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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Attractive Worship

Now Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said "Tell me, are you a Christian, child?"
And I said "Ma'am, I am tonight!"

-Marc Cohn, from "Walking in Memphis"

I wonder if our worship services are sufficient to draw the lost to Christ. At my church we have a very contemporary style of worship, very upbeat, with a lot of pop and rock influences. People are welcome to raise hands, jump, dance if they want, whatever. Your church's music may be more traditional and majestic. Either way, we should be expressing something of our relationship with God in worship... either exuberance and excitement to be in God's family, or wonder at His majesty and beauty, or humbleness at his power, or thankfulness at His provision, or something along those lines. We don't worship to be seen, of course, but if someone does see us worshiping God, they should see a living testimony of our relationship with Him. It should be enough that people should want to be a part of that relationship themselves. By the time worship is over, The Lost should already be convinced that they want to be part of The Found.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Coming Out Of The Closet

Today God was trying to get me to come out of the closet. I failed miserably.

As I was waiting for the bus, someone came up to me and asked me if I could give him a dollar. He gave me the whole "I'll pay you back the next time I see you, I get paid tomorrow, do you always ride this bus?" thing. Maybe it's true, or maybe not, but I believe the Word says to give when people ask of you, so I gave him a dollar without hesitation. I even asked him if he had the extra quarter it would take to ride the bus (he said yes, he had it). The Holy Spirit told me to speak to the guy about Jesus. I did not.

I got on the bus and it was fairly full, so I sat down in the front seats next to a guy. This particular bus runs past the V.A. clinic, and quite often veterans ride it to get to the clinic, sometimes to catch the free shuttle from there to the V.A. hospital in Oklahoma City for more involved treatment (I mentioned one guy I met who does that in this post). The guy I was sitting next to asked the bus driver if he would let him off right across the street from the hospital (the bus stop is maybe 20 yards or so away, so that would save him some steps, especially on a rainy day). I felt impressed that I could find out what was wrong with him and pray for him. But I did not do so. When it started raining harder just before we let him off, I also considered giving him my umbrella so he would be a little dryer crossing the street. I did not, and it's not even an expensive umbrella.

Shortly after we let the guy off at the clinic, the bus driver commented, to nobody in particular, that the rain was really picking up. I had the thought that he would probably be appreciative if I stopped on the way off the bus and prayed for his safety on the job today. But I did not do that.

Strangely, I feel a sense of missed opportunities this morning, but I do not feel like a failure and I do not feel any sense of "condemnation" over it. I'm naturally a very reserved person, not the type at all to strike up conversations with strangers outside of maybe a little joke about something going on around us or something like that, but not anything heavy. But I've been reading about Jesus and how He went around meddling in people's lives, healing their illnesses, casting out their demons, teaching them about His Kingdom, and I know I need to be like that. But it's a learning process for me. This morning I definitely learned what not to do. Besides, the day's not over! I may yet get some chances to share some part of God's good news with someone. I'm not planning on keeping my Christianity in the closet forever! I've cracked the door open, and I've inadvertently shed some light into the darkness outside. Soon another opportunity will come and I will fling open the door and the light of Jesus will shine on everything around me! Holy Spirit, don't give up on me... teach me how to live my life as Jesus would live it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jesus' Debating Technique - Part 2 of 2

Yesterday I started talking about Jesus' debating techniques in Luke 20. This is the other half of that... if you missed it yesterday, you might want to read that first!

Second question: Those same scribes and Pharisees sent flunkies to first butter Jesus up, and then to ask Him, "Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" They must have figured that either Jesus would answer that Caesar should get tribute, thus angering the crowd, or that he shouldn't get tribute, thus opening the door for them to have him arrested. Instead, Jesus knew they were trying to trap him and answered in a way that not only demonstrated that the people should follow the law, but also taught them that whatever has an "image" of someone belongs to that someone. Although Jesus did not explicitly mention this verse, it is the logical basis for His answer; whatever has God's image belongs to God. What has God's image? You fill in the blank! The answer was so perfect that it literally shut up the people who were trying to trick him.

Third question: Some people brought a complicated story based on a rule from Deuteronomy to Jesus, trying to trick Him into being on their side on the subject of life after death. It's not really clear to be if they were trying to do away with Jesus, but they were clearly trying to trick Him. The final question they asked, "In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife" was apparently meant to allow only the answer "None of them will be her wife, because after people die they are dead and gone and it doesn't matter any more." The unexpected answer, that marriage is not an issue in the afterlife, was so clear and such a good explanation that even the people who had been trying to trick Jesus commended Him on His answer and " longer dared to ask him any question." Once again, Jesus shuts the mouths of His opponents.

Did Jesus stop there? No, He did not. He continued by asking His own Theological question, on that from the perspective of a Christian is simple to answer, but from the perspective of one of those religious leaders must have seemed like an insoluble riddle. Anyone who still had any idea of trying to outfox Jesus by that point must have been too scared to speak another word to Him!

The whole exchange ends with Jesus cautioning His disciples to be careful around people who are always looking for approval and financial gain at the expense of others, and making a comparison with someone who was somewhere close to the bottom of the social food chain, a widow with almost no money to live on. He basically said that she was closer to God's will than rich people, obviously referring to the scribes, Pharisees, and Saducees He had been verbally sparring with.

In the course of one chapter, maybe 15-20 minutes' worth of dialogue containing three questions and answers, not only had Jesus silenced his critics and made them afraid to say another word, but He had managed to teach several critical kingdom principles to His disciples. He never stopped teaching them, even in the middle of a heated theological debate, and kept turning things around to exactly what He wanted to talk about! Is that some great debating technique, or what?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jesus' Debating Technique - Part 1 of 2

There have been a lot of debates lately in the U.S.... "official" Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates, unofficial water-cooler debates over the merits of the candidates, debates in Congress over the economy. This morning I read about my favorite debate of all... one between Jesus and the Scribes/Pharisees which is recorded mostly in Luke chapter 20 (it kind of laps over into chapter 19 and 21 a little bit, but the main part of it is in chapter 20). A while back I read the chapter and was seriously impressed with Jesus' unique debating style and how he flummoxed his opponents, and today when I read it again in my new ESV Study Bible I remembered why I like it so much. It's got to be one of my favorite chapters in the Gospels!

The debate actually starts in the last few verses of chapter 19 when Jesus "cleanses" the temple. This of course made the religious leaders pretty upset: they "...were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words." So I suppose they decided to try to discredit him on credentials, or destroy the people's faith in Jesus' teaching abilities by outfoxing him with questions. Bad idea! You can't out-question the Son of God!

First question: "Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority." I guess they religious leaders figured they had official credentials and Jesus didn't. Instead of answering their question, Jesus answered, I've always assumed, by deftly changing the subject. "Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?" The religious leaders were too afraid to answer what they really believed (that John was a wacko out in the desert somewhere) because they knew the people thought John was a prophet (for the record, yes he was!) and they were afraid of a riot. So they refused to answer, and so Jesus refused to answer their question as well.

Was Jesus really changing the subject? He was not! Jesus' authority came from the same place John's came from, and if the religious leaders weren't willign to recognize John's authority, they weren't going to recognize Jesus' either. So he refused to answer, but he got them to refuse first! Smart, huh?

Then Jesus immediately launched into a story. Is the story unrelated? No, it is not! The story is a parable about some tenants who are given the task of keeping a vineyard for the owner. Every time the owner sent a servant to pick up some of the fruit, the tenants beat the servant up and kicked him out, until finally the owner sent his son, whom the servants killed, thinking they would be able to keep the vineyard for themselves. The story is really about God giving authority to the temple rulers, who misused it and abused the true prophets of God, and who would shortly have God's son executed. At the end of the parable, the tenants are "destroyed" and the vineyard taken away from them. The story completely relates to the question of authority, although the people it was leveled against probably didn't get it.

Come back tomorrow for part 2!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I've got my new ESV Study Bible!

ESV Study Bible, HardcoverYesterday at lunchtime I did something not characteristic of me... I actually left my office and drove down to Mardel to pick up the ESV Study Bible I had preordered! It came shrink-wrapped, not in a box, although that matters very little (I guess it's that much less trash to carry out to the curb on Friday). The dust jacket and cover are beautiful... the dust jacket even has the ESV starburst logo (see it at the top of this page) embossed into the paper!

I got the hardback version. At first the pages seemed a little wrinkly right next to the binding, but after using it for a while they seemed to smooth out. The pages smelled all "new-booky"; I lvoe that smell. I was sniffing it all afternoon! There was an insert inside the back cover which had a scratch-off box with a code that gave me access to the online version, which is really cool although as a Web programmer and experienced Web user myself there are a few things about the online interface that I might change. Not unusable, but I think the number of clicks it takes to get to your information could be reduced. But that's material for another post, maybe!

The content itself is awesome. The colors in the pictures aren't as brilliant as they are in, say, The Holman Illustrated Study Bible, but they are still beautiful and very useful (see some samples here, but the online examples actually look more brilliant than they do in the book... maybe because of the thin Bible paper or the print process). I brought it with me to church last night and enjoyed using it during the message, although as with any study Bible, the temptation is to get absorbed with the study notes and miss part of the message!

I read some of the supplementary material too; I had already read "Introduction: A User's Guide to the ESV Study Bible" in the Book of Luke sample I got at Mardel several weeks ago, and I really am interested in the "Reading the Bible" series of articles (you can read it in the free online samples), but I didn't have time last night or this morning to read that. I did enjoy the "God's Plan of Salvation" article, which is kind of wordy and pretty detailed but ultimately a simple (and complete) overview of The Gospel. Last night before choir practice I enjoyed showing some friends the illustrations in Exodus of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, along with illustrations of the various pieces of furniture (golden lampstand, Ark of the Covenant, bronze altar, etc.) and did my best to impress a writer friend with the way the study notes and the book outlines are visually connected to help you see where you are in the overall structure of the books.

I'll probably lug the thing to church again Sunday to show a few more friends, but overall it's so thick and heavy that I'll probably mostly use it at home. Besides, like I mentioned before, I wouldn't want to get distracted from the message by the study notes! I'm seriously considering just starting from Genesis 1:1 and trying to make my way all the way through it. It'll take a while, but if my study of Luke in my sample copy has been any indication, it will be very much worth it!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Electronic Handheld Bibles

You know, this weekend I was thinking that I would sure like to see a well-designed hand held electronic Bible that was easy to use, both for personal reading/study and while listening to a message. Maybe something that looked sort of like the Kindle, but with stuff that was specific to the Bible... like letting you view multiple translations on one screen, maybe tile them in the four corners, and turn them on and off at will. Then letting you either link them so they scrolled different translations together, or let you view several different passages from the same translation at the same time for comparison or to follow a preacher as he jumped around during his message. A quick lookup by book, chapter and verse, maybe with drop-downs to make it easier. Touch-screen, like my kid's Nintendo DS. I've seen the Franklin Bibles, of course; I used to have one (after getting a bunch of road use, it eventually petered out, and I ain't talking Simon Peter but that would be a funny pun, wouldn't it?). The Franklin Bibles just seem kind of cheap-pda-from-the-90s to me, though. Some of them even look like toy organizers you can get next to the Matchbox cars at Walgreen's. These days an electronic device has to be easy to look at, particularly for long periods of time (for heaven's sake, don't give people a reason to not read the Bible!), extremely easy to use, and flexible so it works however each individual thinks it should work. And gosh darn it, what's wrong with it being fun to use, too? What if the thing that gave me the in to share Jesus with someone was the nifty Bible gadget I was messing with on a bus or in a restaurant?

The problem with the Kindle is that it's designed to be a book reading tool, not specifically a Bible-reading tool. For Bible reading you really need some tools that are specific to the Bible. maybe the Kindle is flexible enough to provide those, given someone with enough motivation to build that programming into an e-text of the Bible, but I don't think it's the perfect tool. Someone who built the perfect tool would seriously smoke any of the offerings I've seen out there.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

eBible now has NIV

I was looking back at some of my old posts and ran across the one where I mentioned and wondered how people would like it without the NIV. Well, that was a long time ago... today I clicked back over to eBible and discovered that not only have they added the NIV and TNIV, but if you visit the site for the first time, the NIV will automatically be your default translation! I guess that's just the treatment you get when you are the CBA's best-selling translation. Based on that list, it looks like they have all the playas but two... from the top ten best-selling translations, eBible has all but the New Living and the New Revised Standard.

The Bible Gateway, which is probably one of the most popular Bible sites out there, has all the translations eBible has, and they have the New Living Translation as well. They don't have the NRSV either, though. If you want the NRSV, there are sites that have it: Crosswalk,, and The Unbound Bible are some examples. And you can always just buy it for your e-Sword (the cost at this writing is $9.99). But that's one reason I really like the ESV... because of their commitment to electronic use of the translation, the ESV is available pretty much everywhere!

Friday, October 10, 2008

ESV Study Bible Preorder

I'm so excited... last night we stopped by Mardel (we made it in there minutes before closing time) and pre-ordered my ESV Study Bible! I've been waiting for that to come out literally for years, and in just five days it will be here! I had totally forgotten about the release date coming up, but last Saturday Mikey and I were at Mardel looking around, and I took him back to the Bible section to show him how blessed we are in the U.S. to have so many choices of the Bible in our language (and to mention that there are still many many languages in the world that the Bible is not yet available in), and saw a display with some samples of the book of Luke. I picked one of the samples up, and I've been reading it ever since. I LOVE IT! It's like listening to our pastor, one of the best Bible teachers in the world PERIOD, on one of his Wednesday night detailed series on a specific book (when I first started going to Grace about ten years ago, he had just started the book of Acts. he finished over a year later, teaching every Wednesday that he was in town, which is most Wednesdays. Now THAT'S detail! Right now he's working through James... check out the services online if you like!)

Anyway... I'm pumped about having the whole ESV Study Bible to read. I had to go with the hardback for economy's sake, but it looks so thick that I doubt I would lug one to church with me anyway. I'll either keep carrying the little ESV I've had for a couple years, or get one of the nice leather ones with a center reference to carry to church. I've already got a durable metal one to carry in my bag to work every day.

Want to see what bindings the ESV Study Bible is available in? Here's my list of what they've got at CBD!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Angel Visitations

I was reading the first chapter of Luke in a sample of The ESV Study Bible that I picked up at Mardel this weekend, and I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before. Zechariah and Mary both had visitations from an angel with very similar circumstances surrounding it, but their reactions and the result were quite different:

Both were visited by the angel Gabriel.
Both were "troubled" by the visitation, but while Zecharaiah was fearful, Mary sought understanding (although it could be argued that Mary was afraid also.)
Gabriel told them not to be afraid.
Gabriel told them they would "bear a son, and you shall call his name..."
Those sons would "be great" and do amazing things.
Zechariah responded by asking for a sign (which he then received, to his chagrin). On the other hand, Mary asked for details of what would happen, but then she accepted the Lord's assignment without resistance.

Why was a priest surprised by or afraid of an angel appearing in the temple where the Presence of God was expected to be, when a little girl in her house seemed to take the appearance of the same angel almost as a matter of course? Maybe Zechariah was thinking about how priests could face death for entering God's presence unworthily (although he was not actually in the "Holy Place inside the veil" but on the other side of the veil where incense was burned) and that sometimes angels were sent to kill people. Why was the priest struck mute (and probably deaf as well) for asking for a sign? Maybe it's because he doubted the clear word of the Lord ("How shall I know this?" Because GOD said it, fool! Don't you see the angel??) Mary did not doubt, but did ask for clarification. Even then, she did not demand an answer, although she did receive one.

People in ministry are sometimes held to higher standards by God than the rank and file, and that may have been part of it, but I think Zechariah reacted to the word of the Lord in fear and doubt, while Mary reacted in submission. I think that's why Zechariah spent the next nine months in silence, while Mary got to spend it glorifying God!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Today I was crossing the street on foot at the intersection of 21st Street and Garnett. This is a fairly busy intersection, with three lanes of traffic coming from every direction. I didn't just walk out into the street; first I pressed the button to get the "walk" signal, and then I waited until I saw the indicator light up that said that it was my turn to walk across the street. When I stepped out into the street, all the cars stopped for me. I didn't even have to raise a hand; they just stopped. Was it because they saw me coming? Nope; it wasn't my power that stopped them. It was the power of the rule that says when the light is red, you stop your car and wait. Because I was following a signal and rule as well, the "walk" sign, I was confident that I could walk safely across. I didn't have to run or be afraid of getting run over. (Of course, it's wise to be cautious and still look both ways before crossing! But for the sake of argument let's pretend that all drivers are completely competent and always paying attention.)

The Holy Spirit is our signal that we can move in the power of God. He is a deposit placed on the inside of us that tells us that when we move by His prompting, we can have confidence not only to come into the presence of God, but to do His works on the Earth. The Holy Spirit is the signal (like my "walk" sign) that lets us know that the power of God is our protection when we do something that might ordinarily be dangerous (like walking calmly out into the street at a busy intersection). If I had walked out into the street without the signal, I would have been in terrible danger. But when I walked out with the proper signal, I walked out in confidence and safety. And when I move by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I can walk in confidence and safety, because I know that the power of God is infinitely greater than the power of a traffic light. If I can trust a traffic light to keep me safe from a couple of automobiles, how much more can I trust God to keep me safe from anything in the universe that would try to stop or harm me?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Purified for Service

In Sunday school this week the teacher was discussing the story of Isaiah's commission in Isaiah chapter 6. In a nutshell, Isaiah had a vision of the Lord in all His glory, and Isaiah immediately assumed that because of his impurity, he was going to die. An angel brought a glowing coal from the altar fire, so hot that even the angel had to hold in in tongs, and touched Isaiah's lips and purified them. God then spoke a question: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Isaiah immediately answered, "Here am I! Send me."

The thing that struck me was how quickly Isaiah went from "Woe is me! For I am lost..." to "Here am I! Send me." From fear to boldness in one single step... the purifying power of God. What is it that purifies? What is it that the sacrifice on the altar represented? The sacrifice of Jesus, the shedding of His blood. When the power of God touches us, it immediately inspires us to service!

(By the way... I can never read that story without thinking of this song...)