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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Coca-Cola Makes Me A Better Christian

Today I feel great. I've got a smile on my face. I feel uncharacteristically outgoing. I'm normally very introverted, but today given the opportunity I would maybe even speak up and share my faith with someone. Maybe even a stranger! I'm feeling and acting like the most awesome Christian ever. And I owe it all to one thing. Is it an entire morning of prayer? Well, no, although I do pray quite often. Is it three Psalms, an Epistle, and the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? No, although if you've been reading this blog you know that I'm working my way through the whole Bible this year. Have I been to an awesome Christian concert? Yes, recently, but not today. Did I hear a great sermon at church? Of course... at my church, it's awesome EVERY Sunday. But today is Wednesday, and I had to miss church tonight because my son had a makeup soccer game. Wonderful Bible teaching conference? Nope. Inspiring TV preacher? Nope, don't really watch preachers on TV much. I attribute my cheerful, pious mood to one thing: about 36 ounces of good old Coca-Cola!

Yep... I'm way buzzing on caffeine. I'm a computer programmer, and I had a demo to do at 2pm this afternoon, and the programming wasn't finished when I got there this morning; I went to a convenience store at about 10am and bought a 2-Liter of Coke and swigged it all day until I was programming like a madman. I worked straight through lunch, and got the code copied up to the demo area just a few minutes before the phone call was about to start. The demo went GREAT, and I think the client really liked what they saw! Afterward, I felt like a million bucks! The weather was beautiful, I left work early because I had worked during lunch, and with Coca-Cola coursing through my veins, I was on top of the world!

Did the caffeine really make me a better Christian? Of course not. The caffeine and sugar probably gave me a bit of a buzz, and the nice weather and successful work day almost guaranteed a cheerful attitude. So I was feeling happy, but is feeling happy what makes you a good Christian?

To all outward appearances, yes it does. And quite possibly it can lead to doing better deeds, better "works," and that is certainly part of a successful Christian life! I'll say with James, "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." Doing Christlike things (like buying someone a coffee and listening to them when they need an ear, for example, or letting another driver into the flow of traffic during rush hour, or cheering up a sad friend with a prayer or Scripture or even just a smile, or whatever) demonstrates that you are a Christian, and I believe God expects that out of us. Being in a good mood makes it easier to do that stuff. But in reality, a cheerful sinner might be nice to someone, but his cheerfulness doesn't make him a Christian. And a crabby believer in Jesus is still a Believer, even if he's mean to someone.

Drinking massive amounts of soda is not a healthy lifestyle (I honestly try to go easy on that stuff most of the time), but you know what? A truly healthy lifestyle makes those "good mood" days much more frequent, even when it's not 75 degrees and sunny and you got off work early. You know, that whole "my body is a temple" thing isn't just something muscle-headed guys at the gym like to say; it's actually from the Bible. You are purchased by the blood of Jesus, and your body belongs to Him. And a healthy lifestyle makes it that much easier for you to "...glorify God in your body." You're in your body all of the time, so if you're going to glorify God at all, it'll have to be in your body!

Take care of yourself. Eat right. Get in some exercise. Read the Word and pray, of course! ...but don't feed your spirit and mind and neglect your body. If your body breaks down, it's not going to be able to bring glory to God, no matter how healthy your spirit is. Let's glorify God in every way we can!

Monday, March 29, 2010

NLT Bible Contest

I'm a big contest-enterer. I enter some contest on the Internet almost every day on the Internet, especially the kind where you can enter every day (like this "Win an iPad" contest). I faithfully keep track of a couple of places that have ongoing contests, like this CBD page, and enter the ones with prized I think I'll like. I've even won a contest or two, like this time when I won the beautiful NASB Bible that I still take to church every week. I even have a contest of my own running right now! I don't often enter contests that require something out of me other than a tweet on Twitter or just typing in my address, but my mom mentioned a Tyndale NLT contest to me and I decided to enter. You do have to write something in order to enter, but by this time I figure I know my way around a computer keyboard. The grand prize winner gets a trip to Oahu! hey, that's worth writing a few words! (Daily winners also get copies of the New Living Translation Life Application Study Bible).

To enter the contest, you choose one of six passages from the NLT Bible and write a "what this passage means to me" about it. You can see some examples of recent entries here, and read testimonies from a recent similar contest here. Here's the passage I chose:

Galatians 3:26-29
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

And here's what I wrote:

The verses from Galatians 3:26-29 in the NLT tell me what it takes to be a part of God's family. I've heard it said so many times that the members of the human race are all brothers and sisters, God's children, but according to this verse, that is wrong! We are God's children only if we have faith in Christ Jesus. But when we have that faith, we become members of a family where racism and sexism are completely foreign concepts. And becoming a member of that family is as easy as changing your shirt! Wonderful!

I don't think this verse means that Christians are some elite group, better than everyone else; just that we've made the right decision. If God has made it as easy as changing clothes, then I have no reason to think I'm better than anyone else... anyone can change their clothes. Members of God's family are special not because we are inherently better than anyone else, but because God has made us into something special. We've just given him permission to do so!

You are allowed to enter multiple times... maybe I'll even enter again sometime. Try your hand. Worst case, even if you don't win, you spent some time thinking about God's Word. And that's a prize in itself!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

NLT Quiz Fail

This morning I was knocking around on the New Living Translation Web site, and found a short Bible quiz. I thought it sounded like fun, so I went ahead and tried it. You answer each question, and it immediately tells you the answer. Ironically, on one question the right answer cannot be determined from the NLT text. Check it out:

The New Living Translation is not a revised version of the classic Living Bible paraphrase from way back. The NLT is a new translation (not a paraphrase) which means that its fidelity to the original texts is much more exact than the paraphrase. In this case, the word means "death-shadow" so "darkest valley" is arguably an acceptable translation, but maybe whoever set up this quiz should have paid closer attention to the questions and answers to make sure they were completely appropriate to the translation they are trying to convince me to use!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The more things change...

In 1956, a very unusual wedding took place. The groom was C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia books as well as many other works of Christian fiction and apologetics. He was nearly 60 years old, and had never before been married. The bride in the hospital bed next to him was a 40-year-old American divorcee to whom he had, in the eyes of Great Britain, been married for quite some time. It's not unlikely that you've heard this story before; it was written about by Lewis himself after her death a few years later from bone cancer several years later, and the story, under the name "Shadowlands", has been made into a movie twice.

It turns out that the woman in this story, Joy Davidman/Gresham/Lewis, was an amazing thinker and author in her own right. I learned this when, out of curiousity, I checked the catalog at the library to see if anything she had written was in the collection. Sure enough, there was one book, These Found the Way: Thirteen Converts to Protestant Christianity, which contained her autobiography up to a few years before her divorce from Douglas Gresham (his story is in the book as well), and a book she wrote called Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments. I checked out both (they were so old that the library had them in storage!) The former, which is a compilation of the life stories of a number of people who came to Christ later in life (Joy and Douglas had previously been atheists and Marxists), really opened my eyes to some of the ideas and attitudes of Christians midway through the 20th century. Joy's chapter especially stood out to me, not only because it was the part of the book that I initially checked it out to read, but more importantly because she wrote with passion and emotion that I didn't feel in the other authors' chapters. I was hooked!

But even though her chapter in that book knocked my socks off, the idea of reading a book about the Ten Commandments sounded dry at best. In fact, for that very reason I had left both books on my "to read someday" lists for quite some time before I finally requested them. Frankly, I thought that her book about the Ten Commandments was going to be BORING. But boy, was I wrong! Smoke on the Mountain is anything BUT boring. It is interesting, challenging, and amazingly current... especially considering it was first published in 1953!

Joy takes each of the Ten Commandments, one chapter for each, and examines it in historical context to try to determine what the command might have meant to the original listeners... ancient Arabs, recently freed from slavery, wandering around in the wilderness. They didn't think the same way you and I do. As someone from the middle of the United States, I don't even fully understand the mind of a modern inhabitant of the Middle East, much less one that lived over 3000 years ago. Joy does a great job of providing that background, and then translating those ideas into a modern context.

The fact that her interpretations hit amazingly close to home proves, however, that people haven't changed as much in the nearly 60 years since her book was written as you might expect! Ms. Davidman, a Jew by nationality but (by this time) a Christian by religion, thought things through thoroughly and reached sometimes startling conclusions. For example, in the chapter on "graven images" (idolatry) she brings a hypothetical individual through several levels of idolatry... from a non-churched worshipper of things like the nice television in his living room, to a church attender whose idol becomes the idea that he can "save the world" through buying a TV for the youth room at his church, to a person who sees the church not as an instrument of social change, but as something that is valuable in and of itself.

"And I [the hypothetical person who has made this journey] am still an idolater," Joy Davidman writes. "I have fallen into the last and subtlest trap; I bow down to wood and stone, in the shape of a church building. Through regular attendance, through handsome financial contributions, through raising the minister's salary and redecorating the altar and improving the organist's technique and encouraging the foreign missions, I expect to be saved. To put it bluntly, I have forgotten that the church itself is not God."

Have you ever thought that your church itself might become an idol to you? I never have before, but that is a pretty interesting perspective on why ministers and church volunteers become burned out. They are serving their idol, and idols are cruel taskmasters.

How about the prose-poetry of this passage about giving up your own desires and plans and "loving the Lord your God with all your heart": "...we fear that if we give up the self nothing will be left of us but a dry, empty husk like a dead snail shell. It seldom occurs to us that the Holy Spirit is only waiting until the self is out—waiting to rush in and fill us with luminous splendors. Throwing away the self is like squeezing the water out of a half-drowned man's lungs, not because you want his lungs empty but because you want the air to get in so that he can live. For the self is asphyxiating and killing us; the only air we are designed to breathe is God."

Have I squeezed enough "self" out that the Holy Spirit can fully enter in? Well, I hope I've squeezed enough out that He feels comfortable as the central figure of my life, but I know there's always more work to do. There's always just a little bit more heart to love the Lord with! Joy Davidman's way of expressing spiritual truths is often as much emotional as intellectual, and I like that a lot... it makes the whole thing so much more vivid and memorable. It's the reason I liked the book. It's the reason I wanted to share it with you here!

I had to give the book back to the library (after renewing it the maximum two times and letting it go overdue a couple of days!) but I plan to buy a copy of it for my own library and study each chapter for a whole week. It's available in paperback from and from (if you insist on a hardback copy, you may wind up paying "a little" more!) The ideas are startling and potentially life-changing. I highly recommend it!

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's In The Bible - new children's video series from Phil "Bob the Tomato" Vischer

336336: What's in the Bible? DVD Series, Volumes 1 & 2
I've been excited about the What's In The Bible video series for months... ever since the first time Phil Vischer mentioned it in his blog. When Tyndale House Publishers agreed to forward me a complimentary review copy ahead of the release date, I was so thrilled I could hardly stand it! We are big fans of VeggieTales at my house; I have a 9-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, and we started buying VeggieTales videos for him when he was a baby, before they were even making DVDs of the show. Now we have every episode (except Pistachio, which just came out), and my little girl asks for VeggieTales by name. When Phil Vischer's book about the VeggieTales days came out a few years ago, I read it with sadness and hope. Phil has been working on a few things since then (most notably Jelly Telly), but this is a big one. In a 5-minute introduction to the video series, Phil explained that this is a return to basics for him, going back to his "...original call to lead kids through the Bible and bring it to life for them." And I would say that this series is likely to fulfill that call even better, dare I say it, than VeggieTales ever did.

So far, two videos have been released in the planned series of 13 total. Each video is just under an hour long, and that hour is broken up into two 30-minute "episodes" which would be a perfect length for a kids' class at church (or a TV segment on Saturday morning!) The idea is to cover the basics of the whole Bible through the course of the series. Here's Phil explaining it:

I took the review copy home so the first time I watched it was with my wife and kids. We had a great time watching it, and I was pretty impressed with not only the content, but also the production quality. I spent a few years working in television back a decade and a half ago; I wouldn't consider myself an expert, but I worked at it long enough to understand a few basic things about TV production. And I can tell you that these shows are well thought out and executed. One of the first things I noticed was how bright and vivid the colors are, not only of the puppets and the animated segments, but even of the live set that Phil is on. The puppet sets have clever details in them, like a cowboy hat hanging on a hook on the wall behind the country music singing cowboy, or the silly "A is for Abraham, B is for Babel, C is for Caesar" signs on the wall in a Sunday school classroom. There's even chalk & erasers for the puppet's chalk board! Often the set is virtual, with the puppet performance over a cartoon-animated background, which makes for some surreal moments like a black Gospel song where the soloist is a puppet and the choir members backing him are an animated cartoon... of puppets! There is even a pirate character who is a puppet, but who has a parrot sidekick who is animated. Fun! And a clever and fresh use of the technology.

The editing style is fast and interesting; often puppets on different sets converse with one another, so what you're looking at on the screen is constantly changing, but it's not frenzied enough to be distracting to anyone who grew up in this YouTube/music video/sound byte era. I loved the camera work, particularly the fact that during some songs and segments the camera is never still... it is always slowly moving to the left or right, so it gives the scene some movement, even when the background isn't actually changing. It all contributes to giving the show its own personality and setting it apart from other kids TV shows out there.

The puppet characters themselves are a lot of fun. Most of them are instantly recognizable to anyone who has been watching Jelly Telly. See for yourself:

Jelly Telly fans will already know Buck Denver, Clive & Ian, Sunday-school Lady, Chuck Wagon, and the couch ladies, Agnes & Winnifred. I don't remember ever hearing Brother Louie's name on Jelly Telly (although he does appear in the Jelly Telly theme song), and I don't remember seeing the vaguely Shrek-voiced Captian Pete (the pirate with the animated parrot) on Jelly Telly at all, but they well may have been there. The puppets are fun to look at and listen to; each one has a very distinctive voice (which apparently are all supplied by Vischer... the man's a kid-show machine!), and they all have fairly specific roles to play on the show. In general, they have their own "home" sets... Clive & Ian are in a jungle, Sunday-school Lady is in a Sunday-school class, Buck Denver is on his news set... but occasionally they will go to a new set for a song or to visit another character (Buck's news set seems particularly prone to invasions by other characters). Phil Vischer is himself a character (not a puppet), and he sort of acts as a ringmaster for all the craziness. My kids loved it all - my little girl cracks up every time she sees Buck riding the space bike in the opening segment, and my little boy loves the jokes and gags.

Familiar references to kid culture are scattered through the videos... there's the mention of several children's books that you saw in the clip above, for example, and there are also mentions of Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer and Disney's Finding Nemo (used as an illustration but not mentioned by name). And the references go beyond secular culture; in answer to the question "Why do we put all of those Bible stories in one book?" the puppet characters fire off the names of a bunch of stories children are probably familiar with from church lessons and coloring pages, and in one spot where Noah's Ark is mentioned, a child voice says the animals came in "by twosies" (a phrase from a well-known Sunday-school song about Noah), The Sunday-school lady replies that that is correct "...except for the ones they used as food... those came in by sevensies." (Phil has been known to throw in fairly obscure Bible details from time to time... remember in Dave and the Giant Pickle where Archibald/King Saul's recommendation for Dave was "Couldn't you just play your harp, and I'll throw things at you"?)

The cultural references aren't just for children, either. Their parents will appreciate references to one of Carrie Underwood's hit songs, and comic book hero The Green Lantern (kind of a crossover dad/kid reference there). There's also a very blatant rebuttal of the book/movie The Da Vinci Code which, at this point almost 4 years after the movie came out, may not be that topical for the kids, but I wouldn't be too surprised if some of their moms and dads weren't still wondering about it!

And what's more appealing to kids and their parents than silly gags? There are running gags, like the way Buck Denver always says " of NEWS!" whenever someone says his name, or Ian's obsession in the first episode with "PONIES!!" Then there are more subtle jokes, like Dr. Schniffenhausen's answer to the question "What is the Bible?" ("wood, black oil, & cow" ...when he says it, it actually sort of makes sense!) and car-trip-boy Michael's question why his breath didn't get fresher when he licked a "testa-mint". And there are plenty of sight gags, too; my favorite is the extreme double-take Abram does when God taps him on the shoulder. Hey, when you have wacky lines like "A sofa doesn't have metaphors!" and "There's a newsman on the floor! What's he reporting on, ants?" you know that you're going to find something to laugh at eventually!

VeggieTales has always been known for having great songs. The What's In The Bible series is clearly not going to be upstaged by vegetables! Give a listen to the ultra-catchy theme song (be forewarned: you will be singing about whether the "Bi-a-ble" is "reli-a-ble" and whether Buck Denver's "hair is pli-a-ble" for hours after you listen to this):

(That's "...Who knows our names and numbers hairs," by the way. I had probably heard it nine or ten times before that sank in.)

Songs are scattered throughout the videos. Sometimes they are brief and silly, like Pirate Pete's song about the canon of Scripture: "Oh, I've got a canon and I like to shoot, it's really big and black but I think it's kinda cute..." (yes, he's standing on his pirate ship next to a two-N cannon!) Sometimes the song is a major part of the content of the lesson; Chuck Wagon's song about Exodus/Moses not only covers pretty much the entire book of Exodus, but it also contains the funniest Country music description of the plagues of Egypt I've ever heard! Sunday-school Lady sings a song about idolatry that explains that anything we value more than we value God is an idol to us, and the specific things she mentions in the song are surprisingly grown-up things: money, credit, romance, cars, sports and travel are all named off one by one in a space of not more than 15-20 seconds. A little something for Mom and Dad to chew on, there!

I think my favorite song on the two videos is (Louie Armstrong-clone) Brother Louie's black Gospel number "Hallelujah, Look What God Can Do." If you loved "Second Chances" from the VeggieTales Jonah movie, you'll love this one too.

I have to say that the books of the Bible aren't approached exactly as I expected. I was expecting "In The Beginning" to be a straight-out summary of the book of Genesis, and "Let My People Go" to be a summary of Exodus. Although the raw Bible-story material does appear there, it's generally not attacked head-on right at the first; in fact, you're twelve minutes into the first show before you even get to the beginning of the Bible, and even then it's not Genesis 1:1... it's the Table of Contents! Instead, in general these videos approach the Bible from a thematic standpoint. The idea is to point out the lesson that the Bible is trying to teach us, rather than myopically focusing on the details all the time. Sort of like a Bible Overview course for third graders. They talk quite a bit about important Theological words like "covenant", "salvation", "redemption", and "patriarch"; terms for Bible-related things like "Septuagint", "testament", and "canon", and the origins and meanings of the names of each of the books. They also talk about things like the different categories of books in the Bible (the Pentateuch, the Historical books, Prophecy books, Gospels, Epistles, and so on) and why different Bibles may have different numbers of books (Bibles containing the Apocrypha vs. Bibles that do not). They ask and answer a number of "big questions" like "What is the Bible?" and "Who Wrote The Bible?" (my favorite answer, given by a child: "nobody") and "Who is Moses?" and "Who picked the books to be in the Bible?" Often there is a short segment in which kids (with lesser or greater degrees of success, depending on the question) try to give answers (some of those kids are pretty smart!)

Sometimes they stop and explain a detail that a child might ask about: in a puppet show about Creation, God is represented as a cloud, and they stop to explain briefly that we don't know what God looks like, so a cloud is a pretty fair placeholder. Ever wonder why the Bible calls God "He"? Why God created people? Those kinds of questions are addressed, and often in a way that your pastor could preach in the adult service. For example, Sunday-school Lady teaches us that God created people because God is three things: creative, personal, and relational, and God wanted a relationship with us! In the discussion about sin, we find out that God wanted to save us from three things: the "stain" of sin, the "power" of sin, and the "presence" of sin. If that seems about as clear as mud to you, watch the video and you'll see how well those three categories cover things!

The videos cover some touchy subjects, too, and I think they cover them well. There is a discussion about the inspiration of Scripture, centering around the difference between God's "words" and God's "Word" (synopsis: the "words" were written by Men inspired by God, and the truth they contain is God's "Word"). I've read quite a bit about the differences between a "literal" word-for-word style of translating the Bible and the more paraphrased thought-for-thought style, and this discussion comes close to that territory without actually saying anything that should offend either camp. There is a discussion about how long Creation took... 24-hour days or figurative "days" that could be much longer periods. I think Phil handles the topic quite well, presenting ideas from either side of this hot-button issue (again, without actually taking a side, allowing parents or teachers to discuss it further with their children) and concluding that "Genesis isn't about 'how' but 'Who'" (essentially, it isn't a book about science, but a book about God). I'd say those hard topics are handled quite well, and I see no reason why any children's church class or home should object to the open and honest way that they are approached, allowing teachers to provide further information if they so desire.

It is also helpful that each show starts out with a quick summary of some of the high points of the previous show, so if a class used these videos for several weeks in a row, for example, there's something to jog memories right at the start.

Will the VeggieTales set like these videos? I would say probably yes, although there is very little in common content-wise. To me, VeggieTales might actually work best with a little bit younger audience. The "lessons" in VeggieTales are generally pretty basic; the lessons in this series are cornerstones of Theology. These videos are probably less useful as entry/exit video for a Children's Church... I've seen VeggieTales and other vids used before and after service to keep kids entertained until parents arrive. These videos are more in-depth and build on themselves throughout each episode; kids would watch them in snatches before and after the service, but they are better watched as whole 30-minute "shows".

Would these videos be good for a Sunday-school or Children's Church class? Yes they would, but you would have to make sure that the rest of your class materials covered the same concepts and ideas as the video (I would love to see some curriculum developed to complement the videos, as a matter of fact [edit: since this was written, the curriculum I was hoping for has been announced!]). Who will learn something? You know, I'd say that almost anyone who happened to be paying attention will likely learn something. I had just completed reading and studying the books of Genesis and Exodus when I watched the videos, and even I picked up a tidbit or two here and there. So although the eight-year-old might be the one who gets excited when the theme song plays, the 15-year-old or the 35-year-old might just accidentally leave the room afterward with something to chew on too.

This is a great series. I'm pushing 40 and I had a terrific time watching it (several times!), and I'm sure you and your children will too. We can't wait for the next episode (topic: "Are the stories in the Bible fables?") If you've never been taught the Bible by a Sunday-school lady and then immediately been taught Church History by a pirate, it's a must-see. With nary a vegetable in sight, the puppets have taken over and are changing the way kids see the Bible!

Click here for a PDF of pictures of the "What's In The Bible" puppets to color!

We have a copy of each video to give away! To enter the contest, simply leave a comment on this blog post (use an actual identity or at least click "Name/URL" and put in your name, so I'll know who you are) and then immediately send an email to me at so I'll have your email address. Make sure your comment and email reach me before March 31, 2010. On March 31 I will randomly choose two entries, and each of those winners will receive one of our free DVD certificates, redeemable at Christian bookstores or direct from Tyndale. (I would wait until April 1 to choose winners, but then I'm afraid the winners wouldn't believe me!)

Official Stop On The What's In The Bible Blog Tour

Friday, March 5, 2010


Last night my Read the Bible in a Year reading took me through the last chapters of Deuteronomy, which means that for the first time in my life, I have now read all the way straight through the first five books of the Bible! I can't say there was anything there that I wasn't aware of already... decades of reading the books in pieces and sitting through church services and Sunday school classes took care of that... but I can say I did take away some valuable things from the experience.
  • I gained an understanding of and new appreciation for the structure and artistry of the Pentateuch. I already knew that the first five books of the Bible were considered sort of a unit or collection, and I already knew that scholars generally consider them to have been written almost entirely by Moses (it's unlikely, for example, that Moses penned the sentence "So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord", but he probably wrote almost all of the rest of it!), but I never understood just how important the five books are to each other. Basically, they are the story of the birth of the nation of Israel; all five of them relate to that.

    Genesis is like a prequel; it tells not only how humans got here in the first place, but why a "set apart" nation was required (rampant sin which kept messing everything up), how that nation got started (one guy, Abram/Abraham, who trusted God), and how they wound up in Egypt in slavery when God had promised them their own land (the story of Joseph).

    Exodus is where the rubber meets the road; Moses is born in the initial chapters (I learned something quite interesting when reading this part!) and we see the new displaced nation of Israel, born in slavery (just like every member of the human race is born in slavery) freed from bondage to Egypt and released by God to travel to their own country. It's an epic story that has inspired people throughout history. It is also the book where Moses first finds out how to build the tent version of the Tabernacle, which later was built in a permanent form as the Jerusalem Temple.

    Leviticus is where God first gives the new nation of Israel the bulk of its laws. The Ten Commandments have already been given for the first time in Exodus 20, but the bulk of the laws about sacrifices, feasts, and basic human conduct are given here. This makes for dry reading at times, but it is critical to the overall story.

    Numbers starts out with a census right after Israel leaves Egypt, tells the story of how they did not make it into the Promised Land because they did not trust God, tells us about their wandering in the wilderness, and ends with another census, right before the second generation enters the Promised Land. A perfect demonstration of how distrusting what God says, what His Word says, can leave you spinning your wheels for a lifetime.

    Deuteronomy is largely Moses' final address of Israel before he dies and they enter the Promised Land without him (I had some interesting thoughts about this part, too). Interestingly, a big hunk of what Moses told them was the same laws that were already detailed in Leviticus! Some of them have a slightly different nuance in this version, but it's a lot of the same stuff. Lesson learned: we need to hear God's Word over and over, and each generation needs to hear from God for themselves.

  • I gained a much greater respect for the person Moses. I don't think I ever truly grasped how amazing a man he really was. How would you like to try to lead two million griping, complaining people around a desert for forty years? The guy must have been made of some good stuff! He has got to be one of the most influential figures in history; the laws he received from God and recorded, and his story, are known just about everywhere, because he somehow made the time, in the middle of leading all of those people, to write the whole thing down. Amazing!

  • I learned how important these five books are to Jewish culture. Almost everything they did and still do from a ceremonial standpoint comes from these books. The major festivals, the sacrifices, even the construction of the temple and their eventual geographical locations within the Promised Land all comes back to these books. Without them, the Old Testament doesn't even make sense. With them, sometimes you understand things in the Old Testament that didn't make sense before... an easy example would be that until you understand the Mosaic laws they were operating under, the situation between Ruth and Boaz in the book of Ruth doesn't make any sense. I ran across several moments like that during my read-through. For example, Gideon sending home men in his army who were afraid makes a lot more sense when you realize that God had codified this as standard practice in the book of Deuteronomy.

  • I realized how important the Pentateuch is to the New Testament. If you know your New Testament well (or if you have a good commentary or study Bible) you will recognize many, many times where the Pentateuch is quoted in the New Testament. In particular I was struck with how many times Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, but there are references to it all over the New Testament, and I'm not only talking about the obvious ones like the discussion about Abraham in Romans 4. These five books form the bedrock of the Jewish religion, and thus of Christianity as well.
I was actually quite surprised at how much I got out of reading the Pentateuch. I learned, I was often entertained - sometimes even laughing out loud at the funny parts - and yes, occasionally I came across parts that left me collossally bored. Would I recommend reading this to any adult Christian? Yes. There are some parts that are frankly a little bit racy for very young children (!), but Christians need to have the knowledge they can gain from these books. If you don't have a good commentary or reference book or software, may I recommend the ESV Study Bible? It can help you get through the weird parts, and it will help you spot things that you might not notice on your own. You can get a pretty good deal on one at, or check at your favorite Bible store.

I wouldn't trade this trip through the Bible for anything!