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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Messing Up. Plus, Jesus' Job Description.

I love it when the singers at my church make mistakes when they're leading praise and worship. It's not that I want them to be embarrassed or to be distracting, but I love how they immediately slip back into worship when they get back on track. And I love that the congregation makes a point to totally ignore mistakes and continue to worship with all their hearts. This happened tonight, and it actually helps me to enter more fully into worship. My church family is the coolest!

The message tonight dealt in part with Isaiah 61:1-2, the passage about the Messiah that Jesus reads in the temple and claims refers to Himself. The notes in the New American Standard Bible I was reading drew my attention to something that I never knew before. Part of verse 1 says: "...he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound..." Isn't that cool? Jesus came to bind up (in a first aid way) people who needed binding, and un-bind (from imprisonment) the ones who needed freeing. Reminds me of Matthew 16:19: "[Jesus said] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Jesus was speaking to Peter, but He was also speaking to all of us. Now, I've heard it said that by "binding and loosing" Jesus was talking about what the rabbis did in telling people what they could and couldn't do, and that Peter would one day bring revelation to the people of God, but since Peter had just shown that he understood that Jesus was Messiah, wouldn't a reference to Jesus' Messsianic "job description" be just as valid of a reason for what He said? Jesus had come to set things right; to bind evil things, and to loose good things. He gave Peter (and gives us) that same charge. Think about what evil you are binding and what good you are loosing today!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Livin' What Jesus Spoke Of

I've known, in my lifetime, people who are antagonistic to Christianity. Maybe they grew up in a Christian church, and for whatever reason, they became disillusioned or angry. Maybe they saw injustices in the world and decided that a benevolent God wouldn't possibly let that kind of thing happen. Or maybe they've thought about it and thought about it, and just decided that if a God does exist, they don't think they care much for him. Often these people have looked quite carefully into the claims of Christianity, either in a search for truth or in order to arm themselves against being embarrassed by a Christian in a discussion about religion. Many of them are quite knowledgeable about the Bible and about what Christians believe.

On the other hand, I've met many, many Christians whose Theological depth barely reaches past about a dozen Scripture verses that they can quote (or misquote) by heart. They may be able to name the books of the Bible, but they certainly haven't read most of them. I'd be interested to know what percentage of the Christian world has read even one single book of the Bible straight through... even 3 John, which is only 15 verses long. I don't have any real statistics, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that even 50 or 60 percent of Christianity has barely even opened a Bible. One of these poorly-read Christians is no match for an opponent who has spent any amount of time studying Christianity.

Among Christians who do actually know something about the Bible and their own belief system, an astounding number disagree on any number of things, even things they consider quite fundamental. You would think that adherents to a faith based on the contents of one single book would be much more unified, but apparently there is a lot of room for interpretation and reading between the lines. So oddly enough, two Christians debating some point of Theology with an atheist might even find more common ground with the atheist than each other.

There is only one thing that can convince someone who is antagonistic to religion of the existence of Christ: a Christian who is truly living out his faith. Two Christians that disagree on speaking in tongues, or faith healing, or transubstantiation, or predestination, or any number of other topics, will react to life situations in almost exactly the same ways when they shut up talking about doctrine and start living like they believe Christ would have them live. Honest-to-goodness Christians who are living their faith and not just talking about it are going to think alike and act alike. We know in our hearts how Jesus meant for us to live. And a life lived for Christ can't be refuted with clever intellectual arguments. A life truly lived for Christ is undeniable. Two Christians who disagree on doctrine but whose lives match because they live for Jesus constitute pretty convincing proof that something unites them. That something is Jesus.

"...By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What will God save you from?

Earlier this week I posted some thoughts about part of Psalm 107, but I thought it was interesting to step back and take a broader look at the whole psalm. There are four stories there, each about a different kind of situation that God has delivered people from:

Verses 4-9 are about people who were lost in the desert and couldn't find civilization, but they cried out to God and He led them out of the desert. Do you feel lost? God has a destination for you!

Verses 10-16 tell the story of some people who had been put in prison because they had rejected God's direction, but they cried out to the Lord from prison and God delivered them.Do you feel stuck? God has freedom for you!

Verses 17-22 tell about someone who is sick and desperately needs healing. Do you feel sick? Is your body malfunctioning? God has a cure for you!

Finally, Verses 23-30 tell the story of people who encounter a huge storm at sea, but they cry out to the Lord and He delivers them. Are you in the middle of a storm? Is there chaos in your life that you can't control? God has peaceful waters and a "desired haven" for you!

"Salvation" isn't something that only occurs once, when you accept Jesus' sacrifice for you. Salvation is an ongoing process. If there's something you need from God, call out to Him and ask. He's got what you need!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Win A HCSB Study Bible

Christian Book Distributors has three very nice Holman Christian Standard Study Bibles on their contest page, to be given away October 31. Enter to win at! Bookmark that contests page and visit periodically; they always have lots of contests going on, and they give away all kinds of great stuff, not only Bibles. Christian Book Distributors is a great place to shop online for Christian materials if there's no Christian bookstore in your area!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sick of Sin

Some were fools through their sinful ways,
    and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
 (Psalm 107:17-22 ESV)

Sometimes we get sick because of something that happens to us. Every year during flu season, people get sick basically because they breathed the wrong air. You might get sick because you ate something that you didn't know was too old for safety, or because of the genes your ancestors passed on to you, or because you stepped on something sharp by mistake, or any number of reasons. But sometimes we get sick because of something we did ourselves. Ever get stomach pains because you ate too much, or too fast, or a lot of something you should have only eaten a little bit of? Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States not only have stomach cramps, but are dangerously obese because they have uncontrolled eating habits. People are in the hospital with cancer in their lungs because of decades of cigarette use. People have injuries because they got distracted in the car and caused an accident. People get diseases that are only transmitted through careless, risky sexual behaviors which are warned against, not only by the Word of God, but by medical science. It's easy to get sick through no fault of your own, but it's just as easy to get sick because of something that is your fault.

Psalm 107 presents four mini-stories about the kinds of people God has redeemed from trouble. Verses 4-9 are about people who were lost in the desert and couldn't find civilization, but they cried out to God and He led them out of the desert. Verses 10-16 tell the story of some people who had been put in prison because they had rejected God's direction, but they cried out to the Lord from prison and God delivered them. And verses 23-30 tell the story of people who encounter a huge storm at sea, but they cry out to the Lord and He delivers them. Verses 17-22, though (quoted above), caught my attention. They describe people who have become ill "through their sinful ways" and "because of their iniquities." By purely human standards, these people are getting what's coming to them. They're getting what they deserve. They've brought this sickness on themselves, and now it's time to pay the piper.

But these people, who had been so unwise that it brought sickness into their lives, suddenly did something wise: they cried out to the Lord. Did God say, sorry losers, but you brought this sickness on yourself, so you're going to have to lie in the bed you made? No, God did not! "He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction." Just like Jesus did for the centurion, God healed them with only a word. Did you notice whose word we're talking about? His word. But whose destruction are we talking about? It's their destruction. God replaced what they had (destruction) with what He had (His word and His healing). That reminds me of another switcheroo God has pulled: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23 ESV) We can't earn eternal life; the only wages we can earn are death. Jesus took the wages we've earned—death—and gave us, free of charge, the wages he had earned—eternal life. I see a pattern here: we get the better end of this deal every time!

I also notice another pattern. When we cry out to God in distress and desperation, God sends what we need, not what we deserve. Did the sinful person deserve healing? No, he deserved sickness. Did you and I deserve eternal life? Nope... our wages were well-earned. But God is able and willing to give us not what we deserve, but what we cry out for. God is a music lover; He wants to receive our "sacrifices of thanksgiving" and hear our "songs of joy!" So if you're sick because of abusing your body some way, swallow your pride and swallow your guilt right now, and cry out to God. I wish I could say that there will definitely not be any consequences of your actions, because there may still be some challenges that you have to face in your body as a result of what you've done, but what I can say is that if you will cry out to God, God will apply His deliverance to your situation!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


About a month ago I mentioned that there are "cover versions" of some of the psalms in Scripture. Did you know that there are also medleys? Check it out.

COMPARE: Psalm 108 TO: Psalm 57:7-11 + Psalm 60:5-12

COMPARE: I Chronicles 16:8-36 TO: Psalm 105:1-15 + Psalm 96 + Psalm 106:1, 47-48

What do you think? Medleys? Remixes? Whatever trendy modern name you want to call them, it's fun to see how the psalmists reused the same thoughts at different times for different purposes. So if you've ever looked down your nose on songs like this one that re-use parts of old songs, reconsider. God allowed it in His Word; maybe it's worth allowing into your worship times too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Living Together Before Marriage

The following question came to me via Formspring:

where, in the Bible, does it say that a couple cannot live together before marriage? Or, does it?

Here's my answer:

I don't know of a place in the Bible that says that a man and woman cannot live in the same dwelling if they are not married. There may be some Old Testament rules/customs related to that, but I don't see a moral reason why that wouldn't be OK. Now, if you are using "live together" as a euphemism for "have a sexual relationship," that changes the picture a bit.

I can think of two reasons off the top of my head that sex outside of a marriage relationship is not the way of believers in the Bible. One reason is that the Bible is pretty clear that two individuals who join themselves in a sexual relationship "become one flesh" (see 1 Corinthians 6:16 Once you have united yourself to someone else, you can't un-unite... in some ways it would be like an amputation. That's why divorce is so emotionally horrible; it's severing one flesh. So having sex with someone and not being married to them is leaving yourself open to an emotional crash later on; with the marriage commitment in place there is a higher barrier to walking out the door. The barrier is for our own protection.

The other reason is that marriage is a picture of Christ's relationship to His bride, which is the Church (consisting of all Christians, not any specific group but all believers in Jesus) (see Ephesians 5:22-33 Doing an end-run around marriage in favor of having a sexual relationship while unmarried, even a stable, long-term relationship with commitment, paints a twisted picture of Christ's love for us. Jesus loved us enough to make a commitment, and a man should love his woman enough to make a commitment to her as well.

You could find a lot more reasons and arguments out there on the Web, but those are the ones that spring to mind. You might also take a look at these lists of Scriptures about Marriage and Sex on my site.

Things the Bible says about marriage:

Things the Bible says about sex:

More of my Formspring answers

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shallow Waters

I'm reading a book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. The book sprang from an article in The Atlantic Magazine entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? The basic premise of the article, and of the book so far (although I've got some distance to go before I'm finished) is that our fast-paced, plugged-in, sound-bytes-on-YouTube and 140-characters-or-less-on-Twitter straight-to-your-cell-phone-or-iPad-whichever-is-faster world, people are actually losing their ability to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time. It's been very interesting reading; maybe I'll share my take on the entire thing here once I'm done with the book. But one part I read this morning rang a bell for me, and I thought you might find it interesting.

The second chapter discusses the "plasticity" of the human brain, meaning whether or not the adult brain can "change" itself, or whether the brain is "wired up" in childhood in such a way that it is unable to physically modify its neural passageways later on. Apparently, for most of history, the brain was thought to be unchangeable after childhood, but in the second half of the 20th century, researchers began to discover that the brain does indeed "rewire" itself, even in adults. For example, if a person loses a limb, the part of the brain that previously was used to control that limb, accept sensory input from that limb, etc. is soon re-purposed for other tasks. That's most likely the reason that blind people often develop sharper sense of hearing, smell, etc. than sighted people; their brains have reused the visual cortex for something else. In fact, there have been experimental therapies used on people who have lost the use of some part of their bodies due to strokes or other head injuries that indicate that if you perform repetitive tasks with that part of the body often enough, you can begin to regain your use of it. Your brain is sensing that you need some power for that body part, and it's sending reinforcements out to work on it. A part of your brain that you are not using for something else is being given the chance to come into use.

What really stuck with me, though, was a section that started with "It's not just repeated physical actions that can rewire our brains. Purely mental activity can also alter our neural circuitry, sometimes in far-reaching ways." It goes on to tell about a study of London cab drivers that showed that people who spend their days performing the spatially-intense task of driving have larger posterior hippocampuses (the part of the brain that handles spatial representations of the person's surroundings). The part of their brains that they constantly stimulate begins to develop. Then it talks about another study in which people with no experience playing piano were taught to play a simple melody, and then one group was told to practice the melody on a piano for a certain amount of time per day, and another group was told to think about playing the song, sitting at a piano, for the same amount of time. Both groups experienced the same kinds of changes in their brains. "Their brains had changed in response to actions that took place purely in their imagination—in response, that is, to their thoughts," Carr reports. "We become, neurologically, what we think."

That the human brain can be physically changed should not be too much of a surprise to any Christian. Romans 12:2 says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Obviously, the way to find out the will of God is to spend time in the Word of God and in prayer, so that verse tells us that our mind can be "transformed" and "renewed" if we do so. By the repetitive action of reading God's Word, studying it, thinking about it, going over and over its basic teachings, submitting our lives to God in prayer and worship, even science tells us that we can "change our minds" and make them work in a certain way. Wouldn't it be great if your mind could operate in such a way that God's thoughts became your thoughts? That's not the way it is naturally, you know. But by spending time with God, using our brains to think about His ways, we can "become what we think." If you approach God with an open heart, He will pour His life into you, and you will be transformed. Your mind will begin to think in terms of God's ways. You might even find things that are not of God less desirable, as His desires become yours. Get into the habit! You'll be glad you did!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
       that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11 ESV)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

HCSB Study Bible Online

I've been looking at a new Bible Web site. It's pretty great stuff! But before I point you that way, let me give you a quick run-down of how I found it.

Mostly on this blog I talk about the ESV, but I've gained a great deal of respect for the HCSB as a kind of more-literal NIV. I'm also a Certified Study Bible Junkie. So when I recently saw an ad for the new Holman Christian Standard Bible Study Bible, I immediately was interested. Here's a video of some of the features of the paper HCSB Study Bible:

So anyway, last week I was at a local Christian bookstore looking at the HCSB Study Bibles, and I saw a Web link printed on them: I wrote it on my built-in note pad (my hand), and when I got home I loaded it up. Turns out it's the new online version of the study Bible... and at least for the time being, it's free! Take a look at what it can do:

Right now the system is in beta testing (the link forwards to, and there's no indication whether Broadman Holman intends for it to be free forever, or to begin to charge for it at some point, so try it out while you can!

At first glance, it appears that they've taken some cues from the online version of the ESV Study Bible. Here's a brief video of that (most of the online videos of the ESV Study Bible are for the older version, which has been superseded by a new iteration, so this is all I've got):

Obvious similarities: two panes (actually, the ESV site defaults to three, but I just use two). Scripture on the left (usually), additional material on the right (usually). Bible verse search box above the left-hand pane, with the Scripture reference you're looking at in light gray text except when you're typing in a new one. The notes follow the Bible text as you scroll. But after that, the similarities end and the feature sets diverge a bit.

One thing I really like about the ESV online study Bible is the "endless scrolling" of the Bible text. When you get to the end of a chapter, the next chapter automatically follows it. The Holman online study Bible doesn't do that. The ESV OSB also has configurable bookmarks and a built-in audio player so you can listen to the Bible text. And the ESV OSB has Bible reading plans built in to give you a framework for your Bible study. The Holman OSB, on the other hand, is heavier on word-study tools; you can turn on links to Strong's definitions directly from the text, and the same information is also available in the right-hand side pane. It also incorporates the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for word definitions, and commentaries such as the Holman New Testament Commentary. It's clear that B&H is building a platform on which they can host a lot of material from their library; the ESV Online Study Bible only contains materials from that one book (although there is a VAST amount of information in that one book, and I've read hints that the architecture of this version of that site is designed so that they can add materials later on). For access to deeper study materials, the HCSB OSB currently has the ESV OSB beat by a landslide. When I've wanted access to Strong's word definitions, I've had to get them at Blue Letter Bible; now I could go to the HCSB OSB instead and find a much slicker interface.

There are some clunky parts left to be ironed out; for example, if you click a "read more" link, the full text of the study note opens automatically in the left-hand pane, right over the Bible text. The Bible text is still there, of course; it's just on a separate tab. But I'd rather see the full text of the note appear in the right-hand pane and not cover the Scripture text. You can move the tabs from pane to pane quite easily, but it strikes me as awkward for it even to happen that way in the first place, especially seeing how much effort they've put into the interface. Maybe that's one of the things that will come out in the wash as they move from beta to release version. On the other hand, things like verse popups when you hover over a cross-reference indicator are much more intuitive on the HCSB OSB site than on the ESV OSB site.

A few more odds and ends: the ESV OSB has a really nice setup for copying verses to paste into something else; I use it all the time for this blog. The Bible verse linking facility points to the ESV OSB as well, which makes for extremely easy linking from blog posts, Tweets, or anywhere you might want to link to a Bible verse. The HCSB site doesn't seem to have anything like those two features, but on the other hand, the HCSB site also contains the KJV text, and you can even set it as your default if you like.

The ESV online study Bible is a pay service; access to the Bible text is always free, but access to the study notes is $19.95, or free to anyone who purchases a hard copy of the ESV Study Bible. Currently the HCSB Online Study Bible is completely free, and I wasn't able to find any indication that they plan to charge for it in the future (see update at the bottom of this post), but I can't imagine a publisher simply giving away all of the resources they're putting out there. My guess is that the free access is a beta testing/generating buzz thing which will eventually lead to a pay service, much like Crossway gave away access to the ESV OSB for a bit back when it was brand new. I'd say if access to this new Holman site is in that same $20 range, and if it includes even only the study resources you can see today, that's a pretty amazing bargain. The HCSB text + Study Bible notes & cross-references + Strong's definitions + Bible dictionaries + a whole shelf full of commentaries = quite a value, even at a much higher cost. The link on The HCSB Study Bible site says that contains "more than $200 in free resources" and I totally believe it. I'm looking forward to spending a little more time with the HCSB Study Bible notes to see how much I like the content, but the site is feature-rich and the materials look very useful. I think it's a great start for a new Bible Web site.

A list of HCSB Study Bibles you can buy

The official site of the HCSB translation

UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I found this in the site's FAQ:
Will this site and this content always be FREE?
Our current intention is to keep all of the books that are in this BETA site free forever! And we plan to add more free books! Later, we expect that publishers will need to charge for royalty-based books. When we add those royalty-based books, we will let you know how to access them.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Giving the Dogs' Bread to the Children

...a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." (Mark 7:25-28 ESV)
I believe in healing. I mean, I believe in healing today. Not too many Christians dispute the idea that people were supernaturally healed by Jesus when he was walking the Earth as a human being, but I believe that God still supernaturally heals now. You can read about it in this blog, and you can take a look at the list of healing Scriptures on my Web site, if you need proof. But sometimes I get sick and don't get better for a while. Recently I caught something that may have been a mild cold or flu, and I spent a week and a half coughing and feeling vaguely uncomfortable. I might get a backache or a headache, and just ride it out. Often I never even consider the idea of approaching Jesus Christ, the One Who touched people with incurable diseases and made them better, the One Who said that He only did the things that God the Father wanted Him to do... often I never even think to approach Him myself for healing. Maybe it's male machismo; maybe I think I'm tough and I can handle it. Maybe it's Christian machismo. Maybe I think that if it's something I can deal with using Aspirin or Sudafed or Band-Aids, it's not something that requires God's help. Maybe God's will for me to be healthy just doesn't occur to me!

Or maybe it's something deeper, and frankly, more stupid than all of those things. I was thinking about the Syrophoenician woman (try to drop THAT vocabulary word into a conversation sometime and see what happens!) in the story I've quoted above from the book of Mark, and how, even though she wasn't Jewish and Jesus, right to her face, called Gentiles "dogs," she had enough faith to ask for the "crumbs" of healing that the children missed. I know that Your power belongs to Your people, she was saying. But is there a little left over for me? One of the "dogs?"

As far as I know, I don't have any Jewish blood in my background. I'm a Gentile, like that woman. But I do know that some Jewish blood, shed by Jesus Himself, gave me the opportunity to become part of the family by faith. I may have once been a "dog," but now I'm one of the "children," so by Jesus' own words, I have the privilege of being "fed first" with healing power. So why don't I ask for it?

I think it might be that for some odd, twisted reason, I think that God's healing is for people who aren't Christians. It seems selfish, maybe, like I'm drinking out of a fire hose while others stand around thirsty. Or maybe I've somehow gotten the idea that supernatural healing is designed primarily as a sign to win the World to Christ. All of those ideas are simply ridiculous! I don't believe in a God who withholds His blessings from His own people and gives them away to drum up business, like some guy handing out free pens at a trade show. Miracles are there as a sign to people who do not yet know Christ, that's true, but I think I'm throwing out the baby with the bath water. I'm throwing the whole loaf into the dog's bowl, and starving the child—myself—when I am in need of healing. God's not going to run out of power, of course. There's enough healing for me and unbelievers that need to see God's power. And once I, one of the children, am fed first, I have a word of testimony to share with others. Who knows... a story about my supernaturally-cured headache might be the word someone needs that will give them faith to receive God's healing for a brain tumor. Bread is bread! Let's eat some, then let's share!