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Friday, December 31, 2010

Bible in a Year (and a half)

About this time last year, I decided that 2010 was going to be the year that I read all the way through the Bible. As you can see from my blog post on New Year's Day, I had decided to make it through no matter what. It wasn't a "resolution" as much as just a "decision" - I realize that both words mean pretty much the same thing, but to me a "resolution" sounds like something very formal, something that will have consequences if you don't do it, and something you are destined to fail at. A "decision" is just something that means that you're making a simple change in your life; it used to be this way, and now it's another way.

So I'll cut to the chase: I didn't make it all the way through this year. Today I finish the last chapter of Proverbs. There are a few reasons for this; I want to share them, not to excuse or explain myself (it's not like I did anything wrong, after all!), but I'm thinking that if there are other "Bible-in-a-year-failures" reading this, they may be encouraged by this when something happens to them and trips up their schedule!

I was on track for the first couple of months of the year, right on schedule with the plan I had (pretty much arbitrarily) picked out. I was actually reading the Bible text and the study notes from my ESV Study Bible, which was a bit above-and-beyond the whole "reading straight through" thing, but I wanted to make sure I was understanding what I was reading. A book or two into it, I got an NIV Study Bible too, so I started reading the ESV text, then reading the ESV Study Bible notes, then reading the NIV Study Bible notes. It's like my own little mini Bible school! It's particularly interesting when the two sets of study notes have different perspectives on the same topic; it gives me a chance to see two sides of the story and form my own opinions. After a month or so of this, I started noticing that my attitude and outlook was changing. I was being transformed by the Word!

The problem with adding this extra reading on myself is that it made the schedule that much less forgiving. It was harder to catch up when I got behind, and it was harder to decide to do my reading on days when I was tired and knew concentration wouldn't be easy. And then something happened to make it even harder: We had not one, not two, but three deaths in our family, and all were people I was rather close with: my grandfather, my wife's father, and my wife's brother's wife all died within a span of couple of months. Not only did we have traveling, funerals, and visiting with family to take up our attention, but frankly there were nights when my wife and I didn't get an awful lot of sleep. There were weeks at a time this year when I felt fatigued every single day from not enough rest. If that's not enough to throw you off schedule, I don't know what is.

But I can't blame being this behind on only that, because I'll admit it: some nights I just didn't feel like it. Some nights I could have read, and I didn't. So an embarrassing amount of the "behind schedule" came from plain old laziness.

So I didn't read all the way through the Bible this year. But you know what? I read through more than half of it! And if it takes me all next year to read the other half, and if I do it, then I will have read the whole thing! And learned a lot in the process. One year is not a magic number. There's nothing in the Word itself that says you have to read all the way through the whole thing in one year. It's completely arbitrary. But one big thing I learned this year is that if you immerse yourself in the Word for a long enough time, the Word begins to immerse itself in you! My Bible reading this year had an unmistakably positive effect on me, and I expect my reading in the coming year will have a similar positive effect. Actually, I'm pretty excited about getting into the Prophets... that was one of the things I really wanted to get into! I can't wait to dig deep into Isaiah, Jeremiah, the whole bunch of them. And now that I have a grasp on the historical events surrounding them, I should be able to understand them even better!

I definitely, unreservedly recommend a consistent Bible reading regimen for everyone. If you don't read every single day, that's still OK. If you read maybe three or four days a week, it will still transform your life. But if you do want to go all the way through the Bible, there's an abundance of help out there! If you need help figuring out where to start or how to do it, my blog post from New Year's Day 2010 has some help, but this year I've run across some other resources:

In this age of mobile devices and Internet connections in almost every home, there's no reason not to get involved in the Word. Just make a decision to do it! Become a "fan" of the Word (and I'm not talking about Facebook here!) Get interested. Get excited. Get into it! It will change your life!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Songwriting

This morning we visited another church (we're not leaving our church; my wife's brother was singing at his church so we went to hear!) and I really enjoyed the selection of Christmas carols we sang. There were a number of songs that are traditional, but not on the "I've sung this so many times I'm on auto-pilot" list. There was one song I wasn't familiar with, though, and I was disappointed with the song itself. Almost every rhyme in the song was an awful Christian Christmas song cliche:


The music of the song was very stirring, and the themes in the lyrics were terrific, but the songwriting was less than eloquent. I mean, if your craft as an artist isn't any better developed than to plagiarize a rhyme from "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (but in a much less eloquent way) then the right place for you is in your songwriting room, doing a rewrite. There's more to good songwriting that throwing in all the right buzzwords. I hope I'm not sounding grouchy or snarky, and there are probably lots of people who think that song is the best song ever, but the copyright date on the slide was mid-2000s so it's fairly recent, and my prediction is that it will not stand the test of time. It just didn't particularly say anything that hadn't been said better before.

Christian artists should bring their very best to God. If the song is nothing but a rather weak copy of other songs, then it's not good enough to bring before the King of Kings. Let's bring Jesus Christ only the very best.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Let There Be Peace On Earth

This week I've been thinking again along the lines of this post, although I hadn't really thought of those songs in that context this year. The peace the angels promised the night Jesus was born was not something between individuals or nations (Jesus Himself said that His coming would polarize and divide people), but that peace was a peace between us and God. Because Jesus came, our sins no longer stand between us and the Father. That peace is "on Earth" as long as those who accept Jesus are on Earth. I wish for you an abundance of the peace of God in your heart, not just on Christmas, but always... because of Christmas.
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2 ESV)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Three Days

I wonder how Abraham felt as he was walking up that mountain with Isaac? God had spoken directly with him and told him to go, but the Bible never says that God kept speaking to him all the way up there. It was a pretty incredible thing that God had asked Abraham to do; I can't imagine him not having a doubt or two along the way in a journey of over three days. Then again, just because I can't imagine it doesn't mean it's not true; the Bible doesn't often tell us the internal dialogue of the characters like modern fiction often does. Usually the Bible reports events as a third person observer.

So we don't really know what Abraham was thinking; we only know that when Isaac asked him what was going on, Abraham said something that was actually a little different from what God had said. Whether he was saying that to deceive Isaac, or whether he had deceived himself, or whether he actually had some revelation from God about the situation over the course of those 3+ days, we don't know. What we do know is that what actually happened in the end resembled what Abraham had said more than what God had said! Figure that one out!

So did Abraham feel some deep-down inner confidence every step of the way? Maybe. The Bible certainly sets him up as a giant of faith, so maybe his confidence was different from mine. But what I know from how my life generally works is that I hear from God, I believe God's words and choose to follow His instructions, but then things don't happen immediately. Things in this lifetime take time. For Abraham it took three days and a little more; often in our lives things can take weeks, months, or even years. And I'll freely admit that during my "three days" (however long those "days" may be), I don't always feel the power of God's instructions and/or promises about my situation. Sometimes I just feel sort of... indifferent.

Does that mean I'm not in faith? You know, I don't think so. I think that as long as I am still on track to do what God has instructed me to do, I'm still acting in faith. Maybe Abraham said what he did to Isaac in order to try to convince himself that everything was going to be okay. After all, all of his hopes and dreams were hinging on Isaac as his only legitimate son. Who knows? What we do know is that Abraham continued to put one foot in front of the other foot, all the way to the mountain where he had been commanded to put all of his dreams for the future to death. And when he got there, God made a way for him.

So maybe I'll just keep walking!

Monday, December 20, 2010

NLT Bible Giveaway

Enter this contest to win a copy of the New Living Translation! Here's the scoop:
Enter our Bible Contest to win NLT Study Bibles, a Grand Prize trip to Orlando, FL, $250 in resources and more! Plus your vote will help three ministries Give the Word of God to those who desperately need it by generating a donation to Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Dream Center or Oasis International.
For all the details, visit the NLT Facebook Page!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Narnia Code - Book & DVD

I know I'm in good company when I say that I've loved the Chronicles of Narnia ever since I was a little boy; I'm guessing that a majority of the people reading this probably have similar stories. I was a young teenager when I first discovered them, and I still have my original set of the seven books. I remember being so excited by what most people would consider a clear allegory of Christ's death and resurrection in the first book, and then puzzled when the rest of the books really contained very little that resembled any stories or characters from the Bible. But I loved the books anyway, and as I grew older I read more and more of C.S. Lewis' work... actually, I read everything I could get my hands on, from the Space Trilogy to his amazing works of apologetics to The Screwtape Letters and even a few things he wrote before becoming a Christian. In college I literally read everything by him that they had in the university library.

I've always been so impressed with how methodical and thorough of a thinker Lewis was. That's one reason the Chronicles seem to be a little bit of an anomaly; they seem to be related mostly by the geography of the world of Narnia and the person of Aslan Himself, and frankly, in a few of the books Aslan barely even appears. And then there are other odd things in the books... Father Christmas, for goodness sakes? What's with that? Why would they even know about Christmas in Narnia anyway? I think I basically just sort of wrote those things off, thinking that Lewis was writing the books to entertain children, or maybe just sort of to blow off steam, and that there was not too much rhyme or reason to the whole thing.

That is, I thought that way... until now.

Michael Ward's new book The Narnia Code presents a theory of what holds the books together which rocked my whole concept of the series, and which, to a fan of C.S. Lewis' entire body of work, has a ring of truth to it. When I started reading, you could have colored me intrigued; by the end, you can color me convinced.

Basically, Ward believes that Lewis, who was a professor of medieval literature, used the medieval concept of the universe as a framework for the series. Before Copernicus came along with a whole different idea of the way the universe was organized, it was believed that the Earth was at the center of the universe, and there were seven "planets" that circled around it in concentric orbits (the "planets" were the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn... our understanding of the moon and sun as different from those other planets didn't appear until a bit later, and planets past Saturn were not discovered until the invention of the telescope). Each of the planets was associated with a mythological deity, and those gods was associated with certain things. Each book is based around the superstitious and mythological concepts surrounding one of these planets/gods. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is, for example, the "Jupiter" book, because Jupiter was considered the god of joviality (which explains why when joy begins to return to Narnia as winter breaks, the jolly Father Christmas appears), and Prince Caspian, which is all about war, is based on Mars, who was the god of war. The planets and books line up quite nicely; if you're interested in finding out more details, I'll refer you to the official Web sites at the bottom of this article, and to the book itself (click here to purchase it from

The Michael Ward book itself was, if I understand it correctly, based on the BBC film of the same name (discussed below), and the BBC program was based on Ward's earlier book, Planet Narnia. I have not yet read Planet Narnia (I plan to take a look at it very soon), but my understanding is that it is a more scholarly book, while The Narnia Code is more targeted at the layman. The first few chapters lay out the way Ward came to make his discovery of the link between the books and medieval astronomy, and then it goes straight into explaining the thematic elements of each book, one at a time. I found the initial few chapters a little long for my taste; but once he finally got into the themes of the individual books, I was so hooked! In addition to being a huge fan of C.S. Lewis, I've long been a fan of ancient Greek/Roman mythology, and the connections seem obvious once they're pointed out. It made me want to go back and re-read the Chronicles themselves again, to sort of sniff out the links for myself. The book is an enjoyable read for any fan of the series; you'll want to read it a chapter at a time and digest the information before moving on to the next one.

(For the record, Ward makes it clear, as Lewis did, that the books are most definitely about Jesus Christ; Ward is not trying to say that Aslan is Zeus or anything like that. The idea is that Lewis used the planets and their mythological associations to create the atmosphere for his stories and to point up different aspects of Christ's character, not that Aslan represents a different pagan god in each book.)

Shortly after I read the book, I was at the Christian bookstore near my house, and to my surprise, I spotted the DVD of the BBC program on the shelf! My understanding was that it would not be available until early 2011, but there it was! I snagged a copy and watched it with my family. Surprisingly enough, the DVD contains very little information about the whole "planets" idea; most of it is a biography of Lewis himself. The main program doesn't even give the whole list of "this book matches this planet" associations (although you can find that in the DVD bonus features). I was expecting more about the planets theory, but I found the biography of Lewis interesting and, in a few cases, it even presented information about Lewis that I had not heard before (and I've read quite a bit about Lewis over the years). I enjoyed the DVD just as much as I enjoyed the book, although in a different way; the two complement each other nicely.

If you love the Chronicles of Narnia books, you will at least find The Narnia Code interesting. You may agree with Ward, as I do, or you may think he's a crackpot trying to make a buck off Lewis' legacy, and you may even find the idea that Lewis drew part of his inspiration from stories of pagan gods and goddesses vaguely offensive. But the theory is compelling and the evidence is extensive, and as a Narnia fan, you owe it to yourself to look into these books. It will change the way you see the series forever.

I was provided with a review copy of the book version by Tyndale House Publishers. I purchased the BBC DVD on my own. The opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.

Web links:
My review of Planet Narnia - buy the book - buy the DVD - buy the book (the author)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Orange Sherbet and Rams in Bushes

Yoplait Splitz Rainbow Sherbet Spoonphoto © 2010 theimpulsivebuy | more info (via: Wylio)"Can I have your ice cream?" Meme said to her granddaughter.

It was one Wednesday night after church, and my mom and dad had suggested that we stop and get some ice cream on the way home. My not-quite-three-year-old daughter always gets orange sherbet, but "ice cream" is a little easier to pronounce. She was eating it when Mom asked her to give it away.

Keep in mind that Hannah LOVES this orange sherbet. I really have no idea why she's such a sherbet fan, but she always chooses it, and she usually finishes it. And she was clearly far from finished when she was asked to make the sacrifice and let Meme eat the rest. But you know what she did? After a very brief pause to think it over, she held out the spoon, already loaded up with sherbet, to her meme. Meme laughed about it, gave her a hug, and said, "I don't want your ice cream! I just wanted to see if you loved me enough to give it to me!"

Does that sound like a mean trick to pull? If it does, you might take a quick look at Genesis 22, where God does something very similar. The same kind of faithful, giving heart that knows that someone who loves you would never take something away without giving it or something better back (Hebrews 11:17-19) was returned to us later when God gave us the most valuable gift of all! (Romans 8:32)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

While They Sleep, Redux

Remember this post where I talked about a time when God provided what I needed through the love and kindness of friends while I went to sleep thinking there was no hope? Guess what... I realized that there's a situation just like that in the book of Acts! Check out Acts 12:1-17 in which Peter is thrown into jail and sentenced to execution, and his friends spend the whole night praying for him while he's asleep in the jail cell. You'll love the comedy when he shows up at the house where his friends are praying for his release, and they initially don't believe it's him. They figure it can't be Peter... because Peter's in prison... so it must just be an angel that looks like Peter. Just goes to show you the lengths to which we will inexplicably go sometimes to explain away the miracles of God!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Victim Of Dirt

This morning Pastor Orlando talked a lot about what God has redeemed us from, using the Christmas story as a starting point. But oddly enough, the things that turned on lights for me this morning were all about sin. Take, for example, something the angel said to Joseph in his dream, recorded in Matthew 1:21:
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Have you ever thought about the phrasing: "save his people from their sins"? Did you ever think of your own sins as a threat to your well-being? Not just as something you do, but as something that could attack you, hurt you, even kill you? Did you ever think of them as something that could enslave you? Look at what it says in Romans 6:20:
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Sin isn't just something we do... it's something that enslaves us, controls us. Fortunately, there's a way to escape from being brutalized by your own sins. Pastor Orlando pointed it out, right in Colossians chapter 2:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
(Colossians 2:13-15)
Without going into the level of detail that Pastor did, I'll reiterate his summary: God has forgiven our sins (trespasses), canceled our debt before God, and took away any weapons that Satan might have to attack us with. Have you ever seen a mime pretending he's in a glass box? There's really no box, of course, but the mime puts his hands on all the walls of the box that isn't there, exactly as though he couldn't get out. But what if the mime really believed it? What if the mime honestly thought there were glass walls closing in on him, constricting him, crushing him... killing him? We get the idea that our freedom in Christ is limited by something, but Colossians just told us that God has blown away all the walls that once pushed up against us. Don't be crushed by walls that aren't even there! Look into the Word and discover the freedom you have in Christ Jesus!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Your Name, Making Kids' Lives Harder, and the Church Says Yes

Morning Mistphoto © 2008 David Hopkins | more info (via: Wylio)This morning we sang a Paul Baloche song in church that goes "As morning dawns and evening fades, You inspire songs of praise that rise from earth to touch Your heart and glorify Your Name." I think the imagery of the song rising up from Earth to Heaven is beautiful, but this morning it made me think about how God causes all kinds of things to rise from the Earth toward Heaven. Trees, plants, animals... and His Son from the grave and us with Him. It struck me that God's will always tends toward things rising up from Earth and moving toward Him. Maybe that's part of the reason that many Christians like to stretch out their arms and hands toward Heaven when they sing worship!

After the music portion of the service, we had what we call "baby dedications." Basically those are just a time for new parents (or even not quite as new parents... one of the children we prayed over today is in the toddler class!) to kind of present their children to the church, pray for a safe and Godly upbringing for them, that sort of thing. For some reason I started thinking about my own two kids and how sometimes I'm pretty sure they think my wife and I get great mirth and joy from making their lives miserable. That is of course not the truth of the situation, but I was a kid once... I remember feeling that way sometimes! I realized today, though, that my job as a parent is to make my kids' lives harder... if they are not doing the right thing. My job is to make sin as difficult and unpleasant as I can, but when they are doing the right thing, my job is to grease the rails for them and empower them to succeed. I never thought of myself as a standing-in-the-way kind of parent, but if I'm standing in the way of my kids getting hurt or messing up their lives, I'll stand in the way of a speeding train if I have to!

Later in the service our associate pastor was talking about some of the things we are doing as a church to help needy people in the community, and I was thinking about how I usually feel sort of disconnected from those kinds of church ministries. After all, nobody asked me if we should help that person pay his rent or give him groceries or whatever. But then I realized that just because I don't make the actual decision to help that particular individual person, it doesn't mean I'm not a part of the decision... because if someone had asked me my opinion about it, I'm fairly certain I would have said "yes." In fact, I think it's safe to say, based on what I know about the people in my church (and I've spent time visiting with quite a lot of them), that we would as a body say "yes" if we were asked whether we should help someone who needed our help. When there's unity in a church body, the pastor knows that when he says "yes," the church says "yes." Come to think of it, the reason the pastor says "yes" and the reason the church says "yes" is because when someone calls out to Christ Jesus for help, His answer is "always yes" — within constraints of the church's budget, helping hurting people is always a top priority. That's how I feel, I know that's how my fellow church members feel, and I know it's how my pastor and his staff and board feel... so if Jesus says "yes" and leadership says "yes," and the church is of one mind with leadership, then the church also says "yes!"

Monday, November 15, 2010

While They Sleep

It was the end of the semester. Finals were ending, and summer vacation was coming up. And I was still short some of the funds I needed, and had no idea what to do.

This happened many years ago when I was a student at Oral Roberts University. I was in a choir that had been planning and preparing for a short tour/missions trip in Europe for the whole year. I had done what I was supposed to do to raise the money to pay my way, but fundraising is not a sport for the faint of heart. I had sent out support letters, and I had prayed, and some money had come in, but it just wasn't quite enough. My parents didn't have resources to make up the difference, and I sure didn't have anything squirreled away to throw into the pot. I had no idea what to do, and essentially I gave up and decided to take a nap. But before I did, I ran into my friend Dave. I won't give Dave's last name here, because he and others who know him may see this and he might be embarrassed to have people know what happened, but Dave was in choir with me when I told him I didn't have the money to go, he was very upset; I think he didn't want to see me miss out on an amazing opportunity. I don't remember the exact conversation, but I remember Dave being very agitated, not at me but at the situation. I went to my room and laid down, resigned to the idea that the mission trip wasn't going to happen for me.

Dave, however, did not take a nap. This was the extreme end of the semester, and Dave knew that guys all over the dorm were packing up their stuff to go home for the summer. He also knew that some of those guys would be finding money they had lost in their rooms months ago. Dave took a can or something and walked around the dorm, looking for doors that were open and guys who were packing up their things, and asked them for donations to help a student go on a missions trip. And you know what? Dave managed to raise all of the money I still needed! When I went to sleep, I wasn't going on missions; when I woke up, I was. I wasn't involved at all. I didn't even actually ask for help! What a friend, to help me out when I had given up on helping myself! That trip was a defining couple of weeks for me. I still think back to that trip sometimes. Missions doesn't only benefit the people you go to see, you know. A missions trip changes the missionary, I think, maybe even more than it changes those who receive his ministry.

So, last night I was reading what is known as the "songs of ascent," which you will find in your Bible from Psalm 120-Psalm 134, and I saw this verse (which I've read many times before):
In vain you rise early
      and stay up late,
      toiling for food to eat—
      for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:2 NIV)
It's a great verse to meditate on when you have insomnia, for sure. In fact, it's in my list of sleep scripture verses on But the thing that caught my eye this time was an NIV footnote attached to the verse. If you use the alternate reading, the verse says:
In vain you rise early
      and stay up late,
      toiling for food to eat—
      for while they sleep he provides for those he loves.
What an amazing picture of what happened to me that day! I worked and toiled, but it didn't work out for me... but when I came to the end of myself, God provided for me in my sleep. I hope Dave does read this, because I hope he understands how much I appreciated then and appreciate now what he did that day. The money didn't appear by magic; I believe God gave Dave an amazingly good idea, and directed him in what to do, but Dave got up and did the work, and I was and still am extremely grateful for that. I want to publicly thank him for being obedient to the Holy Spirit, and I want to publicly thank God for caring enough about my missions trip to provide for me "while I slept."

Guess what? I realized that something very similar happened in the Bible! Check out this post for details.

* I'd like to add this: don't sit around waiting for God javascript:void(0)to magically fund your missions trip. Follow the instructions of experienced folks. Write your fundraising letters and emails. Work a few hours extra per week at your job. Wash cars; have bake sales. Do what you know. Pray that God will inspire people to give, and that He will inspire you with clever ideas to earn. But when you've come to the end of your rope and you don't know what else to do, trust God to be in your corner. If he's put missions in your heart, He will also put the money in your hands to do what he's inspired you to do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making God Sad

"Long ago people were mean to each other," I read to my 2-year-old daughter this morning. "They hated God. This made God sad. So God said he would destroy the world with a flood because the people were so mean and sinful."

Wow! That's what God does when he gets sad? I'd hate to see what He does when He gets totally cheesed off!

OK, seriously... I was reading from a children's Bible story book designed for very, very young children, and the story is highly oversimplified (it's the book pictured at right, by the way.) But it highlights something people think about God: they think God had an emotional reaction to the sin in the world, whether it be "sad" or "angry" or whatever, and He flew off the handle and decided that the world was no good and needed to be destroyed. But when God spoke to Noah, He sounded extremely calculated and un-emotional:
Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth...” (Genesis 6:11-13 ESV)
Here's the thing. Anyone who's had The Romans Road explained to them knows that "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." and "...the wages of sin is death...". So if we have all sinned, and our paycheck is death, then outside of God's mercy and grace, we all deserve to die. All of us. That fact turns the whole story of Noah on its head, because it no longer is a story about an angry God killing off everybody, but it is a story of a loving God preserving the human race by saving the lives of a family who, as part of the "all" who had "sinned," certainly deserved death like the rest of humanity. God wasn't angry at the people of the world, but God is just, and He ultimately won't stop us from receiving what we have earned if we insist on receiving payment. God made a way for Noah's family to escape (through his obedience to God's ark-building commandment), and God has made a way for us to escape death too, through receiving Jesus as our savior!

God's not mad at you; He just wants a relationship with you. God wants to love you. If you don't know him, seek Him out today!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Little Doggies

Killer Dogphoto © 2010 Neil Kremer | more info (via: Wylio)Yesterday evening on my walk through the neighborhood, I saw a little doggie running loose. Now, I'm partial to little doggies, and I don't like to see them get hit by cars, so when I see one out, I usually tell them, "Go home, doggie!" and oddly enough, they usually look at me for a second, then turn around and go home. I'm like the Pied Piper of Doggietown. Anyway, not only did this doggie not turn around and go home, he stayed exactly where he was, which was exactly in the middle of the street! Apparently something smelled mighty good to him out there.

So I decided to up the stakes. I actually walked out into the street toward him, yelling "Go home, doggie!" hoping to get him to leave the street (and danger) and get back into some yard or on the sidewalk. And he did leave the street... he started barking at me and backed me out of the street onto the sidewalk! He was a little dog so I wasn't afraid he was going to hurt me too badly, but he was pretty cranky and nobody wants to get bitten, even by a little dog. He barked and barked at me, and every time I tried to walk away he would advance. I had to back away with my satchel between me and him to make sure I didn't get teeth marks in my ankles! As soon as I was far enough away to suit him, guess what he did? He walked right back out there into the middle of the street, in the dark, with cars coming, and stuck his nose right back into whatever he was smelling before. From down the street I watched the next SUV come down the street, hoping I wasn't about to witness a doggiecide... fortunately they spotted and went around him (he stayed in the middle of the street the whole time)!

I was thinking... people are just like that sometimes. Some people, if you see a pitfall in their lives and say something to them about it, will take your advice and avoid the problem. Other people, if you give them even very good advice, will go on the defensive or even on the attack, and you wind up having a hard time extracting yourself from the situation without getting hurt by the person you were trying to help! Does this mean that we shouldn't try to help people (and little doggies) who are in danger? Of course it doesn't mean that. Jesus loved each of us, and Jesus certainly gave us a pretty strong picture of self-sacrifice to save someone who needed saving. I do think that Jesus used a great deal of wisdom and spiritual insight in selecting the people He was going to offer aid to, though; you don't really see people in the Gospels being offered help by Jesus and resisting it. So maybe if I had listened more closely to the Holy Spirit I would have left Mini-Cujo alone. And maybe there are some situations in which the Holy Spirit will guide you out of a situation instead of into it. The key is that just because this doggie went on the offensive it doesn't mean that I shouldn't try to help the next doggie who is out playing in the street. And if you get hurt by some person you are trying to help, don't be scared to help the next person. That person might receive your gift with thankfulness, and you may be able to change, or even save, that life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Carefully Constructed

I know I've been blogging over and over about Psalms lately... but they're just so cool!

So I was reading Psalms 111 and 112, and I thought I would share what I learned from the notes in the two study Bibles I'm reading. These two psalms are "twins," almost certainly composed together by the same author, and intended to be read as a pair. Each of them is an acrostic; after the first line ("Hallelujah" in Hebrew), each half-line starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. They each have ten verses, and in Hebrew they have the same number of syllables. Each has one opening verse, one closing verse, and two four-verse segments with opening and closing thoughts. Check out these parallel structures:

Psalm 111 (ESV)Psalm 112 (ESV)
[1]  Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
[1]  Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
    who greatly delights in his commandments!
[2] Great are the works of the LORD,
    studied by all who delight in them.
[2] His offspring will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
[3] Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
[3] Wealth and riches are in his house,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
[4] He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; 
    the LORD is gracious and merciful.
[4] Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
    he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
[5] He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.
[5] It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
    who conducts his affairs with justice.
[6] He has shown his people the power of his works,
    in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
[6] For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
[7] The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy;
[7] He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
[8] they are established forever and ever,
    to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
[8] His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
[9] He sent redemption to his people;
    he has commanded his covenant forever.
    Holy and awesome is his name!
[9] He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever;
    his horn is exalted in honor.
[10] The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
        all those who practice it have a good understanding.
        His praise endures forever!
[10] The wicked man sees it and is angry;
    he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
    the desire of the wicked will perish!

Parallels between the two psalms: "Praise the LORD" in verses 1, "his righteousness endures forever" in verses 3, "gracious+merciful" in verses 4, "trustworthy" and "trusting" in verses 7, "established" and "steady" in verses 8, and the references to "fear of the LORD" in 111:10 and 112:1 tying the two chapters together.

The four-verse sections are marked off by "works" and "covenant" in Psalm 111, and by references to the righteous man's legacy and generosity in Psalm 112.

"So that's clever and all," you're thinking, "and your highlighting is very [ahem] 'attractive'... but what difference does it make?" Well, there's a quote from the 60s that "the medium is the message," meaning that the form that communication takes is part of the communication itself. The parallelism of these two psalms is part of the message. Psalm 111 is about God, and Psalm 112 is about a righteous man. Because they match, part of the message is that a righteous man starts to look like the God he serves (in fact, since the parallels don't come into focus until you spend time reading and re-reading, the message may be that the closer you look at the life of a righteous man, the more similarities to God you begin to notice!) But not everything is the same... for example, God is "trustworthy," but the righteous man is "trusting in the LORD." The righteous man does not become God, but he relies on God to such an extent that he comes to resemble Him. In the end, the biggest difference of all between man and God becomes obvious: the Lord's "praise endures forever," but "the desire of the wicked will perish!"

Why is this kind of thing useful to know? Well, I think it's easy to blow through the Psalms thinking that they're just some lines somebody dashed off. They seem so similar sometimes. As the "God" character in the Monty Python movie says, "It's just like those miserable psalms, always so depressing." The problem is that sometimes the artistry and craftsmanship present in the Psalms is masked by the change in language from the original Hebrew text. But when we begin to notice how deliberately these things were thought out by the people who composed them, we begin to look much more closely at what they were trying to communicate. If the very structure of the psalm was that important to the composer, imagine how much more important the underlying message must have been. The Psalms are amazing! And I'm not just talking about numbers 23 and 91. Take some time with them and see what the Holy Spirit teaches you!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You Are Good

Rayo de Zeus / Zeus's Lightning - Tepic, Nayarit, MEXICOphoto © 2005 Christian Frausto Bernal | more info(via: Wylio)Today in church we sang a song which contains the lyric "You are good, You are good, You are good, and Your mercy is forever." Which, of course, came directly from the Scriptures, but as we sang, my mind suddenly and rapidly went through a series of thoughts:
  • Yep, God is good.
  • And, God wants the best for us.
  • Then why does God sometimes call us to dangerous situations? (Say, to live in dangerous conditions in a foreign country in order to spread the Gospel.)
  • Or why does God sometimes call us to do things that we don't want to do? (Say, to teach Sunday School when we are scared of public speaking.)
  • Because God knows that we will be the most fulfilled when we are living within His will.
  • So why doesn't God just change His will so that we can only have to do things that are comfortable or safe?
  • Because it proves to the world and to demonic powers that we are willing to follow Him, whatever the cost.
  • So you're telling me that God gets an ego boost out of it?
  • How does THAT show that God is good?
I have a resolution for this train of thought, but you know what? I'm not going to put it here. If those questions rattle your cage and/or rock your Theology, that might mean that you need to spend some time alone with God, because maybe you don't understand Him as well as you will if you ask Him these questions yourself. I think we sometimes don't spend as much time questioning our own assumptions about God as we should. I will say this: God is good. The presence of evil doesn't change that. You take it from there.

We had some guests today who led a worship song: "How He Loves" written by John Mark McMillan. Inexplicably to me, they sang one of the "altered" versions of the "sloppy wet kiss" line, making it both less sloppy and less wet than it originally was. I'm actually a little surprised that the line bothers people as much as it apparently does; the songwriter actually even blogged about the controversy personally. I can think of songs that, to my way of thinking, are a lot worse offenders than that one; I actually like that line because sometimes my mind starts to wander at about that part of a song (late in the 2nd verse) and the sloppiness and wetness of that line always brings me back in.

Anyway, my point wasn't to argue about that line... my point was to mention a Scripture that it brings to mind:
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
    and righteousness looks down from the sky.
Yes, the LORD will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him
    and make his footsteps a way.

 (Psalm 85:10-13 ESV)
When we on Earth are faithful to God, and that intersects with His righteousness, good things begin to happen. I think that Psalm is so beautiful in its depiction of God's love for us. Just like the song, as a matter of fact. I don't know if there was conscious inspiration there, but it certainly looks like it to me.

And hey, there's the goodness of God popping up again. Something to think about.

Friday, November 5, 2010

New NIV Translators' Notes

I just read the Translators' Notes for the new revision of the NIV (PDF), and I had a couple of thoughts.

It struck me as odd that the notes seem to imply that the King James Version was the first translation of the Bible into English. That is FAR from the case, as even a quick look at Wikipedia's entry for the KJV shows. Over 200 years before the KJV, John Wycliffe made the first-ever translation of the Bible into English; William Tyndale did it 100 years after that, and there were several revisions of that translation before the KJV was undertaken. If you look at the first pages of your King James Bible, you will probably find the phrase "with the former Translations diligently compared and revised" right there. The notes aren't trying to mislead anyone; it just struck me as odd that all that history was glossed over so completely.

I did like the terms "transparency" and "comprehensibility" used to describe "formal equivalence" and "dynamic equivalence", respectively. "Formal equivalence" seeks "transparency" to the original texts (meaning, trying to make the English closely match the way the text was originally written), while "dynamic equivalence" seeks "comprehensibility" by re-wording sentences and even whole paragraphs so that the train of thought is clear to a modern English-speaker. (The other terms I've heard for it are "word-for-word" vs. "thought-for-thought")

formal equivalenceword-for-wordtransparencyNASB, ESV
dynamic equivalencethought-for-thoughtcomprehensibilityThe Living Bible, The Message

The NIV seeks to be somewhere in the middle, and I think in general it does a good job. I've come to prefer translations like the ESV that are a little closer to the "transparency" end of the spectrum, but it occurs to me that maybe a good Bible strategy is to have at least one "dynamic equivalent" Bible (the NIV is a good choice, or the HCSB) for times when you are just reading through the Bible, and at least one "formal equivalent" Bible for more intense study times.

The examples of changes in the new NIV that are outlined in the document look pretty good to me overall... it will be interesting to see whether this new NIV gains traction!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Greeks Were Mixed Up

I love the Percy Jackson books.

Months ago we watched the movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and my son and I liked it so much that we've been reading the book series on which the movie was based (the movie is spectacular, but the books are even better!) In the books, the gods of Olympus (from the ancient Greek myths) do human being things, like talk on cell phones and wear Hawaiian shirts and drive taxicabs. And that's actually quite true to the ancient myths, in a way; the Greek gods and goddesses were constantly getting married and getting jealous and getting angry and having sex with humans, winding up producing illegitimate children. In fact, the Greek gods and goddesses, in the final tally, are basically nothing but very powerful (and immortal) human beings. There's nothing really different or divine about them except that they can do cool tricks like throwing bolts of lightning around. The Greeks basically just looked at the world around them and created gods that resembled themselves, with all of the same flaws of character that they had.

Well, the Greeks got God all wrong; in fact, they got it almost exactly backwards. About a month ago I blogged about my belief that everything God created in the physical world was designed to express a truth in God's spiritual world. That train of thought is not something I came up all on my own, of course... Plato was talking about shadows and caves a long time before I came along. Isn't it interesting that the Greek religion taught that the Gods resemble things in their own world, while their own philosophers were figuring out the real truth: spiritual things are the "real" things, and the things we see around us are the "shadows on the wall." God is real and God's ways are the true ways: everything we see around us exists to reveal those ways, and anything that provides a wrong picture of God does so because it is part of a fallen world that has been twisted by sin.

Another interesting thing about the Greek gods and goddesses: they are all associated with something. Zeus is the god of the sky. Poseidon is the god of the sea. Hades is the god of the underworld. Ares is the god of war, and Aphrodite is the goddess of beauty. Each of them associates himself or herself with something in the physical world. Our God, though, doesn't focus on the sea, or the sky, or the sun, or even some intangible thing like beauty or war. Our God's primary focus is one thing: us. God is the god of the human race. He has focused His love on us. He has made it so that we can be His people, and He can be our God. There is a sense of belonging to and being owned by God in the Bible that you don't find in other religious traditions. God isn't the God of the ocean or the land or the sky or fire or Mount Olympus. God is the god of you.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I learned the wrong thing

My pastor started his message this morning with Genesis 3:1-6. He went on to compare the first half of verse 6 to 1 John 2:16, which was an awesome point, but he had already lost me; I was seeing something in the conversation between Eve and the serpent that I hadn't seen before.

Okay, so in verse 1 of Genesis 3, the serpent asks Eve if God really said she couldn't eat from the tree in the center of the garden, right?


Look back at it. "He [the serpent] said to the woman, 'Did God actually say, "You shall not eat of any tree in the garden"?'" (my italics). God had simply said they couldn't eat from the one tree in the center of the garden, not any tree at all. But the serpent misquotes God on purpose, as though he had misheard a rumor through the grapevine. Why do you suppose the serpent did that? I think the serpent (who, we find out later in the Bible, is actually the Devil) understood human nature and knew that if he could just get her into a conversation, that was half the battle. Lesson #1 to learn from this passage: don't try to correct Satan's theology. Don't have a conversation with him. Shut him down, because nothing good will come of having a battle of wits with the Devil. You'll see why in a minute.

Eve doesn't know that the serpent isn't simply misinformed, so she tries to correct the "misunderstanding." But does she correct it? No she doesn't! She messes it up worse! "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" (again, my italics). What's with the "touch it" part? That's not what God had said either! God just said not to eat it. God didn't say a thing about touching it. Someone had added something to God's word. Was it Eve? Was it Adam, adding some extra insurance when he told Eve what God had said? We don't know, but it apparently happened somewhere along the line, and maybe when Eve was starting to wonder about things, she touched the fruit and nothing bad happened, and that made her feel bolder about actually taking a taste. Lesson #2 to learn from this passage: don't add things to God's commands that don't belong. God's Word can take care of itself.

Anyway, I was sitting there, lost in this conversation, actually giving Satan some props, because he knew how to play this woman. He had the psychology down. He got her talking, defending her faith. He waited until she twisted it herself and he saw the chink in her armor. Then he contradicted God outright ("...the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die...'") and told her a half-truth ("...God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."), distracting her from God's warnings and getting her attention on something that seemed like a better idea than following God's instructions. Come to think of it, it reminds me of how Satan tried to confuse and persuade Jesus Himself in Luke chapter 4 (which my pastor read later in his message) by quoting from Psalms. Oddly enough, Eve only had a few sentences of God's Word (that we know of, anyway) and Satan managed to twist it for her enough that she did exactly what God had said not to do. Jesus, on the other hand, had hundreds of years of God's word to deal with, and Satan actually quoted God's word correctly, but Jesus managed to see right through Satan's argument and avoid the sin Satan was trying to trick Him into.

And that's why we need the Holy Spirit. Even when the human race was only two people old, the Deceiver knew human psychology well enough that he was able to trick them. What chance to you and I have against an intellect like that, one which has debated with millions of the greatest minds humanity has ever produced and beat all of them but One, without the help of the One Who wasn't tricked? Don't go it alone today. Let the Spirit of God guide you, and you won't be deceived, even by The Deceiver.

And the next time you're sitting in church, don't worry about it too much if the Holy Spirit takes you on a quick rabbit trail. I didn't miss anything from the message that was coming from the pulpit, and as you can see, I seem to have received a bonus message that was mine alone... well, okay, mine and now yours! The Word of God is amazing and multifaceted, and sometimes it's just a rollicking read (think about the intrigue in that brief exchange between one seemingly naïve and clueless woman, and the enemy of all mankind! Now that's suspenseful writing!) The Bible isn't just a Theology text. The thing that caught my attention was the drama of the story itself. Enjoy the Bible for what it is, whether you're reading narrative or poetry or a vision of the future or a letter written from an evangelist to one of the churches he had visited... take it on its own terms and enjoy it as a book. And then when God has something to teach you, you'll already be listening, and it will be easy for Him to make the revelation clear.

Here's a link to the message I was listening to.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Messing Up. Plus, Jesus' Job Description.

I love it when the singers at my church make mistakes when they're leading praise and worship. It's not that I want them to be embarrassed or to be distracting, but I love how they immediately slip back into worship when they get back on track. And I love that the congregation makes a point to totally ignore mistakes and continue to worship with all their hearts. This happened tonight, and it actually helps me to enter more fully into worship. My church family is the coolest!

The message tonight dealt in part with Isaiah 61:1-2, the passage about the Messiah that Jesus reads in the temple and claims refers to Himself. The notes in the New American Standard Bible I was reading drew my attention to something that I never knew before. Part of verse 1 says: "...he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound..." Isn't that cool? Jesus came to bind up (in a first aid way) people who needed binding, and un-bind (from imprisonment) the ones who needed freeing. Reminds me of Matthew 16:19: "[Jesus said] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Jesus was speaking to Peter, but He was also speaking to all of us. Now, I've heard it said that by "binding and loosing" Jesus was talking about what the rabbis did in telling people what they could and couldn't do, and that Peter would one day bring revelation to the people of God, but since Peter had just shown that he understood that Jesus was Messiah, wouldn't a reference to Jesus' Messsianic "job description" be just as valid of a reason for what He said? Jesus had come to set things right; to bind evil things, and to loose good things. He gave Peter (and gives us) that same charge. Think about what evil you are binding and what good you are loosing today!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Livin' What Jesus Spoke Of

I've known, in my lifetime, people who are antagonistic to Christianity. Maybe they grew up in a Christian church, and for whatever reason, they became disillusioned or angry. Maybe they saw injustices in the world and decided that a benevolent God wouldn't possibly let that kind of thing happen. Or maybe they've thought about it and thought about it, and just decided that if a God does exist, they don't think they care much for him. Often these people have looked quite carefully into the claims of Christianity, either in a search for truth or in order to arm themselves against being embarrassed by a Christian in a discussion about religion. Many of them are quite knowledgeable about the Bible and about what Christians believe.

On the other hand, I've met many, many Christians whose Theological depth barely reaches past about a dozen Scripture verses that they can quote (or misquote) by heart. They may be able to name the books of the Bible, but they certainly haven't read most of them. I'd be interested to know what percentage of the Christian world has read even one single book of the Bible straight through... even 3 John, which is only 15 verses long. I don't have any real statistics, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that even 50 or 60 percent of Christianity has barely even opened a Bible. One of these poorly-read Christians is no match for an opponent who has spent any amount of time studying Christianity.

Among Christians who do actually know something about the Bible and their own belief system, an astounding number disagree on any number of things, even things they consider quite fundamental. You would think that adherents to a faith based on the contents of one single book would be much more unified, but apparently there is a lot of room for interpretation and reading between the lines. So oddly enough, two Christians debating some point of Theology with an atheist might even find more common ground with the atheist than each other.

There is only one thing that can convince someone who is antagonistic to religion of the existence of Christ: a Christian who is truly living out his faith. Two Christians that disagree on speaking in tongues, or faith healing, or transubstantiation, or predestination, or any number of other topics, will react to life situations in almost exactly the same ways when they shut up talking about doctrine and start living like they believe Christ would have them live. Honest-to-goodness Christians who are living their faith and not just talking about it are going to think alike and act alike. We know in our hearts how Jesus meant for us to live. And a life lived for Christ can't be refuted with clever intellectual arguments. A life truly lived for Christ is undeniable. Two Christians who disagree on doctrine but whose lives match because they live for Jesus constitute pretty convincing proof that something unites them. That something is Jesus.

"...By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What will God save you from?

Earlier this week I posted some thoughts about part of Psalm 107, but I thought it was interesting to step back and take a broader look at the whole psalm. There are four stories there, each about a different kind of situation that God has delivered people from:

Verses 4-9 are about people who were lost in the desert and couldn't find civilization, but they cried out to God and He led them out of the desert. Do you feel lost? God has a destination for you!

Verses 10-16 tell the story of some people who had been put in prison because they had rejected God's direction, but they cried out to the Lord from prison and God delivered them.Do you feel stuck? God has freedom for you!

Verses 17-22 tell about someone who is sick and desperately needs healing. Do you feel sick? Is your body malfunctioning? God has a cure for you!

Finally, Verses 23-30 tell the story of people who encounter a huge storm at sea, but they cry out to the Lord and He delivers them. Are you in the middle of a storm? Is there chaos in your life that you can't control? God has peaceful waters and a "desired haven" for you!

"Salvation" isn't something that only occurs once, when you accept Jesus' sacrifice for you. Salvation is an ongoing process. If there's something you need from God, call out to Him and ask. He's got what you need!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Win A HCSB Study Bible

Christian Book Distributors has three very nice Holman Christian Standard Study Bibles on their contest page, to be given away October 31. Enter to win at! Bookmark that contests page and visit periodically; they always have lots of contests going on, and they give away all kinds of great stuff, not only Bibles. Christian Book Distributors is a great place to shop online for Christian materials if there's no Christian bookstore in your area!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sick of Sin

Some were fools through their sinful ways,
    and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
 (Psalm 107:17-22 ESV)

Sometimes we get sick because of something that happens to us. Every year during flu season, people get sick basically because they breathed the wrong air. You might get sick because you ate something that you didn't know was too old for safety, or because of the genes your ancestors passed on to you, or because you stepped on something sharp by mistake, or any number of reasons. But sometimes we get sick because of something we did ourselves. Ever get stomach pains because you ate too much, or too fast, or a lot of something you should have only eaten a little bit of? Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States not only have stomach cramps, but are dangerously obese because they have uncontrolled eating habits. People are in the hospital with cancer in their lungs because of decades of cigarette use. People have injuries because they got distracted in the car and caused an accident. People get diseases that are only transmitted through careless, risky sexual behaviors which are warned against, not only by the Word of God, but by medical science. It's easy to get sick through no fault of your own, but it's just as easy to get sick because of something that is your fault.

Psalm 107 presents four mini-stories about the kinds of people God has redeemed from trouble. Verses 4-9 are about people who were lost in the desert and couldn't find civilization, but they cried out to God and He led them out of the desert. Verses 10-16 tell the story of some people who had been put in prison because they had rejected God's direction, but they cried out to the Lord from prison and God delivered them. And verses 23-30 tell the story of people who encounter a huge storm at sea, but they cry out to the Lord and He delivers them. Verses 17-22, though (quoted above), caught my attention. They describe people who have become ill "through their sinful ways" and "because of their iniquities." By purely human standards, these people are getting what's coming to them. They're getting what they deserve. They've brought this sickness on themselves, and now it's time to pay the piper.

But these people, who had been so unwise that it brought sickness into their lives, suddenly did something wise: they cried out to the Lord. Did God say, sorry losers, but you brought this sickness on yourself, so you're going to have to lie in the bed you made? No, God did not! "He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction." Just like Jesus did for the centurion, God healed them with only a word. Did you notice whose word we're talking about? His word. But whose destruction are we talking about? It's their destruction. God replaced what they had (destruction) with what He had (His word and His healing). That reminds me of another switcheroo God has pulled: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23 ESV) We can't earn eternal life; the only wages we can earn are death. Jesus took the wages we've earned—death—and gave us, free of charge, the wages he had earned—eternal life. I see a pattern here: we get the better end of this deal every time!

I also notice another pattern. When we cry out to God in distress and desperation, God sends what we need, not what we deserve. Did the sinful person deserve healing? No, he deserved sickness. Did you and I deserve eternal life? Nope... our wages were well-earned. But God is able and willing to give us not what we deserve, but what we cry out for. God is a music lover; He wants to receive our "sacrifices of thanksgiving" and hear our "songs of joy!" So if you're sick because of abusing your body some way, swallow your pride and swallow your guilt right now, and cry out to God. I wish I could say that there will definitely not be any consequences of your actions, because there may still be some challenges that you have to face in your body as a result of what you've done, but what I can say is that if you will cry out to God, God will apply His deliverance to your situation!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


About a month ago I mentioned that there are "cover versions" of some of the psalms in Scripture. Did you know that there are also medleys? Check it out.

COMPARE: Psalm 108 TO: Psalm 57:7-11 + Psalm 60:5-12

COMPARE: I Chronicles 16:8-36 TO: Psalm 105:1-15 + Psalm 96 + Psalm 106:1, 47-48

What do you think? Medleys? Remixes? Whatever trendy modern name you want to call them, it's fun to see how the psalmists reused the same thoughts at different times for different purposes. So if you've ever looked down your nose on songs like this one that re-use parts of old songs, reconsider. God allowed it in His Word; maybe it's worth allowing into your worship times too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Living Together Before Marriage

The following question came to me via Formspring:

where, in the Bible, does it say that a couple cannot live together before marriage? Or, does it?

Here's my answer:

I don't know of a place in the Bible that says that a man and woman cannot live in the same dwelling if they are not married. There may be some Old Testament rules/customs related to that, but I don't see a moral reason why that wouldn't be OK. Now, if you are using "live together" as a euphemism for "have a sexual relationship," that changes the picture a bit.

I can think of two reasons off the top of my head that sex outside of a marriage relationship is not the way of believers in the Bible. One reason is that the Bible is pretty clear that two individuals who join themselves in a sexual relationship "become one flesh" (see 1 Corinthians 6:16 Once you have united yourself to someone else, you can't un-unite... in some ways it would be like an amputation. That's why divorce is so emotionally horrible; it's severing one flesh. So having sex with someone and not being married to them is leaving yourself open to an emotional crash later on; with the marriage commitment in place there is a higher barrier to walking out the door. The barrier is for our own protection.

The other reason is that marriage is a picture of Christ's relationship to His bride, which is the Church (consisting of all Christians, not any specific group but all believers in Jesus) (see Ephesians 5:22-33 Doing an end-run around marriage in favor of having a sexual relationship while unmarried, even a stable, long-term relationship with commitment, paints a twisted picture of Christ's love for us. Jesus loved us enough to make a commitment, and a man should love his woman enough to make a commitment to her as well.

You could find a lot more reasons and arguments out there on the Web, but those are the ones that spring to mind. You might also take a look at these lists of Scriptures about Marriage and Sex on my site.

Things the Bible says about marriage:

Things the Bible says about sex:

More of my Formspring answers

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shallow Waters

I'm reading a book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. The book sprang from an article in The Atlantic Magazine entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? The basic premise of the article, and of the book so far (although I've got some distance to go before I'm finished) is that our fast-paced, plugged-in, sound-bytes-on-YouTube and 140-characters-or-less-on-Twitter straight-to-your-cell-phone-or-iPad-whichever-is-faster world, people are actually losing their ability to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time. It's been very interesting reading; maybe I'll share my take on the entire thing here once I'm done with the book. But one part I read this morning rang a bell for me, and I thought you might find it interesting.

The second chapter discusses the "plasticity" of the human brain, meaning whether or not the adult brain can "change" itself, or whether the brain is "wired up" in childhood in such a way that it is unable to physically modify its neural passageways later on. Apparently, for most of history, the brain was thought to be unchangeable after childhood, but in the second half of the 20th century, researchers began to discover that the brain does indeed "rewire" itself, even in adults. For example, if a person loses a limb, the part of the brain that previously was used to control that limb, accept sensory input from that limb, etc. is soon re-purposed for other tasks. That's most likely the reason that blind people often develop sharper sense of hearing, smell, etc. than sighted people; their brains have reused the visual cortex for something else. In fact, there have been experimental therapies used on people who have lost the use of some part of their bodies due to strokes or other head injuries that indicate that if you perform repetitive tasks with that part of the body often enough, you can begin to regain your use of it. Your brain is sensing that you need some power for that body part, and it's sending reinforcements out to work on it. A part of your brain that you are not using for something else is being given the chance to come into use.

What really stuck with me, though, was a section that started with "It's not just repeated physical actions that can rewire our brains. Purely mental activity can also alter our neural circuitry, sometimes in far-reaching ways." It goes on to tell about a study of London cab drivers that showed that people who spend their days performing the spatially-intense task of driving have larger posterior hippocampuses (the part of the brain that handles spatial representations of the person's surroundings). The part of their brains that they constantly stimulate begins to develop. Then it talks about another study in which people with no experience playing piano were taught to play a simple melody, and then one group was told to practice the melody on a piano for a certain amount of time per day, and another group was told to think about playing the song, sitting at a piano, for the same amount of time. Both groups experienced the same kinds of changes in their brains. "Their brains had changed in response to actions that took place purely in their imagination—in response, that is, to their thoughts," Carr reports. "We become, neurologically, what we think."

That the human brain can be physically changed should not be too much of a surprise to any Christian. Romans 12:2 says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Obviously, the way to find out the will of God is to spend time in the Word of God and in prayer, so that verse tells us that our mind can be "transformed" and "renewed" if we do so. By the repetitive action of reading God's Word, studying it, thinking about it, going over and over its basic teachings, submitting our lives to God in prayer and worship, even science tells us that we can "change our minds" and make them work in a certain way. Wouldn't it be great if your mind could operate in such a way that God's thoughts became your thoughts? That's not the way it is naturally, you know. But by spending time with God, using our brains to think about His ways, we can "become what we think." If you approach God with an open heart, He will pour His life into you, and you will be transformed. Your mind will begin to think in terms of God's ways. You might even find things that are not of God less desirable, as His desires become yours. Get into the habit! You'll be glad you did!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
       that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11 ESV)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

HCSB Study Bible Online

I've been looking at a new Bible Web site. It's pretty great stuff! But before I point you that way, let me give you a quick run-down of how I found it.

Mostly on this blog I talk about the ESV, but I've gained a great deal of respect for the HCSB as a kind of more-literal NIV. I'm also a Certified Study Bible Junkie. So when I recently saw an ad for the new Holman Christian Standard Bible Study Bible, I immediately was interested. Here's a video of some of the features of the paper HCSB Study Bible:

So anyway, last week I was at a local Christian bookstore looking at the HCSB Study Bibles, and I saw a Web link printed on them: I wrote it on my built-in note pad (my hand), and when I got home I loaded it up. Turns out it's the new online version of the study Bible... and at least for the time being, it's free! Take a look at what it can do:

Right now the system is in beta testing (the link forwards to, and there's no indication whether Broadman Holman intends for it to be free forever, or to begin to charge for it at some point, so try it out while you can!

At first glance, it appears that they've taken some cues from the online version of the ESV Study Bible. Here's a brief video of that (most of the online videos of the ESV Study Bible are for the older version, which has been superseded by a new iteration, so this is all I've got):

Obvious similarities: two panes (actually, the ESV site defaults to three, but I just use two). Scripture on the left (usually), additional material on the right (usually). Bible verse search box above the left-hand pane, with the Scripture reference you're looking at in light gray text except when you're typing in a new one. The notes follow the Bible text as you scroll. But after that, the similarities end and the feature sets diverge a bit.

One thing I really like about the ESV online study Bible is the "endless scrolling" of the Bible text. When you get to the end of a chapter, the next chapter automatically follows it. The Holman online study Bible doesn't do that. The ESV OSB also has configurable bookmarks and a built-in audio player so you can listen to the Bible text. And the ESV OSB has Bible reading plans built in to give you a framework for your Bible study. The Holman OSB, on the other hand, is heavier on word-study tools; you can turn on links to Strong's definitions directly from the text, and the same information is also available in the right-hand side pane. It also incorporates the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for word definitions, and commentaries such as the Holman New Testament Commentary. It's clear that B&H is building a platform on which they can host a lot of material from their library; the ESV Online Study Bible only contains materials from that one book (although there is a VAST amount of information in that one book, and I've read hints that the architecture of this version of that site is designed so that they can add materials later on). For access to deeper study materials, the HCSB OSB currently has the ESV OSB beat by a landslide. When I've wanted access to Strong's word definitions, I've had to get them at Blue Letter Bible; now I could go to the HCSB OSB instead and find a much slicker interface.

There are some clunky parts left to be ironed out; for example, if you click a "read more" link, the full text of the study note opens automatically in the left-hand pane, right over the Bible text. The Bible text is still there, of course; it's just on a separate tab. But I'd rather see the full text of the note appear in the right-hand pane and not cover the Scripture text. You can move the tabs from pane to pane quite easily, but it strikes me as awkward for it even to happen that way in the first place, especially seeing how much effort they've put into the interface. Maybe that's one of the things that will come out in the wash as they move from beta to release version. On the other hand, things like verse popups when you hover over a cross-reference indicator are much more intuitive on the HCSB OSB site than on the ESV OSB site.

A few more odds and ends: the ESV OSB has a really nice setup for copying verses to paste into something else; I use it all the time for this blog. The Bible verse linking facility points to the ESV OSB as well, which makes for extremely easy linking from blog posts, Tweets, or anywhere you might want to link to a Bible verse. The HCSB site doesn't seem to have anything like those two features, but on the other hand, the HCSB site also contains the KJV text, and you can even set it as your default if you like.

The ESV online study Bible is a pay service; access to the Bible text is always free, but access to the study notes is $19.95, or free to anyone who purchases a hard copy of the ESV Study Bible. Currently the HCSB Online Study Bible is completely free, and I wasn't able to find any indication that they plan to charge for it in the future (see update at the bottom of this post), but I can't imagine a publisher simply giving away all of the resources they're putting out there. My guess is that the free access is a beta testing/generating buzz thing which will eventually lead to a pay service, much like Crossway gave away access to the ESV OSB for a bit back when it was brand new. I'd say if access to this new Holman site is in that same $20 range, and if it includes even only the study resources you can see today, that's a pretty amazing bargain. The HCSB text + Study Bible notes & cross-references + Strong's definitions + Bible dictionaries + a whole shelf full of commentaries = quite a value, even at a much higher cost. The link on The HCSB Study Bible site says that contains "more than $200 in free resources" and I totally believe it. I'm looking forward to spending a little more time with the HCSB Study Bible notes to see how much I like the content, but the site is feature-rich and the materials look very useful. I think it's a great start for a new Bible Web site.

A list of HCSB Study Bibles you can buy

The official site of the HCSB translation

UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I found this in the site's FAQ:
Will this site and this content always be FREE?
Our current intention is to keep all of the books that are in this BETA site free forever! And we plan to add more free books! Later, we expect that publishers will need to charge for royalty-based books. When we add those royalty-based books, we will let you know how to access them.