They Will Persecute You



The recent shooting in Oregon is disturbing. For Christians it is even more so, given that reports are stating that the shooter was targeting Christians.  This may cause fear, but Jesus says fear not. Be encouraged!

As Jesus was preparing to head to the cross, he gave his disciples some encouragement.  He was preparing them for what was coming.  (John 13-17).  At one point, he said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  As if that wasn’t encouragement enough, later he said, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).  And he said, “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered” (John 16:31).  Feel encouraged?

Sometimes living in America we struggle to realize the reality of these statements.  On occasion, we read stories of Christians in such circumstances, but it is often only passing reminders.  Rest assured, Christians all over the world know Jesus was speaking truth because they experience it daily.     

But there is encouragement.  In John 14:18 Jesus reminds us that we are not orphans.  We are part of the family of God and we will never be left alone.  Jesus is with us.  And we must remember that we have the great Comforter—the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-31).

And we must remember that Jesus has already won this fight.  Before praying, he concluded his final instructions to his disciples saying, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

In this life, you will be persecuted (if you're following Jesus), but take heart, Jesus has already overcome! 


Make Disciples

At least five times in the Bible Jesus puts his disciples on mission to proclaim the gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:46-48, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8).  The text in Matthew gives us an interesting instruction:  Make disciples and teach them all that Jesus commanded.  This suggests that making disciples in about inviting a lost person to be a Kingdom citizen and then teaching him or her the Kingdom ethic in which we are called to live.  

Over the past few months, Jared Jenkins, Brett Ricley, and I have been discussing both sides of the Great Commission coin.  This discussion resulted in a Salty Believer Unscripted series called, "Make Disciples" and will likely be the seeds of another series called, "Grow Disciples."  

In this series, we stick to the evangelism side of making disciples and deal with six spheres of evangelism as Joel Southerland teaches.  We fully recognize that it would be gross negligence to see someone saved and then just abandoned them to learn and grown alone; however, we kept this series to the first part of making disciples--sharing the gospel and introducing lost people to Jesus. 

All three of us grew in area of evangelism during this series and we've shared our journey along the way.  I learned how necessary a wide variety of methods is when we live in a world so full of diverse thinking and attitudes.  We have and are trying all of these methods at Redeeming Life Church to find out what works for us in our context.  It's been extremely interesting and informative.  But through it all, I've really come to see the importance of simply being faithful. 

You can find Salty Believer Unscripted on iTunes, subscribe to the non-iTunes feed, or listen here: 

Make Disciples
-- Part 1, An Introduction audio
-- Part 2, Snatching Some From the Fire audio
-- Part 3, A Biblical Relational for Missions and Evangelism audio
-- Part 4, 6 Spheres of Evangelism audio
-- Part 5, Prayer audio
-- Part 6, Personal Evangelism audio
-- Part 7, Revival audio
-- Part 8, Event Evangelism audio
-- Part 9, Service-Driven Evangelism audio
-- Part 10, Sunday Service Excellence audio
-- Part 11, A Mission to the Nations audio

Scriptures Every Christian Should Know

Jared Jenkins and I set out to record a Salty Believer Unscripted series called "Scriptures Every Christian Should Know."  It seemed easy enough.  What Scriptures should every Christian know?  But it's really not that easy.

How do you determine which Scripture is more important that other Scripture.  We had a hard time narrowing them down.  Are the Scriptures in red more important that the others because Jesus spoke them during his earthly ministry?  That's a faulty question because John 1:1 tells us that Jesus is the very Word of God.  And we find in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is breathed out by God.  How can one verse be important enough to know and the others be on the list of Scriptures not worth knowing.  Are the ones that go nicely on a coffee mug more important than others?  The truth is, Christians should read and know all the Scriptures.

In addition, Jared and I were often tempted to discuss the verses that might not be as popular but still very important to the Christian life.  This is probably not right, but we found this cropping up in the moments just before we hit the record button.  (We don't script or plan much and a series like this probably takes more planning than we generally allow ourselves to do for this podcast.)

We eventually ended this series, although we could have continued it for months.  In any case, here are the 12 verses we did end up discussing.

Scriptures Every Christian Should Know
-- Introduction and John 3:16 audio
-- Ephesians 2:8-10 audio
-- Deuteronomy 6:5-9 and Isaiah 64:5-6 audio
-- Isaiah 26:3-4Isaiah 32:8, and Acts 9:26-31  audio
-- Romans 8:28-30 and Jeremiah 29:11 auido
-- 1 John 1:9 and Matthew 5:17-20 audio
-- Philippians 4:13 and Philippians 4:6 audio

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*The photo used in this post comes from 

Summary Verses of the Gospel

While all of the Bible provides us with an expression and explanation of the Gospel, there are some verses that serve as summary verses.  These verses, when understood within the big picture and proper context fire up believers.  They serve as succinct reminders of the Gospel.

Taken out of context and simply quoted to nonbelievers often doesn't produce the results we hope for because these are summaries and reminders.  (Of course this is not to say we shouldn't share these verses with nonbelievers.  We should and we should seek to provide the big picture and context.)

Allow me to use the movie, "The Empire Strikes Back" as an illustration.  Imagine you've never seen the movie or the one that came before it.  All you have is a 2 minute clip from the film.  You see a young man walk into a strange industrial area.  Suddenly a large, black, robotic looking warrior in a cape enters the scene.  They fire up their light sabers and engage in battle.  The young man eventually gets his hand hacked off and his weapon plummets far below.  He's defeated yet still manages to crawl out onto a catwalk far above an endless pit.  The darker character says something about the two of them ruling the galaxy together and something else about the power of the dark side. (Whatever that is?)

Then the dark character speaks with a deep voice and says, "Obi Wan never told you what happened to your father."

The younger man says, "He told me enough. He told me you killed him!"

Then the other character says, "No, I am your father!"

If we had see the entire movie, we'd gasp in shock and horror.  Having seen the the previous movie as well as this one up to this point, we can easily understand this absolute plot-twisting shocker.  If you've seen this movie, emotions and thoughts may already be welling up from this single summary clip. (I mean really, what voice did you use when you read that last line?)  Cultural references have been made from this scene for years, to include a scene where the character, "Tommy Boy" is speaking the words "Luke, I am your father" into an oscillating fan, just as many of us have likely done in our own lives.  But without understanding the movie, the clip is not as valuable.  So it is the case with the summary gospel verses of the Bible.

Those who don't know the Bible should ask many questions about these verses.  Who is this Jesus?  Who is the 'he' being referred here?  Why is this sin so series that we need rescued from it?  What is so significant about the death of this one man?  What is so amazing about the grace being referenced in this verse?  Salvation from what?  What do I do with this summary verse?  These are important questions, which is why believers should strive to understand these verses in their proper context, know the bigger story, and strive to explain these verses in greater detail to those who don't know the Bible.

But the gospel is for Christians.  We should be reminded of it often.  We should be spurred on by it, driven and motived by the gospel.  So the summary verses serve a great purpose.  They remind us of the bigger picture.  In one or two lines, these highly loaded statements fuel us.  They are very significant.

Listed below are a sample of the many summary verses that remind us of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  (They are quoted in the ESV.)

Isaiah 53:5 - But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jared Jenkins and I discuss John 3:16 on Salty Believer Unscripted. Listen here.)

Acts 10:43 - To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 13:38-39 - Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Romans 4:24-5:1  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:7-8 - For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 Corinthians 15:3-6 - For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 - All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:21 - For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 2:11-14 - For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Hebrews 9:27-28 - And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

1 Peter 2:24 - He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also suffered nonce for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

1 John 4:10 - In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

*Photo by user, Ihar, is registered under a creative commons license.

The Forgotten Mission Field

Missions and evangelism--really one in the same--are important.  At least five times Christ called his people to reach the world with the gospel (John 20:21, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:46-48, and Acts 1:8).  This means we should be reaching the world around us as well as collectively reaching every corner of the globe.  Some have taken up this call and faithfully dedicated their lives to this purpose.  Others use their vacation time to serve missions a couple weeks of their year; while still others use missions as a "religious cover" for a vacation. Whether in our communities and at the work place, or around the world, the life of the Christian should include some kind of answer to this call. (This however is not the entirety on the Christian life as some passionately argue.)

Many of us in American gravely overlook, even forget an obvious mission field.  It's the ministry to children in our local churches. The Bible clearly shows that parents have a responsibility to teach their children, but this is not to say that the local church can't be there to help.  And what about the families where parents aren't Christian but may attend a local Christian church?  I went to church as a child but wasn't a believer until I was 25. What about guests?

Working with children can be difficult, but not always. 

A teacher or servant-hearted volunteer working with children could have an impact on the next generation and maybe many generations to come.  He or she may also impact this generation because the child could potentially be how God reaches the parents.

If you feel called to teaching, preaching, missions, or evangelism, deeply consider a ministry that reaches children.  I'm sure there's a children's ministry that could use your help.

*Photo by Cosey Tutti is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

A Mother's Mourning

March 25, 2014
By Lisa Catherman 

“If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to 'glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Grief is an unwelcome house guest.  It comes unannounced and at an inopportune time.   It stays longer than anticipated and sucks the life out of you.  My grief is that way.  When my son Titus died in November, I was swimming in the ocean of grief.   (You can read his story here). The frigid waves were gently lapping against my legs, but I was able to stay on my feet.  I think this was in part due to the fact that we were loved and loved well by the people around us.  We were blessed with weeks of meals, visits, flower arrangements, cards, gifts, free chiropractic treatments, a time-share vacation, and the outpouring seemed endless.  Plus, I was just plain busy.  I was busy with the holidays, homeschooling, packing, moving, and remodeling our new house in January.

February brought stillness.  In that stillness, out on the horizon, the monstrous wave of grief blew in and bowled me over.  I was taken off guard and found myself drowning, clinging to whatever I could find, and gasping for breath.  On Valentine’s weekend my husband was gone on a weeklong work trip.  The kids had been sick for the first time in 3 years.   The dog was sick and even dying; we just didn’t know it yet.  I was driving my kids home from a visit to Grandma’s and the frustration and anger I spewed at them was so ugly.  I got home and laid on my bed weeping.   As I questioned my ability to mother, my son rubbed my back and gently encouraged me.  “Mom, I just want you to be happy," he said, "What was your favorite thing we did today?  What can I do for you?”  In that moment, I realized that the wave had knocked me over, unaware.

I spend my sleeping hours grinding my teeth to the point that they've moved.  I endure my waking hours in intense pain from headaches, neck and back pain, face pain, complete exhaustion, and even my plantar fasciitis has flared up.   Emotionally my sorrow is always at the surface.  I could cry or scream at any moment, for any reason.  It may be that pregnant woman I see that sets me off, or even the friend’s new baby.   It may be when I drive by the hospital where Titus was born.  It may be a song or the mementos of Titus’ short life.  It may be a date or milestone that I had expected and hoped to have during my pregnancy.

March 30th was to be my due date.  As I reflect on that day, I had expected a day filled with joy, a day where I’d hold my son, comfort him, bring him to my breast and give him the life within me.  I had expected to bring him home to a nursery and a family anticipating his arrival.  I had expected that I’d see his brothers hold him, playing peek-a-boo.   I expected to see a father wrestle with his young son and teach him to be a man as he grew.  And as C.S. Lewis said in the quote above, my motherhood is written off with Titus.  The expectations I had of this life with him will not happen.   Instead, he has gone to be in the loving embrace of his Father in Heaven and my arms are empty.

I know the truthfulness of God’s Word.  I know his promises.  Life has taken me on many difficult journeys that have rocked me to the core.  As a pastor’s wife, I expected to weather this well.  I think others may have expected that much of me too, but the truth is I’m weak.  I know that apart from God I can do nothing (John 15:5).   And, I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).  God is gently reminding me of who he is in this and drawing me closer to him like a hen draws her chicks under her wings. He is reminding me of his faithfulness even when I’m unfaithful (Psalm 36:5).  He is reminding me of his compassion towards me (Psalm 86:15).  He is reminding me that he is unchanging (Hebrews13:8).  He is reminding me of his kindness (Psalm 145:17).  I know I will not be better tomorrow or even the next day, but I also know I will come through this.  I know that one day, God will wipe every tear from my eyes and there will be no more.  In the meantime, I know that my Abba Father, my daddy, will carry me through these waves.  I will cling to my rock that doesn’t move.  His ways are perfect, and I will trust in Him.  I pray that in my sorrow, I can be a witness of God’s love to those around me.

*Photo by user, "Little Wild World" is licensed under a creative commons license.

Redeeming the Barnabas House

My family recently moved into the parsonage of the church where I'm on staff.  We don't hear the term, "parsonage" much anymore so I'll explain.  A parsonage is defined as a house owned by a church that is provided to a member of the clergy.  They are typically located next to the building where the church meets.

For the past few years, this particular parsonage was loaned to a para-church ministry as a sort of halfway house for families coming out of extremely difficult situations more commonly associated with Utah.  The residents were overwhelmed with life, had little understanding of property maintenance, and were afraid of outsiders who might have been equipped to help.  In the end, the old the parsonage didn't receive the care it needed.

My wife cried when we first inspected the house.  "How could anybody live here?" she questioned.; "How are we going to live here?"  The place was a mess.  Missing tile in the bathroom allowed water to feed mold behind the bathroom walls.  The jammed garbage disposal housed food from weeks before. Many drawers and cabinet doors were falling apart and the hardware was missing.  The sewer was flooding into the basement.  The carpets hadn't been vacuumed in months, maybe years.  The stove didn't work.  And as we peeled back one layer of mess, we would discover even more brokenness, even more stains, even more stench.  We tried to open the blinds, but most were inoperative, keeping the house in a continual state of darkness.  One friend who helped us clean suggested a solution:  "Light a match.  Drop it.  Walk away."

As we got to work, we witnessed the Body of Christ in action.  People came to help us clean.  A brother who works for Behr commanded an army from the church as we painted the entire house with paint God provided.  A believer is creating a stained-glass window for the front door and still another brother who installs glass is going to put it in.  Mold removal and carpet cleaning were offered by another member of the body.  People have helped remove trash and move appliances.  The bathroom was ripped out by a guy who occasionally attends our Sunday services and many among our church family are praying for him as we hope to see his life radically transformed by Christ. Two brothers from another local church rebuilt the bathroom and another guy from a neighboring church is looking at replacing part of the flooded carpet, and maybe patch some stains in another room. God provided us with nearly new appliances and the church purchased another.

When I cut down the blinds light flooded into the house.  "Just having light shining in here makes a huge difference," my wife proclaimed.  So it is with us.  Our natural state is worse than this house.  In our sin, we are broken, messy, and stinky.  The stuck blinds of our life keep the Light out.  And just as the parsonage couldn't fix itself, we too are deteriorating more and more as time marches on, unable to restore ourselves.  As layers of our life are peeled back, more messes are exposed, more brokenness discovered.  Enter the gospel.

It's recorded in John 14:16-17 that Jesus said, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you" (ESV).  A common thought among the world is that before the Holy Spirit is willing to dwell in us, we have to fix ourselves up.  That's not what the Bible says, but many try anyway.  Others think they are beyond hope.  "Light a match," they cry.  But hope is found in Christ.  He alone is the carpenter of our salvation.  In our brokenness we are able to see the gospel for what it is! 

As we watched the parsonage be redeemed by God, through his grace, at the hands of his people, we noticed an iron "B" on the chimney.  (I've learned is was there when the church bought the house over 50 years ago.)  Around the dinner table we talked about the redemption of the parsonage, the gospel, and our desire to use this gift from God to shine Christ's Light into dark places.  I decided we should name the parsonage, and we remembered the "B."  Feeling very encouraged, we shared some ideas.

In the book of Acts is the account of a man who traveled with Paul to plant churches and shine the Light of Christ in dark places.  It is said that he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and many were added to the Lord because of his faithfulness (Acts 11:24).  He equipped Paul for ministry (Acts 11:25-26).  His name means son of encouragement (Acts 4:36).   And his name starts with a B.  We had our name: The Barnabas House.  May our season in the parsonage live up to such a name!


Angels are a source of great fascination.  Speculation, personal desire, and artists' renderings seem to dictate most of what society thinks about angelic beings.  The Bible offers us some insight, but not much.  Many ask why the Bible doesn't give us a better idea on the topic of angels; however, it's important to see that the Bible is the story of God's redemptive history of fallen man.  The Bible is the revelation of God and shows his desire to be in relationship with us.  In this story, angels are just the extras, the bit parts. They play a supporting role in God's plan and what we need to learn from the Bible is not necessarily everything about angels, but as much as we can about the God who loves us and sent is only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die so all who believe in him will have life rather than death.

That being said, Angels are in the Bible and there is an entire field of biblical study on the topic of angels called angelology.  (Much of angelology is spent knocking down misconceptions held by society.)  While most of what the Bible says about angels could be handled in a single post, this post will only deal with a couple questions.

What, or who are angels?

Angels are beings created by God.  Often they are unseen, but when seen they look like lightning or fire, or they seem to have the ability to look like humans (2 Kings 6:15-17, Genesis 18:2-19:22; John 20:10; and Acts 12:7-10 for example).   Hebrews 13:2 even suggests that they can blend in and be completely mistaken for humans.  In these cases, it seems that angels don't have wings; however, we must also remember verses like Isaiah 6:2 where an angelic being called a seraphim is said to have six wings.  In other accounts we see an angelic being called a cherubim.  This is the being that's waiving a flaming sword back and forth to prohibit man's reentry to the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24).  The cherubim is also the same creature God commanded the Hebrews to sculpt on top of the Ark of the Covenant. These cherubim had wings that touched each other (Exodus 25:17-22).   Demons are fallen angels, cast out of heaven and waiting for the final judgment and not granted forgiveness or salvation through repentance (see 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that angels were ever human.  We do not become angels when we die and our deceased loved ones are not angels looking over us.  In addition, angels do not become humans; they are not our future family members in some kind of preexistence waiting for a body on earth.  The Bible does not speak of angels or humans in this way and there's nothing suggesting that humans were in a preexistence with God.  These ideas are simply creations of human thinking.  The Bible teaches that humans are the pinnacle of God's creation, not angels (to see this, start reading in Genesis 1 and stop after Revelation 22).

What do angels do; this is, what is their purpose?

Just as is the purpose of man, angels were created to glorify God.  We often see angels worshiping God (Psalm 103:20-21, Psalm 148:2, and Isaiah 6:1-7 for example).  Sometimes they act as God's messengers such as in Daniel 8-9 and Luke 1. They protect God's people (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 91:11,  and Acts 12 for example).  Matthew 18:10 seems to suggest that children have an angel watching over them and Luke 16:22 might suggest that angels have a responsibility at the time of a believer's death.  And most importantly, angels usher in and proclaim Christ at his birth, resurrection, and return.  Angels don't die and they they do not marry (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35-36).

Too often, people get hung up on the work of angels.  In doing so, they completely miss the bigger work of God as he is redeeming his creation.  Looking to angels, they do not look upon Christ.  In order to see angels rightly, it is best to first see Christ for who he is.  (If you have questions, I am happy to answer them and chat more about this with you.  You may contact me here.)   

* Photo of mourning angel at the churchyard of San Miniato al Monte (Firenze) in Firenze, Italy was taken by Mark Voorendt, April 2001 and is registered under a creative commons license.

Picking a Mid-Level Bible

I recently encouraged parents to select a Bible written in terms their child can understand.  Early in a child's growth, this may be something like the Jesus Storybook Bible.  This is not a stretch; parents tend to be excited about buying a child her first Bible; but then there's a disconnect between her first picture-book (or over-simplified Bible) and the adult translation she'll own later.  At some point, children need a full Bible they can read, understand, and enjoy.

There are a couple ways a parent can go.  The first option is to get a para-phrased Bible like The Message.  A para-phrased translation takes the general ideas behind giant amounts of text and writes a giant amount of text in English.  Para-phrased translations sometimes get a bum wrap because they are not the best option for study, but they are a good option for general reading and sometimes even devotional reading.  Eugene Peterson, author/translator of The Message, says in his preface,
"The Message is a reading Bible.  It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available.  My intent here (as it was earlier in my congregation and community) is simply to get people reading who don't know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. [...] So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study" (NavPress, 2002, page 8).    
The different theories behind translating the Bible are many, as are the different purposes behind the translations.  It's important to understand the theory and approach of the different translations in order to understand which translation is right for the task at hand.  Often however, the theory and purpose is less concerned with the vocabulary and reading level of children.  Even Peterson's simplified The Message is focused on adult readers.

The second (and better option) is to find a Bible that was translated with children in mind.  There are not nearly as many full Bible translations with children in mind as there are picture-Bibles, but I've found one that seems good.  The New International Readers Version (NiRV) was specifically translated with children in mind.  Their goal was to produce an English translation of the Bible at an overall grade-reading level of 3.5 (3rd year, 5th month); but in the end thay managed to get it down to a 2.9 grade level. 

The NiRV translation team consisted of both Greek and Hebrew language scholars, children's literature experts, and editors who would keep a keen eye on readability and vocabulary levels.  Using the NIV84 as their base text, they set to their task.  As they encountered larger words, longer sentences, or more difficult sentence construction, they would return to the original languages and try to translate them at a lower reading level and child-capable vocabulary.  (On a side note: It's my prayer that they DO NOT attempt to make the same theological changes to the NiRV that were made to the NIV84, resulting in the less-than quality translation called the NIV11.)

Let's compare some different translations with reading level in mind.

I'll use the Flesch-Kincaid readability formulas to compare readability.  Up front I need to say the Flesch-Kincaid is not perfect, but it is a helpful tool for comparison purposes.  These formulas use the number of words, number of sentences, and number of syllables to provide reading ease and a grade level.  They do not however compare vocabulary or theological concepts, and different test engines may provide slightly different results.  For the sake of my tests, I'm using the readability tool provided with Word for Mac 2011.

The Flesch-Kincaid is reported in two ways.  The first is readability.  It is reported on a scale from 0 to 100 with 100 being the most readable.  For example, a score of 90 should be readable by the average 11-year old, scores between 60 and 70 should be readable by a teenager between 13 and 15 years old, and a scores below 30 are probably best understood by university graduate students.  

The second Flesch-Kincaid formula measures grade level.  With ever-changing educational standards, this is not truly representative of what's happening in schools today nor is it any kind of guarantee (so please don't compare your children to these numbers!)  The grade-level provides a number that attempts to represent the grade level in years and months.  For example, a 3.9 would mean the 3rd year, ninth month.  In this post, I'll simply post the readability followed by the grade level.  (Up to this point, this post ranks at  53.5/10.1.)

Neither of these two numbers are as useful when looking at a single translation as when used to compare translation against translation (NiRV, NIV84, ESV, NASB, and the KJV).  Therefore, we'll look at a few translations using 5 selected verses (which just so happen to be taken from my children's Bible memory verses this month).  Each verse will include the readability and grade-level.  Remember, these numbers only measure so much, so there's real value in the human factor.  Just read the verses and think about how a child in the 2nd Grade may understand the verse.

James 4:10
NiRV - Bow down to the Lord. He will lift you up. (100/0.0)

NIV84 - Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (87.9/3.7)

ESV - Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (78.2/4.8)

NASB - Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (83.0/4.9)

KJV - Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (79.5/6.1)

Luke 19:10
NiRV - The Son of Man came to look for the lost and save them. (100/1.2)

NIV84 - For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (100/1.6)

ESV - For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (100/0.8)

NASB - For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (100/2.4)

KJV - For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (85.1/5.8)

Romans 5:8
NiRV - But here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (100/0.6)

NIV84 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (89.5/5.4)

ESV - But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (99.2/3.8)

NASB - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (85.1/6.1)

KJV - But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (72.3/8.1)

John 3:16
NiRV - God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life. (92.7/3.5)

NIV84 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (76.3/9.0)

ESV - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (76.7/8.5)

NASB - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (69.7/9.7)

KJV - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (50.9/12.0)

Ecclesiastes 7:20
NiRV - There isn’t anyone on earth who does only what is right and never sins. (89.8/4.1)

NIV84 - There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (90.1/4.6)

ESV - Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (84.4/5.2)

NASB - Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (70.1/7.6)

KJV - For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (70.1/7.6)

Hopefully this small sample has helped shape your thinking a bit about translation.  It's also my hope and prayer that this post will help you, the parent, find a good mid-level Bible for your children. And by the way, when running these tests with all 5 verses together, the NiRV scored a 100/1.5, the NIV84 is 90.0/4.9, ESV is 90.1/4.6, NASB is 82.3/6.2, and the KJV 86.1/5.6.  It may also be helpful to run more samples and include other translations such as the NLT, HCSB, and the NKJV.  

*I have no connection to any of the listed translations, material or otherwise.

My Morning Bible Book Club

I read the Bible cover to cover a couple times before heading the seminary. I would open the first page and read until I got to the last page and I’d usually do this in a year with a reading plan. When I entered seminary, I was required to read the Old Testament in chronological order rather than in canonical order. I had to do it in 8 weeks, which is hurricane speed. Then I had to read the Pentateuch (the first 5 books) for the next OT class. Then it was boiled down to just a single book in great depth. I had to do the same thing in my New Testament studies. First the entire New Testament, then the Gospels for a class, Paul’s Epistles for another, then just John, Hebrews, and others.

Where I used to be one who would read the entire Bible every year, I learned the great value of slowing down and residing in a single book for a long period of time.

Not too long ago, I picked the book of 1 John and read the entire book every day for a month. It was amazing how much I would still see even after 30 days! Then I decided I wanted to study it in even greater depth. I read a couple hefty introductions on the book itself for some background. Then, after watching this video, I had an idea.

I decided I’d start a morning book club centered around 1 John. I invited John Calvin, Thomas Johnson, Gary Burge, Marianne Thompson, Matthew Henry, Glenn Barker, any of the Church Fathers who had something to say, and a couple others based on the commentaries I owned on 1 John. The topic for the 1st morning was 1 John 1:1-4.

I quickly realized a few things. First, these four verses generated over 100 pages of discussion from these few scholars! Next, I saw where there were different ideas as well as those things that everybody agreed upon. And they raised so many ideas and questions I hadn’t thought of even after reading, praying on, and meditating on the same 4 verses every day for the previous 30 days. Their studies provided some extremely helpful background information too. I quickly grasped the reality of the Holy Spirit working in these people across all believers in all time and I was feeling very in touch with the Church through the same Holy Spirit working in me to illuminate Scripture. It was amazing!

The next thing I realized is that I didn’t have enough time in my morning to read all these pages. I quickly had to decide who to un-invite to this book club. Even though we were together for a single day, I felt such a loss not having all of them sitting at the table, enjoying a cup of joe and discussing Scripture. But, it had to be done. (I decided when I do this again with another book that'll have some of un-invited guys at the table next time if they have something to say on the selected book.)

As this went on for a few days, I realized that I was the dumbest person in the conversation and therefore had the most to gain. What a blessing for me that these guys where in my book club!

And finally, I became keenly aware of the isolation this placed me in. Sure, I was communing with God and that is good, but there was still something missing—live fellowship with others. While I was starting to feel as if I were in a conversation with these other brothers, all that was really before me were their books. It wasn’t really them; it wasn’t real people, just the product of their ideas on one topic edited by a team and then published. So the discussion was still lacking something. I decided then and there to always appreciate the fellowship God has placed me in. We need one another as God intended. (And I would love to have live people in my book club but it starts at 5:30am and I’m only wearing a bathrobe. So it’s just me and the Holy Spirit for now, and that’s good too.)

Non-the-less, my book club continues, slowly, a small amount of verses at a time. And as I move through my day, I find myself thinking about the verses. With this pace, I can nearly memorize them and hear them playing in my head throughout the day. And I hear and think on the “conversations” with the scholars and Church Fathers on those same verses.

It’s amazing how much this 'book club' has impacted my day, each day, and my walk with Christ! I highly encourage you give it a try and invite some theologians to join you.

* The photo used in this post is in the public domain. 
** Special thanks to Tim Kimberly and the Credo House for their dedicated work to teaching theology and study methods. 

God the Great Initiator

“In the beginning, God created. . .” (Genesis 1:1) This is the opening of the first sentence on the first page of the Bible. These first 5 words (3 words in the original Hebrew) are indeed remarkable. They’re not a mark in time; they mark the very beginning of time as even time is a part of the created order.  God created and the Bible says He did it with the power of his Word. There was nothing, then God the Author, spoke and there was creation.

The idea of creation is really tough to get our mind around.  There’s nothing inside of creation that can illustrate something that was initiated from outside of creation. While it’s the Truth, it is nearly inconceivable from our perspective. We try, but if we're honest, we really can’t get our heads around it. Try it. Think of nothing. Imagine nothing. If you imagined a big dark space free of stars and light, you imagined something. Describe the nothing. If you started with a vacuum or a void or an empty space, you still started with something.  Explain creation that starts with nothing.  You can’t, but not because that's not how it happened, but because we just don't have the necessary frame of reference.

From our perspective of creation, we start with something and turn it into something else, usually something we think is better than what we started with.  But it's not as if God sat down in front of his typewriter ready to write and loaded a blank page a blank page.  God didn't stare into the grain of the painter's canvas for a while until the lighting and inspiration was right.  There wasn’t even a blank canvas waiting for the artist's paint before the, “In the beginning,” because God initiated everything.

God is the all-powerful Author and Creator of all things, including the our eyes through which we see his creation and our minds in which we try to understand it. And before “in the beginning,” he knew the beginning, the middle, and the end. It’s his story. It’s The Story. And God is the Author.  God is the Creator.  And God is Lord over it all.

But some--including many of America's Founding Fathers--would argue that after creation, God was no longer involved.  It was as if he created a clock, wound it up, and then set it on a shelf and forgot about it as it is winding down.  But this is not how the Bible describes God and the relationship he initiates with his creation.

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes a time in his early atheist life we he understood existence through the lens of the playwright. It was clear to him that, “if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare's doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing” (1). As the author and creator of the play, Shakespeare alone held the ability to revel himself to his creation. He controlled the setting, the characters he placed into the setting, and the plot.  As a created character, Hamlet could only know Shakespeare if Shakespeare initiated the conversation.  Shakespeare would have to be a part of the play somehow. But it appears that was not the case.  Shakespeare was not  We on the other hand are a living creation.  Yet, where Hamlet never knew of Shakespeare, God initiated a relationship with us, his creation. Standing before us is a grand opportunity to know our God.

To initiate a relationship, God scribed his autograph upon us, his masterpiece.  Created deep within us is a desire to know God.  As a very part of who we are, we desire to worship.  But left on our own, we end up worshiping sticks and rocks, mountains and animals, money and people, our politics and sexuality.  Left on our own, with our need to know the Creator, we come up with weak ideas about who God is. We try to define God from our perspective.  Our finite minds use science and religion, philosophy and our imagination to fill in the blanks in an effort to initiate the conversation. But all of these ideas fall grossly short. These ideas can't really show us who God is; because if we are to know God it is God himself who opens the conversation.  It is God who defines who God is.  Our responsibility is found in the call to humbly listen and then respond accordingly. 

Take Abraham in Genesis 12 for example. Here’s a regular guy just minding his own business when God spoke. God initiated the conversation. Specifically, God introduces himself to Abraham and Abraham listened. It wasn’t that Abraham was doing everything right; in fact, he was a sinful man. It wasn’t that Abraham had made some special discovery or cracked some secret code. God spoke and Abraham responded. They conversed – the Creator and the created.

It gets even more remarkable. God continued to speak to Abraham, and the descendants of Abraham, and even gentiles outside of Abraham's family. Many were listening and in turn proclaiming the glory of God. More and more people were entering into the conversation with the Creator. By God’s Word—his initiated revelation—we were learning more and more about him. His Word was put to writing so many more could know God better and love him more. And then, the unthinkable happened. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)  God entered his story.  He became the ultimate manifestation of his Word.  He became the ultimate revelation of himself, to us, in terms we can understand. But why?

The Author wrote himself into the story because the story is about the Author.  His name is Jesus. But this isn’t the only reason Jesus wrote himself into the story. The Bible, God’s Word, shows us that God did more than initiate creation. The Bible teaches us that God did more than initiate a relationship with his creation. The Bible proclaims that God authored and initiated our salvation. And when God initiates a conversation, it's best you respond!

1. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), 223-224.

*The graphic used in this post is in the public domain.

Christian Suffering 1 Peter 4:12-19

The Christian life is no bed of roses.  From time to time, followers of Jesus Christ face fiery trials and in these trials we sometimes find ourselves confused.  We ask questions like, "How can God let me suffer like this?" or, "Doesn't God even care that I'm suffering?" or maybe even, "Am I suffering because God is punishing me for something?"  In our times of difficulty, these questions become more than questions, they often become our way of inditing God.  But before we throw down accusations, we really aught to re-think Christian suffering.  

What often troubles us is why Christians suffer.  It's a serious questions and one worth wrestling through.  1 Peter 4:12-19 is one of the great texts that helps us come to a better understanding of God's will and purpose in our fiery trials. 

I recently preached on this topic at Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City.  If you're a Christian, you've likely suffered, are suffering right now, or will suffer sometime in your future.  If this is you, it is my hope that this sermon may be helpful to you. 

Christian Suffering -- 1 Peter 4:12-19

How Does the Kingdom Grow?

Books on missions and evangelism could fill libraries and bookstores, pastor's shelves and recycle bins.  Many of these books are very good, but I've found most the ones that I've read are more focused on a new plan.  Do we need a new plan?  These books talk a lot about Kingdom growth, but how does God's Kingdom grow?  The Jesus often discussed Kingdom growth and used illustration like light, seeds, and yeast.  He seemed to teach that the Kingdom grows one person at a time as God's people bring the light into dark places.

The above example is how the Kingdom could grow in Salt Lake City, Utah, but the idea applies everywhere in the world.  We are called to be light in dark places.  Our relationship with Christ should be spilling over everywhere we go.  Be filled with Christ and let your relationship with him overflow into all the places you go and wherever you find yourself.

Interconnectedness of the Bible: 1 Chronicles 28:9

"It's clear that the Bible is too superintended to be a random collection of books," a pastor friend once said to me.  I agree.  Like watching a good flick, reading the Bible a few times opens up a fascinating realm of things missed on a first or second pass.  This exploration can continue for a life time if you just keep reading the Bible.  It's a supernatural interconnected single story, woven together through the merciful revelation of God to his creation over the course of about 2,000 years through forty or so human authors.  (More technically, the Bible is God's divinely authored revelation of himself to his people, written through his people.  It's a complex dual authorship!)  And it is the Holy Spirit who illuminates new things as you read, learn, and grow; therefore,  as you keep reading you grow more and more convinced of the truth of God's Word, the Bible.

Evidence of the Bible's interconnectedness abounds.  I've not done a formal study or count, but I'd venture a guess that there are thousands of passages that point to other passages in one way or another and they all point toward Christ.  We'll use 1 Chronicles 28:9 as an example.

Chapter 28 of 1 Chronicles opens with David, the king of Israel, giving a speech to the officials assembled in Jerusalem.  He tells them that he had a heart to build a temple for God but God had not allowed him to do so.  He also expressed that Solomon, his son, was chosen by God to be his successor and it will be Solomon who will build the temple.  At verse 9 David shifts his speech directory toward Solomon.  He gives him a charge and some instruction.  "And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever" (ESV).

I found well over 100 cross references for the various aspects of this passage, but for the sake of this post, I'll only deal with a couple parts of this very loaded verse, and even in that, I'll only provide a small sample of interconnected verses. 

First, much of the Old Testament talks about God in terms of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, or in other terms--the God of our fathers.  Many times the God of one's father becomes one's own God, as if there's a transition from one to another or a personal acceptance or relationship as the son grows and begins to know the God of his father for himself.  God is no longer the God of someone else, but personal.  This talk of the God of our fathers as well as the transition can be seen in verses like Genesis 28:13, Exodus 3:16, and Exodus 15:2.  In 2 Kings 21:22 Amon walks away from the God of his fathers, whereas Josiah does walk in the way of the God of David, that is, the God of his fathers (1 Kings 22:2). This language is found over and over again until Christ walks among his people and actually calls God his Father! No longer is the worship and service to the God of our fathers, but the Heavenly Father himself. Then, because of Jesus, we too are able to call God our Father because we are adopted into his family (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5).  

Next, as early as Genesis 6:5, the Bible indicates that God knows the thoughts and intentions of man.  1 Samuel 16:7, at the time when they boy David was being identified as Israel's king, it is said that God does not look at the outward appearance, but at man's heart.  Psalm 7:9 identifies God as one who tests minds and hearts. Psalm 139:2 says that God can even discern these thoughts from a distance.  The idea of testing thoughts and intentions is present again in Jeremiah 11:20 and again in Jeremiah 17:10.  So it should help us see that Jesus is God when he has this very ability.  In John 1:47 Jesus looks into the deep of Nathanael. Repeatidly, Jesus knew what the Pharases were thinking as well as his disciples (see: Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25; Luke 1:51; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8; and Luke 11:17).  And the disciples new and believed that God searches the heart as is evident in Acts 1:24.  Paul also writes about it in Romans 8:27.

Jeremiah 29:13 says that seekers of God find him.  Jesus, as the Messiah and God, repeats the same seek and you will find  theme in Matthew 7:7-8, and in Revelation 3:20 he extends an invitation for a relationship.  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are repeated invitations to enter into a relationship with God, no longer serving the God of our fathers but the Heavenly Father himself.

It is because of the interconnectedness that we use the Bible to interpret the Bible.  The more plain passages help us understand the more complex ones.  The connections between the books, the players, and various smaller stories help us understand the larger story of God's redemption.  It's all interconnected.  It's one story woven together like a beautiful basket.

*Photo of weaved basket by Damian Gadal is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

You Will Be My Witnesses

December 4, 2012.

I am truly bless to serve on a church staff that provides me with so many opportunities to grow as a pastor.  We're presently in a sermon series titled, "As We Reach" because about a year ago we added the word 'Reach' to our mission and it's our hope that a lifestyle of evangelism becomes a part of our DNA in the coming years.  At Risen Life Church we seek to experience real life transformation and we do that through our mission: "connect, grow, serve, and reach."   This week I was able to step into the pulpit and preach a message titled "You Will Be My Witnesses." 

In addition, we've had some video testimonies that open each sermon.  Nathan Sweet, a gifted photographer and film maker, has been helping us create these videos.  (They've been really great.  Here's a sample, and another, and even another.) However, we didn't have anybody lined up for this recent week so we didn't shoot an interview.  Nathan is a busy student so when Pastors Kevin and Robert asked if we could still have a video, I stepped up to the director/editor plate.  It's certainly not of the same quality as the videos Nathan produces for us and there's one really bad edit (oops!), but I feel like we were still able to tell a story, thanks to a willing participant, some construction lights, the help of Sean Patrick on the sound board in our worship center, and a couple video cameras (one of which uses video tapes--remember those!). Because of our sound limitations, we were also limited to the worship center backdrop.  Here's Tina Pelton in the video that ran just before I preached the message:

It's not often you find a pastor so willing to raise up future leaders and even share the pulpit.   I get to work with two!  We serve in a team ministry model so our senior pastor, Kevin, works closely with Pastor Robert and they rotate each week in the pulpit.  And even with this arrangement, they allow me and another pastor (Jared Jenkins) to preach from time to time--even more in 2013.

Like I said, I am blessed and couldn't ask for a better place to serve and learn after completing seminary! 

Bible Study Tools

Jared Jenkins and I discuss some tools that help us study the Bible.  Of course, none of these tools are perfect, but they are helpful.  You can listen to that discussion along with some specific recommendations in this episode of Salty Believer Unscripted.

In addition, here is a list of some of the tools with a brief discussion of what they are and how they should be used for studying the Bible.

The Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is our helper and teacher. He is our greatest aid in proper Bible study and teaching. (John 14:16, 26) In addition, the Holy Spirit may use many of the tools listed below to illuminate God’s truths of the Bible to us.

Prayer. Prayer is our communication with God. If we desire to properly understand God’s communication to us, as contained in the Bible, we aught to ask for help and understanding. Prayer should always accompany Bible study.

Self Reflection. Our attitude, desires, biases, and sinful nature can greatly influence how we handle God’s Word; therefore, we must examine ourselves for anything that may improperly influence our understanding of the Bible.The Bible reads us and we need to be open to this reality. 

“The Story” or Meta-Narrative of the Bible. In order to better see context, one should understand the larger story of the Bible, often called the Story of God’s Redemptive History. This is a framework or timeline of the Bible in chronological order. This also includes an understanding of how the Bible is organized. Understanding where a text fits within the Story greatly helps with proper exegetical work and sound hermeneutics.
Jared Jenkins outlines the “scenes” of the Story like this:
Part I - Creation
Part II - Fall
Part III - Redemption
   Scene 1 - A People
   Scene 2 - A Land and a Nation
   Scene 3 - A Kingdom and Kingdom Divided
   Scene 4 - Exile and Expectant Waiting
   Scene 5 - The Gospel - Christ
   Scene 6 - The Church
Part IV - Restoration / New Creation
Translations of the Bible. Different translations may offer non-original readers a different perspective. A good study should include at least one Bible from a formal equivalent (close to word-for-word) translation and one from a dynamic equivalent (thought-for-thought) translation.  A good mediating Bible translation is also helpful.  But do not feel you must limit your study to a small number of translations; more translations help us see some of the word complexities in the original languages.  A parallel Bible is a helpful Bible that puts multiple translations together in one binding for this kind of study.

Study Bible. A study Bible contains boiled down information that comes from many of the tools identified in this list. A Study Bible is an extremely useful tool for studying and teaching the Bible and at least one should be a part of any Bible student's library. The ESV Study Bible is one of the best ones available today.

Concordance. A collection of all the English words contained in a specific Bible translation of the with a scripture reference to aid in locating the word. Most concordances also include a basic Greek and Hebrew word list with key numbers and definitions.

Lexicon. A technical book of definitions and entomology of Greek and Hebrew words.

Cross References. Lists of related passages that help guide a student of the Bible to other locations in the Bible in order to help understand an idea or topic as it is presented elsewhere in the Bible. Using the Bible to interpret the Bible is the best way to interpret the Bible and using cross references greatly reduces the time it takes to find other related passages. 

Bible Dictionary and Encyclopedia. A Bible dictionary provides articles and info on just about every person, place, or thing in the Bible. Encyclopedias are similar but more detailed. Some Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias deal with technical aspects of Greek and Hebrew language too.

Atlas. Collections of maps to help provide some geographical insight. These often also include journeys and other useful geographical information such as recreated drawings of the Temple grounds, alters, clothing, and a number of other helpful visual aids.

Introduction. A collection of introductory information on books of the Bible that include the author, audience, purpose, time of writing, outlines, key themes, and all kinds of other information background information.

Other Believers. Studying with others in community allows us to see how the Holy Spirit is working through all of us as we collectively study God’s Word. The same Holy Spirit working in you is working in me.  One Spirit. . . lots of students.  It is often good to consult other trusted and knowledgeable believers to confirm that you are not way off in your findings.  Notes from other classes or even transcripts of sermons are also helpful in this regard.  A good point to remember is that if you are the only one who as ever discovered what you think you've discovered from the Bible, the chances are fairly good that you are wrong.

Commentary. A commentary is an extensive discussion (typically from a scholar) about the text. These are not inspired like the Bible but they can provide tremendous insight, background information, and technical information. Often they are the result of years of work and study by the author.  I recommend that commentaries are used near the end of your study as confirmation and a check rather than a guide at the beginning of a study. is a helpful online tool for searching out reviews and rankings on commentaries.

Bible Study Software and Websites. Many programs and websites provide a collection of the above listed tools to make this work easier. Accordance, Logos, Bible Works, and E-Sword are examples of Bible software.  Some of these programs also have phone and tablet apps.,, and are examples of helpful websites. But keep in mind that some biblical tools websites are really not what they claim to be. 

More resources may be found in the Resources section of this website.

*Photo by Terry Madeley is used by permission and is registered under a Creative Commons license.

Recently Discovered New Testament Manuscripts

The gospels and letters that make up the New Testament were authored in the latter half of the First Century, between roughly AD42-98.  Finding manuscripts like P52, a papyri fragment of the book of John containing chapter 18:31-33, is a really big deal.  It was discovered in 1920 and greatly changed the way scholars think about the book of John and the New Testament. P52 (pictured to the right), is a Second Century manuscript dated roughly to AD125-150 and  is presently considered the oldest known fragment of the New Testament--but that may be soon to change.  Dr. Dan Wallace claims to have discovered a manuscript of the book of Mark that he and others say dates to the First Century! 

Conservative biblical scholars date the authorship to Mark between the mid-AD40 and 60.  This would mean that at most, this newly discovered manuscript is no more than 60 years older than the autograph, but it may be less.  The Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) located in Münster, Germany has cataloged over 5,750 New Testament manuscripts.  Some of these are very close to the autographs (originals, which have yet to be found), but none as close as what Wallace is claiming of his team's discovery.

Apparently, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) was granted access to a national archive in Albania to photograph 13 manuscripts.  The country has previously denied western scholars access to these documents.  When the CSNTM team arrived, they learned that there were more manuscripts at the archive and some of them are remarkable!

Besides the manuscripts they expected to photograph, they discovered seven more manuscripts never-before seen or cataloged by western scholars.  Most notable is the Mark papyri as well as an early Second Century Luke fragment and four manuscripts from Paul (and the author of Hebrews) that date to late Second Century or early Third Century.  Details are slowly being released as the scholars are exercising caution in how they present this new find.

In the video below, Dr. Mike Licona introduces Dr. Dan Wallace who discusses this fascinating discovery in a more detail:

Buzz about these manuscripts is present, but you have to look for it.  They will have a significant impact on scholarship but it's highly unlikely that these manuscripts will change our understanding of the gospel message.  Even when more details are published, most people will hear little about this discovery (if anything) and that's okay.  For us theology geeks, it's exciting to add 7 more manuscripts to the INTF catalog, especially the really early ones.  It's also thrilling to think about the possibility of finding even earlier manuscripts and getting closer to the originals; but in the bigger picture, the gospel as we have understood it for 2,000 years will continue marching forward as we faithfully serve God toward the advancement of his Kingdom.  Indeed we must remember, the manuscript collection does not bring saving transformation--the message contained within the manuscripts is what must really excite us.

*Photo of the Rylands Papyri, also know as P52, is in the public domain. 

Loving Like Jesus Loves: John 15:12-17

I am blessed to be on the preaching schedule at Risen Life Church.  Recently, I preached on John 15:12-17 as a continuation in our series, "Final Instructions."

John 15:12-17 says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another"  (ESV). 

What does it look like to love like Jesus loves?  And why would we need to love like this? These questions are addressed in the sermon I preached on February 19, 2012.   You can listen to this sermon here, or subscribe to the the audio Salty Believer podcast.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
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* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same.   

 If you would like to discuss this sermon with me of if you have questions about what it is to be a Christian, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Being Martha AND Mary

The Church is full of people and people tend to be wired differently.  As people of drastically different wiring come together, sometimes there is a desire that we all approach Jesus the same way.  When we don't, there can be some grumbling.  Luke records the story of two sisters that seems to help us understand how we are to come together. (It's found in Luke 10:38-42.)

Are you a "Martha" or a "Mary"? 

If you're a Martha, I'd like to invite you to seek out opportunities to be a little more Mary.  If you are a Mary, it is time to look for Martha-style service opportunity.  

* This video, others like it, and many other resources are available here.

His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley

Many a bride and groom have listened to passages of Scripture at the marriage ceremony—Christian or not. Often the passage will come from 1 Corinthians 13; but if not from there, it may be something from 1 John, Colossians, Ephesians, Ecclesiastes, or even Genesis. This Scripture reading is good, of course, but how many young men and women really understand their own relational needs, let alone the needs of their spouse? And as the wedding day fades into history, the realities of the relationship eventually settle in. His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage is Willard F. Harley, Jr.’s bold attempt to address these needs.

Harley addresses ten needs—five belong primarily at the top of the man’s list and five entirely different needs at the top of the list belonging to the woman—which are often found starving in relationships soon to be or already marred by an adulterous affair. Chapter by chapter he boldly shines a spotlight into areas that often are felt but not regularly examined or discussed. His approach at times seems controversial in the modern western society; however, his book is well read and any married reader will likely sense some truth in Harley’s observations. “The Purpose of this book,” writes Harley, “is to teach you how to discover, and then learn to meet, each other’s most important emotional needs.”[1]

Harley untimely opens his work with a hard-hitting question. He asks his reader to examine how affair-proof his or her own marriage presently might be. The reader in a healthy marriage might jump to the idea that she is in a strong marriage free from the threat of an affair, and the reader in a marriage taking blows from the effects of cheating will most likely resent the question. But even the strongest-willed men and women can and will face the threat and temptation of an affair. “Some men never give in;” argues Harley, “they manage to make the best of it over the years. But many do succumb to the temptation of an affair.”[2] An affair may happen to anybody if the needs of one spouse or the other are not being met. When the Love Bank Account is low or empty and the future of deposits from the spouse is dim, the ability to have needs fulfilled from another almost seems to slip in unnoticed. At the conclusion of one example that started with harmless chitchat and a polite hug, Harley says, “Jolene simple felt so starved for affection that she was literally hugged into have an affair!”[3]

While not every person or every relationship is the same, through many years of counseling, Harley has discovered ten common needs among men and women. When ranked, men and women seem to prioritize these completely opposite of their spouse’s list.[4] The difficulty then is found in the reality that in thinking they are doing good each spouse attempts to fulfill the needs that actually reside at the bottom of their mate’s list rather than those most important to their spouse.

The woman’s needs are generally affection, conversation, honestly and openness, financial support, and family commitment. According to Harley, “A husband can make himself irresistible to his wife by learning to meet her five most important emotional needs.”[5] Interestingly, the man on hot pursuit of a wife will typically demonstrate these well in the courting phase of the relationship, only to shift modes in an attempt to meet five other needs. Thinking he and his wife have the same needs, he will begin trying to fulfill the same top five on his list. His wife will then be left feeling used or unloved. And when this happens, she will attempt to resolve the problem by striving to provide her husband with the things that are at the top of her list, not his. What is on his top five? Sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, domestic support and admiration.

In a simple back-and-forth format, Harley addresses the man and the woman’s top five needs. He starts with affection, the woman’s top need. Then he goes to the man and explains sexual fulfillment. This continues onward until he has spent a chapter dealing with all ten needs typically found in the martial relationship. Each of these chapters almost appears to be written to the opposite spouse. It is as if when he is dealing with affection, he is explaining to the man what the woman needs because the man is clueless while the woman has felt her husband should have known this all along. But with a new chapter comes a change and the explanation is provided to the woman. This book has been written not to the husband or wife, but to the couple. “I encourage you and your spouse to read these books together,” urges Harley, “complete the questionnaires, and answer the questions at the end of each chapter.”[6] In addition, Harley knows that affair-proofing is not just as simple as reading this book and discussing the content as many chapters encourage, it is a process. He writes, “Keep these books in a place where you can refer to them regularly, because you should be reminded of the lessons they will teach you.”[7]

His Needs, Her Needs should hit close to home for most couples because Harley addresses the needs of a man and woman in ways many marriage books do not. In fact, many people may find the content of Harley’s work offensive. His worldview clearly does not align with the modern western idea that men and women are exactly the same. He presents a portrait of men and women as equal in value but very different in their needs. However, his supporting arguments for these differences are compelling. His examples are convincing. And his observations seem reasonable, although not cited or supported with anything other than his personal twenty years counseling with couples. It is difficult to know if his observations are universal or if there are cultural, religious, geographical, or socioeconomic factors that may influence relationships in ways he may not have observed. In this way, Harley does not appear objective, but this is not to say that his observations are wrong, simply that he wrote more for the masses rather than for an academic audience.

Another difficulty with His Needs, Her Needs, is found in how much the blame for an extra-marital affair almost seems to be placed on the spouse not meeting the needs rather than the person having the actual affair. The idea that the spouse should communicate his or her needs with his or her partner is hinted at in nearly every chapter and the discussion questions that conclude each chapter demand this; however, the argument still stands: when the needs are not met, affairs may happen. But one cannot meet his or her own needs. It is the job of the partner to meet the needs. Therefore, the finger seems too eager to point in the wrong direction. It may not be the feeling or intention of Harley, but the feeling exists nonetheless.

Despite some of the negative aspects of His Needs, Her Needs or maybe the oversight, this book is still fantastic in addressing feelings and needs that may simply rest just below the surface of most marital relationships. Harley does not shy away from difficult realities. And this is what makes His Needs, Her Needs a necessary and valuable book for couples hoping to marry, those who counsel couples, and anybody who is married—regardless if for only six months or for forty years.

1. WillardF Harley, Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage(Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011), 15.

2. Ibid., 17-19.

3. Ibid., 37

4. Ibid., 18.

5. Ibid., 200.

6. Ibid., 16.

7. Ibid.

* I have no material connection to this book and am receiving no monetary compensation for this review.
** The original review was used to meet the partial requirement in the completion of an M.Div. This review has been redacted for this post.