Subscribe in a reader or enter your address to get posts via email: 
Like this blog on Facebook!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Scripture Menu on your Home Screen

Hopefully if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that it's actually part of a Web site called, and that we've actually provided a mobile version of the site to make it easier to access using your cell phone. Here's something you might not know: although we haven't technically built a formal "app" to install on your phone, it is very possible to put a link to the mobile site on your iPhone or Android phone's home screen, and that link will look like an app and behave like an app. When you touch it, you will be opening a browser to the mobile site. Scripture lists at your fingertips! Here are instructions on how to do it (thanks in large part to this post on Phil Wilson's blog; I'm copying the instructions from there to here not to steal Phil's content, but so the instructions will still be here if for some reason one day his blog is not):

  1. Open in Safari
  2. Click the icon at the bottom center of the browser. It may look like a square with an arrow in it, or it may simply look like a plus sign.
  3. Select "Add to Home Screen."
  4. If necessary, give your link a name (I recommend "Scripture Menu").
  1. Open in the Android browser.
  2. Bookmark the page.
  3. Open the browser bookmarks screen.
  4. Long-press the bookmark you just created.
  5. Select "Add to Home Screen."
Alternately on Android, when you get to step 3, instead just go to the home screen where you want to see the bookmark, long-press the space where you want to see it, then select "Shortcuts" and "Bookmark" and select the bookmark you created. Note that this may not work the same way if you use an alternate browser such as Dolphin or Firefox.

Either way, the result is that you've created a link that feels like a Scripture Menu "app" on your phone, but you haven't had to purchase, download or install a thing. The only thing you need is a data connection, and you've got instant access to the Scripture Menu wherever you are!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011!

From, the New Living Translation, and a bunch of Christian artists!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Perspective

My office Christmas tree
The Christmas tree I set up
every year in my office at work
I've been doing some thinking about Christmas.

I know that seems like a kind of weird thing to say... hasn't everybody been thinking about Christmas? This time of year it's all around us. There are trees and carols about Jesus and songs about Santa and gift shopping and cartoons about Charlie Brown and people angry about the word "Xmas" and the phrase "Happy Holidays," and church Christmas programs and missions offerings, and people generously paying off other people's layaway accounts and buying gifts for children from poor families, and traveling and Christmas parties and white elephant exchanges and who knows what all else. And always, always, always there is someone telling us about the "true meaning of Christmas." In fact, that phrase has started sounding a bit ludicrous to me this year, like something people just say. Like when I say, "How are you?" as a greeting, and you say "Fine," even when you're not really fine. It's just what you say. And I'm starting to think that this time of year, people talk a lot about the "meaning of Christmas" without really putting much thought into what they're talking about.

This week I listened to some podcast sermons from a local church where the pastor started out from the premise that society is "trying to take Christ out of Christmas." He mentioned the recent debates over the use of "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," and the notion that was popular several years ago that using the word "Xmas" is the same as "X-ing God out of Christmas." He acknowledged that the "X" represents the Greek letter "Chi" which is an abbreviation for "Christos" which is Greek for "Christ," but then paradoxically proceeded as though he thinks people are using the X to remove Christ from the picture anyway. After that confusing start, he talked about what it would be like in the world if Jesus hadn't been born. He mentioned some of the charitable organizations started by Christians (the Salvation Army, for example, and the YMCA) and people who have done great things because of their faith in Christ (Mother Theresa, monks and scribes who preserved ancient manuscripts, missionaries who helped and still help non-literate people groups develop written language). His message was stirring, but it leaves you with the idea that unless Jesus had come, the world would be totally devoid of any of those things.

I just don't buy that. It's not like God had no hand in the world at all before He sent His Son down so God could finally have a say in what was going on down here. God has always been active in His creation; all through the Old Testament you see God intervening, and if you read it carefully, you'll realize that the descendants of Abraham were intended to be God's instrument of doing good in the world all along (God even refers to Israel as His "firstborn son" in a place or two!) I agree with Pastor that Jesus' coming and the rise of Christianity has had a huge impact on mankind, but the picture you wind up with is one of a world devoid of anything holy or good, with no philanthropy or kindness or Cyrillic alphabet or orphanages or anything. Based on my reading of the Old Testament, I believe that if God's plan had not included sending His Son into the World, God would have instead used the Jewish nation to do all of those things. The job would not likely have been done in exactly the same way, but I believe God would have made it happen somehow. Because God loves people.

And if you're going to hang the "meaning of Christmas" on the nice things people have done in the name of Christ, what are you going to do with the evil things people have done in Christ's name? What about "holy wars" and Crusades? What about priests raping children and parents browbeating their families with the Bible? What about Protestant/Catholic wars in Ireland? What about alleged witches being burned at the stake? What about weird stories like the tale of William Tyndale, who was executed by the religious authorities (in God's name) for translating the Bible into English (in God's name)? If Jesus hadn't come into the world, those things might not have happened, either. I don't think Christmas is a time for patting ourselves on the back, talking about how nice we are to people because Jesus made us act nice. I don't belittle the transforming power of Jesus Christ in the life of someone who follows Him; in fact, I depend on it. Without it, I would be a mess. But I don't think the "meaning of Christmas" is that Jesus makes us nicer.

Then I read this terrific blog post by a pastor who has become fed up with the consumerism of the Christmas season, seeing it as something that brings harm to us rather than good. I mean, when you come out of Christmas with debt you wouldn't have had otherwise, that's a bad thing. When you spend the whole month of December selfishly thinking about what you hope people will give you for Christmas, that's a questionable use of your time, especially if the end result is going to be disappointment or even anger if you didn't get what you wanted. Pastor Sammy makes some very important points about the attitude we should have about Christmas, but he seems to have reached a point where he's almost ready to throw out the baby with the bath water (not the Baby... I didn't mean Jesus. Stay with me on this, now!) Although I do agree with him that when we buy expensive things we can't really afford and then say it's because of Jesus, we do the essence of the story about Jesus' birth a disservice. And I want to make it clear that I understand (and you should understand, too) that when Pastor Sammy said "I hate Christmas" he didn't mean it in the sense that he thinks it should be eliminated; he was stating his case in a shocking way to get people's attention. Make sure you read his followup blog post (link at the bottom of the original) so you understand clearly where he's coming from. I agree with him particularly about doing consumer-y things in the name of Christ; I have a relative who was so turned off by that sort of thing that he essentially abandoned Christmas (and God) altogether. But I think there's a balance to the season that we need to strike.

Mariah Carey's Christmas album "Merry Christmas" is one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums. And listen, I have TONS of Christmas albums. I have a collection of maybe a couple hundred, both religious and non-religious. I like Mariah's in large part because it is actually far more reverent and Christ-centered than most of the "Gospel" Christmas albums I've heard. Who would have thought you'd hear a song called "Jesus, What A Wonderful Child" on a pop Christmas album? That song alone has the word "Jesus" in it more times than most entire Gospel albums. Her "O Holy Night" has got to be one of the most amazing arrangements/performances of that song ever. And when I hear a song on a pop singer's Christmas album end by repeating three times the phrase "He is light, He is love, He is grace, born on Christmas day," I can't help but be astounded at the guts it must have taken to record something with that amount of religious significance. That line alone could be the basis of a pastor's entire Christmas sermon! But you know what? Mariah wasn't afraid to follow up "Silent Night" with the love song "All I Want For Christmas Is You," and then to follow up "O Holy Night" with "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". And she also wasn't afraid to include her fun take on "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" right after that whole thing about light, love, and grace. So the real question is: has Mariah devalued the significance of the religious content of her album by including things about missing someone you love, wanting to be with them, or a Jolly Old Elf?


I don't think there is a "meaning of Christmas." I mean, I think it means different things to different people, and it means different things to the same person at different times. I imagine it means something different to Mariah when she's singing "I miss you most at Christmas time, and I can't get you off my mind" than it does when she's singing "Jesus, born on this day, He is our Lord and our Savior." It means something different to me when I'm listening to Linus talk about the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night than it does when I'm watching my kids open their presents. The Christmas season, with all of our traditions and habits and history, is a complex thing, and you can't wrap it up in a pretty box and slip it under the tree. It's just not that small of a thing.

But I will tell you my favorite thing about Christmas, and yes... it's a "Jesus thing." The thing I love most about Christmas is that at Christmastime, people are more likely to act like Jesus intended for them to act. People are nicer to each other. People wish each other well - I don't care if they're wishing you well just on Christmas, or on the many holidays that occur in and around the month of December. And at Christmastime, it "feels" more "okay" to talk about Jesus. It's a time when it's easier to share your faith - don't browbeat with it, but share it, like a Christmas present that can be accepted or rejected by the recipient. But don't self-righteously deny people their gift-giving and their Jingle Bell Rock and the other trappings of the season. It's not an affront to God that you have a tree in your living room, whether or not the history has something to do with pagans in the woods. Jesus was not born on December 25th; probably not even in the month of December. If you're looking for a "meaning of Christmas," then Christmas essentially means that we have a few days off from work, give each other presents, sing traditional songs, that sort of thing. It's a festival. But I think we can adopt a new question: what is the opportunity of Christmas? Everybody knows the story of the sweet little baby who was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn, and if they don't, there are a billion shows on TV to tell that story. The opportunity we have at Christmas is to experience that story one more time, and maybe start a dialog about it with someone who doesn't understand that the real gift was not the baby, but the redemption He provided when He died on a cross thirty some-odd years later.

Have fun this Christmas! Sing carols, visit with family, enjoy your candlelight service, open your presents. I hope you have great stuff in your stocking Christmas morning. But you don't have to search for a "meaning" to Christmas, because it means whatever it means to you at any given moment. But remember the opportunity of Christmas... which is essentially the same opportunity Christians have all year long. The opportunity of Christmas is to remember that the baby whose birth we are celebrating grew up to love people, help the poor and sick, share God's message of hope, and ultimately give Himself for us... and then the opportunity is to allow Him to transform us so that we live more like He did every day of the year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Night of the Living Dead Christian

Every Halloween, I'm reminded of a theory of mine. My theory is that every kind of monster that you see in a scary movie, or read about in a horror novel, or imagine is hiding under your bed, actually is a symbol of a fear common to human beings, and that's actually what makes them scary. For example: why would a ghost be scary? They go right through walls! A ghost, in theory, couldn't even pick up a knife to stab you or a club to hit you. I think the reason people are afraid of ghosts is that ghosts represent something else people are already afraid of: death. I think people are scared of skeletons because we fear not having enough food... starvation. I think we fear mummies because we fear embarrassing or dangerous things that may come back from our past to ruin our present. I think we fear werewolves because we fear wild animals; I think we fear zombies because we fear strangers (what's stranger than someone you used to know who is now only an animated corpse?) It's easy enough to come up with a basic fear of mankind that matches up with just about any creature from any B movie you can think of.

In his new book, verbosely titled Night of the Living Dead Christian: one man's ferociously funny quest to discover what it means to be truly transformed, Matt Mikalatos, who must have had a heck of a time in Kindergarten learning how to spell his own name, takes a different approach. He matches up different approaches to living as a human being to different monsters. Then, in a whimsical twist, he writes a story starring himself as both narrator and one of the main characters. Apparently, some of the other characters in the story resemble some of his own real-life friends as well, and the neighborhood suspiciously resembles his own. However, the next-door neighbor in the book, a man named Luther, is (reportedly) not based on a real neighbor of his. Luther, who when he becomes angry transforms not into the Incredible Hulk but into an incredibly dangerous werewolf, soon also becomes the focal point of the story, because although it is a book that contains zombies, mad scientists, vampires, and one very large android, the book is actually about the transforming power of surrendering your life to Jesus Christ.

I almost hate to synopsize the story itself, because I feel like I'm giving away too many spoilers and it's much more fun to read it for yourself, but I'll fill you in on a few things to give you an idea of what the book is like. Luther, early on in the story, becomes estranged from his wife. In fact, the first time we see him (in human form, anyway), his wife has just loaded their baby in the minivan, and told Luther they are leaving him. After determining, based partly on Luther's wife's assertion that "He's a monster. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? A monster," that Luther is indeed a werewolf, Matt and his friends, who were unable to locate any silver bullets with which to shoot the wolf, instead attempt to kill him by pelting him with coins with a high silver content shot from slingshots. This attempt meets with limited success; the werewolf is not killed, but instead is befriended, and the crew sets off on a quest to figure out how to cure him of his werewolfiness. On the way they escape from a horde of Study Bible-toting zombies, get advice from a recovering vampire, and face off several times with a very persistent monster hunter. If you took Pilgrim's Progress, threw it in a cooking pot with a little bit of C.S. Lewis and a pinch of Monty Python, and then stirred in a season or two of Scooby Doo reruns, this book is what you would get. It's wacky and unusual. The line between metaphor and "real" is pretty blurry: Luther is a man who loses his temper and that transforms him into an angry person, and we might say he "became a monster," but he also actually transforms physically into a furry monster. So the book is a true monster story, although since it is not actually very scary, you might have to classify it as, I don't know, a "monster comedy" or something like that. But under the surface humor is a strong, important message about the way we non-monster human beings lead our lives.

That message is this: each of us has problems that we cannot solve without the transforming power of Jesus. Sometimes we can't use sheer willpower to keep from becoming angry. Sometimes we can't keep from selfishly, vampirically using others by making up our mind to be nice. It takes the power of God to change us. The scene where Luther is finally freed from his lupine tendencies, reminiscent in many ways of a similarly vivid scene from the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, illustrates a kind of change which is painful, horrible, and necessary. It's the story of all of us, after all. The final chapter is bittersweet; bitter because as in real life, not everything is resolved as we wanted it to be, but also sweet because there is a ray of hope which mirrors the hope that shines in each of our hearts when Jesus becomes our life focus.

I enjoyed this book very much, but didn't laugh out loud at it. (Then again, I don't laugh out loud at Scooby Doo and Monty Python, either.) I enjoyed it in the way that I enjoy a good fast-paced satire: I don't want to break out and laugh, because if I do, I might miss the next funny bit! It does take time to sort of acclimate yourself to the world that is unfolding in the story... particularly since the "Introduction" is written by the fictional Luther, whom we will not meet until chapter 3, and the "Prologue" is actually located in chapter 2. After that, you spend a lot of time trying to guess which characters are also monsters, and what the heroes are going to try next to cure Luther. For me, one of the funniest mental images in the book is when Luther, at the advice of a psychologist who asserts that he must accept that he is a werewolf and learn to control himself, dresses in a suit and spectacles while in wolf form and strikes up a chat with Matt. On the flip side, there are insight-loaded details there that might be missed by a too-casual reader, like the brief speculation that some of the partially-transformed zombies are zombies made up to look more like humans, and some are humans made up to look more like zombies, and the two are virtually indistinguishable. (Which might you be?) The silliness runs throughout; there is no shortage of light moments to balance out the seriousness of the primary theme. But the theme is always there, just beneath the surface.

When I finished the book, I found myself thinking about ways that I might sometimes transform into a manipulative mad scientist, or a brainless zombie, or a codependent, selfish vampire, or an angry werewolf. The "Are You A Monster?" section at the very back will either make you laugh, think, or scratch your head in confusion... hopefully it, and the rest of the book, inspires more "think" than "head scratch," but I suspect it was designed for a little of both. I know the book gave me pause to reexamine my reliance on Christ in my daily life; it's so easy, like Luther, to fall back into looking like a wolf but trying to behave like a human. I'm planning to spend some time with Mikalatos' other wacky novel, Imaginary Jesus, very soon. If it inspires change like this one does, I know I'll be glad I did.

Even if you don't like monster movies, I recommend that you give Night of the Living Dead Christian a chance. It won't give you nightmares about monsters... except, maybe, the monster inside of you. But if it does, it also will show you the way to eliminate that dangerous creature once and for all.

Read more about Matt Mikalatos at
Read more about Night of the Living Dead Christian at
Read more about Tyndale House Publishers at

Don't miss the details about the free book giveaway after the video!

We have a winner for the contest! Congratulations, Terry!

We have a copy of the book 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 December 22, 2011. On December 22 I will randomly choose the winner, who will receive a free book certificate, redeemable at Christian bookstores or direct from Tyndale.

I was provided with a review copy of this book by Tyndale House Publishers. The opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

All Night

'Moses parting the Red Sea' photo (c) 2005, Bjørn Bulthuis - license:
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22 ESV)
The children of Israel were in a bad spot. They were just a bunch of slaves who had been released by their captors, only to be accused of escaping and pursued by the mighty army of the nation of Egypt. Behind them was that army, camping out, presumably to either recapture or slaughter them in the morning. In front of them, sure, was the supernatural cloud from God which they had been following, but there was also an impassable expanse of water. The proverbial "rock and a hard place" scenario. The people were caving in with fear; the only thing holding them together was the reassuring voice of Moses saying that God was going to save them. Then God told Moses to do something. Moses was to hold up his arms over the water, and divide it so they could cross. God reassuringly and protectively moved his cloud between the Egyptians and the Israelites, and Moses held up his hands, and the wind began to blow.

The wind began to blow? What about parting the sea? All we get is a moving cloud and wind?

Look back at the Scripture passage I quoted above. The wind blew all night. It doesn't even say if Moses held up his hands all night; maybe he held up his hands, felt the wind, and then went to bed. But maybe not... it might have been quite a rough night for the Israelites. I found a news item about a researcher who, using computers, estimated that it would have taken something like a 63 mile-per-hour wind to do this. A gale-force wind, blowing all night. I wonder if that seemed like an improvement to the Israelites?

The wind is strong and the water's deep
But I'm not alone here in these open seas
Cause Your love never fails

The chasm is far too wide
I never thought I'd reach the other side
But Your love never fails

This year my family has been going through some difficult challenges... we've moved to a new town and have been trying to repair and sell our old house. Just moving from one place to another is a big job, but then contracting out the repairs and putting the house on the market brought another whole set of challenges and responsibilities. On top of that, last summer I had an unusually intense period of high-profile projects that needed completing at work. It's been difficult, and frankly, it's still difficult; although things have wound down a little bit, the house is still not sold, and some of those workplace projects are still ongoing. There's a lot to be anxious about, a lot to be stressed about. In the wake of all that, a few days ago I was running on the treadmill and listening to the new Newsboys CD, God's Not Dead, which contains the song I've quoted in this post (it's called "Your Love Never Fails"). And that particular morning something occurred to me.

Just because the seas don't part immediately doesn't mean that God isn't working a miracle.

Take yourself back to that story about Moses. Imagine you are a frightened ex-slave. A ferocious army is within attack distance; you can't see them because of a cloud, but you know they're there. If you don't get across the Red Sea, they're going to re-enslave or kill you. You can't swim it; you don't have a boat. You want God to create a bridge! You want him to send you dry land! And what does He send? A windstorm. All night you suffer through a steady 63 MPH wind. Is this what you asked for? Is this what Moses was crying out for? We need a boat, not a cloud and a hurricane!

What God was giving them became one of the most spectacular, famous miracles of God in history. But it must not have felt like a very good miracle at the time. It may have even felt like God had left them, or was actively punishing them. But God was working in their behalf, parting the sea so that the land they walked on would be nice and dry. God was rolling out the red carpet for His people, and when they had partaken of His salvation, He was going to use the same miracle to completely eliminate the threat to their safety by drowning the Egyptian army.

You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning
And when the oceans rage
I don't have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails

The next time it feels like you're trapped between an impassable see and an undefeatable army in a 63 MPH windstorm all night, remember: God may be parting the Red Sea for you!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

NLT Life Application Study Bible (and more!) Giveaway

Tyndale is running a great contest on the New Living Translation Facebook page. You'll need to like their page (and there's a lot to like about the NLT - my pastor preaches from it every week, and I use it to read devotionals to my kids every night!) and you can enter the contest. What are they giving away? Well, they're giving away a TON of hardcover Life Application Study Bibles. They're giving away a "family pack" of them to one random entrant every day - five Life Application Study Bibles of slightly different "flavors" (the "Guys" edition, the "Girls" edition, the "Student" edition, the regular unleaded edition, and the Large Print edition). And once a week, someone wins an iPad 2! Obviously, since there are daily prizes, there is no time to lose... you'll want to enter right away to have a chance at the good stuff. If you enter and win because you saw the contest here, please come back and let me know in the comments! I'd love it if someone fell deeper in love with the Word because of a contest they won because they saw it on my blog!

Here's the link again: NLT Giveaway on Facebook

I appreciate how many times Tyndale is willing to run these little contests and give away copies of their translation. They don't have to... currently the NLT is the fourth best-selling translation (after the NIV, the KJV, and the NKJV, beating my beloved ESV which is at #5 - see the CBA list here) so obviously they are doing pretty well even without running contests to drum up publicity. They've been known to give away digital copies to all takers, as well. I appreciate a company that, although they obviously need to sell their translation in order to continue to be in business, is also willing to share free copies from time to time.

By the way... I've been a little bit quiet lately, but I do have some good things coming up - a review of a new book called Night of the Living Dead Christian next week, for one thing. There is also something I haven't mentioned here yet, but I should have: for the next few days, you can download an "offline" copy of the NIV to your mobile YouVersion for free! (Normally the NIV is only available if you have a data connection.) This means that you can have the NIV available to read without using your mobile phone's data allowance or being in reach of a WiFi hotspot. Just open up your YouVersion (or download the app, which is always free and which is available on pretty much every mobile platform), find the NIV in the list of translations, and click the "download" icon - there are instructions in the blog post about it if you need them.

Whatever you use to read the Bible... a NLT Study Bible you won from a contest, the NIV you downloaded from YouVersion, some other software or Web site, a dedicated device or an audio Bible... whatever you use, get the Bible into you. Get it rolling around in your mind. It will change your life for the better.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Big Bible Sale

This blog and were obviously born because of my deep respect for God's Word. But just because it is the most valuable thing in the universe outside of God Himself doesn't mean we can't get a good deal on one now and then! The bookstore at Westiminster Theological Seminary always has terrific prices on ESV Bibles, but right now they're having a sale on top of that... all ESV Bibles published by Crossway (and also the Reformation Study Bible) are on sale between now and Tuesday, November 29, for 45% off! See for yourself!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Righteousness - convinced of it

Yesterday my pastor based his message on this passage, which quotes Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit, from the New Living Translation:
But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. - John 16:7-11 (NLT)
Verse 10 ("Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.") caught my attention, because it seemed subtly different in the New American Standard version I was reading:
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. - John 16:7-11 (NASB)
It occurred to me that the NLT makes explicit something that the more-literal NASB leaves you to figure out: that Jesus meant that the Holy Spirit's lesson about righteousness is that it is available because Jesus made it available by going to the Father. But as I read it, it seemed to me that what Jesus meant was that because He was the model of perfect righteousness while He was on Earth, when He left and that perfect model was gone, the Holy Spirit would have to reveal perfect righteousness to people instead! This seems to be the way the ESV Study Bible leans:
"Because I go to the Father means that Jesus will no longer be in the world to teach about true righteousness, and so the Holy Spirit will come to carry on that function, through illumination (v. 13) and through the words of believers who bear witness to the gospel." (ESV Study Bible)
Both of these statements are true: 1. Righteousness is only available because Jesus provided it; and 2. The Holy Spirit reveals that availability to us. Which did Jesus mean? Well, I still think in context it makes more sense to assume that Jesus meant that He wasn't going to be around to show us righteousness, so the Holy Spirit would have to take up that job. The NLT (which, by the way, I generally do enjoy reading because it's very comfortable English) doesn't leave you that option. It assumes that it knew what Jesus meant, and in this case, I disagree. Does it mean that the New Living is not a valid translation? Of course not! But it does highlight why it's a good idea to take a look at a number of translations and commentaries when you're studying the Scripture. Sometimes the insight in one version is different than the insight in another. Isn't it a blessing that we in the English-speaking part of the world have such a wealth of great information about the Bible available to us?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

YouVersion - download NIV and NLT online for free!

Check it out... the NIV and NLT are free to download for offline use with YouVersion for the next 24 hours! From the YouVersion email newsletter:
NIV and NLT Available for Download: 48 Hours Only!

Some of you have let us know that you lost your offline Bible versions after upgrading or replacing your phone without having offline translations backed up. Most versions in the Bible App are available to download anytime. However, a few are not, so we reached out to our friends at Biblica, Zondervan, and Tyndale, and they have graciously allowed us to offer the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) for a limited time.

For just 48 hours next weekend—from 12:00 AM October 30 through 11:59 PM Central Time U.S. (GMT -5) October 31—you’ll once again be able to download the NIV and the NLT for offline use. (When you download a version, that means you can read it in the Bible App even when you’re offline—that is, when you can’t connect to your service provider or to the Internet.) Special thanks go to Biblica and Zondervan for making the NIV available, and to Tyndale for the NLT.
Get 'em while you've got the chance! Hey, can you believe that YouVersion's app for Java phones is still in active development. How many mobile apps can say that?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Friend of God

'Jesus is on Facebook' photo (c) 2010, Loren Sztajer - license:
Who am I that You are mindful of me,
That You hear me when I call?
Is it true that You are thinking of me,
How You love me... it's amazing!

I am a friend of God! He calls me friend!
Back several years ago when my wife and I were in the worship choir at church, this song was the new thing, and we sang it quite frequently. It's a joyful, upbeat song; it's a fun one to sing. We sang it this past weekend at a marriage conference I went to with my wife, and it brought back some fun memories of those days. I remember we used to joke that the actual lyric is "...He calls me Fred" ...but we never sang it that way in church (not intentionally, at least!)

I also remember once our worship leader saying that she had actually received flak for the lyric. "Friend," the objection goes, is apparently too familiar of a term to use for God. When I heard her say that I immediately recognized that as a ridiculous objection which stems from a lack of actual knowledge of what the Bible says. What? That was what you were thinking? Let me show you from the Bible that God actually does call human beings His friend. I can think of an example from each testament right off the top of my head.

Old Testament: Abraham
    But you, Israel, my servant,
        Jacob, whom I have chosen,
        the offspring of Abraham, my friend... -Isaiah 41:8 ESV

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 2 Chronicles 20:7 ESV
Obviously it was common knowledge back then that God said Abraham was His friend. It should be common knowledge to Christians now, because there is also a New Testament verse that says so (probably the inspiration, along with Psalm 8:4, for the song):
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. -James 2:22-23 ESV
Bonus Old Testament friend of God's: Moses. "Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent." -Exodus 33:11 ESV

But, weren't Abraham and Moses special cases? Surely not just ANYBODY can be a "friend of God," right? Just those special people. Is that what you think? Well, let me remind you of:

New Testament: Disciples
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." -John 15:12-15 ESV
In His farewell speech to His disciples, Jesus very specifically told them that they were His friends. Not His "servants," He told them, but His "friends." The disciples were far from special; they were a bunch of miscellaneous fishermen and other laypeople that Jesus had gathered around Him. And it's pretty likely that you believe, as I do, that Jesus' discourse here was intended not only for those present, but for all of us disciples of Christ which were to come (apparently the Apostle John felt the same way, or else he probably wouldn't have recorded it in such length). If you read through the rest of the discourse, you will find things that Christians have applied to themselves throughout the centuries. The gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise of Heaven. Being branches of the True Vine. Hatred of the World for Christians. All of these things we have applied to ourselves through the years; why not the simple friendship of God?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bible Closeout Sale is having a closeout sale on some great Bibles... including audio Bibles, teen Bibles, Study Bibles (my favorite), and many more! This is a great chance to get some early Christmas shopping done! Could you use a new NIV Bible before the 1984 version goes completely out of print? How about an NIV Study Bible? Or maybe an NIV/The Message Parallel Bible? Do you need an NLT divided into 365 chronological readings? What about a new NAB Gift & Study Bible for a Catholic friend (or yourself, if you're Catholic)? Does your child need a new Adventure Bible, or does your college student need a new HCSB Student Bible? Check out the huge discounts here! Bible Closeout Sale

Friday, October 14, 2011

Heroes: Fictional, Past, and Future

I've been reading a story about a bunch of monsters.

Well, technically, I wasn't reading it; I was listening to an audiobook. And technically, it's not about the monsters; it just has a lot of monsters in it. It's called The Lost Hero, and it's the first book in the second series of books about Percy Jackson.

Well, technically, Percy Jackson's not even in it, so I guess it's not about Percy Jackson, either.

Anyway, I've been listening to the audiobook version this time (I read it last year) because now I have about a 40-minute drive in to work, and I don't have as much time to read now as I did when I rode the bus for the same amount of time. But I wanted to refresh my memory on where the series had left off, because the sequel (The Son of Neptune) just came out and I wanted to remember where the plot was going when I get around to audiobooking that one.

The Percy Jackson novels take place in a world where the gods and goddesses from Greek and Roman mythology actually exist, along with lots of other beings, some nice and some monsters. As in those old stories, the gods and goddesses sometimes get a little bit hot and bothered, and wind up producing children with human mortals; these children are called "demigods" because they are half-god, but they are not immortal. (Remember Hercules? In the ancient myths, he is a demigod whose father was Zeus.) The demigods in the Percy Jackson stories are teenagers, but they go on quests, battle monsters, and generally do a bunch of heroic stuff, just like the demigods in the legends. It's a very exciting fantasy world, and the books are quite popular.

A key plot point in this second story arc is that the gods and demigods find that they have to work together in order to defeat their enemies. In one pivotal scene (mild spoiler here, BTW, in case you haven't read the book), one of the demigods is able to defeat an almost invulnerable enemy by praying to Zeus and then attacking the enemy, knowing that if Zeus doesn't back him up somehow, he will be killed. Zeus does send lightning to assist him, and the enemy is defeated. Isn't that interesting? The boy prays to a god, acts in faith even though he cannot see his solution yet, and then the god backs him up. Isn't that so much like what the Bible asks us to do? Pray in faith and don't doubt, knowing that what you are praying is God's will and not just yours, and God will do His part and the answer will be there when you need it.

The book series that begins with The Lost Hero is called the "Heroes of Olympus" series; a demigod who goes on quests and succeeds at them is known as a Hero. When I've been between audiobooks lately, I've been listening to a music CD called Music Inspired by The Story which is a series of songs performed by a pretty amazing group of Christian rock, pop, and even rap artists, sung not about Bible characters, but in their voice. These songs imagine what thoughts might have gone through the mind of David, or Paul, or Moses, or Mary the mother of Jesus, or about a dozen more Bible characters. Characters? Let's call those guys what they are: they are also Heroes. Except these Heroes didn't battle cyclopes and storm spirits; the Heroes in the Bible fought the fight that each Christian faces every day. They trusted, and they doubted. They succeeded, and they messed up. They got confused, nervous, frightened. They didn't understand what was going on sometimes. But ultimately, when their lives were done, the Holy Spirit saw fit to inspire someone to write their stories out for future generations to read. And because of that, I can have Joshua or Daniel or Esther or Joseph, who lived thousands of years ago, as an inspiration. A role model. A Hero.

Do you ever wonder if somewhere, God's still writing our stories into the Bible? What if the Acts of the Apostles actually isn't finished, and won't be finished until this world ends and all of us who follow Christ cease to do our "acts"? What if what we have in our Bibles is the very first few pages of a scrapbook God's been keeping about His children ever since? What if thousands of years from now, someone gets to read in the Bible about... me? What if God is recording my quests... I mean, my "acts"... in a sequel to the Acts of the Apostles? One day I might get to be a Hero!

You know, though, if you let God speak through you, you are a Hero. When I lead my household in a Godly way, I am a Hero to my family. When I share something from the Word with someone by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I am the Hero that person needed to deliver that message to them. When I pray in faith and God adds His power to the situation, incredible, impossible things happen. It's not because I'm a powerful human; it's because He is the powerful God.

I'm not a demigod. Both of my parents are human beings, and I'm pretty sure yours are too. Mine aren't from Olympus; they're from Louisiana. Demigods aren't real, but Heroes of the Faith are. And today is your chance to be one! Accept the quest you are offered today, and be the Hero God has created you to be. Like Esther, you were created for just this time, just this situation. The challenge isn't too hard, because God equips you. Get out there and do something worthy of God's scrapbook! Maybe one day, weeks or years or decades or centuries or eons from now, your acts will be an inspiration for others!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Passages in Oklahoma City

Today we drove to Oklahoma City for the second-to-last weekend of the Passages exhibit. It's a positively huge collection of ancient manuscripts, manuscript fragments, Bibles, and artifacts related to the Bible. The exhibit is arranged more or less chronologically, starting with some incredibly old Torah scrolls and some ancient oil lamps (Because the Word of God is "a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path") and following the Bible down through history. It's a fascinating story; to see it unfold right in front of you is an experience that you won't soon forget.

There are dozens of rare, precious copies of the Bible in the exhibit. They have a collection of early 1600s copies of the King James Bible (including a first edition or two), not to mention many translations that preceded it in English, Latin, and a few other languages. There is a copy of a letter written by Martin Luther shortly before his execution, complete with his signature. There is an actual fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls; I was surprised at the emotion that I felt looking at a piece of a page of a copy of the Old Testament that was in existence when Jesus walked the Earth. There's a working printing press like Gutenberg's (which is demonstrated every few minutes). There are video presentations that take place between characters that are in separate physical "windows" having a conversation with each other, which is very unique and fun to watch. There's even a room with a number of interesting misprints; I got to see the "Wicked Bible" I've always heard about (the one that says "Thou shalt commit adultery" in the Ten Commandments), one that says that Judas called the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane (it should say "Jesus" instead of Judas), and several others.

We got to see a Bible which is printed in ink made of real gold. We got to hear the stories of Jerome, Tyndale, Luther, and other important people in the history of the Bible, dramatized and told in their voice using animatroincs. It was an amazing ride; three or four hours had gone by before we knew it. My eleven-year-old son said, as we were leaving, that it had changed his life (wow!) If you have a chance to get to Oklahoma City in the next week or two, come on out and spend a day. If you love the Bible, you'll be glad you did. We were moved.

Here's a quick video about the exhibit:

The Web site is; there are some other great videos about the exhibit on the Passages YouTube channel. The Oklahoma City exhibition ends on October 16th; after that the exhibit goes to the Vatican for an engagement. The Vatican! That's how important this thing is historically. We would have gone months ago ourselves if we hadn't had such a hectic summer; I almost wish now we had, because I'd like to go back!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

Quick, wish me and my wife a happy anniversary! My two kids, too. It's not our wedding anniversary, though, or even the anniversary of our first date as a couple. But two years ago today was our first date, in a sense... our first date with the church we've been part of ever since, The Bridge in Bixby, Oklahoma. You can read what I blogged back then about the experience here... we're in a beautiful new sanctuary now, and the children's ministry is quite different since then (for one thing, the kids don't come into the adult song service any more), but we still love it. It's the place for us to be!

This past weekend someone asked me why we had left our old church (which they still attend). They weren't being defensive or accusatury; just looking for information. What I told them there I'm not going to say here, any more than I did back when we originally left, because I still have immense respect for that church, and love for our friends who still attend there, and I would never want to be perceived as talking that church down. You could find some clues, though, in this post I wrote back then about what we were looking for in a new church, and what we ultimately found at The Bridge. As I read back over that post, I'm actually a little bit amazed that, in the two years we've been there, The Bridge has met all of those expectations in one way or another. There's not a paragraph in that post that I can say, nope, The Bridge isn't like that. It's like all of them. Maybe not in every tiny detail in every case, but in most of the details and certainly in all of the larger brush strokes. It seems like what we had on our hearts was what God ultimately brought us to... or, what God knew He was going to bring us to was what He laid on our hearts. Does it really matter which one it was? We found a place where we are happy and fulfilled, and that's an amazing feeling.

One of my favorite things about The Bridge is something that I think many people wouldn't think to put on their "important things" list if they were looking for a new church, but to me it is of central importance, and I think part of what we like about The Bridge is that it's clearly part of Pastor Orlando's priorities too. Once upon a time in history, people could not read. Also, there were no televisions and no CD players. There were no cassette players and there were no radios. The only way that people could learn about God was by personally hearing the Word recited out loud, and maybe expounded upon. I imagine that's the way it was in Bible days, and throughout much of history afterward, up to the time that sound recording was invented. But now, for someone who wants to know about the Bible, not only are there literally hundreds of Bible translations in English, but they are available at Bible bookstores, mainstream bookstores, the grocery store book aisle, your favorite Wal-Mart or Target, and for free in the drawer next to the bed in your hotel room. Online, site after site has the Bible available for free for searching and reading, often in many translations (sometimes so many it could make your head swim). Often, these Bible study sites will not only have the Bible text itself, but multiple study helps such as commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Greek/Hebrew lexicons, sermons, maps... whole Pastor's Office Bookshelf-loads of information. Even if you don't read, you might be able to figure out how to access the audio versions of the Bible on those sites. These days, if you fail to know what the Bible says, it's not because nobody was there to read it out loud to you. It's easily available.

You don't need a preacher to stand up in front of you and expound on the Scriptures, either. In addition to those online sites full of information, Christian bookstores across the country, and powerful Bible study software applications, there are thousands upon thousands of hours of television programming every day in which pastors and other ministers share their messages. So not only do you not have to have the Bible read to you, you do not even have to go to a church to hear a good message about the Bible. In fact, there's a pretty good chance these days that even your own pastor can be seen on TV or heard on the radio; I listen to a few-weeks-old message from my church's Sunday morning service on the radio every Sunday when I'm getting ready for church. You don't need to hear a sermon from a guy standing in front of you at all; there's a guy on TV who will happily provide a similar experience to you while you sit comfortably on your couch.

Decades ago, contemporary-style worship music was hard to come by. If you wanted to break away from hymns and sing something a little more modern in style, you were probably going to have to learn the song at church and sing it yourself. These days, Christian radio is filled with pop songs that are not only religious in theme, but that are actually worship songs. Often, the song hits the radio, and then later becomes a staple of church worship! And even if you don't have Christian radio where you live, you can buy a CD of Hillsong or Chris Tomlin or any number of other artists, and you've got a worship experience happening in your living room or car or earbuds that contains authentic worship music, probably performed and produced far better than your local church is able to do with volunteer musicians and production staff. You don't really need a church to fill your need for worship music, either.

I don't want to seem to be speaking out against pastors or their messages, reading the Word out loud, participating in a real live worship song service, or any other part of the Church experience. But I do want to highlight one thing that you cannot get from sitting on the sofa at home. What you can't do at home is build relationships with other believers. We need relationships with other believers in order to stay strong and live the life that Christ is calling us to. And to be honest, when you have a social, church-family bond with the people around you, all of those other things - the singing, the message, even things like giving in the offering - all of those things take on added significance, added importance. Being in a worship service with other believers is an amazing experience... being in a worship service with church family is even more amazing. It can make even a mistake from one of the people on stage turn into a worshipful experience when you know the person, know their heart. I love it when I'm in church and I catch sight of someone I know, maybe someone who has struggled with something in life or someone who is still struggling, and I see them worshiping with all of their heart. It makes me want to worship God with all of my heart, too. Their gratitude and love for the Lord reminds me that I've got a lot to be grateful and loving for, as well. Iron sharpening iron, so to speak.

I want to celebrate the two-year anniversary of us joining ourselves to The Bridge church. We love the people; we love and feel cared about by and appreciated by pastors and staff; our children learn about the Word; it's a fabulous place to be. If you're in the Tulsa/Bixby area and your heart is telling you it's time for a change, come on out and see what's happening. We'd love for you to become part of our little corner of the family of God!

Monday, September 19, 2011

My First Hands-On Bible: Your preschooler is going to LOVE it!

"That's the curriculum we use in our classes!" the pastor of the children's ministry at my church told me when I showed him the review copy of My First Hands-On Bible that I had received from Tyndale House Publishers. But it wasn't this specific book he was talking about—at the time, the book I was showing him had yet to hit retail shelves at all. He was talking about the "Hands-On Bible" curriculum for churches, but this new book is indeed from the same source. I told him that he was holding a brand-new release, and within thirty seconds he had calculated how much he would have to budget to buy enough copies of the book for every child in his classes to be able to use one on Sundays! That's how enthusiastic he is about the Hands-On Bible materials. He told me that when they were examining curricula to use in Sunday School, he had decided on a different curriculum and even ordered it, but then he saw what the Hands-On Bible curriculum had to offer and actually canceled his order for the other product to order Hands-On Bible. After using this book with my 3-year-old daughter for a night or two, I understood what he saw in their materials! I don't know that this book would be entirely appropriate for a church class—it's designed more for home use—but you certainly could use it in a church setting in a pinch, and for home use it would be hard to beat.

My First Hands-On Bible is very tightly structured. Each Bible story is taken directly from the New Living Translation of the Scriptures, word for word; it is not a reinterpretation of the Scripture text (or, at least, not any more than the NLT itself might be). Each lesson, including story, colorful illustrations, and some discussion materials and activities on the last page, is four or six pages long (a perfect length, as we found out, for bedtime reading to a preschooler). After the story proper, there is a section called "The Jesus Connection" (one or two sentences highlighting the relationship of the story to the person of Jesus), a section called "Let's Talk" containing two discussion questions, an activity introduced by a character named Cuddles the Lamb (at my church they actually have the puppet of Cuddles to use with their lessons!), another activity (or sometimes a song), and a short prayer introduced by a kangaroo named Pockets (there is also, by the way, a puppet of Pockets, although I don't think my church's ministry has picked one of those up yet). Several times in each lesson, there are small color-coded icons of handprints; these lead to micro-activities such as "Sarah laughed because she was happy. Let out a really happy laugh." and "Simeon was very old. Act like an old man leaning on a cane." These micro-activities are well-designed and well-spaced to keep the attention of a small child by breaking up the story a bit, and to provide something they can remember the story by later. The book itself is a 416-page hardback containing 85 stories.

The NLT is a good choice for a story Bible like this; I have trouble calling it a "Bible story book" because although it is a book of Bible stories, so is the Bible itself! And these stories are, after all, the exact same easy-to-read, easy-to-understand words you'd find in the NLT Bible you might have on your shelf. But it does not contain every single word of the NLT translation; in fact, some stories are highly abridged to fit into the book's format. The story of Jonah, for example, which fills four chapters in the Bible itself, is told in four parts, but the complex story of Esther, on the other hand, which fills 10 chapters in the Bible, is told in this book in only two short segments which each cover 3-4 chapters of the Bible text. So this book is not a traditional Bible story book, but it is not strictly a Bible either; it's something sort of in between. But it is obvious that it was designed by people who know how to engage the attention of children; the activities I called "micro-activites" above, for example, seem to come at perfect spots to keep attention from wandering. The "Jesus Connection" sections (example: "Jacob loved Joseph and gave him a coat. God loves us and sent us a special gift—Jesus.") do a pretty good job of bringing out a point in the story, much like a good pastor will do for his congregation, but on a kid level. The "Let's Talk" questions allow you to invite your child into the conversation and let them tell you what's going through their minds as they think about the story. And my child always wants to know what Cuddles "says" and what Pockets is going to pray. Add to that the cute watercolor-style illustrations, and you get a book that can make Bible story time fun (and educational) in ways that most Bible story books can't.

I did figure out early on that if I was going to use the book for bedtime reading, the activities at the end of the chapter were generally not going to be usable. Don't get me wrong, they're great activities... they're simple enough to do with a child, never require anything that you don't probably already have at home (and usually don't require any "props" at all), and relate to the story in ways that help bring it back to your child's attention. But the activities aren't things you can do as your child is winding down for bed. In fact, they resemble something that you might send home with a child in his "things to do this week" Sunday-School packet, and my guess is that they were created for that or are adapted from some materials created for that (some of them even start off with phrases like "As you do ________ with your child this week..."). Some of them are simple crafts, some of them are things to do as you're driving in the car or as the child is taking a bath... not things that happen before bed, and if you're reading a new story every night, some of those things might not even happen before the next story. I'm a fast reader, so normally when I get to that part of the night's reading, I skim through it to see if it's something we can feasably do; if I can tell it's probably not going to happen, I just skip those parts. I consider them optional; in a few cases we've been able to use them, and they've been quite effective, but usually we leave those parts out.

One part I never leave out is the prayer. I always save it for last, and when I say, "Pockets says..." my 3-year-old girl says back, "'s time to pray!" The prayers are very short—one or two sentences—but they pertain to the topic of the lesson, and they are actual prayers, written to be prayed out loud to God. They are not lessons disguised as prayers; they are actual prayers, sometimes thanking God for something that was illustrated by the lesson, sometimes asking for help with a dilemma highlighted by the lesson which a child might face in his or her day. They are prayers that I, the parent, easily find myself praying from my own heart. It allows me a chance to pray humbly and honestly before my children, and that's a wonderful thing.

This is easily my all-time favorite Bible story book for children. As of this writing we have read forty-eight of the stories/lessons, and when we get to the end of the book, I'm not sure what we'll do next... maybe start over from the beginning! If I misplaced this book, I would immediately buy another copy; if a second volume is ever released, I'll be the first in line to pick it up. It's not often that you find a way to share treasures from the Bible with a preschooler in a way that is meaningful to them and immediately applicable to their lives; I can't say I've done exhaustive research into children's Bible literature, but I can say that this is hands-down the best I've ever seen for little ones. For under twenty dollars, you can spend the next three months sharing a Bible story every night with your child, and they'll love every minute of it. That's quite a bargain.

I was provided with a review copy of this book by Tyndale House Publishers. The opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Light of the Lamp

'Oil lamp' photo (c) 2009, Ralph Unden - license:
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
A few nights ago I was intrigued when I read this passage to my son at bedtime:
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”
Luke 11:29-36 (ESV)
What intrigued me was that I suddenly realized that I had no idea what verse 33 ("No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket...") had to do with verses 34-36 ("Your eye is the lamp of your body..."). I always thought that the "light" on the "lamp" was my testimony or my witness or something, and I was to "put it on a lampstand" by sharing the Gospel with others... but I certainly haven't put my eye into my body! So I started to think about it...
  1. The lamp is my eye
  2. The lampstand is my body
  3. God put my eye in my body
  4. Therefore, God lights the lamp
  5. ...And I do not
But how can my "eye" be "healthy" (or "good" or "single", as other translations express it), or in contrast how can my eye be "bad" (or "evil", as expressed in other translations)? One clue came to me in reference to the "red letters." I noticed that the red letters actually start in verse 29, and when I looked up "evil" in that verse I noticed that it was the same Greek word as "bad" in verse 34. So I expanded the scope of my verses, which started out as verses 33-36, to include the entire text quoted above. So this explains one way your "eye" can be "evil": you spend your time running around looking for miraculous manifestations instead of... what? And what exactly is the "sign of Jonah"? I found out from a parallel passage in Matthew:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
The "sign of Jonah" was when Jesus died, was buried for three days, and rose again. So that must mean that for our "eye" to be "good" we have to keep our eyes on the death and resurrection of Jesus (the Gospel). (By the way... other passages parallel to parts of Luke 11:29-36 are Luke 8:16-18 and Matthew 6:19-24.)

Apparently this light is meant to shine out through our eyes, but how does it get into our eyes? We can't very well go back in time and look at Jesus on the Cross. How can we "look" with our eyes and see the Gospel?
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
We can actually "look" at things that we cannot see! And the thing we are to "look at" is the Gospel of God's Glory:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
...and that Glory shines first into our hearts, and then out of our hearts, just like in  Exodus 34:29-35  when Moses saw God's glory and his face shone with it afterward:
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Jesus is actually the embodiment of "light":
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
(note: the word "enlightens" everyone in that passage is the same as the phrase "gives you light" in Luke 11:36) ...and we can actually become that light also:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
       and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
So we can choose to "take part in the unfruitful works of darkness" (this passage is talking specifically about sexual immorality), but we are exhorted not to do that. In the original passage, I looked up the Greek words for "healthy" and "bad" in verse 34. The word translated "healthy" can mean things like simple, single, whole, or sound. The root words apparently mean something like tightly woven together... everything fits just right. The word translated "bad" means things like in bad condition, full of hardships and hard labor, diseased, wicked, or blind. The "god of this world" has "blinded" unbelievers, but if we as believers are blinded, Satan didn't do it... we have let our own eyes go bad by sinful actions.

It is interesting to know that it's not an on or off thing; verse 36 in the original passage implies that you can be partially bright and partially dark. That encourages me to keep working at the corners of my life that are still in shadow, so that I can "be wholly bright", lit up with rays of God's light!

So, to sum things up: the light on the lamp is not specifically your spoken witness, although that is part of it, and you cannot light the lamp yourself. God lights the lamp, and you keep it lit by keeping your eyes focused on the Gospel of Christ. Others can see God's Glory shining out when they look into your eyes, unless you blind yourself and block them from seeing it by sin; when sin is present, no light goes out and none comes in. The light also "lights" your whole body; although others may not see the Glory of God shining out through your fingers or your torso (your eye is the lamp, after all), what your body does is illuminated by the Gospel as well if you keep your eyes "healthy". As we continue to eliminate sin from our lives, our eyes can become brighter and our bodies can become more "illuminated" with God's Glory all the time!

This is an old post that's been up at for some time... a discussion about this passage last night at church led me to post it here!

Monday, September 5, 2011


My 2005 Ford 500
One of the Pharisees asked him [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:36-39 ESV)
Last Wednesday I was tired. I had had a couple of late nights in a row, and by the time I left my office after a long day and headed down to the parking lot, I was feeling a little distracted. A few weeks before I had bought the car in the picture above, a silver Ford 500, which I really like because there's plenty of room inside (I'm a tall guy) but which admittedly looks a lot like a lot of other cars out there. I stepped out into the parking lot, pushed the unlock button on my car remote, noted where it was, and headed that direction.

As walked over to my car and grabbed the door handle, I noticed something on the roof that I hadn't noticed before: a shark-fin-style spoiler or antenna. And I thought to myself, I've never noticed that up there before. How could I have never noticed that before? Then I pulled the handle, but despite my pushing the unlock button thirty seconds before, the door did not open. It took me another thirty seconds or so more to realize why.

I was at the wrong car. My car was right behind me; I had actually walked past it and tried to get into someone else's vehicle!

That evening in church we read the passage I've quoted part of above. Jesus did not react to the presence of the woman in the way the Pharisee expected, and the Pharisee assumed that it was because Jesus did not have the power to know prophetically who the woman was. Did Jesus have prophetic powers? Of course! Jesus' reaction to the woman was one of mercy and forgiveness, but the mindset of the Pharisee was one of law and punishment. Because of his own Theological assumptions, he completely misinterpreted the situation. Just like I had somehow blinded myself to the location of my own car and walked right past it to the wrong car, the Pharisee had blinded himself to the truth and walked right past it to reach the exact wrong conclusion. If you read the rest of the passage, you'll discover that not only did Jesus make it pretty clear that he was reacting to the woman in forgiveness, but He simultaneously proved He was a prophet by answering not the Pharisee's words (he did not speak), but his thoughts.

It's easy to get lost in our own Theology and our own "knowledge" and totally miss the point. Not everything you or I has ever been taught is the precise truth, and even if it had been, we are human and we misunderstand even the purest of truth sometimes. We have to make sure we keep our minds focused and our spiritual ears open to hear the Holy Spirit trying to clarify things for us. I don't want to be someone who misses the point and doesn't get in on something great that God wants to do!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


'Christchurch Earthquake February 22nd 2011 Buildings of Note' photo (c) 2011, Lee Hanner - license:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire."

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

-Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28 ESV

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
-Romans 10:8-10 ESV
This week we've been hearing a lot about the earthquake which occurred in Virginia. There wasn't a lot of damage (the picture accompanying this post is from a different quake last February), but there was a little bit... things falling off shelves in homes. A plumbing rupture at the Pentagon. Some pieces falling off the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Walls and foundations cracking. Nuclear power plants shut down as precautionary measures. The earthquake was of historic strength, yet we were lucky enough that it really did very little damage. But one place that it did do some damage was a little town in Virginia with the unlikely name of Mineral, population 450. Mineral got a pretty good shaking, and they've got some pretty respectable rebuilding to do.

The reason that Mineral, VA got shaken worse than Washington, D.C. is that Mineral is geographically quite close to a place called the epicenter. Earthquakes occur because layers of rock, usually deep underground, suddenly slip past one another. Places near the epicenter feel rumbling and movement, but the actual earthquake didn't occur in Washington D.C., or Richmond VA, or even in tiny little Mineral. All those places and many more could feel the effects of the earthquake, but the earthquake itself, you could argue, actually occurred underground, and nobody really knows exactly where.

Jesus told us, in the "Sermon on the Mount", that the sin of murder actually starts with anger, and that sexual sin actually starts long before the sex act occurs. In fact, Jesus said that the sin of adultery occurs, not when the man looks at the woman with lustful intent, but before he even looks at her. When he looks at her, he has "already committed adultery with her in his heart" (emphasis mine). The sin occurs in the heart, deep inside. The actions that we see are the result of the sin which has already occurred.

Romans says that we will be saved as a result of confessing the Lordship of Jesus with our mouths, but we have been justified long before that... when we believe in our hearts that Jesus rose from the dead. Salvation occurs later on, when we say something out loud that people can hear and see us say, but justification, being made effectively sin-free (or, more precisely, free of the guilt of our sin) before God, occurs because of something that happens deep down, where nobody can see it but God. Once again, the actions occur because the event has already occurred inside the heart.

At the epicenter.

When the dishes fell off a shelf and broke in someone's house in Mineral, VA, it wasn't because the earthquake happened in that house; it was because an earthquake had occurred somewhere else, at the quake's epicenter, and that house was feeling the effects of the earthquake. When your life naturally begins to reflect the grace of God, when you start to do things God's way automatically without having to drum anything up, it's because something has occurred in your personal epicenter, in your heart. When the Word of God begins to transform you from the inside out, the world around you begins to see the effects!