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Monday, September 27, 2010


It was spring of 2005, and we were planning my son's fifth birthday party.
Star Wars - The Saga Collection - Episode III Revenge of the Sith - Basic Figure - EP3 Obi-Wan
He (and every other little boy, apparently) was "into" Star Wars that year, so we were planning a knock-down-drag-out Star Wars party for him. And it also turned out that he was the luckiest kid alive that year, because his birthday happened roughly a month before the final prequel movie, Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, was coming out. Why did that make him lucky? Because a week or so before his birthday, which we had themed around the movies, the new toy line based on Sith came out! By the end of the day he was absolutely drowning in Star Wars toys. I even dressed up like a Wookiee for one part of the party. It was epic!

But we weren't quite sure if we would be able to let him see the movie itself at his age. We knew that at some point, Anakin, who we had watched grow from an innocent little boy into an angsty, troubled teenager in the other movies, was going to get burned beyond recognition, and we weren't sure how violent those images were going to be. So when the movie came out, my wife and I left him with Grandma and went to see it without him to preview it.

My reaction to the movie was unexpected. I knew basically what was going to happen. Anakin was turning bad... really bad. He was going to turn against the Jedi order and have the Jedi all executed. He was going to battle with Obi-Wan and lose. He was going to catch on fire somehow and be left for dead. Then, of course, Palpatine was going to somehow install him into that iconic black suit by the end of the movie. What I was unprepared for was the rush of genuine emotion that was going to occur in me as the movie filled in some of the blanks that had been left by the original trilogy, finally connecting the dots. So this is what turned Anakin into Darth Vader. This is how innocence is twisted into evil... by tainting genuine love with selfishness. Many fans of the original trilogy dislike the prequels very much, but I was genuinely moved by the final chapter in the story of Anakin Skywalker.

That's how I've felt at several times this year as I've been reading straight through the Old Testament for the first time. I already knew the main stories, of course... Adam & Eve, Noah's Ark, David & Goliath, Samson & Delilah, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and dozens more. I've even read considerable portions of the Old Testament before, including all of Genesis and Exodus, Psalms & Proverbs, and big hunks of other books like Joshua and Judges. What I didn't know was how it all fit together. I had no concept of the length of time between, say, Moses and David, or what exactly happened to make it so that Daniel was in Babylon. The full arc of Old Testament Israelite history had eluded me. The dots weren't connected.

But now many of them are! I understand things about the Old Testament that I never understood before. I understand things about familiar Bible characters that I never understood before. I'm still a long way from being finished, but I'm through the historical books and I think I've got a basic grasp of how the ancient history of the Hebrew people goes.

But the most important part of this whole exercise is that it's not just the history of the Hebrew people... it's the history of God's people. People of faith. Christianity, after all, did spring from the Jewish religion. Jesus and His disciples were all Jewish, as were most everybody around them. And the people of Jesus' day, as I understand it, had a knowledge of the Scriptures that today would be considered quite scholarly. How can we even begin to understand the things that those people said or did in the New Testament without the context of the Old Testament? How can we have a genuine understanding of Jesus' teachings unless we understand the teachings of Moses? When Jesus in the Gospels says "it is written" or even "you have heard that it is said," or when Paul quotes from Psalms or Isaiah, unless you understand something about the way they understood those passages, you can't fully understand the New Testament passage, either.

Now when I watch Darth Vader die in Return of the Jedi, I understand something I didn't before. I understand his love for his wife and family, masked for all those years by rage and hatred. I understand that Darth Vader is a tragic figure, a victim, although he has also been a perpetrator of evil all those years. When the original movies came out, seeing Darth Vader without his helmet was a shock. There really was a human man in there all along! The Anakin that we saw in that brief death scene is actually the return of the Anakin we later met in the prequels. Now we know that. And now that I've gotten familiar with the beginning of the story that is completed in the Gospels, I understand all kinds of things about Jesus' life and death, and the behavior of His followers during His life and after His resurrection.

Until you've read the "prequel," don't assume you understand the "movie"!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Through the Bible in a Year, No Schedule Reqiured

Today, J. Jackson of Christian parody band ApologetiX shared in the band's newsletter his strategy for reading through the whole Bible, something he has done many times over the years (I'm only halfway through my first trip... I've got some catching up to do!) He doesn't even use a schedule or written-out plan at all. Here's how he does it:
I should finish my annual trip through the Bible this Sunday. That means I should start my next trip on Monday. It usually takes me about 355 days. This year, I'm reading a Psalm a day, too, so I finished sooner. Wanna come along? Why wait till New Year's to start? Here's what works for me:

You can read through the Bible in less than a year if you just do three chapters a day, except Psalms. The Psalms are shorter and more plentiful, so do 10 of those a day when you get to them. (You might want to take a whole day for Psalm 119, though.) Or just read three chapters a day plus one Psalm, and you'll finish 15 days sooner, plus you'll read through Psalms at least twice.

I try to end each day's reading on a chapter number that's a multiple of three. If a book has one chapter more than a multiple of three, I'll read four chapters the final day. If it has two chapters more, I'll read only two chapters on that day. Genesis has 50 chapters, so I read 48 chapters in 16 days, and two chapters on the 17th day. Exodus has 40, so I read 36 in 12 days, and four on the 13th day.

What about books with fewer than three chapters? When I get to the last three chapters of Amos, I also read Obadiah (one chapter). When I read Titus (three chapters), I also read Philemon (one chapter). The other three one-chapter books all come in a row, so I read 2 John, 3 John, and Jude the same day. Haggai is the only two-chapter book in the Bible, so it gets a day all to itself.
If you've been following my progress since January, you already know that J's mentions in the ApologetiX newsletter were one of the reasons I started on this project this year. I've been amazed at what I've learned about the Bible this year... and I was no slouch when it comes to Bible knowledge already. Nothing beats reading the whole thing for yourself! With J's plan, all you need is a bookmark to keep your place. No chart to mark, no calendar to write on, no nothing. Just you, your bookmark, and the Word. And most Bibles have a ribbon bookmark built right in... how handy is that?

(An added bonus: by the end of the year you'll be a whiz at your three times tables!)

By the way: you should check out and give the band's parodies a listen. Concerned that they might not play your style of music? Well, if it's pop or rock or country of pretty much any era, they've got you covered. They even occasionally bust out with the occasional rap song! Take a look at this news item about their upcoming "Classics" series of CDs. We've heard them live, and they are incredible... and the song lyrics are so packed with Bible information that it's amazing. I was going to say it's "...not even funny" but that would be untrue... often the parodies are both highly Scriptural, and tears-in-your-eyes hysterical! The perfect soundtrack for your three-chapters-a-day reading the Bible through in only 355 days!

Here's a list of most of their CDs!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Slow & Steady Wins The Race

I knew I was way behind schedule.

Because of some things that happened this year that took a lot of time and emotional energy, I was way behind in my "read the Bible in a year" project. I've been reading study notes from two separate study Bibles for most of the year, but I actually reduced it to only one as I studied Job (to keep from confusing myself too much with alternate takes on that complex book), which I hoped would help me catch up some. It didn't help as much as I had hoped. As I moved into Psalms, I also returned to using both study Bibles, but I thought, the Psalms are short! I can make up some time on this book!

I should have known better! The Psalms are poetry, as everyone knows. And poetry is designed to pack more information, not less, into a smaller amount of space. I think I've actually been moving slower on my way through the Psalms than through other books! Typically, the study Bible notes are at least as long as the text itself, and both the text and the notes are slower going than in the case of narrative just because of the density of thought in the text. I've found myself simultaneously wanting to hurry up and get finished with Psalms, and wanting to curl up and spend even more time with each individual chapter. In particular, the study notes from the NIV Study Bible I'm reading (which are also present in the NASB Study Bible, which I would recommend because of the more literal text) are fabulous for helping you see the unity of the Psalms as a book (or, rather, a series of books, because Psalms is internally divided into five major "Books"). I blogged before about some of the things I was learning here, but because I'm trying to make it all the way through, I'm not taking the time I would like with each Psalm. After I've finished reading the whole Bible, I may go back and spend six months or so studying only one Psalm a day!

Having the ESV, which is a pretty literal "formal equivalence" type of translation (meaning that the actual words on the page are quite close to the actual words in the ancient texts), and the NIV, which is fairly literal but still a "dynamic equivalence" type of translation (the thoughts and ideas on the page are quite close to the thoughts and ideas in the ancient texts) both in front of me at the same time has certainly given me a chance to see some of the divergences, even though I am not reading every single word of the NIV. Take these examples from Psalm 68, for example. I've included the King James for reference, and also the NASB, which is a translation that is even more literal than the ESV and which I also have on my bedside table as I study. Each verse shows significant differences across translations, which I've pointed out in comments between verses:

Psalm 68 (excerpt)

verseNew InternationalKing JamesNew American StandardEnglish Standard
4Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds —
his name is the LORD—
and rejoice before him.
Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him.
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;
his name is the LORD;
exult before him!
Does the Lord ride in "clouds" in "heaven", or in the "desert"? (The latter seems to make better sense in the context of the desert wanderings of Israel later in the Psalm)
5A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
Is God a "judge" of widows, or a "defender"/"protector"? (In this case, if you've read the book of Judges you know that an Old Testament "judge" was a protector, but the layman may not realize that)
6God sets the lonely in families,
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity,
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
God settles the solitary in a home;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
Does God give lonely people "a home", or does He give them "families"? What if the Psalmist meant to imply that God is the "home"? Do they go forth with "singing" or with "prosperity"? Is the land actually "dry"/"parched", or is it simply "sun-scorched"?
7When you went out before your people, O God,
when you marched through the wasteland,
O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness; Selah:O God, when You went forth before Your people,
When You marched through the wilderness, Selah.
O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
Did they march through a "wasteland", or was it a "wilderness"? (Most Christians think of the Exodus account when they hear "wilderness" and that is the reference here, so although "wasteland" is probably more descriptive, "wilderness" evokes a richer picture of what the Psalmist is talking about.)
8the earth shook,
the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.The earth quaked;
The heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God;
Sinai itself quaked at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
So, did Sinai move or not?
9You gave abundant showers, O God;
you refreshed your weary inheritance.
Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.You shed abroad a plentiful rain, O God;
You confirmed Your inheritance when it was parched.
Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;
you restored your inheritance as it languished;
Was the inheritance "parched" or simply "weary"? Or did it "languish"? The NASB uses the same word here and in verse 6, but the Hebrew word is not the same, which might lead to a false sense of connection between the two)
10Your people settled in it,
and from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor.
Thy congregation hath dwelt therein: thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor.Your creatures settled in it;
You provided in Your goodness for the poor, O God.
your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
Who settled there? Was it a "congregation", a bunch of "people", a "flock", or just some "creatures"? ("congregation" and "flock" evoke the idea of the nation of Israel best, because those images are used elsewhere in the Bible)
11The Lord announced the word,
and great was the company of those who proclaimed it:
The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.The Lord gives the command;
The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host:
The Lord gives the word;
the women who announce the news are a great host:
Was it women who spread the news, or not? Were they at home, or in camp?
12"Kings and armies flee in haste;
in the camps men divide the plunder.
Kings of armies did flee apace: and she that tarried at home divided the spoil."Kings of armies flee, they flee,
And she who remains at home will divide the spoil!"
"The kings of the armies—they flee, they flee!"
The women at home divide the spoil—
Was it men or women who divided the spoils of war?
13Even while you sleep among the campfires,
the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver,
its feathers with shining gold."
Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.When you lie down among the sheepfolds,
You are like the wings of a dove covered with silver,
And its pinions with glistening gold.
though you men lie among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with shimmering gold.
Were they asleep at campfires, between pots, or between sheepfolds? Evidence that "sheepfolds" may be the best rendering.
14When the Almighty scattered the kings in the land,
it was like snow fallen on Zalmon.
When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Salmon.When the Almighty scattered the kings there,
It was snowing in Zalmon.
When the Almighty scatters kings there,
let snow fall on Zalmon.
Has the snow fallen already, or will it fall in the future, or is it a metaphor and the snow will never fall at all?

In my experience it's unusual to see so many small differences packed so densely, and some of the questions I've asked are hair-splitting differences, but in other cases you can easily see how you might spot or miss part of the sense of the poetry based on which translation you're reading. Study Bible notes will often bring out things like this for you, which is why I'm enjoying my use of the two different study Bibles.

But it certainly makes for slow going, especially in cases where things are densely-packed with meaning, as in the Psalms! I'm really looking forward to the books named after prophets (technically, most of the Old Testament is considered "The Prophets," but I'm talking about the books from Isaiah through the end of the Old Testament), but I don't expect them to be much quicker to get through this way. If I can faithfully keep up this pace, I should be able to finish the last word of the Revelation before the end of the second week of March. Then I'll be getting out another one of my cool Bibles (probably the ESV Literary Study Bible, or maybe my old F. LaGard Smith Narrated Bible, which I've not yet made it all the way through) and experiencing the whole Word of God from a different perspective! I can't wait!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Bible speaks in many books about wives submitting to their husbands. Isn't marriage supposed to be an equal partnership? Where does this state this in the Bible?

Marriage on Earth is a picture of Christ and the Church. The Word says that the wife is to submit to her husband as the church is to submit to Christ: see This does not mean that the wife is inferior to the husband in any way; in fact, Christ cherished His bride (the Church) so much that He gave His very life for her! And it doesn't take a whole lot of searching in the world around us to find a woman who is successfully leading a business or corporation or other organization; women are perfectly capable of leadership. It's not a matter of whether women are able to make wise decisions and lead. It's about roles, and of obedience to God.

Each of us is created in the image of God ( The roles within the marriage relationship are not a function of the importance of the individual to God (see, especially verse 7, which affirms the equality of husband and wife before God). So God is not trying to illustrate anything about the eternal value of men and women; he values each of us equally. In fact, Jesus seemed to indicate that the institution of marriage is not even something that will carry forward from this life into the next one ( It seems that women submitting to men in a marriage relationship may be something that only occurs in this lifetime.

So if it's not a matter of the capabilities of the individual, the whole "submission" thing must purely be a matter of roles. In general, the wife and husband should find a place of agreement on decisions, but in (hopefully rare) cases where agreement is impossible, a Godly wife will defer to her husband's judgment, not because he is superior or even right, but because it is God's command that she do so. She should of course pray for her husband so that God can change the husband's mind if need be! By remaining within the role God has set out for her as the wife, she remains within God's will and is able to receive God's blessings. Notice that it does not say that the wife should "obey" her husband, but to "submit." "Obey" would mean that the wife has no choice but to do as she was told; "submit" indicates that she is willingly yielding her will to her husband's, not because he is someone more powerful but because it is the role she chooses to live within.

That said, remember that the husband also has a responsibility to fulfill. The wife is to "submit" to her husband, but the husband is to "love" the wife, and Paul also adds "do not be harsh to them" - A husband who is truly loving his wife in the active sense of the word (not just emotionally feeling love for her, but showing his love through his actions) will not ignore her advice, will not steamroll over her feelings; he will value what she has to say, and take her advice when he can see the wisdom in it. So in the proper marriage relationship, the wife does not have an inferior role; her role is just as important as that of the husband. Her thoughts are taken into account and treated with respect. Her husband has no authority in the home unless she gives it to him by "submitting" her will to his. She chooses to give him that authority not only because she loves him, but because she loves God and wants to remain within God's will for her.

I strongly believe that the marriage relationship is the most potent picture of God's love for us and desire for relationship with us that exists. When someone looks at your or my Godly marriage, they should see past it to the relationship between God and His people. Even if they don't realize that's what they're seeing, they should be able to see that there is more going on there than just two people who like to live in the same house and have sex. God has painted a picture for us. He has written a play, and we are the actors. A participant in a dramatic presentation has not given up her free will in order to be in the play; she chooses to play the role in a certain way in order to tell the story that needs to be told. Even so, different actresses will play the same role in slightly different ways, even when they are given the same lines and directions. At any point they could quit playing the role they were presented with, but they choose of their own free will to play the part as written, injecting a little bit of their own personalities and life into the character but always trying to stay on-script. Godly husbands and wives have been given the task and the opportunity to demonstrate Christ's sacrifice, His love, and the Church's submission and devotion in the world. It's not a matter of who is the more important partner in the partnership; it's a matter of voluntarily living within the confines of the role we have been presented with, and by doing so, demonstrating Christ's love to the world.

Ask me anything

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Moving Pictures

(Before I start... there are a lot of links in this post. They are links to Scriptures. I encourage you to click them and read the original verses. Those verses will back up what you're reading, and help you to understand and digest the post. I'm not making this stuff up! It's in the Bible!)

I'm convinced that God expresses Himself constantly through visual aids. He paints pictures in His creation. I don't think that God used the word "father" to describe His relationship to His children because God looked down and saw someone with their father and said, that's what I'm like! I think that God is the original, and earthly fathers were created by God as a picture of His relationship to us. In fact, God even called the Israelite nation His "firstborn son" and delivered them physically from slavery in Egypt, in anticipation of His "only [one-of-a-kind] Son" Who would not be delivered, but Who would be the deliverer, bringing God's people out from spiritual slavery to sin.

Israel, as the "firstborn son," was God's "physical" people. They were delivered from physical slavery in Egypt. So "son" described God's relationship to His physical people, who are the children of Abraham by their bloodline. But God has always wanted something more. Over and over, especially in the prophets, we find God describing, almost wistfully, a time when they would be "His people" and He would be "their God". Here, for example. And here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Even when they messed up, God still wanted that intimacy with them.

The Church, on the other hand, has a relationship with God like that between a husband and wife. This is God's spiritual people, who are the children of Abraham via their faith. God wanted the Israelite nation to be His spiritual people as well, and when they messed up and worshiped idols, He even went so far as to call them a "faithless bride" (see Ezekiel 16 for a vivid picture of this), quite regularly referring to their attraction to idols as prostitution. God was seeking a bride who would approach Him by faith; a husband and wife desire to please each other, but without faith, we cannot please God. If we try to approach God without faith, we will wind up turning away from Him, prostituting ourselves to some idol or another. God wants us to draw near to Him, to submit to Him much as a wife is to submit to her husband. God wants us close!
How vivid is the image that when Christ looks on the Church, his emotional response is the same as the response a man has when he looks at his bride on their wedding day? That new husband loves, he wants and desires. He wishes to be close to his wife, to possess her, to never be away from her! And that is the way God feels about us. God's desire is not for a slave, a vassal, an underling... God's desire is for a companion. A lover. Our relationship with God has many facets... He is our Father, He is our King, we are His servants, we are His children. But at the end of this world, in the book of Revelation, the Church is not described in any of these ways, but as Christ's bride. And God's heart desire is once more spoken: "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.' " (Revelation 21:3 ESV)

His people.

Their God.

Very possessive language.

Are you the possession of God today?

Is He yours?

(A previous post with some related thoughts is right here.)