Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tying the knot

Thomas is sometimes our spokesman, blurting out words that we’d like to say: Jesus, I won’t believe until I see the nailprints in your hands and touch the sword slash in your side. (John 20:25)

Ours is a world of material where we can feel the warmth of the sun, touch the roughness of tree bark, taste the tang of , smell a new rose, see mountains jutting into a azure-blue sky.

For many, there is nothing else. There is no spiritual, no unseen, no imperceptible – only what we can detect through our senses.

Jesus walked with those whose belief followed their senses. They saw and then believed. His ministry began in an insignificant village where he transformed cleansing water to wine, a clear image of his coming redemption. His second miracle was in that same town where he transformed death into life in healing a dying son.

The stories told between the Cana account of John 2 and the Cana account of John 4 explore the link between knowledge and belief. For many reading John’s gospel, the quest was for secret knowledge to open the box of understanding.

But the belief of those who saw Jesus’ miracles and then thought they grasped the truth was not made of the stuff of eternity. That belief faded like fog in the sunlight. The way to life was through belief. John is clear on that.

The way to belief is not through knowledge. Seeing is not believing.

Jesus challenged a nobleman to take him at his word. In doing that, the father found life and belief.

Thomas demanded physical evidence before pledging his heart to Jesus. But as Jesus stood before him, Thomas melted into belief.

Don’t we sometimes long to hear Jesus’ voice or touch his hand? Yet Jesus made it clear that belief does not come from seeing but from his word.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 21:29

Next: So why signs?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is seeing believing?

It was about a 16-mile walk for a desperate father, dry and empty in spite of others on the road. He could have sent his servants but this was a task of the heart, a longing for the impossible. His heart pounded with the adrenalin of fear and distress.

He approached to Jesus with a simple request: come to Capernaum and heal his son, who was dying. (John 4:46-54) He had no other hope.

Jesus’ response was puzzling. This well-known teacher and healer started discussing belief. The father had asked for healing, hadn’t he? Wasn’t that belief?

But Jesus lumped him in with his countrymen: “unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Jesus had just returned from Jerusalem, where people thronged to the signs he had done. In Samaria, his ability to tell a woman her past opened doors for deeper discussion. People clung to the miracles.

Desperation was in the man’s reply: please hurry before my son dies.

“Go home,” Jesus told him. “Your son lives.”

The crisis took shape. Would the man remain to badger Jesus? Would he leave Jesus and the opportunity for healing? What if his son wasn’t healed?

Were Jesus’ words those of promise or dismissal?

Amazing words follow for the man believed Jesus’ word and went home. We know he later learned his son was healed at the time Jesus sent him home.

We learn something of the nature of belief. Jesus challenged this weary and worried father: believe my words, not what you see. Your people demand to see but I want you to trust my words, not my actions.

Life is linked to belief. Jesus’ words, not a visible sign, led to life. A man and his household discovered life through the Word.

Next: Tying the knot

Monday, October 29, 2007

A father's vision

A child on the doorstep of eternity will drive a father to extreme measures. And that’s probably why the nobleman traveled all the way to Cana: to lure Jesus back to him in the wild hope this rabbi could heal his son.

People talked and the stories swirled about healings in Jerusalem, strange occurrences in Samaria. The father was hoping to see his son restored to health.

You may be familiar with the story, found in John 4:46-54.

Because the story takes place in Cana, it forms what’s known as an inclusio, a bookend of sorts with John 2, where Jesus turned water into wine in Cana. The nobleman’s story completes a unit in the text that we can study for common threads.

We’re going to spend some time trying to follow some threads. Try to review John 2-4 this week, not necessarily reading each verse carefully but scanning to get the larger picture.

Starting in Cana, Jesus turned 6 jars water into wine. We don’t know if anyone saw the miracle, only the results. But we do know it resulted in his disciples believing in him.

Then Jesus traveled to Jerusalem, where many saw him do miracles and believed in him. We discussed earlier how he did not trust their believing, however. Their belief was based on what they saw and that belief faded when he was no longer in sight.

Nicodemus, in John 3, opened a discussion with Jesus by carefully explaining what he knew. Jesus challenged the knowing. You think you know what you can see but that seeing hasn’t produced correct knowledge.

We next read about John the Baptist, who was telling about something he had not seen. However, he told his listeners, Jesus told about what he had seen. “He tells what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them!” (John 3:32)

In Samaria, Jesus moved a conversation from water to eternity, reminding the woman she worshiped what she did not know.

And then we read the account about the nobleman, who came to see Jesus.

Next: Is seeing believing?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Five: Selah!

Selah: to lift up, exalt.

Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty--
he is the King of glory. Selah

Psalms 24:10

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for God himself is judge. Selah

Psalms 50:6

I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Selah

Psalms 61:4

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens. Selah

Psalms 68:19

I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

Psalms 143:6

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reincarnation license?

Maybe you thought the San Francisco city council was the ultimate government nanny but you’d be wrong in that. Check out the Chinese, who have now decided that no Buddhist monk can return from the dead by way of reincarnation, except with government approval.

I can’t make this up. Something about "giving to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" comes to mind here....

Ben Witherington has a brilliant analysis. Take a look.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

California Fires

Here is a link to the San Diego Union-Tribune, which is working hard to keep current information about the California fires available.

Over at the World Magazine Blog, World magazine writer Lynn Vincent, who lives in the San Diego area, describes the scene as "apocalyptic smoke blanketing the sky in every direction except west."

Let's be praying.

After I hit the refresh button for the 23rd time in the last hour, I wondered what had brought us to this place.

I was in the 8.5 million fan stampede this week that flooded the Colorado Rockies’ website, trying to buy tickets to a World Series game. But in our case, we could at least take the position we were Colorado residents, after all, and had been to a home game this summer.

We rooted for our Rockies in spite of that large group taking up bleacher space to cheer for the Cubbies. We won, though!

It’s been a fun time for our family, to follow the Rockies on an incredible end-of-the season string of victories. And here they are: the team who generally hold down last place in the division, slotted into the World Series. Nobody guessed that and now we are in the middle of this media blitz.

But here’s the best part: this team embraces biblical principles in assembling a team. Imagine that. They prefer character and values over talent.

If you’re curious, here’s a story about the spiritual temperature of the team. Or Google Colorado Rockies Christian and see what you find.

I was curious anyway.

I found out that the general manager, Dan O’Dowd, is an outspoken Christian who has chosen to look for players with character.

“If people want to interpret character as a religious-based issue because it appears many times in the Bible, that’s their decision. I believe that character is an innate part of developing an organization, and to me, it is nothing more than doing the right thing at the right time when nobody’s looking.” O’Dowd told a newspaper reporter.

Do I think God is blessing this team for its commitment to biblical principles? Yes, I do. I’m told this team is like a family, closer than brothers in many ways. I’ve seen them take success and failure in stride. Players aren’t afraid to bring in their young children into the Rockies locker room. The team is in the spotlight without seeing their best players arrested for some early-morning celebration. What blessings!

They don’t need a World Series championship to feel God’s hand on them. They may get it (GO, Rockies!) but they are enjoying the warmth of God’s breath even now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Charlie knew his bride was unfaithful before the ceremony. He was compassionate with deep pockets, paying for the festivities of the wedding and indulging his bride’s dreams for the nuptials.

Looking deeply into his eyes, he vowed to treasure her through health and illness, youth and age, disappointment and victory.

In the glow of new love, the couple had three children in rapid succession. Then Eve’s eye began to wander again. The monotony of monogamy gave energy to her plans.

Soon Charlie read nursery rhymes and bedtime stories without knowing where his bride spent the evening.

Isn’t it interesting that God gives us permission to end a marriage because of unfaithfulness while he doesn’t give himself that loophole? The story of Charlie is the story of God, who married a prostitute and endured the pain of her constant unfaithfulness.

God was the wounded bridegroom, Israel with her stunning unfaithfulness the bride. She chose out gods of wood and silver, ceremonies of convenience pleasing to other nations while an insult to God.

God’s commitment was simple: I will be your God and you will be my people. Even when the bride could not keep that covenant, even when their hearts wandered to what seemed more convenient or more exciting or more impressive to others, God could not break his covenant.

His viewpoint was always to bring them back. Even the judgments, the punishments, the prophet’s words of woe were all for one purpose: to bring the bride home.

She searched for fullness in the arms of downed timber and dead metal while fruitfulness and life rested in the faithful bridegroom.

God said so well: “I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.” (Hosea 14:8)

He never forgets his vow: I am yours always.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Music in the walk

This whole plan began as an effort to eliminate family piracy. When my youngest children discovered contemporary Christian music, their spiritual barometer moved skyward. They were encouraged by the new music and challenged by thoughtful lyrics.

Then I discovered they were borrowing CDs from friends and family, burning them onto our computer, and listening through Windows Media Player. They had no money for tunes and thought they’d found the perfect solution.

After our discussion about piracy and digital theft, we had a brainstorm. I agreed to buy a CD a month with three of us choosing the CD on a rotating basis. They were free to buy their own or beg for gifts but they could count on the CD of their choice every third month.

It works pretty well. But here’s the deal. I need ideas!

Here’s what we’ve bought since January:

Go by Newsboys

Scars Remain by Disciple

Awaken by Natalie Grant

The Yearbook by KJ52

Hearts of the Innocent by Kutless

Open Wide this Window by GlassByrd

Chaotic Resolve by Plumb

Sing Alleluia by City on a Hill

Comatose by Skillet

Bigger Than My Imagination by Michael Gungor

Thrive by Newsboys

Can we say eclectic?

Do you have any recommendations? Does music help your worship? Or contemplation? What songs or artists or albums do you love?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Retreat in a Box!

Lisa at The Preachers Wife is giving away a Beth Moore "retreat in a box." Check it out and sign up. Somebody has to win!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Five: Always I AM

I AM = eimi (I exist-always. No beginning or end.). John’s gospel has two sets of “I am” sayings of Jesus. One set declares Jesus’ divinity:

`I am, who is speaking to you.'

John 4:26

They were afraid; and he said to them,

`I am, be not afraid;'

John 6:19-20

Jesus, therefore, said to them, ‘When you may lift up

the Son of Man then you will know that I am.’

John 8:28

Jesus said to them, `Truly, I say to you, Before Abraham's coming--I am;'

John 8:58

`From this time I tell you, before its coming to pass, that,

when it may come to pass, you may believe that I am.’

John 13:19

`Whom do ye seek?' they answered him, `Jesus the Nazarene;'

Jesus said to them, `I am.”

John 18:4-5

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Milly had a lump on her neck. She'd had two before and the surgeon had sliced them away, so she knew the routine. Although her spirit rebelled, she trekked through the medical pathways with surgery scheduled again. But she asked people to please pray, for her spirit screamed that she should not do this surgery.

The day before the surgery, the mirror revealed the lump was gone. The doctor confirmed.

Donna found a lump, too. I asked for prayer for her about 6 weeks ago. She's been undergoing chemotherapy and, after 6 rounds, went in for a new CRT scan earlier this week. Preliminary reports show the following:

  • No cancer in the lymph nodes
  • No cancer on her liver
  • The cancer on her adrenal is much reduced.

The common thread in the stories is prayer. God worked in these women's lives. We can get a rush of excitement and relief. But let's honor his name, for he is worthy of all praise and worship and glory.

And keep praying, for he can do what we cannot.

More than you wanted to know.....

Angela at Refresh My Soul tagged me with this meme. Here you go:

4 jobs I have had:
1. High school English teacher
2. Teaching assistant for New Testament professor

3. Newspaper reporter/editor

4. Parts Department manager, Case-IH tractor dealership (only in America will an English degree take you into the world of tractor pistons and o-rings!)

4 movies I can watch over and over:
1. Babette’s Feast
2. Room with a View
3. A Beautiful Mind

4. Lord of the Rings series

4 TV shows I love to watch:
1. Colorado Rockies games
2. Denver Broncos games

3. And that’s it.

4. Honest. I’m not a TV watcher.

4 places I have vacationed:
1. Canadian Rockies
2. Florida
3. Ozarks of Missouri
4. Colorado Rockies

4 favorite dishes:
1. Lasagna
2. Homemade tamales (not made by me! Made by experts.)
3. Szechuan Chicken
4. Chicken Tarkari (Nepali dish – I had to google the name!)

4 websites I visit daily:
1. Blogs
2. My iGoogle
3. Lately, it’s been the Colorado Rockies site
4. Christianity Today

4 places I would rather be:
1. Writer’s Conference
2. Visiting Australia or New Zealand
3. Visiting our older kids (from South Carolina to Nebraska to Calgary to Denver)
4. Mexico

I am tagging:
Ann (

Megan (

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The conflict

When Nicodemus came to Jesus to extend his hand of generous knowledge, he came in the night. Some suggest that John was underlining a key point: Nicodemus was in the dark about Jesus’ nature. Others suggest that he was afraid of the Pharisees and was hiding under cover of darkness.

Both interpretations work well, especially considering how John frequently uses light as an analogy for Jesus. Nicodemus was in the dark and Jesus was the light.

But what happened to Nicodemus? He gets the John 3:16 discourse and we aren’t told the end of the story. Yet.

Later in the book of John, we meet Nicodemus again. The Pharisees were in a froth because of Jesus’ words at the temple and wanted him arrested. They bemoaned those who believed. In 7:50, Nicodemus confronted the Pharisees about a point of law: our law doesn’t judge without a hearing, does it?

They accused him of ignorance. Ironically, their point was that the Messiah will not come from Galilee but their own lack of knowledge – that Jesus was born in Bethlehem – revealed their own ignorance.

And, for Nicodemus, hearing Jesus' version of knowledge allowed him to stand up to the Jewish authorities after Jesus’ death. He was the man who helped Joseph of Arimathea anoint and bury Jesus.

To touch a dead man would defile a Pharisee and to openly align himself with Jesus ended his alliance with the religious leaders. Nicodemus, who originally came to Jesus to make peace (dare I say “seek approval”?), made a stronger stand than did the disciples.

They feared the Romans and the Jewish leaders. Whom did Nicodemus fear? I’d suggest that he only feared failing Jesus. He stood in the face of human rejection. Why?

We’re told in John 2 that Jesus knew what is in a person. Immediately afterward, he sat down with Nicodemus to correct his knowledge. Did Nicodemus, through this encounter, come to understand what was in a person?

Jesus didn’t entrust himself to people and, in the end, neither did Nicodemus. They knew that people are proud, selfish, emotional, moody, arrogant.

It’s a lesson we ought to learn. Not only am I weak, but so are you. Should I work to earn your approval or should you speak words that please me? Should your criticism crush me? Should my standards control you?

Jesus did not fear people’s opinions. His approval and direction came from the Father and he knew what people were truly like. Nicodemus learned. How’s our knowledge doing?

Our knowing

Nicodemus knew a lot. He told Jesus so. He knew Jesus did miracles and only God could do miracles. So Nicodemus logically deduced that Jesus was a teacher sent by God.

He thought himself expansive. He hadn’t trusted rumors and second-hand information. He had done what we should all do: gone to the source. He came to inform Jesus of his open-mindedness.

We know, he told Jesus, that you are could not do these miracles except God’s hand was on you.

As a Pharisee, he knew the ancient writings intimately. And he missed the point. Jesus might be a teacher or a prophet. But he might also be the Messiah, and Nicodemus never considered that.

So what he knew was limited to his own preconceptions. He “knew” what the Messiah would look like, and it wasn’t this man. Yet Jesus responded with compassion, addressing exactly that point in his response.

You can’t see the truth without being changed, Jesus told him. You don’t have the ability to know truth in your present state. The change must be as radical.

Here was the kingdom of God standing before him, and Nicodemus’ knowing was pretty thin. He couldn’t see who Jesus was.

Jesus revealed truth, compassion, salvation to Nicodemus. John 3 contains an amazing theological discussion about the nature of knowing, the mission of the Messiah, the personality of belief.

Yesterday we talked about Jesus knowing what was in a person in John 2. The message flows into John 3 where Jesus reveals that our knowing is nothing like his. He knows what is in us while we don’t even know what is in ourselves.

We think belief comes by seeing – miracles, charisma, signs – but Jesus made it clear that enduring belief does not come from within ourselves unless we are changed. It’s like being born a second time or like having the wind of the Spirit blow through.

Our knowing can’t even produce belief. We need help.

Next: a conflict of knowing

Monday, October 15, 2007


Jesus had just had an amazing set of encounters in Jerusalem. He’d drawn whips to chase the merchants out of the temple. He’d compared himself to the temple, shocking the Jews. He’d performed many miraculous signs, causing many to believe.

Yet, in John 2:24, we’re told that he did not entrust himself to the people.

Why not? Hadn’t he done the signs to stir belief? Hadn’t he revealed his zeal for God’s house in cleansing the temple? Hadn’t he confronted the religious leaders?

The people responded with belief. And he didn’t believe their belief.

Rightly so. Even the disciples believed and then didn’t and then believed and then didn’t throughout Jesus’ ministry. At the end, when he was arrested, they scattered like lightning bugs in the light.

Jesus didn’t entrust himself to the people for he knew what was in a person. He hadn’t come to this earth to befriend them or to set up a fraternity but to save them. He wasn’t fishing for approval or even understanding.

He knew what was in us and his mission was rescue. He wasn’t a church planter or a consensus-builder. He came because he knew our sin nature, that we are incapable of even belief apart from him.

When did the disciples finally come to the place of commitment and courage? After Pentecost, when they were indwelt by the Spirit of God.

We can’t do this alone. In that early chapter of John, many people believed Jesus’ signs and his words. But Jesus never sought their approval. He knew it would waft in the wind like fog off the river.

He didn’t come to be approved but to save.

Next: our knowing

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Five: Halel Yah!

Halal=to praise, boast about. Yah = the Lord


Praise the LORD.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Psalms 106:1

Praise the LORD.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

Psalms 147:1

Praise the LORD.
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who finds great delight in his commands.

Psalms 112:1

Salvation and glory and power belong

to our God,

Rev 19:1

And again they shouted:
Rev 19:3

(Photo courtesy of Eagle's Eye Photography. Check out the site for other great photos. Thanks, Ann!)

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I had already waved at our son, Nathan, who was 11 at the time and standing out in the front yard, when Becky, 6, came rushing out of the house carrying a big stick and a bread basket, nearly knocking my tools out of my hands.

“What’s all that for?” I asked.

“Oh!” The excitement lit her face. “Nathan says that you can see for 3 seconds after you get your head chopped off so we’re going to go find out.”

Ah, the rush of choice.

This, by the way, was the same energetic daughter who climbed a tree at age 2 and hung by one hand some four feet from the ground, calling for me to rescue her.

I think God made many of us parents so that we’d understand his nature slightly better.

God is no protectionist. He laid the ripe fruit in Eden and warned against it. He calls our name but never sedates our heart.

When Nathan and Becky rushed out for their guillotine experiment, I went to the kitchen to make supper. I trusted their good sense, partly because I had not rescued a little girl a few years before.

They knew the limits of choice. Freedom may look boundless, but we must learn our own limitations. My daughter did get herself down from that tree. She didn’t stop climbing trees but she learned to test the branch and gauge the height before starting. And the kids didn’t come to supper headless that night.

We understand that choice allows us to worship freely. It also teaches us to trim our sails and navigate this life in the abundance that God promises us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Keepin' on

When Diane found the lump, we all held our breath for a month until the doctor declared it benign. Jack drove through a tire blow-out and coasted to a heart-pounding stop at the shoulder of the busy highway. Maya is fighting cancer. Mike is trying to get his cholesterol below the red zone.

We get bone-jarring reminders that this life is short, like a mist drifting off the river valley, disappearing in the morning sun.

I’m like you: I want to make the most of the days God has given me. I want to be focused on his best and not live in the smoke of emergencies that seem to need tending.

So I’m always testing the wind, trying to read the signs. Recently I’ve seen several bloggers take a break from their writing routine. For some, the demands of teaching their children have sopped up their extra time. Others have run out of topics or sense a new ministry whispering. They are trying to maintain their focus on God’s best. They know a rich life is attentive.

For me, too, the call of the classroom has whispered. I teach my children, adults, senior citizens. Was it time to set down the pen and pour new time elsewhere? Once, God sang to my heart a poem about writing. Was that song done? Was it time to move on?

Yesterday I shared with you a blog award from Writers…Interrupted. The news revived my resolve just before I got a rejection letter from a publisher. Then, today, I discovered I have been given another award.

The Mathetes Award originated at management by God. Mathetes is a Greek word, so you know this is my kind of blog! Mathetes means “disciple” and is given to those seen as “acting in the role of a disciple of God.”

This award came to me from Lisa at The Preacher’s Wife. Lisa is a dedicated disciple of God and offers an online Bible study, “I AM…So You Don’t Have to Be.” She shares her heart for her Savior in a vibrant warm way and I am honored by this award. Thank you, Lisa!

But the timing of this award is what is most amazing. As I have laid Sumballo before the King and asked, “What next?” I have felt his voice clearly: keep on keeping on. And so I’ll be writing on. I want my voice and my pen to do one thing: lift up the King of kings.

“You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
"Here is your God!"

Isaiah 40:9

I’m passing this award on:

In Pursuit of What is Good by Sarah

Refresh My Soul by Angela

Scraps of Glory by Maxine

Small Scribbles by Kate

Ben Witherington

They are all an inspiration to me in different ways and their passion for the Lord is invigorating.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Words of encouragement

And God said “let there be…” and it was. John identified Jesus as the Word, the logos, the statement or speech of the Father. God chose to communicate himself and his nature through words.

And he gives us the same privilege, to use words to communicate about God and his nature. I am fascinated by words, for we know they are powerful. A statement of criticism can overwhelm many pats on the back. Yet a well-crafted note can stir our spirits to new heights.

How we use words makes all the difference. James warned us that the tongue is a fire, able to burn away chaff or ignite a movement. It reveals our hearts and our deepest intent.

For whatever reason, God has given me a love for words. My library is stuffed with books about grammar and style and usage. I spent my 16th summer writing a novel on an old black manual typewriter, zoning out chores and Mom’s voice to pound out the movie running in my head.

As my relationship with God grew, I knew this talent would be wonderful in his kingdom. He’d be so glad to have me as one of his scribes. (We spell this: a-r-r-o-g-a-n-c-e.)

But as my heart has been broken by my own pride and greed, I have given this writing to God. It is his to do with he wants, and I cringe when he says, write. Sometimes I compare rather than obey and so I am stricken. My words seem like dishwater at a table of rich wines.

Recently, he told me it was time, and so I wrote about the miscarriages that broke my heart. Now, those articles have helped earn Sumballo the Blog of the Month award from Writers…Interrupted.

Maybe someone bearing the pain of miscarriage might be touched by His eternal compassionate touch.

I am honored, and I am encouraged to trek on. When God is at work, you never know what’s next.

Angela, thank you for nominating me. I am grateful to receive this award and I want to share the joy. Check out the website.

Words are powerful and we wield them only by God’s grace.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Dive In: Digital Tools

This is our last regular entry of Dive-In, although I will probably publish additions intermittently. We’ve studied 16 units together and, although there is much more that can be discussed, it’s time to move on.

Today I want to tell you about the computer program I use. There are many other excellent programs and I’m not trying to push this one. But in the telling, I hope you can see some of the benefits of computerized studies.

I use Bible Navigator, which is a first-cousin to Bible Explorer. There are several levels, of course, and I am annoyed with most computer programs because they bundle a lot of things that are outside copyright and therefore free to anyone. The book count is bloated by the old-and-free. Bible Navigator is no exception.

So don’t be blown away by the number of books you get if you choose a particular program. Instead, look carefully at what you will use. You won’t use a lot of the books.

Here’s what I’d suggest:

Have several Bible translations so that you can compare. Right now, when I read, I usually have open three: NIV, NRSV, and NASB. The NASB is open because it is linked to a Strong’s Concordance so I can easily do a word search. But you don’t need 20 obscure translations that you’ll seldom use.

Other Bible translations that are helpful are KJV and NKJV. I also like the NLT and the Message, for a change of pace. The Holman Bible is pretty good, too. You may have translations you use a lot and you’ll want those in your Bible studies package.

Plan on buying a commentary for your computer program. The included commentaries are usually o-l-d and, although somewhat insightful, often inadequate on their own. Don’t rely on Matthew Henry alone. Frequently the old commentaries blended preaching and scholarly work, coming with a bias that suppresses some insights while over-emphasizing others. Some of the old commentaries by Calvin and Luther are helpful.

A newer (and sometimes free) commentary that I like is the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown. But the best are the ones you have to buy. Don’t plan on buying an entire set at once. Buy a single-book commentary on the book you’re studying or teaching right now. Be patient. You’ll build a good library. I wrote about some commentary suggestions a few weeks ago.

Devotionals are often packed into the program package. If it includes one you want to read daily, then grab that. Often they pack in many devotionals that aren’t read. I have Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest in Bible Navigator, but know it’s available in more modern text online. So I wouldn’t pay for that devotional.

Be sure you have a good dictionary and atlas. We discussed those topics recently. Also, a Strong’s Concordance is vital. Usually several word study books are included and you need at least one concordance. Vine’s Expository Dictionaries (both Old Testament and New) are helpful. Get a Nave’s Topical Bible. That will greatly help your studies over the years.

Those are the basics. Often you can pick up literature from online sources and don’t need to buy those for your biblical studies. As you discover a church leader or writer, first check sources online, like CCEL, to see what’s available.

For example, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs can be located on the internet, so don’t spend extra to get that in a computer program.

Those are my basic suggestions. I’d like to hear what program or online resources you use and what you like about them. Do you recommend them? I’d like to know more about you have found and like.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friday Five: Witnesses

About witnesses…..

Make known among the nations what he has done.

1 Chron 16:8

You are my witnesses," declares the LORD,
"and my servant whom I have chosen,

Isaiah 43:10

So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Mark 5:20

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;

and you will be my witnesses

Acts 1:8

They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.

Rev 12:11

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Learning from Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr is the most famous of second-century apologists, writing spirited letters defending the faith. He debated many philosophers and probably died after one, soundly defeated in a dispute, turned Justin in to the Roman authorities.

Justin Martyr was monumental in helping explain Christianity to unbelievers in the 2nd century Roman Empire. Misunderstandings were clarified, practices accounted for, beliefs made clear. His courage and stout commitment were inspiring.

What can we learn from these early defenders of the faith? Here are some possibilities:

  • We must learn to speak Latin for debating and study Greek philosophers. Justin was highly skilled in both and we should return to his disciplines.
  • Debate must be taken seriously. Surely Justin was called, whereas I feel no similar call to debate, apologetics or martyrdom.
  • There is no need to defend the faith today. Justin did a superb job and we’ll send people to his writings to get them straightened out.
  • There is no need to defend the faith today. People no longer accept logical explanations such as Justin used in his debates. They are into feelings, not rationality today. Apologetics is dead, or dying.

What do you think?

Justin’s genius was in defending Christianity using well-known philosophical terms. He showed the rationality of the new belief, and why there was no need to fear it as a corrupting factor in society. He used the terminology and understanding of his day to make Christianity understood.

Can we do the same in our culture? When some media groups compare Christians to terrorist groups, when some politicians label committed Christians as dangerous, we must explain and defend as Justin did – in understandable language.

We won’t debate in Latin or write about Greek philosophies. But we can use many platforms – from the internet to newspaper letters – to explain the basis of our faith in clear terms. If you’re a blogger, blog with zest to reveal the grace of Jesus. If you’re a musician, write songs that will witness to God’s mercy and power. An artist can reveal eternity with a pencil and brush. And a friend, over coffee, can make known the mysteries of the universe.

Our duty, like Justin’s, is to witness to God in ways that others can understand.

The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.

Acts 22:14-15

“Christians are no different from the rest in their own nationality, language or customs…they fulfill all their duties as citizens, but they suffer as foreigners. They obey all laws, but they live at a level higher than that required by law. They love all, but all persecute them.”

To Diognetus (a letter from an unknown 2nd century apologist)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I’d probably be baking a lot more chocolate chip cookies if I lived in the second century. It was illegal in those days to be a Christian, but persecution mostly depended on local circumstances. If you were reported, you were arrested. Otherwise, you could fly under the radar for the most part. It was the original “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy.

Most Christians who were arrested and sometimes martyred were turned in by someone they knew. So it was good to be on friendly terms with your neighbors.

Christian beliefs were grossly misunderstood. Imagine that.

Followers of Jesus were condemned for such things as:

  • Cannibalism.
  • Incest.
  • Ignorance.
  • Being ridiculous.
  • Encouraging anti-social behavior.
  • Following a criminal.

Christians were forced to explain their faith in terms that made sense to a pagan culture. How could they answer some ridiculous rumors and explain some mysterious practices?

It was into this stew of misconceptions that a special group of people, the apologists, began their work. (An apologist is one who defends. )

The value of those early apologists was to find a bridge between the culture and Christian life.

These early Christians wrestled with issues not so different from our own. They were misunderstood, mistrusted, misquoted.

Tomorrow: what we can learn

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Inkblots of definition

It’s the Rorschach inkblot test of Bible studies and I usually squirm when the question pops up from a Cheshire-grinning teacher.

“Who are you?”

I figured out early not to answer with my name. That just revealed my shallowness and self-centeredness. If I could think quick enough to stammer out, “Daughter of the King,” that usually was accepted as proper unless the teacher had spiritual gifts in mind. Then I should have answered with “servant” or “leader.” Or maybe I should have answered that I was a daughter, wife, mother, sister because relationships should define who I am. Or maybe they shouldn’t define who I am. I forget.

The whole thing gave me headaches and I avoided the question for years.

But it is a good question, when separated from expectations, and I come back to it. Who am I?

If it weren’t for the yearnings, I’d say that we can look at God’s nature and see who we are in what he is not. We are not pure or righteous or loving or truth or compassionate or eternal or powerful. I could answer “Who am I?” by saying I am nothing like God.

But we long for what we are not. And that ache, not for what we are, but what we are not, often brings us to God’s throne.

Who am I? I am in a storm, with the wind screaming and the clouds boiling black, when God pulls me out. I am flat on my back with the wall collapsing above me when God whisks me away. I am soaked in bitterness and selfishness when God blasts me clean.

Casting Crowns tackles the same question in their song of the same name, twisting their way to a reasonable conclusion.

Who am I? Their answer: I am His.

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

Jer 31:3

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dive In: Location, location, location

Tension crackles as Isaac follows his father up the mountain, the wood creaking in a bundle on his back. The story may be familiar, a father keeping his commitments and a son obeying his father.

In fact, the location is vital. Abraham took his son to Moriah, to a mountain where God told him to go. Although we don’t know precisely where the sacrifice scene unfolded, we know that it was on the mountain where Jerusalem would later sit.

In other words, a father kept his commitments and a son obeyed his father very near to where Jesus would someday be sacrificed.

A good atlas is invaluable in studying biblical texts. I was once geographically illiterate and had no idea where Jesus walked the earth or where Moses took the tables of stone from God.

It’s a good idea to notice the location of each narrative, and when the location changes. Place names sometimes change over the centuries, but locations do not. Seeing what happened in certain locations helps unveil some of the meaning of the story.

Bethlehem, for example, is a town besieged by evil over most of its history. There are two atrocious stories at the end of Judges involving murder and idolatry, Both have a strong connection to Bethlehem.

The Bethlehem Trilogy closes with the book of Ruth, where the City of Bread provides redemption. And, of course, we see the redemption of Bethlehem in serving as the birth place of Jesus.

Places matter and when they’re listed in a biblical text, we need to locate and pay attention.

Some study Bibles have a set of maps included in the back. Those can be helpful but if you’d like a more extensive and detailed set, here are some suggestions:

The Carta Bible Atlas. Aharoni, Yohanan, Michael Avi-Yonah, Anson F. Rainey and Zeev Safrai, eds. (Older editions are known as the MacMillan Bible Atlas)

Holman Bible Atlas. Brisco, Thomas V. Cleave, Richard.

The Holy Land Satellite Atlas

The Carta Bible Atlas includes lengthy descriptions of biblical scenes as well as very detailed maps. Be aware that the authors are historically and geographically accurate but not coming from a position of faith. This book is like eating fish: take the meat and leave the bones.

The Holman Bible Atlas is a good alternative. It is a beautiful book with chapters of historical background laced between the many maps.

The Satellite Atlas has beautiful images shot from, well, satellites.

As you dive into texts, train your eye to notice the location and take the time to find it on a map. You may find more in meaning than you ever expected.