Friday, December 30, 2011

7 Tips for Reading the Bible in a Year

This is an encore presentation of a piece from a couple of years ago I think you'll find useful.

'Tis the season for new year's resolutions, and many of us will resolve to read the Bible all the way through this year. It's easier said than done; there are lots of ways to lose the momentum and lose your committment. But it's really not that hard; 15-20 minutes a day will get you there.

You can do it. Here are a few thoughts to help you along on this venture:

1. Skim the hard parts.
Different things require and warrant different levels of reading. You do not read the tv guide with the same degree of care you do a textbook. You do not need to read the "begats" with the same diligence you give to the epistles right now. Ditto with the law and the more difficult prophecies. You'll want to come back to them another time, but for now if what you're reading is just terribly boring, skim it. The key here is don't lose your momentum, which will happen if you dread picking up your Bible.

2. Read the introductions.
Proverbs should be read very differently than Ezekiel or Romans. If your Bible has book introductions, they will probably give you some tips on how to do that. If yours doesn't, they're available online. Or you could get a book to help — maybe a Bible handbook or How to Read the Bible Book by Book.

3. Read meaningful chunks.
Every book in the Bible has a point. Many are designed to make a particular case. If you read a paragraph at a time of a book, you won't be able to piece that case together, and it won't make sense to you. Try to read at least a couple of chapters of any given book at a time, maybe more.

4. Read manageable chunks.
But if you try to read too much at one time, you may find have trouble processing what you've read. Reading the Bible is not just about getting through the Bible; it's about getting the Bible into you. Reading too much at a time can make that difficult. Maybe even consider reading the whole Bible in two years instead of one.

5. Designate a catch up day.
Sooner or later you'll have a day or two when you barely have time to go to the restroom much less read something. Plan for that. Make one day — a week, a month, whatever — a catch up day. Pick a day when you have a little more leisure time and plan to read a little extra if necessary to stay on your schedule.

6. Make a habit of this.
Though bad days will happen, they'll be fewer if you get accustomed to reading at a certain time in a certain place. It can actually become automatic — that is, you can find yourself reaching for your Bible the minute you sit down, whether you intended to read or not. Choose a time and place when you'll have the fewest interruptions to read every day.

7. Don't make a habit of this.
Honestly, reading the Bible in a year's not the best way to read it. This will give you a broad view of the Bible, and that's important, but it's a terrible way to get a deep view which is critical for growth. So if you do it, do it this year and plan on doing something else thereafter.

Related articles:
5 Questions to Help Your Devotions
How to be a Self-Feeder
Reflections on Leviticus
Bible Study Links

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Two Quick Thoughts on Christmas

I enjoy Christmas and most of what goes along with it. The story of God's love, expressed in the birth of Christ, is beautiful and powerful. But it's only a small part of a much bigger story that gets lost among the tinsel and lights, the angels and the wise men. So here are two thoughts to carry with us in the Christmas season and all of our celebrations.
Easter would be impossible without Christmas. Christmas would be meaningless without Easter.

At Christmas, Jesus came to save us. One day, Jesus is coming to get us.
Christmas is wonderful, but I think it's more amazing, more beautiful, more profound when we keep its place in the story in mind. It's only the beginning of so much more.

Image from Flickr

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

Christopher Hitchens has died.

The irony is, if he was right, he will never know. If we are wrong, we will never know.

If we are right, he is now very unhappy.

May God comfort and strengthen his family and friends. And may God have mercy on his soul.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Night Before Christmas

The first time I listened to the lyrics of my new favorite Christmas song, it took my breath away. It so captures the beauty of Christmas because it encapsulates our need for Christ.

Brandon Heath's The Night Before Christmas*:
Empty manger, perfect stranger, about to be born
Into darkness, sadness, desperate madness, creation so torn

We were so lost on earth, no peace, no worth, no way to escape
In fear, no faith, no hope, no grace, and no light

But that was the night before Christmas
Listen to the whole thing from YouTube:

Or buy it on Amazon.

*written by Luke Brown, Chuck Butler, & Regie Hamm

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cheap Books

Logos Bible Software has a lot of packages that include electronic versions of popular print books. However, reading on the computer isn't a lot of fun — certainly not reading a whole book.

But they now have iPhone/iPad and Android apps plus a website that allows you to access a lot of the books you buy, making it possible to read your Libronix books just like a Kindle book.

Rejoice Christian Software is selling the Norman Geisler package for $25. You get 12 titles including Come Let Us Reason, the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and When Skeptics Ask. I think this package would be a good investment for any Christian.

To get this package for the sale price of $25, you must use this link.

By the way, I am not getting a commission or anything. I just think this is a useful resource for you.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: The Book of Man

Boys in our society do not know how to become men. That claim has been made many times in the last ten years, and I think there's a lot of truth to it, so I accepted a review copy of Bill Bennett's The Book of Man.

The book offers 500+ pages of readings intended to "explore and explain ... what a man should be, how he should live, and the things to which he should aspire" (xix). Covering war, work, play, politics, family, and "prayer and reflection," this book quotes material as varied as politicians' speeches, classics like Two Years Before the Mast and Homer, and the Bible as well as profiling noteworthy men — some famous, some not.

The problem is that Bennett paints a picture of an American man, but not necessarily a Christian one.

My complaint is twofold. First, the order of the presentation places the wrong emphasis on pretty much everything. The list of topics above is the order used in the book. War comes first, and family comes after everything but God, who gets last place. A message is sent by that presentation, and it's not the way I'd want my son to look at life.

The second complaint is that a man's relationship with God is described as "Man in Prayer and Reflection," and that sums up the material in the section well. It's not "a man needs to have a strong relationship with God." The emphasis is not on knowing the Bible or following Christ. It is, "a man should pray regularly." And material on the importance of prayer shares space with "Man in ... Reflection."

A man should spend time in reflection. He should know what he believes and why, and he should examine himself and his world and test what he sees against the standard he knows. But this standard is not presented as the word of God in this book.

One other problem with the book is the choice of the material. Some of it really shines — some of the most sublime passages in the English language are reprinted here. But some of it is really opaque; the reader comes away wondering what the point of that passage was. And these two are intermingled freely and, in the latter chapters, sometimes outnumber the sublime. Given that the intended audience is not known for it's reading habits, I think some editing (rearranging if not removing lesser material from this 500+ page book) would serve the purpose of the book well.

Please don't misunderstand me. This not a bad book. There is wonderful material here. But I was hoping to find a book I could drop in the hands of the nephew I see once a year or give a foster child who's leaving my house. This is not that book. This book will require someone looking over the boy's shoulder. For a son, that's not a problem. For any other boy, it's not something we can assume.

I would give this work 3 out of 5 stars — definitely worth reading, but very flawed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Free eBooks

Some books are newly free for the Kindle* (or the free Kindle apps):

The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul — His book rarely stay free long, and this is one every believer should read. Get it while it's free!

The Strategy of Satan by Warren Wiersbe — It's a preorder; I know nothing else about this book, but the description says it looks as Satan's attacks and defeating them by obeying God's truth.

10 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren Wiersbe — A shortened ,but free, version of his "50 People ...".

*On a related note, I got a Kindle Fire, and I have to say it's really neat — and about the cheapest tablet you're going to find.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More useful generosity

A meditation for the Christmas shopping season

It's hard to buy Christmas presents for your parents. One year, in complete desperation, I bought my mom an electric ice scraper that plugged into the car's cigarette lighter. Did she ever use it? Did she know where it was two months later? No.

So I wasted my money. And my mom felt less than appreciated. ("It's the thought that counts" means "this stinks but I love you anyway".) Who won?

Why buy people stuff they don't need? And I do mean need.

Instead of buying junk no one needs or getting a TV a few inches bigger, what if we give gifts that help everyone involved? This year give your loved ones gift certificates for things they use — for example, hair cuts, oil changes, or meals at local businesses. Lets give people something useful that also helps our neighbors rather than clutter our lives with one more trinket.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good News

Do you ever sin?

Yeah, me too.

If you're like me, that sin makes you sad, angry, and a little disgusted with yourself. "When am I going to learn? When am I going to be better?"

In those moments, it's easy to despair — to think you are all you'll ever be, and that simply isn't good enough. Maybe you worry God will find a loophole to exclude you from heaven.

Here's the low down:

" one sacrifice [Christ] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." (Heb 10:14)

"Has made." His people are perfect already. In Christ, God does not count our sins.

And we are being made holy. It's an on-going process. God knows it's a process. He doesn't expect holiness tomorrow. But we will get there. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

I don't know about you, but I think that's good news.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Covenant of One

Illuminating the Old Testament

(This is the first of an occasional series of posts showing how findings from archaeology can explain or help us have a fuller understanding of the Bible.)

Genesis 15 tells of the creation of God's covenant with Abram. God promised him that he would have descendants of his own blood who would possess that land the Lord had led him to, and "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness."

But Abram still asked God for a sign, and one was given to him. In verse 9, God asks Abram to bring him some animals that the texts explains were then cut in half. A firepot and torch, representing God, appeared and passed between the pieces of the animals as God promised in detail what was going to happen to Abram's children.

Animals cut in half. Floating firepots and torches. What?

Archaeology has taught us two things about this scene. First, this ceremony of passing between the halves of the animals was a customary way to seal a covenant. The favorite interpretation says this was to symbolize what should happen to the party who did not keep his part of the bargain. (Nothing like a good visual aid.)

Second, the two parties were supposed to pass through the animals together.

But in this account, Abram didn't walk with God. The message would have been clear to Abram: This covenant does not depend on you.

Many of God's promises are contingent on people keeping their part. The Mosaic covenant was clearly that kind of arrangement. But God was telling Abram his children's possessing the promised land was dependent only on God.

A promise very similar to the one he has made to us.

Photo by Nicola Corboy

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fostering Knowledge of the Gospel

family readingWe still haven't adopted any children, but we have been keeping two foster kids for the last couple of months. Getting three kids' homework and four kids' baths taken care of consumes most of our evenings, so when we do get time to sit down and read a story, I want to make it count — enter the Big Picture Story Bible.

Recently we were reading the story of Noah and the flood, and my eldest volunteered that God wouldn't destroy the world again with water but with fire. (Insert happy dance.) The older foster child said everyone would go to heaven then. And I told her no.


She was aghast. She had never heard such a patently unfair thing in her six years — and that includes the times I've grounded her from the tv for hitting her brother.

There are two things I want to say about that experience.

1. In taking these two children into our home, we got to make sure that they heard the gospel — both the bad news and the good — at least once in their lives. A seed has been planted that will hopefully bear fruit in their souls. That's a big part of why we're doing this. It is an honor and a privilege. I encourage all of you to try it. (It's not a lifetime commitment.)

2. These kids have been in some church for at least the last year and a half (between my house and their previous foster home), and they are just finding out everyone doesn't automatically go to heaven. What are we teaching our kids?

Perhaps we think six years old is too young. But when these kids leave us in a couple of months, they may never go to church again. And that may be true of more kids than we know. We have to make use of every opportunity. Their eternity may depend on it.

Photo by Travis Seitler

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Can I Vote for a Mormon?

After answering the question of whether Mormons are a cult with a solid "yes and no," we should turn to the next question that's on so many minds, since there are two Mormons in the GOP presidential primary right now: Can I vote for one for President of the United States?

It's true that Mormons are pretty far outside of normal, orthodox Christianity, but their belief system still produces a world view that is in line with that of most evangelical Christians, at least on the most practical matters.

We can expect a Mormon president to be pro-life and pro-family — both in the laws they champion and the judges they appoint. As people who are committed to unpopular and difficult lifestyles, we can expect them to support freedom of religious exercise for all Americans. Beyond that, I think you'll find their chosen party labels tell you more about their views and aims than does their religion.

There are understandable concerns about a Mormon president creating interest in the LDS religion, but I can't believe they'll get such a huge boost from that. People may consider the Mormons out of curiousity, but their decision to stay with them or not will say more about traditional Christians than about the Mormon president.

And how far are we willing to take that concern? If we don't vote for a Mormon because it may cause people to become Mormons, next we may have people in the Church of Christ refusing to vote for Baptists or Calvinists refusing to vote for Arminians. Ridiculous? Yeah. So is voting against a Mormon over this.

There's one truth we need to keep in mind in this whole thing: We're looking for a president, not a pastor.

All of the objections to voting for a Mormon for president should fall away if we keep that truth in view.

One last warning: Even if you don't vote for a Mormon in the primary, it's appearing increasingly likely your choice in the general election will be President Obama or a Mormon. If you decide to opt for a candidate of a minor party — the "true Christian" in the race — you will simply be voting for Obama. That's simply the way our system works.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is Mormonism a Cult?

With Mitt Romney again running for President of the United States, the word "cult" is getting a lot of air time.

Is the Mormon church a cult? You can't give a simple yes or no answer.

There are (at least) three ways to use the word "cult" — and they're all correct usage:

The broadest, but least common, refers to any system of worship. It is not derogatory; it simply distinguishes one religious group from another. In history, the "Jewish temple cult" was the way orthodox Israelites worshipped YHWH at Solomon's temple in Jerusalem.

The narrowest, and most common among Americans at large, refers to groups with wildly unusual teachings that influence their members using unethical tactics (e.g., sleep deprivation) and try to cut them off from their friends and families (at least in the popular imagination). Think Branch Davidians or Heaven's Gate.

In between these two in scope is a usage that is common among American Evangelicals: a group that is an unorthodox off-shoot of an existing religion. It simply refers to groups that don't follow all of the rules. By this definition Christianity is a cult of Judaism, and the Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult of Christianity (because they do not hold to the deity of Christ or the doctrine of the Trinity).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka, LDS Church or Mormons) is also a cult of Christianity by this definition.

The problem is that most Americans, when hearing the word cult, think about David Koresh or Jim Jones. To these Americans, calling the Mormon church a cult is sure sign that you are a weirdo. You'll rarely, if ever, be given a chance to explain what you mean. You'll simply be tuned out or castigated.

It is not useful to call the LDS Church a cult in politics or apologetics. It demeans you. Just don't do it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jesus & Myth

Did the New Testament writers borrow from ancient myths in creating stories about Jesus?

It's a charge that comes and goes over the years. If you haven't heard it lately, you probably will soon. It goes something like this:

There have been stories about (semi-)divine men who came to earth, died, and were resurrected for thousands of years. The religions based on their worship even included baptism and a special meal. Early Christians simply borrowed elements from those religions to create stories about their own christ.
And a lot of that is almost true. Almost. The collected wisdom of Christendom on the topic seems be:

1) The similarities between these ancient stories and Christianity are exaggerated and the differences are minimized.

For example, "resurrection" in these stories didn't really involve dead people getting up and walking around or it wasn't permanent. For instance, Osiris' dismembered corpse was reassembled, but he remained in the underworld. And their resurrection stories were tied to cyclical fertility/harvest rituals; they weren't once for all time events.

Likewise, "baptism" meant being bathed in blood from a freshly killed animal. Calling that baptism is stretching the term beyond recognition, and it's something first century Jews wouldn't have found at all interesting.

2) The real similarities are datable only to after Christianity appeared.

These "mystery" religions were still around at and after the time of Christ. If the similarities (e.g., communion) only appear in the historical record in the second or third century, which way did the borrowing go? The other way, obviously, as our traditions can be dated from the first century.

3) Post-exile Jews were the last people we'd expect to absorb or syncretize with another religion.

They were really, really opposed to allowing their religion to be corrupted by outside influences after that whole Babylon thing (c.f., Maccabean rebellion). That's not to say it could never happen, but it does mean the evidence has to be really solid for it to be believed.

So did early Christians borrow myths from other religions to create a Christ they could worship? The evidence does not support that hypothesis.

Other resources:
The Case for Christ
Jesus and Other Myths (Video)

Related articles:
The Resurrection: A Story No One Would Make Up
Pagan Virgin Births

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Deals on eBooks

Amazon is running a special on 900+ Kindle ebooks including a number of religious books* through July 27, 2011. Remember that Kindle books can be read not only on a Kindle but also on Amazon's free Kindle apps for pc, mac, and most smart phones.

Among the deals you can find the NIV Bible for $3.99, the NIV Archaeological Study Bible for $2.99, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth for $2.99, Bridges' The Pursuit of Holiness for $2.99, Beth Moore's When Godly People Do Ungodly Things for $2.99, and Strobel's The Case for Christ for $2.99 plus lots more.

I always encourage believers to read good books, and if you can get them cheap, so much the better. Take a look and see if there's something you can benefit from.

* Please be aware that page lists "religious" books, not Christian. There is sadly no way to further narrow down that list.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Do I Know of Holy?

Contemporary Christian music has a lot of silly fluff, but there is some good, God-centered stuff.

And anything that gets us to focus, even briefly, on God's majesty, transcendence, and power is a good thing. This song does just that:
I made You promises a thousand times
I tried to hear from Heaven
But I talked the whole time
I think I made You too small
I never feared You at all No
If You touched my face would I know You?
Looked into my eyes could I behold You?

What do I know of You
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along Your ocean?
Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
What do I know? What do I know of Holy?

What do I know of Holy?
What do I know of wounds that will heal my shame?
And a God who gave life its name?
What do I know of Holy?
Of the One who the angels praise?
All creation knows Your name
On earth and heaven above
What do I know of this love?
It's a great song, and the lead singer has a great voice. Listen to the whole thing below or on YouTube. I'm sure they'd appreciate your buying it if you enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts

To get the most out of Bible study, you need more than just your Bible. To really understand a writer, you need to understand his world — his language, his era, and sometimes even his geography. And there are many good tools available to help you do just that.

Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts (of which I received a review copy) is one of those good tools. It effectively combines a Bible atlas with some of the features found in a Bible handbook — for example, book outlines, diagrams, and summaries of the biblical text.

The material is arranged according to the books of the (protestant) Bible and divided by the common groupings of the books (e.g., Pentateuch, historical, wisdom, etc.). There is a brief introduction to each group and then each book, and then the summaries, maps, and charts follow the order of the biblical text. Though this work is clearly conservative, it does acknowledge debates where they exist (e.g., the dating of the exodus).

This volume also includes access to a website where the charts and maps can be downloaded for use in a class. Which begs the question, given all the material that is available on the internet, why should anyone buy something like this?

Two reasons: First, the material on the internet is hit or miss. Sometimes it's outright wrong.

Second, even if the material's good, the distractions of the internet are legion. We've all gone to "check my email" or the weather or something and looked up and forty-five minutes have passed. A few well-chosen resources on the shelf help you avoid the distractions and make the most of your Bible study time.

This isn't the most comprehensive atlas in the world, nor is it the most thorough handbook, but it is a good combination tool that will serve you well.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Logos Tools

Logos Bible Software has (much like everyone else) been putting out apps for iPhone/iPad, android, and one even available over the internet. Not everything they sell is available via these apps (due to licensing issues), but a lot of their products are.

Since they're becoming more useful, I want to share a couple of good packages with you. (Note, I'm not making a dime off this.)

Rejoice Christian Software has the Essential IVP Ref. Collection 3.0 for $89.95 (for a limited time), the Norman Geisler Apologetics Library for $29.95, and the Essential Bible Study Library for $12.95 among others. There are a lot of good, useful books in these collections that you can now read on your pc, smartphone, or tablet. I think they're a good investment for your Bible study library.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Terrible Beauty

Past ages often thought of God as too removed, too unreachable. Our age suffers from the opposite affliction; we see God as too close, too familiar. We call God "Father," but we think of Him more like a grandfather — someone who hands out gum, hugs, and forgiveness with equal ease.

The Bible has medicine for both ills, and we need to look at its prescription for us.

Psalm 97 describes God in a way that is meant to inspire the awe that we lack:
The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad;
let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and consumes his foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.
It makes me think of an approaching thunderstorm: a giant, dark mass flashing with lightning that shakes the very earth. It has a terrible beauty that befits a wielder of both life and destruction.

We should respond to God with the same mixture of enchantment and fear. We must be protected from a glory that would kill us. He reigns in righteousness and justice, while among us there is none righteous, not even one. If even the mountains cannot stand before the LORD, what hope do we have?

The sane man, finding himself in the presence of God Almighty, says, "Woe is me! for I am undone."

It's only when we grasp the terrible beauty of our God that we can truly appreciate the grace given to us that we may enter into His presence boldly, not fearfully, as sons, not slaves, and approach the King of Glory and call Him "Daddy."

To borrow from one of the greats, "'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

God as Father

One day Jesus said some words that were revolutionary to His hearers: "This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven...'"

Never before had anyone dared to call God "Father" — not in a personal sense.

Today, we've lost the revolution. Christians and even non-Christians easily believe that God is their father and, more importantly, they are His children — even when it's not true.

Some even dare to call "all God's creatures (i.e., animals and plants)" His "children." They're not.

We're all God's creations, yes. Whether directly or indirectly, God has a hand in the creation of every living thing. That doesn't make us His children.

If I make a chair, it's not my child. My daughter and I are building a robot dog; it's not my child either. If I could create a bacteria out of chemicals in a lab, it wouldn't be my child. Even if I could cobble together a human being out of spare parts, that being would not be my child.

My child is the one I begat, not made.

Or, if we successfuly adopt, my child will be the one we choose to adopt.

God has chosen to adopt some humans. Specifically, He's chosen to adopt those who place their trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. "[T]o those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."

God didn't have to save us. We're all rebellious sinners, desperately wicked. Once He rescued us from that, He had every right to view us as pets, slaves, servants, or (if He was feeling really generous) friends. But He chose to go one step farther, adopting us into His family, naming us "heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ."

Stop today and marvel at the gift we've been given. Wonder anew with the apostle, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Gospels are Eyewitness Accounts

This video (which I can't seem to embed) is a presentation of some relatively new information showing the minor details of the gospels support the idea that the canonical gospels are (or at least are based on) eyewitness testimony (as opposed to later legends).

It's about 50 minutes long, but it's well worth your time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hawking and Heaven

Once again Steven Hawking, the renowned British cosmologist, has made the news — this time by stating there is no afterlife, calling it "a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

How do we respond when famous scientists says these kinds of things? How do we answer the people who throw these things in our faces either in response to evangelism or as evangelistic skeptics?

Who are you?
The first thing we should say to these kinds of statements is, "Who are you to say that?" Too often people who are authorities on one topic (in this case, cosmology) try to use that authority to speak on topics outside their specialty (in this case, metaphysics).

I'm not saying Professor Hawking isn't a smart man. He's brilliant. But he has no more authority on the topic of heaven than I have on the topic of string theory (which is zilch).

I know intelligent, accomplished physicians who can barely tie their shoes. Intelligence in one area does not always transfer. Even when it does, intelligence is not education. Professor Hawking has spent his entire adult life studying cosmology; how much time has he spent studying metaphysics, philosophy, logic, or theology? Has anyone even asked him? Someone should.

How do you know?
Besides the question of authority, since we're talking about something that is alleged to be a scientific fact, the immediate follow-up question should be, "How do you know?" Or to be more precise: "What experiments have brought you to this conclusion?"

Professor Hawking could no doubt list in excruciating detail the tests and data to support his belief in general relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory. But I doubt he could name one such experiment that proves heaven doesn't exist.

And because of his perceived authority (as discussed above), no one asks.

The press should ask. We should ask. And we shouldn't let people misuse their fame to attack the gospel.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Teachable Moment

Driving home from work after a storm, I saw a beautiful, crisp double rainbow (not the one pictured). I was wishing my kids were with me because rainbows provide a great moment to teach or reinforce some biblical truth:

"What does the rainbow remind us?"

"That God won't flood the world again."

True, and I expect my older child to know that, but if it stops there, I'll be missing out on an opportunity to teach them about the gospel:

"God said he wouldn't destroy the world with water, but he is going to destroy it with fire. Do you know why?"

I don't expect a yes here.

"It's because of our sin. People insist on living by their own rules, on trying to be God instead of obeying him. So he says one day he will destroy the world — saving the people who belong to him and punishing those who won't."

And hopefully this will lead to questions like "who belongs to him" and "when?"

At least that's how I hope it goes.

(photo of rainbow by miri695 via Flickr)

Monday, May 2, 2011

On the Passing of Osama bin Laden

Osama's dead. US forces found and killed him. The crowds are going wild. Many Christians are too.

I'm not.

I'm caught between satisfaction — even gladness — that justice has been done and the recognition that a human being died and went to hell.

An enemy of Christianity and western civilization, one who orchestrated the murder of thousands, is gone. That's a good thing.

The truth is, he deserved what he got and what he's now getting. And so do I. So do you.

That's why it says,
"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord."
So don't crow. Don't gloat. Don't celebrate. A son of Adam and of Abraham is gone. It was necessary. It was just. But it was not good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mere Mortals

C.S. Lewis on the people around us:

"The ... burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly temped to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."
— "The Weight of Glory"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Using the JW Bible to Prove the Deity of Christ

We all know Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) don't believe in the deity of Christ; they believe he was created. And we all know they made their own version of the Bible — the New World Translation (NWT) — to carefully remove anything that might suggest otherwise — verses such as John 1:1.

They missed a spot.

Here is John 1:3 in their own NWT:

All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.
Do you see it? Everything that came into existence did so through him. Everything. So Jesus didn't "come into existence."

What do we do with this? Ask a JW to read this verse from his Bible. On a piece of paper, draw a box. Label it like the one below.*
Ask the JW to put an X where Christ should go. He'll want to put in in the box of thing that were made. But the verse says Christ made everything that was made, so he can't have been made.

He'll want to say it means "everything else" that was made. But that's not what the text says. Don't let him do it. Remind him, "apart from him not even one thing came into existence."

Push him on this for as long as you can. It's unlikely he's going to fall on his knees and declare Jesus is God right there — he might, but probably not.

What we're hoping for, though, is that this will stick with him, bug him, work at him. If he sees the inconsistency here, he might begin to see it elsewhere. And one day he really may fall on his knees and declare Jesus is God.

*I wish I could take credit for this; I can't — I read it somewhere. I wish I could credit that source; I can't — I can't find it. But I want to openly acknowledge that I didn't come up with this.

Was the Cross Just?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Waving Bye-bye

I told you we are trying to adopt some kids. The best way for us to do that involved getting licensed for foster care even though we — especially I — are constitutionally ill-equipped for that.

We weren't licensed a week when we got the call: "Can you keep a baby girl for a few days?"

A few days turned into a month. A month of too little sleep (especially in the beginning), no free time, and a lot of money spent caring for a tiny tyrant. A tyrant who wants to eat every two hours, demands to be held constantly, and pees every fifteen minutes.

A beautiful tiny tyrant with big eyes, a sweet smile, and little brown hands that wrap around your heart as easily as your finger.

She left today, three weeks late and 18 years early.

I am definitely not cut out for this.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Mars Needs Moms

I try to highlight those few things in popular culture that re-enforce Christian value.

Disney's new movie Mars Needs Moms does just that.

In the movie, Milo's mom is kidnapped by Martians who use the brains of human mothers to create better child-care robots — necessary because their society has cast off males entirely, leaving the females too busy to be mothers. Milo stows away on the kidnappers' ship and, with the help of a man who was once in Milo's shoes, tries to rescue his mother before it's too late.

It's not a great movie, but it is a good movie, and the kids will enjoy it. More importantly, though, the movie will show them that mothers and fathers are important.

There are a couple of unfortunate moments of potty humor (one during the closing credit montage), but overall it's pretty clean with mild violence. I think there was one mild swear word. Visually, it was very attractive (we saw it in 2D). And you should expect to get all verklempt during the climax.

I give it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. If you're going to take your kids to one of the cartoons that are out now, this is the one to see.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Tale of Two Neighbors

I'm probably going to get in trouble over this. My neighbors on either side of me have something in common: they recently lost their homes. Both houses burned to the ground — a pretty much total loss.

But the neighbors, and their situations, are not that much alike.

The man on the right has a good job and makes a good living. His family has some savings, good credit, and good insurance. The initial loss was terrible, but after a couple of days they were able to get some money from their insurance company. Combined with their savings (and probably a little on the credit card), they've been able to get a hotel room and buy some clothes. The house will be rebuilt, and it looks like they're going to come back from this pretty OK.

The man on the left has been out of work for two years. His family was already on the verge of losing their house. Their savings have been depleted, their insurance has lapsed, and their credit is ruined. They literally have nothing but the clothes on their back.

The family on my right needed a little help right after the fire — a place to spend the night, some clothes to wear to go shopping, and a shoulder to cry on. The family on my left is going to need a lot of help for a very long time.

Given my finite resources, where should I focus my efforts — and money?

Here's where I get in trouble: The family on the right is Japan. The family on the left is Haiti.

Right now Japan is a shambles. They need man-power and materiel to manage the crisis, help the injured, and deal with a few damaged power plants.

But as the "donate to help Japan" links start appearing, a voice in my head keeps whispering, "They're the third richest nation on Earth."

I keep beating the drum of discernment in generosity: We have to use our finite God-given resources wisely, to make them stretch as far as they can, and to use them in ways that do not further harm the recipient. To think about how and to whom we should give.

I'm not denouncing, decrying, or accusing. I simply ask that we all consider this question: Given the great need in the US, Haiti, Indonesia, and all the other places we're investing our resources, how much can and should we give Japan?

I'm totally open to have my theology or my grasp of the facts corrected, but this is the way my thinking is going these days. And maybe I just need more sleep (we're babysitting a two-month-old for a few days).

What do you think?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lewis on Liberalism

Theological liberalism, that is.
"All theology of the liberal type involves at some point - and involves throughout - the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by His followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars."

-C.S. Lewis

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How Do We Get Peace?

Do you want peace?

Of course you do. Everyone wants peace. It's not just a great thing, it's one of the "fruit of the Spirit" — a mark of maturity and authenticity in a Christian's life.

So why do so few of us have it? We simply don't know how to get it.

John 14-16 is a very interesting passage full of all kinds of important ideas. It also contains an unusual statement by Jesus.

He starts by telling them some hard things:
"In my Father’s house are many rooms. ... I am going there to prepare a place for you.

"Before long, the world will not see me anymore...

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

"[A] time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.

"In a little while you will see me no more... I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices."
Then Jesus makes this surprising statement:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace."
Jesus is leaving them, and they will be mistreated and will mourn while the world celebrates. This is supposed to bring them peace? How does that work?

I think this statement cracks the code: "I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you."

Mourning and being persecuted will not bring them peace. Knowing that they're going to mourn and be persecuted will not bring them peace.

Knowing that Jesus knows what's going to happen, has a plan, and has it all under control will bring them peace.

And it will for you, too. A big God makes it easier to ride out the trials of life.

So "in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord." "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Free Audiobook

One of these days I need to do a real review of RC Sproul's classic The Holiness of God. I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you haven't read it, you need to.

And a free audiobook makes that inexpensive and easy.

It's available free this month at ChristianAudio.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: Adopted for Life

In Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches, Russell Moore has two things he wants to tell you about adoption:
1) If you're a Christian, you've been adopted into the family of Christ.

2) Because of that, you should be more open to the idea of adopting strangers into your family.
These two themes are weaved together throughout the book as he explores the theology of our adoption in Christ, the biblical mandate to take care of orphans, the changes local churches can and should make in regard to teaching about both, and the actual process and struggles of adoption — told through his own story of adopting two little boys from Russia.

Don't worry that he's going to say you must adopt a child. He doesn't. But he does tell you that you could do it if you really wanted to. He also says it's not as bad as you think. And he gives ways people can help in this area without actually adopting a child themselves.

If you only read the book to get his teaching on our adoption in Christ, it would be well worth your time.

But the world is full of little children who have no hope for the future unless people like you and me decide to love them and make them ours just like God the Father did for us. It is the embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Give him a chance to convince you.

If you are interested in this book, Christian is offering the audiobook for free through the end of February 2011. You can listen to it on the way to work or while you do chores. (Hey, no money commitment, no time commitment, how can you say no?)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).
Rating: 4 stars — highly recommended

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Insanity of Adoption

In my bio it says, "I'm married with 2 kids and no free time — so, of course, I've got a blog."

Lately I've had even less free time. While work has slowed down (maybe too much), home life has picked up. Besides the usual chores and such, my eldest is in first grade and is struggling learning to read, so she's been the focus of every evening for a while. Our lives are chocked full, with few moments to ourselves for our own hobbies or interests.

So we're adopting a couple more kids.

Are we out of our ever-loving minds? Yeah.

Is it going to be hard? Certainly. Isn't everything worthwhile?

And this is certainly worthwhile. In fact, it's probably more worthwhile than you think. The idea of adoption is the core of Christian theology, but it's also the Christian life encapsulated.

Adoption is...

The gospel in miniature — choosing to love someone you have no obligation to.

Loving Jesus by loving "the least of these."

"Pure and faultless" religion.

Spiritual warfare — opposing the prince of this world who desires to see people left in a hopeless state.

Embodying the Kingdom by giving a home to the fatherless and food to the hungry.

Evangelism — What better way to share the gospel with someone than to bring them into your house and life?

And it's taking care of kids who have no one else.

It's also opposing social Darwinism, living out what we believe. As Alexander Sanger put it,
"Adoption is counter-intuitive from an evolutionary vantage point .... Adoption requires a person to devote time and resources to raising a child that is not genetically related."(1)
Exactly. It makes no sense from a materialistic point of view (in either sense of the word), but it makes all kinds of sense from an eternal perspective.

(1) Quoted in Adopted for Life by Russell Moore.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Highpoint of Worship

What's your favorite part of a worship service?

I define "worship" as a response to who God is, what He's done, and what He's promised. That makes it include a good deal more than singing. Giving money to support the work of the church (be it salaries, missions, or helping the poor) and listening and learning as someone teaches from the Word can definitely be worship.

For me nothing tops baptism: When someone responds to the gospel by promising to follow Jesus for the rest of their days. (We're obviously credobaptists.)

It's saying, "This is what I believe, and I'm going to be different because of it." And yet I think we all know it's not a one-time thing. It's a commitment, a choice, you have to make every day. Every minute of every day.

But it doesn't hurt to make a big deal of it every now and then.

We don't all need to go back through the baptismal waters, but we can stop and plant our flag and say to our flesh and to our Savior, "I'm going to follow Jesus for as long as I live."

When's the last time you consciously renewed that commitment?

What's wrong with today?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Here's a worthy new year's resolution: Learn to think better.

Amazon is offering the Kindle version of Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life for free at least today. That title's been hanging out on my wishlist for some time.

Again, you don't have to have a Kindle to read Kindle books. They offer pc, mac, and smartphone reader apps for freem, so go ahead and pick up this title. Even if you never get around to reading it, you're not out anything.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Deeper Bible Reading Plan

'Tis the season when many people start Bible reading plans geared toward covering the whole Bible in a year.

I think that's a worthy goal, but I also think it's too fast to really absorb what you're reading. It's also often too much; many people become discouraged and quit entirely.

That's why I'm excited that someone's put out a structured, year-long Bible reading plan that covers about half of the Bible.

It reads fewer chapters a day than Bible-in-a-year plans. It's reads many chapters repeatedly (good for depth and greater understanding). It skips difficult (aka "boring") sections — for example, no Leviticus (not that I don't love Leviticus). And it's tailor-made with appropriate sections to read before Easter and Christmas.

I think it's a great idea, and if you're thinking about trying a daily Bible reading plan, especially if you've never successfully completed one before, I recommend giving this one a try.

The reading plan can be found at the Grace Evangelical Free Church's website.

An interview with the creator can be found at Scriptorium Daily.

Best of all, the first week repeats the first chapters of John and Genesis, so you're really not even behind if you start soon.

Related articles:
7 Tips for Reading the Bible in a Year
5 Questions to Help Your Devotions