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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!