have some to give away in November and December. Click here to find out how to enter (you can enter five times each month... check the link for details). The event is that Logos is launching an online Bible site (you can also get to it through the LOGOS Bible search bar on the right-hand side of this blog). And, in case you've never heard of the Logos company, they make some pretty cool Bible software.

But wait... there's more!

Another win-an-awesome-Bible contest is going on at the Crossway Blog. They are giving away a copy of the incredible ESV Study Bible every day... but there are only two days left, so hurry and enter! I use my hardback ESV Study Bible for my personal study, and it's dynamite!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


A few days ago I was watching an old VeggieTales episode, Esther: The Girl Who Became Queen. In the story, which follows the Biblical story of Esther fairly closely (with a few Veggie-style touches), the king of Persia, who is apparently quite smitten with Esther (who has been selected to be his new queen via a hilarious talent show), is approached by her without her being called into his presence. Even for the queen, this is a crime punishable by... well, in the video it's punishable by banishment to the "Isle of Perpetual Tickling" (which if you ask me, might be a fate worse than death!) The king really wants Esther to like him, though, so he pardons her, saying "My little queenie-poo can visit me any time she wants!"

Okay, so maybe that's not an exact quote from the Bible story, but it got me thinking of something. In the VeggieTales video, the king spoke about Esther with a pet name, with some intimacy, showing that he cared very much about her and wanted to be close to her, even though it came off as a little bit clumsy. He didn't care about his reputation as the king; he just cared about Esther. It made me think of the desire that Jesus must feel toward His bride, the Church. He has given us permission.. actually, He has made the way and rolled out a red carpet... for us to approach the throne of God without fear of reprisal. Before Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross, people were terrified to see God, because they believed that His holiness would eradicate them completely (they were probably right). But by the blood of Jesus, we can spiritually come right into the presence of God and never have to wonder if we will survive the encounter. We won't die, because Jesus did.

Does God call us "Queenie-poo"? I kind of doubt it. :) But God does care for us with an intimacy that we cannot really understand, deserve, or fully return. So don't be afraid to enter His presence in prayer and in worship. You have already been spared and pardoned, and the King is calling your name!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Your Next Step

Last night at my church Pastor Orlando was talking about this being a time of change in the Church (not just my church, but the Church including all believers currently living on Earth). In fact, he told us to get a calendar and write the word "Change" on yesterday's date. This morning I was thinking about change and how confusing and scary it can be... with our recent church change we've had a firsthand taste of that. I got to thinking abotu walking in faith... how God promises that He will take care of the individual steps even as we plan out a course. So often we get stuck on one particular step, either because we don't listen for God's direction, or because we are fearful of taking that step. Faith isn't about knowing three steps ahead; faith is about taking the one step that God tells us to take, one at a time, into the dark (not dark as in evil, but dark as in not being able to see the next step), knowing that God will not leave us high and dry if we are truly following Him.

And I started praying for myself and for my family and friends and church, and then I prayed the same thing for everyone who reads this blog post, so you are included in my prayer from this morning. I prayed that God will reveal to me, and us, and you, your Next Step. Is it into ministry? Is it into business? Is it into a relationship of some kind, or into a physical move of living space? Overseas into the mission field, or across town into a very different mission field? Whatever it is, I pray that our Next Step will be made crystal-clear to us, and I also prayed that the Holy Spirit will encourage and empower us... provide the power and courage we need... to take that one next step. After that there will be another Next Step, but I'm praying for that one that happens NOW. The old Chinese proverb says that "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Not a Bible Proverb, but true nonetheless... one step could be the one thing you need to get you moving in the direction God wants you to go. One step of faith will be the one thing that builds your confidence to take the next one. Soon you'll be able to look back behind you and see that you've walked miles and miles into God's will for you, and He has been faithful to you and taken you to a more incredible, amazing place than you ever thought possible.

And it all begins with the one step that you took today. I'm praying for you. Put on your walking shoes and take that step!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Back when my son was around two or three years old, when they sang "Jesus Loves The Little Children" in his class in the nursery at church, they would always add a new verse: "Jesus died for all the children, all the children of the world..." and the rest was the same. I'm not much for reworking something that's been around a long time (ever hear someone who doesn't think he's still a "wretch" try to retrofit "Amazing Grace"? I have... whew! Not easy!) but I was OK with this change; after all, the point is to teach truths to children, and that's probably the greatest truth of all. And at least it fits into the melody. But apparently very small children have a somewhat myopic view of the world; one day I heard my boy singing it out loud and strong: "Jeee-sus dia-pered all the chiiiil-dren, aaaalll the chil-dren of the woooorld!" (Then again, come to think of it, Jesus came not to be served but to serve... and if he saw a baby who needed a diaper, gosh darn it, I believe he would have diapered that baby!)

Fast-forward to this morning. I was walking along, thinking about something I had done. Have you ever let something simmer on the inside of you until it spills out into the open? This was a sin of the heart, and nobody knew about it but me and God, but it had colored my perception of a friend and I needed cleansing. I started praying, telling God that even though I knew at the time that it was wrong, I willfully harbored those attitudes anyway, and I knew that sometimes there are consequences to our sinful actions even though we are forgiven, and would God forgive me for my sin, but also cleanse me so that my relationship with that person could be right again?

All of a sudden, I knew my prayer had been heard. I could sense that God had not only given me a gift of forgiveness, but also of a true perspective. I had been forgiven, but also made clean. I guess that's what 1 John 1:9 means when it says that not only will God forgive us our sin, but also cleanse us from unrighteousness! And then it hit me... I was a child of God that had made a mess all over myself, and I had been wiped clean, maybe had a little powder applied, and diapered with a fresh diaper! So, maybe Bible images in places like Ezekiel 16 and Luke 10 are a little less indelicate, but as a dad who deals with diapers on a fairly regular basis, I have to say, when I mess up and come to God for forgiveness, a new diapie does a lot more for me than a bandage full of oil and wine. Maybe Jesus DOES diaper all the children of the world!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


by Michael Jones

And there in my dream, I saw a table.
On the table was a swirling cloud,
Moving and changing,
Pulsing with energy,
And I knew it was my life.
Looking straight at it I could make out nothing.
It was constantly evolving,
Developing and dissolving,
With the details always just out of reach.

But next to my life were five viewers,
Hand-held like a detective's magnifier,
With lenses five different colors.
I knew in my dream that if I used them to view my life,
They would help me see the truth.

I picked up the rose-colored glass.

Through it, I saw my family and how much they love me.
I saw that I have been blessed with food to feed them and
Money to buy things for them.
I saw my good friends, my favorite movies,
My talents and my joys,
My happinesses and my comforts.
And I also saw my blissful, willful ignorance of poverty
And I put down the rose-colored glass.

Then I picked up the sepia-colored glass.

Through it I saw my childhood, with all its happy times.
Summers playing outside
Shooting water pistols
Playing games, bought and invented
But I couldn't see the sad and hard times I remembered.
No confusing homework
Snubs by girls
Fear of the monsters under the bed
It was comfortable but it was a lie, so I put down the sepia-colored glass.

Then I picked up the glass with the blue lens.

I could see the day my dog died
The day my grandmother died
The days my hope died
I saw report cards with bad grades
Myself crying at night and not knowing why
Favorite toys broken
Not getting the job
That miscarriage
The friend who cheated me
The associate who used me
The year without a job
The deep, dark vortex of depression
I couldn't live without happiness — I put down the blue glass.

I hoped for better luck with the glass with the crystal-clear lens.
The handle was white, and it cast a light of its own.
And when I looked at my life in that harsh light,
I saw it with a brutal
I saw that I sometimes hate, even to the point of fury.
I saw that I desire, even to the point of covetousness and sometimes lust.
I saw that I am prideful and sometimes look at others with disdain.
I saw that my selfishness often overrides my generosity.
I dropped the lens like it had just come out of a fire.
It was then that I noticed that it was nicked and scratched
Like it had been used as a weapon
And the lens, though crystal-clear, was distorted
And the whole thing smelled of sulfur.

The last glass scared me a little bit.
The lens was transparent, but it was blood red.
The handle was wooden, with a cross-beam, almost like a sword hilt.
For some reason, it seemed to me
In my dream
That this lens would show me the WHOLE truth
Not the par
th the others.
The pieces of the truth were terrible enough;
How awful would the WHOLE truth be?

But I picked up the blood-red lens.
The lens of The Whole Truth.
And what I saw astounded me.

I saw the things that bring joy to my life: the people who love me,
My talents and my joys,
My happinesses and my comforts.
I saw the happy times of my childhood and my adulthood,
And I also saw the sad and lonely times.
I saw deaths, physical and emotional.
I saw my gaping flaws of character
That cause me to fail time and again.
And I saw the deep, dark depression that sometimes seeks to consume me.

I saw all of those things.
But it was as though they were covered with blood,
Overpowered by blood,
Eradicated by blood.
Made irrelevant.
Ancient history that never happened.
The handle was not just the hilt of a sword;
It was also something else.
And as the blood dripped down from the crossbeams
And covered my pathetic attempt at leading a good life
I knew that I was being cleansed,
Given another chance.

And I knew I would fail again.
And again.
And probably many more agains.
But I knew that the blood-red lens would not only show me the truth,
But it would change that truth
And make me whole.

And then I woke up
And closed my Bible
And how about that?
It was all true

Copyright ©2009 by Michael Jones

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bible Giveaway

Here's the blurb:

Logos Bible Software is celebrating the launch of their new online Bible by giving away 72 ultra-premium print Bibles at a rate of 12 per month for six months. The Bible giveaway is being held at and you can get up to five different entries each month! After you enter, be sure to check out Logos and see how it can revolutionize your Bible study.

Now here's the backstory:

Logos really is giving away some beautiful Bibles, and one of the ways to enter to win is a blog post like this one. :) You'll also notice the search box on the right-hand side of this page... this will take you to the online Logos Bible search site, which includes the NIV, ESV, NLT, NKJV, and KJV translations, and that's just for starters... there are also a dozen MORE translations to look at, too. Check it out; it might be just the Bible site to help you out in your study!

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Thought I Was Over It

Once upon a time, I worked in the IT department at a fairly large Christian publishing company. I had made a move to that company at the urging of a friend from my previous job who had done the same thing and who said I would love it. He was right: I did love it! (And he got a recruitment bonus, so everybody won!) I enjoyed my work, I enjoyed my coworkers (some of whom I am still in touch with), and it was just an all-around fun place to work. One day I was chatting with my department manager, whom I had become pretty good friends with by that time, and we agreed that we hoped we could continue to work there until we were too old and had to retire!

Then 2001 happened.

There were several factors, I think, to what happened to me... the dot-com thing was coming to a head, and so the economy was suffering. The company had some financial struggles, and apparently some internal difficulties, most of which I didn't know about then and don't know about now and honestly hope to never know the details of. And then the September 11 attacks happened and the whole country went into an uproar. And because of some or all of those factors, the publishing company started selling off divisions and letting employees go.

For months I felt a target on my back. I was the Web site programmer, for goodness sakes. What's easier to outsource than Web design and programming? I just knew that I was going to be among the first to go... but it didn't happen that way. Maybe it was because I had a new baby (about a year and a half old by that time) and a newer mortgage (about 8 months old by that time) to feed, and my bosses knew it. Hopefully it was because the quality of my work was such that they hated to see me go. I wound up hanging on for several months, but eventually one day in November of 2001, I found myself loading a couple of boxes of my personal belongings into my car and driving away, unemployed.

I was optimistic at the time. I knew that companies were looking for seasonal help around that time of year, and I expected to at least be able to get some work in retail. And you know, that season and that next year were both scary and exciting. We saw God provide for us over and over... as soon as one source of income would dry up, another consulting job would turn up or another opportunity would present itself. I took some classes in database design that have served me well in my jobs since then. And we never even had to so much as get our cable TV turned off. All year I was incredibly optimistic. But by the end of 2002, my unemployment benefits were running out and I still didn't have a regular job, and I was starting to feel panicky. I stopped praying in faith and basically started to cry out to God in fear. I think I traumatized myself a bit in that couple of months. God was faithful, however, even though I had stopped walking on the water and started to sink, and He presented two permanent job situations to me at the same time! I took one of them, and the next three years there were a wonderful experience. (Why I'm not there now is another story, but it was a voluntary and amicable parting.)

Fast-forward to yesterday. I had occasion to pick something up at the same office building where the publishing company had been housed. I'm pretty sure I haven't been there since the day I was laid off. The parking lot has been changed up a bit, and the lobby has been heavily remodeled (it looks fabulous). As I walked into the same set of doors that I had walked out of with my boxes of stuff, though, I felt a strong sense of sadness. I love the job I'm at now, but I loved that job too... so many friends and so many happy memories. I didn't and don't feel a sense of rejection about the whole thing... just a sense of loss. When we left our long-time church recently I was reflecting on how whenever God is telling me to make a change of some kind, basically the current situation just starts to become more and more uncomfortable until I do what needs to be done. Maybe that's part of why I had that "target-on-the-back" feeling, I don't know. Maybe I should have left voluntarily, and if I had I wouldn't have had quite the sense of having something taken away from me.

But for whatever reason, yesterday as I entered the building I had once had an office in, even after the eight years in between I still felt the sting of loss. Thank God, He is good. Thank God He provided then and still provides now. Now our second child is roughly the age the first one was then. We still have the same mortgage. This is my third "permanent" job after the one I got laid off from. Even with all that, I guess there's still a little scar there. Maybe that hurt will never heal completely, I don't know. But I do know that I'm going to serve God no matter what, and one day it won't matter anymore anyway... I'll be with Jesus in Eternity, all hurts will be healed, and that day will be ancient, ancient history!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 is moving!

I am moving the Web site to a new Web host. My other site,, will be along for the ride as well. The hosting service where the site has always lived has some difficulties tech support-wise, and for the second time this month the site was taken down without warning because of what they cryptically call "resource abuse". I'm excited about the new host,; after some pretty extensive research a few years ago I very nearly moved the sites over to APlus, but had a few difficulties that made it so much trouble to switch that I gave up trying. This time my old host has backed me into a corner; I've got to either move or resolve myself to them taking my sites down periodically without warning, so I have chosen to move.

A move of this kind is tricky because the two sites are heavily database-integrated, so it's not just a matter of moving a bunch of Web pages... it means getting all of the database stuff set up properly as well. It is likely to take a few days to complete the work, so please be very patient with me as I get things squared away. I've got all of the information; it's just getting all the dots connected so it all works. Imagine that I have an engine block, a gas tank, a carburetor, and an alternator, all sitting in my garage next to my car. I've got everything I need; I've just got to hook it all together.

I have a few design changes in mind as well; probably I'll get the sites working as they are first and then make the changes later, but don't be surprised if you see something new coming up soon!

Update: is back up! You'll have to really search hard to find the few things that aren't working again now. is still not fit for human consumption yet, but I expect to have it back up within a day or two.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Bema

Last night, my wife, my 9-year-old son and I listened to a CD of a dramatic presentation called The Bema. The presentation, which occurred at Bent Tree Fellowship in north Carrollton, Texas (just north of Dallas), was based on a book of the same name. "The Bema" refers to a future judgment at the end of time; this is not the "sheep and goats" judgment, which separates believers from unbelievers, but the "wood, hay and stubble", "receiving crowns" judgment which will be for God's people only. It is not a judgment for punishment, but for reward. The story and drama are a narrative about a man who goes to Heaven in the Rapture, but at the Bema seat of Christ, he discovers that he has done hardly anything of eternal significance. I won't give away the ending, but the message is that we should do the work of God's Kingdom while we have the chance during the short life that God gives us on Earth. It is very similar in some ways to a chapter from The Rapture by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which I read recently (and which was written years after this story).

My brother sent me the CD, and I listened to it myself first... after I heard it, I knew my family was going to love it. We've been thinking a lot about what God wants us to do in ministry as a family and as part of a church family, and this story resonated so much with us. Afterward we sat in the living room and talked for some time about ministry and doing what God calls us to do. We also had some really good talk time about Bible reading and how important it is to hide the Word in your heart. You know, that's what family is really all about... having other people to seek God with. I'm so grateful that God provided that time for us!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Launching Today: Glo Bible (Bible study software)

A few days ago, I got an email from about Bible software. I usually don't pay very close attention to that email, because although I've used QuickVerse and Logos both fairly extensively at various times, and sampled other Bible software packages, I've found the free e-Sword to have everything from the commercial packages that I've ever needed. Generally, what I want is to be able to compare a fairly large number of English translations of the Bible easily. That means finding them quickly and then having the other translations at your fingertips. I like to have some commentaries available to me, too, as long as they cost me little or nothing. Photos of the Holy Land, videos, that sort of thing... even maps... generally have left me cold when they come from Bible software. But in that email, the simple, distinctive packaging of one of the boxes caught my eye enough to get me interested in taking a look.

The package that caught my eye was the new Glo Bible software, which comes out today. And the more I saw, the more interested I got! Now, I haven't held a copy of this software in my hands. I haven't used it. I haven't even seen it in action in person, only on the demo videos. It looks to be fairly resource-intensive, so it might even not work very well on the aging computers I have at home. But boy, if you can get it to do what it's doing in the videos... WOW!

I'll give you a brief introduction, kind of to help you get your bearings beforehand, and then you can take a look at their demo videos and see what you think for yourself. If you've used Bible software before, put that out of your mind for a second, becuase that's NOT the way this thing works. I don't even think there's a place that you can type in "John 3:16" and get the verse to come up... this is a different interface to the Scripture text. You access the Scriptures using what they call "lenses." The five lenses are "Bible", "Timeline", "Atlas", "Topical", and "Media". You could think of them as paths that all eventually lead to the same place... the Bible text ("Media" is a little different, because in addition to Bible text, it also leads to videos, pictures, immersive 3D tours of Bible locations, etc.) The "Bible" lens presents the Scriptures in the way we're used to seeing them... starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation, and all strung out in their whole 66-book canonical (Protestant) order. The "Timeline" lens comes at it from a different perspective: Bible events are laid out in a time line from beginning to end. Events in the life of Jesus are all there in their real-time order, for example, not segregated out by each of the four Gospels. The "Atlas" lens actually plots the Biblical events out on a map of the Holy Land, so if you wanted to see everything that ever happened in the Bible in Bethany, or in Jerusalem or wherever, you just have to check that place out on the map. The "Topical" view presents Scripture by topics... the same basic premise of but in a much flashier way. The "Media" lens is where you will find photos, videos, and those really cool 3D tours of sites related to the Scriptures you are studying. You can also combine lenses, so, for example, you could find everything that Jesus said in Jerusalem during the Passover in the book of John (which is the example from their demo videos). Interested? Here's the short & sweet video about it:

Looks cool, huh? If you have about fifteen minutes to spare, take a look at these two demos that demonstrate the usage in a little more depth:

I was totally WOWED after watching those demos! To my way of thinking, this is the first time since searchability (which I saw happening way back in the late 1980s) that Bible software has been created that can actually do something you can't do just as easily with a paper Bible. Because the features are based on "tags" placed on the Scripture verses by humans and not straight text searchability, the relationships between the verses feel a lot more organic.

However... this may be a shortcoming of the software as well. If the people who tagged the text have a different theological perspective than you do, you may not agree with the way they've arranged things. Are you pre-Trib, mid-Trib, post-Trib? Depending on which is your theory of choice, the books of Revelation, Daniel, and even Isaiah and other prophetic books may not show up the way you'd like to see them in the Timeline lens. What about that passage from Isaiah about the king of Babylon... is that about a man, or about Satan? Your answer may effect whether you agree with the Timeline view on the placement of the passage.

I also immediately noticed something in the demo of using multiple lenses together to narrow down your search. About five minutes into the "part 2" video above, there is a screen showing the location of all of the words of Jesus in the New Testament. There are passages in each of the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation... but what about this passage in 1 Corinthians? Looks like an unintentional omission to me. And the Topical view has potential to show Theological bias even more, especially in hot-button topics like abortion or eternal security. Don't get me wrong; every single study Bible and commentary has a bias, so this couldn't be an exception. But I don't see different editions of Glo based on your eschatology or whether you sprinkle or dip. I don't see a Catholic version and a Protestant version. Whatever is there, is there.

That may change, though. Based on information you can find at, a lot of new stuff is coming down the pike... a full-length audio version, for example, and Web accessible and mobile phone versions, not to mention social networking features. It sounds like some of these new features will basically be downloadable. I can't see why there couldn't be separate flavors, using the same Bible text and multimedia materials, but simply tagging the Scritpure verses slightly differently... and then Glo owners could sort of "subscribe" to the "channel" that they fall in line with, and their own copies of Glo could change to reflect their own biases toward the text. It appears that Glo will ship with the KJV and the NIV (it's a Zondervan product, and they own the NIV text) but there are negotiations taking place to add other versions... I probably wouldn't plunk down the money for myself until my ESV was represented. The very limited number of translations available at present is, to me, another very puzzling omission.

Oddly, I don't actually see in the demos a way to do a straight word search. Can you find all of the places that the word "soul" appears in the text? Maybe so, but I don't see it... you might have to visit for that one. What about links to original-language materials? Where are the Strong's definitions and other similar material? I guess you'd better not delete your link to Blue Letter Bible quite yet. Now, I should be totally fair... those capabilities may be present in the software but not in the demos. Or maybe they have been intentionally left out in favor of cool stuff like 360-degree walk-throughs of historical locations and other stuff that would interest a more casual reader in the Bible text. Obviously, this software is not targeted at your basic seminary professor or knowledgeable pastor... this is layman's software for people who want to know what God says about something but don't know how to find out. But I do hope there is a doorway there that people can walk through and get into more depth with the Scriptures.

And that is my biggest concern with this awesome piece of software. Let's say you buy Glo, install it on your laptop, and then spend the next three weeks figuring out how everything works. You become a Glo expert, and you can find out which Scripture verses refer to insects with six legs, or which verses are about women whose names start with the letter "A", or whatever other crazy lookups you can think of. You continue to use the software every day, and you continue to find nuggets in the Word, but you never actually read all the way through any book of the Bible. In fact, you rarely read three verses in a row all at once. You use the lenses to severely limit which verses you read, based on what you tell it you want to know about. In that scenario, not only have you given yourself a bad case of Scriptural tunnel vision and destined yourself to begin to share the bias of whoever tagged the verses, but you are robbing yourself of the insight you can gain from context. You've turned yourself into someone who gets his Theology from the "promise box" on the kitchen table, or the snatches of Scripture that you hear in songs on Christian radio. I think the danger is that we can turn ourselves into fans of the Bible instead of students of the Bible. The Word is not a Whitman's Sampler where you can eat the ones with the caramel in them but leave the ones filled with pink stuff for your Aunt Gertie. The Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition. In an age where it is easy to zero in on specific verses, and where many preachers skip from one verse to another in the course of a message with no reference to context, we're not used to just plain old reading the Bible like the book it is. Now, Glo has a Bible reading plan built in (and it sounds like the plan is to have the mobile version and even the audio version sync up so that if you read a chapter at home and then listen to the next chapter in the car, eventually all of that information winds up back in Glo!) and there is absolutely nothing to stop you from reading it straight through (the Bible lens would actually be pretty great for that), so the "danger" isn't really a danger, but a caution to not let the very cool features of the software package deceive you into thinking you know all about what the Bible says just because you clicked into the Topical lens. To truly know the Word takes effort. Hard work. A great shovel is only the first step in digging up the riches present in the Bible. Software that can bring some of them a little closer to the surface for you is a great start, but it's not the whole journey.

Even the coolest, shiniest, round-buttoniest software won't turn you into something you're not. If you're not a student of the Word, this software (or any software) will not change that, although given the right circumstances, a snazzy interface may get you to engage the text in a way you wouldn't have been otherwise. When it all comes down to it, either you're hungry for the Word, or you're not. This software probably won't make you hungry. But if you are hungry, this software could be like an express train from your house directly to Olive Garden. It'll get you to places you never thought to go, faster and easier than ever before, and in ways you never dreamed of (or maybe you did dream of but never thought it could actually happen).

I hope I actually get a chance to play with this sometime. Besides being an awesome tool, it just looks incredibly fun! I doubt it'll have me giving up my ESV Study Bible (my favorite Bible study resource of all time), but it could add a dynamism to my study times that wouldn't be there otherwise. I'll be watching Glo to see where it goes next. Glad to be here at lift-off!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The same, yet different

Everything is different, but the same. Things are more moderner than before, bigger... and yet smaller! It's computers!


- OX, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
This morning I was walking through my neighborhood in the rain. Sort of. When you ride the bus to work, you have three options when it comes to weather: (1) Stay home when the weather is unpleasant (not a viable option); (2) wimp out and drive that day; or (3) learn to enjoy the weather, or at least put up with it. I had decided to rise to the challenge and not let a few drizzle drops force me to have to negotiate traffic for myself. That's what umbrellas are for, right?

Anyway, when I actually got out into the neighborhood, I realized that the only place it was still raining was under the trees. The rain had stopped, but there was water on leaves and when the wind blew, the water would come on down and seem just like rain. I was either going to have to open my umbrella, or get out from under those trees.

I opted for the second option... umbrellas can be a real pain in the neck in Oklahoma wind. The only way to get out from under the trees was to walk out in the street, so that's what I did. As I walked, I thought about all of the times I've walked that particular route. I've been riding the bus for several years now, and some times of year it's hot and I seek out the shade of the same trees I was trying to avoid. I've walked in pretty heavy downpours, too, where it really didn't matter much whether I was under trees or not... I was going to get soaked. I've also walked through the neighborhood at other times when everything was frozen and there were no leaves at all on the trees.

Then something came to me. A few weeks ago here, it was pretty hot out. Then, I had sought the shade of the same trees I was avoiding. The neighborhood was largely the same, but my experience of it was different. Why? Two reasons: the weather, and my response to the weather. I could have walked exactly the same footsteps I had walked on a hot day, and my experience would still have been a little different... but instead I was altering my route a bit, and my experience of the neighborhood was quite a bit different.

And I thought about God.

Several years ago I blogged about how God remains the same, even though our experience of Him changes at different times. But it seems to me that my walk through the neighborhood sheds a slightly different light on things. The neighborhood is the same; my experience of it changes based on (1) the season, and (2) my reaction to the circumstances. What if the way we experience God changes for the same reasons? What if we experience Him differently in different seasons, and even within that context, in different ways based on our response to those different circumstances?

(in case you're wondering... here's the source of the quote, on YouTube.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Church Shopping: We May Have A Winner!

This weekend we got around to visiting The Bridge church in Bixby. It's been on our list ever since the beginning of our search; in fact, in a sense it was on our list even before we decided that we needed to change churches! The pastor was once our worship leader elsewhere, and he just returned to the Tulsa area I think less than a year ago after associate-pastoring a church in another state for something like five or six years or so. They have a monthly worship-only service that we've been invited to several times but were unable to attend for one reason or another, and several weeks ago we actually came out for one of their periodic potluck dinners. We've really been looking forward to this visit, partly because this is a small congregation (I think about 200 or so attending on Sundays) which is a real contrast with the other churches we've been test-driving (mostly in the couple-of-thousand attendees range, I'd say). Plus we have a LOT of friends who go to The Bridge already. So we were excited about coming to a real live service... in fact, I posted on Facebook a few days before, "warning" some of our friends who go there that we would be lurking on Sunday!

Early Sunday morning... about 4am... my 9-year-old boy got scared. You know how kids get scared for no reason? I know it happened to me when I was a kid, and I think it happens to us grownups sometimes too. Well, he just freaked out. A few nights before, he had gotten spooked in the middle of the night when he saw a threatening form in his room; the form turned out to be a t-shirt! He laughed it off pretty quickly that time, but not this time. I don't even know what exactly had set him off, but it was a good hour and a half before he calmed down enough to leave us alone. So we're talking 5:30am, and my wife had set an alarm for 6am to make sure she had plenty of time to get herself and the baby ready and still take the 30-minute drive to where the church is. We passed back out, and didn't wake up again until about 8. Services we've been visiting at Guts start at 11 and they're close (maybe a 5-minute drive); services at The Bridge are at 10, so that means we have to get up about an hour and a half earlier for The Bridge in order to get the same amount of getting-ready time before we have to leave. I woke Cathy up and told her that it was 8:00 so she had time to get ready and we could go to Guts or somewhere else; she surprised me by being pretty adamant that she wanted to go to The Bridge, even though it would be hard to get ready in time! So we went into four-alarm get-ready-for-church mode, and I was actually pretty surprised that we managed to get everyone fed and dressed and out the door almost exactly on time... we arrived at church nor more than five or six minutes before service time. Good thing their child check-in process is fairly simple!

We parked next to a car which turned out to contain a friend of ours from way back, and we chatted briefly on the way in. There were a LOT of familiar faces, most of them people we had gone to church with when Pastor Orlando was our worship leader, so we felt pretty comfortable and extremely welcomed. At The Bridge, the children are actually expected to be in the music part of the worship service right along with the adults, so we had them with us for that part (the baby did well until her big brother started playing peekaboo with her... we're going to have to keep the two of them separated during that part of the service from here on out). After worship the children go into separate classrooms for more age-appropiate Bible lessons, so we took them on back and were in place for the offering and the message.

The message was awesome. In fact, it was particularly relevant for a family looking for a new church home: it was about changing yourself to fit into the will of God for your life. We spent a lot of time listening to Pastor Orlando teaching the Word back when he was Music Director Orlando, and we loved his teaching style even then. In fact, I would encourage you to visit this page on the church's Web site and give him a listen. He has a very unique delivery, and what he's saying is so relevant and immediate. It's really neat stuff.

After the service we asked our son how the lesson was in his class. Apparently instead of kind of telling the kids a Bible story while they sit quietly and listen, in his class things were quite free-form, with discussion and back-and-forth between children and teacher the whole time the teacher was sharing the Bible story. To me, that is SO COOL. I hope that's the way it always is for the children, because that's perfect for Mikey. Honestly, I think most children would pick a very participatory lesson to sitting and watching what was going on, even if what was going on involved them to some extent (a game girls vs. boys with everyone cheering for your own team and everyone wins something, for example), but for Mikey, being able to speak up and put in his two cents will be so good for him. Meanwhile, the baby was having a good time playing and babbling at the nursery teacher... afterward she told me "She was talking the whole time, but I really couldn't understand her!" I told her, "Well, I saw you were watching some VeggieTales, you probably heard a 'Bop' the Tomato a couple of times," and she nodded like she was remembering a few Bops. :)

The Bridge is a very music-rich church. We knew most of the musicians on stage, plus a number of musicians in the congregation, and most churches would wet themselves to have the quality of musicians on their stage as The Bridge had sitting in the congregation (those people do play during the services, but there are so many of them that they rotate). What else would you expect from a church where the pastor was a long-time worship leader in the town next door? And Pastor Orlando and most of the other musicians there are friends of ours and are aware of our musical talents; I doubt we'll have any trouble with this church not making us feel supported in whatever musical conquests we might embark upon. We really want to spend a little bit of time with Pastor Orlando and find out what the whole story is on his commitment to the town of Bixby; it sounds like the choice to locate there was anything but random. It sounds like Bixby was carefully selected as the spot for that church because God had laid the area on Pastor Orlando's heart, and if so, then hands-and-feet, give-someone-a-jacket-when-they're-cold kind of ministry is a logical extension of that. We want to share our desire to be involved with a church committed to that kind of stuff and see how that fits with his vision, but I expect him to be really excited about it.

Before we were even through the door of the church afterward, Cathy was making it clear to me that she thought that The Bridge is "it." The place for us. I was a little bit conflicted because we have SO many friends there... that may sound ridiculous, but if it feels like "home" I want it to feel like that because it's God's "home" for us, not just because we have a couple of buddies there. But I can't deny that it immediately felt like home, and I also can't deny that the idea of trying out the other churches on our list suddenly doesn't interest me any more. So The Bridge is going to be seeing a lot more of us! We think it may be home for good. We haven't 100% ruled out the idea that we're confused and God will straighten us out, but it sure feels good to us right now. With the amount of prayer and thought and seeking God that we've put into this, if we're mixed up, I think He'll make it clear to us and quick.

We're excited about this church! Next week they're moving into a new facility... with that comes lots of exciting stuff. We can't wait!