Thoughts on a Bible Reading Plan for 2019

As we near the end of 2018, many of us are thinking about goals we have for 2019, and for many of us Christ-followers, that includes thinking about a Bible reading plan. I have found in my 48 years on this earth that, due to my frail human nature, without a set plan I tend to wander in the wilderness in my Scripture reading, sometimes neglecting Bible reading altogether for too many days in succession.

Thus for the past few years I have used various Bible plans. My wife prefers this very flexible plan, which she has used several years in a row now. In 2018, after reading about the RMM (or M’Cheyne) Plan, I gave it a go and really enjoyed it. If you do the one-year pace you can read through the entire Old Testament once, and the New Testament and Psalms twice in the year. Or you can go on a two year pace which takes you through the Old Testament in two years, and the New Testament and Psalms each year. Also, the One Year plan, varies the readings so that you are reading from four different places each time. Usually that means you read a chapter from the Gospel or Psalms each day, another New Testament chapter, an OT passage from the Pentateuch/History books and an OT chapter from the Prophets/Writings.

The RMM plan is named for Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish pastor, who developed it for his congregation back in the early part of the 19th century. You can read more about the plan in the link above. You can also read below what he wrote to his own congregation when he published the plan for them. I have taken the liberty to update the English to a more modern style, but you can read the original here if you prefer the 1800’s language. Whether you choose to use the RMM or some other plan, I think you will find his thoughts on Bible reading plans (both the dangers and the advantages) to be worth reflecting on heading into this new year.


The approach of another year stirs up within me new desires for your salvation, and for the growth of those of you who are saved. “God is my witness how greatly I long after you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:8) What the coming year is to bring forth who can tell? There is plainly a weight lying on the spirits of all good men, and an anticipation of some strange work of judgment upon this land. There is a need now to ask that solemn question: “If in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)

Those believers will stand the firmest who have no dependence upon themselves or upon others, but upon Jehovah our Righteousness. We must be driven more to our Bibles, and to the mercy-seat, if we are to stand in the evil day. Then we shall be able to say, like David: “The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I do not turn from your law” (Psalm 119:51) and “Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word” (Psalm 119:161).

It has long been in my mind to prepare a scheme of Scripture reading, in which as many as were made willing by God might agree, so that the whole Bible might be read once by you in the year, and all might be feeding in the same portion of the green pasture at the same time.

I am quite aware that a Bible reading plan is accompanied with many dangers:

(1.) Formality. We are such weak creatures that any regularly returning duty is apt to degenerate into a lifeless form. The tendency of reading the Word by a fixed plan may, in some minds, be to create a skeleton of religion. This is a particular sin that will be seen in the last days: “Having a form of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:5) Guard against this. Let the reading plan perish rather than this rust eat up your soul.

(2.) Self-righteousness. Some, when they have devoted their set time to reading of the Word, and accomplished the daily portion, may be tempted to look at themselves with self-complacency. Many, I am persuaded, are living without any work of God in their souls. Rather they continue unpardoned and unsanctified, and ready to perish, even when they spend their appointed times in secret and family devotions. This is going to hell with a lie in their right hand.

(3.) Careless reading. Few tremble at the Word of God. Few, in reading it, hear the voice of Jehovah, which is full of majesty. Some, by having so large a portion, may be tempted to weary of it, as Israel did of the daily manna, and to read it in a slight and careless manner. This would be fearfully provoking to God. Be careful lest this word be true of you: “‘And you say, “What a burden!” and you sniff at it contemptuously,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Mal 1:13)

(4.) A yoke too heavy to bear. Some may engage in reading with eagerness for a time, and afterwards feel it a burden, grievous to be carried. They may find their conscience dragging them through the appointed task without any relish of the heavenly food. If this be the case with any, throw aside the shackle, and feed at liberty in the sweet garden of God. My desire is not to cast a snare upon you, but to be a helper of your joy.

If there be so many dangers, why propose such a scheme at all? To this I answer, that the best things are accompanied with danger, as the fairest flowers are often gathered in the clefts of some dangerous cliff. So then, let us weigh the advantages:

 (1.) The whole Bible will be read through in an orderly manner in the course of a year: The Old Testament once, the New Testament and Psalms twice. I fear many of you never read the whole Bible; and yet it is all equally Divine, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect” (2 Tim 3:16). If we pass over some parts of Scripture, we shall be incomplete Christians.

(2.) Time will not be wasted in choosing what verses to read. Often believers are at a loss to determine towards which part of the mountains of spices they should bend their steps. Here the question will be solved at once in a very simple manner.

(3.) Parents will have regular subjects to discuss with their children. It is much to be desired that family devotions were made more instructive than they generally are. The mere reading of the chapter is often too like water spilt on the ground. Let it be read by every member of the family beforehand, and then the meaning and application can be drawn out by simple question and answer. The reading calendar will be helpful in this. Friends, also, when they meet, will have a subject for profitable conversation in the passage read that day. The meaning of difficult passages may be inquired from the more judicious and mature Christians, and the fragrance of simpler Scriptures spread abroad.

(4.) The pastor will know in what part of the pasture the flock are feeding. He will thus be enabled to speak more suitably to them on Sunday; and both pastor and elders will be able to drop a word of light and comfort in visiting from house to house, which will be more readily responded to.

(5.) The sweet bond of Christian love and unity will be strengthened. We shall be often led to think of those dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, here and elsewhere, who agree to join with us in reading those same passages. We shall more often be led to agree on earth, regarding something we shall ask of God. We shall pray over the same promises, mourn over the same confessions, praise God in the same songs, and be nourished by the same words of eternal life.

–Robert Murray McCheyne, December 1842

Have a blessed 2019, and hide his Word in your hearts this next year!

Note: the RMM Bible plan (called the M’Cheyne plan) in both one and two year versions on the YouVersion Bible app as well as in the links above.


Why Millennials Struggle to Trust God’s Love

I think some of our better insights come in the cross-pollination of ideas as we read and discover truth across disciplines. Recently I’ve been reading Jim and Judy Raymo’s Millennials and Mission, a great resource for an aging GenX’er like me to figure out these young bucks (i.e., new co-workers who are my kids’ age) coming into our organization. Some great insights, and some over-generalizations I’m sure; but expected in a book of this nature. All in all, I highly recommend it to those who are trying to help bridge the generation gap within ministry (no matter which side of that gap you find yourself).

But to the point of this post: I was reading this book and simultaneously doing a study on Psalm 18:1: “I love you O Lord, my strength.” I begin to ponder the love of God and our love back to Him. It dawned on me a major reason why Millennials (and many GenX’ers) may struggle with holding on to the wonderful truth that God loves us even as we walk through difficult times. Raymo writes,

Perhaps unwittingly, the parents of these young people have contributed to the making of a group that has been called “Generation Me”…Smaller nuclear families and the threats (real and perceived) of contemporary life meant many of them grew up with “helicopter parents,” who hovered about with zealous care and the anxious desire to make their children’s lives perfect. Mom and Dad did all they could to guard and protect young self-images from failure and embarrassment and intervened to smooth out any problems. (emphasis added)

In other words, parents of most Millennials and many GenX’ers (because I think this trend began before the generational divide), shielded and sheltered their children from the difficult realities of life in order to keep them from pain or damaging their self-image. We see the fruit of this when every kid gets a “Participation Award” in a sports tournament rather than naming winners and losers—just so no children feel bad about themselves.

We can see the change in generational thinking by looking at a concrete example. How have parents dealt with their kids when they got into trouble at school? (Disclaimer: I realize this is a terrible over-generalization, but I think it largely reflects the attitudes of the eras, though I’m sure you can find many exceptions.)

  • Builders (before 1942) – “If my Boomer child gets in trouble at school, they’re in double trouble at home.”
  • Boomers (1942-65) – “If my Gen X child gets in trouble at school, they will need to learn their lesson from it.”
  • Gen X (1965-82) – If my Millennial child gets in trouble at school, I’m going up to give that teacher a piece of my mind…e., intervene and “fix” the problem.

Thus, we have a generation or more growing up where parental love is expressed by intervening to fix all of the child’s problems. I know as a parent that is my own tendency. I fit the Gen X pattern. But the problem is that’s not God’s pattern. In fact, sometimes God in his infinite love and wisdom takes us through extended periods of difficulty and times of testing for which there are no quick fixes or easy answers. Thus if we are conditioned to think that love is expressed by the removal of the problem, when the problem persists we begin to doubt the constancy of the love of God.

But the pattern of the Scriptures is that God is with us through the difficulties, through the darkness, even when he does not rescue us out of it. Consider the story of Job. Or Joseph. Or David. All of these great saints went through many years of difficulty before God brought them to a place of rest and victory. And the suffering was for a purpose.

We do well to remember these and other examples, along with the words of Romans 8:35-38:

 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, parents, the next time your young one has a problem, instead of rushing in to fix it right away, instead of marching down to the principal’s office, instead of intervening to remove the difficulty, take an example from our heavenly Father and walk with your son or daughter through the problem. Teach them to wrestle with it, to learn resilience, to overcome. It’s not the easy route; it’s not the popular route. But, to steal a line from Robert Frost, that less traveled path may make all the difference.

What Has Your Gaze?

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek …. to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him …
(Psalm 27:4)

I remember the first time I saw the Northern Lights. Actually the only time I’ve ever seen the Northern Lights in person. Growing up in Texas and living most of my adult life in the tropics doesn’t lend itself to seeing such things. But living in Canada many years ago, I stepped out of the house late, late one cold spring night trying to figure out why it wasn’t darker? And then I looked up. From one end of the the sky to the other, heavenly fire lit up the night. So bright…and the colors! I knew what I was seeing, Texan though I was, but if I had not read about them previously, I would have been concerned about the end of the world, or the Second Coming, or some other apocalyptic event.

A great shot of the Northern Lights by R Owen Palmer ( (c) 2014. Used by permission.

Simply mind blowing. It captured my gaze for a long time.

gaze – (n.):  a steady intent look.

An indelible memory of my youth is hiking to the top of Emory Peak, the highest point of Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Most people don’t think of deserts as beautiful. But the stark mountains in the harsh, dry environment makes for unmistakable beauty all its own. My buddies and I tried to make an annual trek to the top.

Photo credit (c) Wikipedia.

And each year we gazed at the panoramic scene in awe.

gaze – (v.): to look steadily and intently, especially in admiration, surprise, or thought

What captures your gaze?  Some are transfixed with the beauty of a person, or a sports car, or an architectural marvel. In Psalm 27:4, David expresses his ultimate desire: “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to seek Him…” For David, it would have been a tragedy to gaze upon the beauty of creation, but miss the beauty of its source.

Elsewhere he says, “The heavens declare the glory of God…” (Pslam 19:1) The heavens, the glory of the stars….

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the cluster Westerlund 2 and its surroundings has been released to celebrate Hubble’s 25th year in orbit and a quarter of a century of new discoveries, stunning images and outstanding science. The image’s central region, containing the star cluster, blends visible-light data taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys and near-infrared exposures taken by the Wide Field Camera 3. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys.
Photo credit (c) NASA.

These days most people don’t know the glory of the stars in our light-polluted, air-polluted modern world. But at the very least grab a few images from the Hubble space telescope buried as you are in your star-obscured suburban enclave…and gaze in awe of the glory of the stars….and more importantly the glory of the Creator they point to. Modern sensibilities attempt to downplay the idea of a Creator behind the wonder we see, leaving it to the result of chance collisions of subatomic particles in the distant past. The enemy is always at work attempting to darken our understanding of the Creator’s glory in whatever way he can.

But back to David. The tragedy would be to gaze upon the creation and miss the Creator. As beautiful as the creation is, it is not the end; it’s a signpost, pointing to the source. And here’s the key point: Will not the Source of the very concept of beauty be infinitely more beautiful than the creation itself?

Jonathan Edwards understood this better than most who have ever lived:

God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.

God…the fountain of all that is good and beautiful whether a beautiful sunset or the embrace of a friend.

So I ask you again, what arrests your gaze? There are all kinds of hideous distortions of beauty in our world. And technology has given us access to a firehose of garbage to obliterate the beauty of the Lord from our furthest thoughts. But for your soul to be satisfied, you must tear your gaze away from the world’s refuse, the world’s trinkets and refocus on the source of beauty himself. You must look past creation’s beauty to the beauty of the Creator.

One thing I ask….above all else….show me your beauty, O Lord.


Meditations on Psalm 24


Psalm 24

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it;
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.
Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?
Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Selah.
Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty– he is the King of glory. Selah.

Spurgeon calls this psalm “The Song of Ascension.” It follows shortly after the “Song of the Crucifixion” (Psalm 22). It starts with feet firmly planted on the earth, ascends upwards onto the hill of the Lord, and ends at the gates of the heavenly Kingdom of God. In keeping with the Messianic theme of so many of the Psalms in this, we have a perfect song of the ascension of Christ!

The opening verses pan the world, full of life, full of people, created by Him and for Him (Col 1:16). Then the cry goes out – “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?” I think it is fitting to take this verse in two distinct but complementary ways. The first is simply asking the question, who is able to stand before God? And of course the answer is those who walk in holiness, in purity of heart, and in cleanness of deed. And thus we are admonished to live in such a way that befits a child of the generation who seeks the face of the God of Jacob!

But as the question is asked, the ramification of this question begins to fill our minds at a deeper level. We see that the question is just like the question asked in Revelation 5:2: “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” Much like the experience of John on the island of Patmos, we look across the earth’s fullness and find, none is worthy! Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? “There is none righteous; no not one.” (Rom 3:10) John wept when none could be found, but he was admonished by the angel: “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Rev 5:4)

So too here in this Psalm, who is worthy to ascend the hill of the Lord? Who is the One who has clean hands and a pure heart, the One who has never lifted up his soul to an idol or sworn by what is false? The Lion of the Tribe of Judah! The Root of David! Jesus, our Savior, now ascending the hill of the Lord to that Holy Place. And as he, the captain and author of our salvation (Heb 2:10), ascends the mount, he leads behind in his train (Eph 4:8), a procession of those who have had their soiled robes now white, washed in the blood of the lamb. Those whose hands were unclean, whose hearts were impure, who were guilty of lifting their souls to those things that were false and unclean. But these have been washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (I Cor 6:11).

And as we ascend the hill of the Lord, with our Jesus at the head of the procession, we come to the ancient gates of heaven itself. I imagine gates large beyond comprehension. Let your imagination take the largest gates you can imagine (your “Lord of the Rings”, Asgard-inspired, CGI-inflated, then multiply it a hundredfold….you get the point…gates towering to the heavens). As the procession approaches, the gates themselves rock on their hinges. With a mighty earthquake, the rocks and mountains begin to tremble.

And the crier before the gates sings out with a loud voice “Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!”

And at the top of the gates, seeing the mighty throng approaching, the watchman of the gate cries out with a resounding voice:  “Who is this king of Glory?”  Not because he does not know, but because he wants to hear it proclaimed by the vast throng:

“The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.”

Once again the crier: “Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!”

And in perfect, synchronized reply, the watchman: “Who is he, this King of glory?”

And the vast multitude bows down and replies in worship, “The LORD Almighty– he is the King of glory!”

Bow down and worship your Lord, your Savior, who takes you into his train unworthy though you are, now covered and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. Worship Jesus, the King of Glory!

No Regrets

The sudden passing of those dear to us has a way of causing us to pause and consider our own mortality and life’s brevity. Recently, I have lost two dear brothers in Christ, both of whom went to be with Jesus far sooner than any of us would have expected. Although there is great rejoicing in their lives and their present joy with our Savior, their loss is keenly felt.

I am approximately half-way through my life’s journey assuming I live out a “normal” lifespan. But realizing that there are no guarantees about tomorrow, I ask myself, “If I were to pass away next week or next year, what would I feel I had not accomplished with my life? What regrets would I have?”

Of course, we all have regrets over things we cannot change, mistakes made that cannot be unmade. I speak not of these, but of regrets for things that could have been done, but weren’t. The excuses sound hollow: “Oh, but things just kept crowding in. I never got around to it.” Life was too busy with unimportant things like TV shows, or sports games, or a myriad of other time-wasters that I fill my life with. And then one day, we wake up on the other side of eternity and we have regrets for what could have been.

I don’t want that to be me!

What small changes do I need to make—because it’s the little things that add up to the big ones?

I have always been inspired and challenged by the example of Frank Laubach. Those of you who have read the book Practicing His Presence will no doubt be familiar with his life and testimony. If you are not, I highly recommend the book. A short excerpt from his journal highlights his life’s goal:

So my problem is this: Can I bring God back in my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind as an after image, shall always be one of the elements in every concept and precept? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.

Laubach learned the secret of living each moment “in continuous inner conversation with God and perfect responsiveness to His will.” And the results were breath-taking. You need to read the full account to see the complete picture, but to give you a sampling:

Oh, this thing of keeping in constant touch with God, of making him the object of my thought and the companion of my conversations, is the most amazing thing I ever ran across. It is working. I cannot do it even half of a day–not yet, but I believe I shall be doing it some day for the entire day. It is a matter of acquiring a new habit of thought. Now I like God’s presence so much that when for a half hour or so he slips out of mind–as he does many times a day–I feel as though I had deserted him, and as though I had lost something very precious in my life.

The inner joy and spiritual growth that Laubach achieved through this arduous exercise is inspiring to read. And so my own feeling is this: this is what I want to pursue for the rest of the days that I have here on this earth. Like Laubach, I would like my life to be an experiment in attaining this goal. Oh, I have made feeble attempts at this here and there for the past ten years, but I feel now a pressing need to dedicate myself to the task.

Will you join me on this journey?

I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.                                                                             –Psalm 16:8-11 (NIV)

A Response to Dawkins’ CNN Interview of Sept 27, 2013

I tend to hesitate getting into these kinds of debates because they are normally fruitless, and tend to bring in only those who are already convinced of their own side of the debate without changing any minds. But on the other hand, I don’t want anyone reading Richard Dawkins’ arguments to come to the conclusion that there are no answers to his atheistic arguments.

I feel the same dilemma as Solomon:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.  Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5 NIV)

But when Dawkins says, “Reason is on [the atheists’] side” but fills his interview with straw man tactics and fails to demonstrate a grasp of the fundamentals of basic biblical interpretation, one feels compelled to respond.

Although I will not respond to everything in the interview, I want to at least point out two of Dawkins’ own rational fallacies. First of all, he states,

The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible. Not only should we not get our moral compass from religion, as a matter of fact we don’t. We shouldn’t, because if you actually look at the bible or the Koran, and get your moral compass from there, it’s horrible – stoning people to death, stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.

Now of course we don’t do that anymore, but the reason we don’t do it is that we pick out those verses of the bible that we like, and reject those verses we don’t like. What criteria do we use to pick out the good ones and reject the bad ones? Non-biblical criteria, non-religious criteria. The same criteria as guide any modern person in their moral compass that has nothing to do with religion.

Dawkins’ betrays a (likely willful) ignorance of the scriptures when he arrives at the conclusion that we choose “willy-nilly” which verses of Scripture to apply and which ones we do not, by picking a verse at random out of the Mosaic Law. Reading the Old and New Testament in their entirety and proper context, one clearly sees the place that the legal code given to Israel under the Old Covenant has in the New Testament.  To illustrate a few verses that help give a little context (please read the New Testament completely, or at least the book of Galatians, for fuller context) consider,

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” … After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. …Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke [i.e. the Law of Moses] that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? (Acts 15: 5,7,10 NIV)

… you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14b NIV)

Again, for brevity I am forced to pick these verses without full context, but any honest, straightforward reading of the New Testament will demonstrate clearly why we do not stone people today for failing to keep the Sabbath. There is an old saying that if you you take a verse out of context you can get the Bible to say anything. Dawkins clearly demonstrates the truth of this.

Second, Dawkins misses the point of the moral argument for the existence of God. (Though he does treat it more fully in his book The God Delusion.) First, the moral argument for the existence of God does not state that religious texts are the source of people’s ideas of morality. Rather, God Himself is the source of moral standards and, being created in his image, human beings have an innate sense of right and wrong. Instead, Dawkins’ worldview of scientific materialism (i.e., the belief that all we consist of are random collisions of atoms and chance chemical reactions) fails to demonstrate how moral standards came into existence in the first place.

If you read the writings of the New Atheists, they surprisingly do not deny the existence of some moral absolutes (e.g., genocide or rape are always wrong), but they provide no satisfactory philosophical basis by which they they came into existence. By what process are universal constructs of evil and good formed if we are merely complicated chemical reactions? Darwinian evolution fails to explain the innate moral sense of good and evil that exist within all people. Even Dawkins must have some basis for his own conclusion that stoning people for breaking the Sabbath is “horrible.” Dawkins is actually on the record for calling moral altruism (i.e., choices we make to benefit others and not ourselves) as “genetic misfirings” or “Darwinian mistakes” (God Delusion, p 221) Really?! A man saves a baby from a burning building and that’s his genes misfiring?

Furthermore, according to Darwinan evolution, people should be programmed such that whatever leads to the greatest likelihood of genetic reproduction should be the ultimate good. And yet across cultures around the world for centuries, marital unfaithfulness and adultery have been condemned, and loyalty esteemed, though this might not always lead to the greatest number of offspring and chance of genetic preservation.

This topic is treated at greater length and with a more complete examination of the New Atheist’s position in various places, but I would recommend, among others, Chad Meister, “God, Evil and Morality” (pp 107-118)  in W. L. Craig’s book God is Good, God is Great.  IVP Books, 2009. I merely give you a taste of some of the theistic answers to some of Dawkins’ arguments to whet your apologetic appetite.

On a different, but somewhat related note, I also highly recommend Stephen C Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell which gives an overwhelming argument for theism based on the latest DNA research. He also has a good chapter refuting the supposed “war between science and religion.” Please do not listen for a moment to the argument that belief in God is antagonistic to science. Christianity is hostile to the worldview of scientific materialism (the a priori conclusion that the universe and its origin are explainable in naturalistic terms), but not science. He makes the point that starting from a theistic worldview expecting design would have prevented scientists from coming to the wrong conclusion that non-coding DNA was useless “junk,” a position that is now being revised based on the latest research.

Take heart, Christian. You hold a reasonable faith!

Book Review: One Bible, Many Versions by Dave Brunn

I haven’t done much in the way of book reviews on this blog, but I just read a book by fellow NTM missionary and friend, Dave Brunn, and seeing as the subject of the book follows right alongside many of the discussions that we’ve had on this blog over the past months, I thought I would recommend the book and share with you some of my thoughts about it.

One Bible, Many Versions is a very informative and well-written book that is readily understandable by translators and non-translators alike. Dave Brunn sets out a modest thesis and then thoroughly proves that thesis with rich examples and great explanations. Dave draws on his experience as a Bible translator to the Lamogai people of Papua New Guinea and as a translation consultant and teacher with New Tribes Mission. In many ways, the subtitle made me think that Dave was going to go in a different direction than he did. Are all translations created equal? sounds like a rhetorical question with a negative answer, but I would have to say that the book gives the answer: “More than you might think.”

The main point of the book is that so-called “literal” translations really are not as literal as you might have been led to believe, and therefore the “Translation Wars” that have erupted over many of these misunderstandings have created unnecessary and even harmful disunity in the body of Christ. Using numerous examples, Dave proves that a truly literal translation is impossible, and that on many occasions, more idiomatic translations actually are more literal on a given verse. For example, he shows how in Matthew 1:6 the translators of the NASB (the standard of “formal equivalence” translations) made four very non-literal additions to the original Greek text in order to enhance readability and understanding. One of the most memorable of these is that where the Greek text has “the (fem article) of Uriah” the NIV necessarily changes the article to “wife”, but the NASB goes even further and adds in the name “Bathsheba” even though that name is not  found anywhere in the New Testament!

I think the most useful parts of the book are the copious tables that compare translations of various verses demonstrating the complexity of the translators task and how many of our popular versions have sought to deal with difficult passages. Dave has done a very thorough job of researching many, many examples that are a great reference for students of translation.

Another noteworthy portion of the book touches on how the nature of English in its relationship to the underlying Greek and Hebrew has created translation debates that are meaningless for other language families. A idiomatic translation is required when looking at the grammatical structures of indigenous Melanesian languages found in New Guinea, for instance.

Dave does an excellent job of proving his thesis, but I came away from the book wanting more. (Clear evidence that it is a well-written book!) As unity is the overall theme of the book, Dave steered away from controversy, but it would have been good to have had more of a discussion about how one can evaluate a translation more critically without an underlying knowledge of Greek and Hebrew (if this is even possible). A couple of specific topics I would love to see Dave address in a sequel(?) would be the following:

  • Dave introduces the concept of an “unduly free” translation. Using the (somewhat ridiculous) Cotton Patch Version as his example he illustrates the point well. But what are the criteria for when a more widely-used paraphrase (such as The Message) might at times stray into this area? While such free translations may have their uses in personal devotions, I inwardly cringe when I see believers using them as their primary study Bibles unaware of the inadequacy of these versions for those tasks. Are there times when, for the sake of faithfulness to the Word of God, we need to risk disunity to raise these concerns?
  • The gender-inclusive debate could be more thoroughly discussed. This is one that we’ve talked about on this blog in our discussion on the NIV 2011. Again, Dave’s book is a call for unity, which is needed and admirable. But, the problem of competing translation goals (e.g., political correctness vs. transparency to the underlying message) is a difficult one. Dave dismisses the gender-inclusive problem simply by saying many languages (such as Lamogai) don’t even have gender-based pronouns, so if this was such a big issue for the Lord, would he not have seen fit that every language have gender-based pronouns? I think the problem is more complex than that and could be discussed in more depth.

Overall, however, this is a great resource that will not disappoint students of the Bible who want to know more about the translation process, not only into English, but into other languages as well. You will come away from the book thankful for the rich variety of so many translations available to us in English (maybe to the point of embarrassment).

Perhaps you will even be challenged to consider what part you might play in seeing the Bible translated into one of the hundreds of languages that have yet to have a single verse of God’s Word in their tongue!

Thanks, Dave, for this great resource and the challenge to all of us!

The Worst Thing About the Elections

I want to ask some questions of my fellow American Christians in light of yesterday’s elections. If you are not a Christian, or not an American, you can read on if you like, but this entry is not for you.

Question #1: Since the beginning of the church (ca. AD 35), when did the church experience its most phenomenal growth rate? When did it hold most closely to the teachings of Christ? When was the power of the Holy Spirit most evident? Most of us would probably answer, the first century AD, the early church, the church of the apostles.

Question #2: What was the government of the day like? Of course, that would be the Roman Empire. As a little historical review: the major emperors from AD 35-90 were as follows: Caligula (certifiably insane, named one of his horses consul, had family members killed), Claudius (persecuted Jews, loved gladiator games), Nero (we know about him), Vespasian (destroyed Jerusalem with son future emperor Titus in command), Domitian (demanded to be called “Lord and God”, persecuted the church, etc).

OK, so you see where I’m going with this.

I came away from Election Day yesterday concerned, but not primarily with who was elected or which party is in control of our government. Sure, there’s lots of things to be concerned about there. Things don’t look too pretty.

But what concerned me most is it seems that, judging from the reaction in the social media,  much of the American church has completely lost its perspective. We have Christians threatening to leave for Australia, start a revolution, or just slip into despondency.

Come on, folks! Did God get voted out of office? (By the way, before you pack your bags, have you seen who the current PM of Australia is? She’s an avowed atheist somewhere rather to the left of President Obama. But that’s not important right now.  . .) We pay lip service to the idea that “God is in control” but I’m beginning to wonder if we really believe it?

So a few more questions for thought. What if . . . What if . . .

  • What if God gets more glory if our country enters financial ruin than prosperity? What if more people come to Christ in a depression? Is the loss of your personal savings worth that? (According to Ephesians 1 and I Corinthians 4, we’re going to inherit “all things” one day with Christ anyway.)
  • What if God gets more glory by his church standing strong as a light in an even darker world as America abandons Christian morality? (Those Romans weren’t too moral either, if you’ll remember.)
  • What if God gets more glory if our religious freedoms erode, and we have to stand under the threat of persecution, like our brothers and sisters in the early church? (Let me put it this way: would God have been more glorified by Christians taking up arms against the emperor? Or more glorified by simply saying “We will not bow to Caesar” and facing the lions with a song on their lips.)
  • What if the tough circumstances make it more likely I will be conformed to the image of Christ than the easy ones? Can I be joyful in the tough circumstances?
  • What if today we’re a step closer to our Lord’s return than yesterday? Am I more concerned about my comfort and security now, or life with Christ in eternity?

Remember, this life is a blip in the scope of eternity. Imagine you have a one month vacation on a beautiful beach front in Hawaii somewhere. One month. Oh, and it’s a ten minute drive from the airport to the resort. You notice as the ride goes along that it’s a little stuffy. The van’s a little worn, the AC doesn’t work, and the seats are dirty. In fact, it’s downright uncomfortable. But, really, is your focus on the 10 minute van ride or the 1 month vacation that’s in front of you?

Yeah, this life might get a little tough. Financially, things might get bad. We might face persecution. It could get ugly. Raising our kids in a fallen world is tricky.

But some things are true today that were also true last week, last century, and two thousand years ago:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. (Isaiah 40:21-23)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. . . And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:18, 28, 35, 37-39)

 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11, 12)

Stand in your faith! Faith is easy when times are good. But the tough times show our faith for what it is, and give us an opportunity to have our faith strengthened and purified.

The worst thing about the elections won’t be about who was or who wasn’t elected. Rather, if the American church abandons its faith in God’s goodness and sovereignty because of who was or wasn’t elected, that will be a far worse tragedy.

So, rejoice! Because great is your reward in heaven!

No matter who won yesterday. . . or who wins tomorrow. . .

Where was God in Aurora?

The unspeakable tragedy in Aurora, Colorado has captured the attention and rocked the soul of our nation as events of this nature do without fail. In such times, inevitably our thoughts turn inward and upward as we consider our own existence, the nature of humanity and the world in which we live, the existence of God Himself, and many of life’s deeper issues.

So it was unsurprising when CNN this week posed this question as its main headline: “Where Was God in Aurora?” It seems to me a degree disrespectful to the victims of this tragedy to debate theology at such a time as this. Yet the debate is there, and I cannot help but engage in it because many are asking for answers, and many only stop at these types of events to consider life’s deeper issues.

The answers that many give range from extreme to extreme. Two examples from the CNN article suffice: “A loving God who would allow this kind of suffering cannot exist” to “God was in complete control, exercising His will.” But both of these simplistic answers dodge some deeper questions that are worth exploring in greater depth.

My own knee-jerk instinct was to feel that the question “Where was God in that movie theater?” was tragically ironic at best and hypocritical at worst. With a very few notable exceptions, I don’t believe God has been welcome in any movie theater for a couple of generations. Hollywood blasphemes His name with regularity and mocks His Son. We’ve shut Him out (not only of our movies, but of society) and then we have the audacity to ask, “Where was He?!” Though there is a small degree of truth in this, it too, doesn’t sufficiently answer the question, and likely sounds hurtful and callous to those whose loved ones lost their lives.

Have you ever noticed, by the way, that these questions don’t capture headlines during those times of bounty and happiness? Did CNN once pose the question during the economic boom of the late 1990’s, “Where is God?” Or on any of those days when disaster didn’t strike. During those times we barely pay Him any mind. When the plane lands safely; when we enjoy good health; when we live in the most prosperous nation on earth; when we are given another breath. Why don’t we ask “Where is God?” during the good times, as well? Is God not asking us, as He asked Adam in the Garden, “Where are YOU?” But I digress . . .

I love that the Bible doesn’t dodge tough questions or issues like this. I love it that it takes issues of suffering head on. The biggest problem is that people have a warped view of the nature of the God of the Bible. They reject Him without understanding what He is really like. A loving God, in most people’s conception, is a glorified grandpa who exists to give us all wealth, prosperity, and a good time. But this is not the God of the Bible. This is a blasphemous caricature.

We’ve already explored in numerous entries in this blog the issue of the holiness of God. (Go back an re-read a couple of those entries for background if you want.) The bottom line is (and this can sound heartless for the victims of this tragedy, but please bear with me to the end): we live in a fallen world of our own making. From the beginning (see Genesis 3) the sin of humanity set this world on a course that was not originally what God intended. Adam’s sin not only cursed the human beings who came to live in it, but all of creation itself.

God has given his creatures the ability to choose Him or to not choose Him, a concept known as free will. Here’s the key point: in order to have the ability to love, we have to have the ability to choose. God did not create robots whom he forces to love Him. That would not be love. He gives us the choice so that we can love Him and enjoy Him forever, or we can love something else in His rightful place. Sadly, when people reject God and His truth and obedience to Him, it can have devastating consequences for those around them.

It is true, God is ultimately in control of all things. But if God intervened every time any one of us made a wrong or hurtful choice, we would cease to be free, autonomous beings. And generally speaking, people vehemently reject the fatalistic notion that we do not have the ability to choose. Unfortunately, we cannot have both free will and also have a world in which pain and suffering do not exist. The two are mutually exclusive.

When we accuse God with the question “Where were You in Aurora?” we are also operating with an underlying faulty assumption. That assumption is that somehow we deserve something that we didn’t get. Please, please remember that, according to the Scripture, all that we sinful human beings deserve, any one of us, is eternity separated from God in eternal torment. The fact that he gives us life (whether that be 6 years or 106 years) is an undeserved, gracious gift from him.  Every breath I breathe in is a gift from God I do not deserve, and for which I should breathe back a prayer of thanksgiving.

Some people will say that this is hateful to say this. I’ll be accused of hate-mongering for saying in that previous paragraph what the Bible says about our lost condition. But it is the story told in God’s word, and it is also only half of the story. The other half is that God does love us and made a way for us to be saved from what we deserve. He gave us His Son Jesus, whom the world daily blasphemes, who stands and beckons us to come to Him to be saved, not because we deserve it, but because of His infinite mercy and grace. His holiness demands that He cannot simply “overlook” our sin. If He did that, He would contradict His very nature. Truth would no longer be truth. Righteousness would no longer be righteousness. But He took our sin upon himself and paid it all with His blood on the cross.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

Can I say in closing, that God takes no delight in our suffering. (Ezek 18:23)  He weeps with those who weep (John 11:35). He is near to the broken hearted. He desires that no one should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:15) And He can use even the senseless tragedy perpetrated by a madman to wake people up from their slumber, to cause them to come to their senses, and to acknowledge their tragic neglect of Him, and to turn to Him in repentance and faith.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)

Grace and Truth: It’s Not What You Think

As most of you who follow the blogosphere probably know, a few weeks ago, Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta, lobbed a bombshell into the evangelical community in Part 5 of his series Christian: It’s Not What You Think. Most of the focus of the debate about this message has been centered around a lengthy illustration Stanley gives in the closing 15 minutes or so of his message where the listener comes away feeling that Stanley was very ambiguous on his position on homosexuality. Albert Mohler has written an article on this that is worth reading, and it has also been covered in Christianity Today.

Since that aspect of the message has been covered elsewhere, I actually want to focus on some of the less talked about, but ultimately foundational, issues that were raised in the first half of his sermon where he contrasts Grace and Truth. (The title of Part 5 is “When Gracie Met Truthy.”) I’ll come straight to the point: I believe that there is a fundamental flaw in Stanley’s articulation of biblical Grace which then necessarily compromises biblical Truth which necessarily leads to error.

At the starting point, I had no real disagreement. Stanley says we should love as Jesus loves. True. Jesus’ love, he refers to John 1:14, was full of grace and truth. There is a tension between grace and truth and some of us tend to be more strong on one than the other. However, Jesus was the fullness of grace and the fullness of truth. No problem thus far. But as he begins to expound on these, he makes some troubling statements (I have attempted to get the wording as close as possible although at times I have combined a couple of similar statements together):

  • Jesus was inconsistent (conflicted) in his application of grace and truth. Sometimes he approached a situation with grace, other times truth. Sometimes he is “harsh and condemning,” other times he ignores sin altogether.
  • As Christ-followers, we have to keep this same tension between grace and truth, because the second that we try to resolve the tension between them “[we] lose, [we] give up something very, very, very important.”
  • “Grace says you’re forgiven. Truth says you’re accountable. Grace says you’re fine. Truth says you’re broken.  Grace says it’s going to be OK. Truth says, no, you need to work on that. Grace says no matter what you do I love you. Truth says you’re accountable.”

I would like to challenge these statements along two lines: (1) I believe that the Scriptures teach that while there is indeed a strong tension (even a seeming contradiction) between Grace and Truth, they can be reconciled and must be reconciled if God is both holy and the savior of sinners, and (2) biblical Grace is not what Stanley has stated above.

Now, let me pause and say right here that it is not my intention to cast stones at Andy Stanley. Rather, I would like to lovingly plead with him, for the sake of the Gospel,  to reconsider his articulation of biblical Grace and the consequential philosophical implications.  As his message is in an open forum, I believe truth invites a public response.

In listening to the sermon, what I came away with was the impression that grace fundamentally means forgiving sin because it is simply overlooked. (For example, to the thief on the cross Jesus simply gave him free ride into heaven despite his wicked life just because he asked.) According to Stanley, truth is when sin is addressed and confronted; grace is when it is ignored.

If that is our understanding of these two concepts, then I would agree that they cannot be reconciled. And if this was Jesus understanding of these two concepts, then he would indeed be “conflicted” and “inconsistent”. But that is not biblical Grace.

The missing ingredient in Stanley’s articulation of Grace is the Cross of Christ. I don’t mean the story of the cross, because he does refer  to Jesus being crucified between two thieves, etc. I mean that the message and the power of the cross are missing. Grace doesn’t ignore sin. Grace looks full on at sin and says, your sin is forgiven, not because it is overlooked but because (and only because) it has been atoned for at the cross by the shed blood of Christ. Here is the key point: Grace and truth are reconciled at the cross! It is the only way a God of infinite love and a God of ultimate holiness can save sinners: by becoming the perfect sacrifice and taking their place on that cross.

As we read through the book of Romans we see that Grace also transforms us and compels us to leave our life of sin. If Grace just means overlooking sin, then that’s what we will do when sin is in our lives (or in our churches). Toward the end of the message Stanley refers to those believers who “cannot leave their sin.” This again flies in the face of the teaching of the epistles (see for example Romans 6-8 and Galatians 5).  But if we don’t truly understand Grace then we shouldn’t be surprised if we experience no victory over sin. If Stanley has come to the conclusion that some believers “cannot” leave their sin, then again, I would challenge him to reconsider his understanding of Grace.

There has been a movement in our modern, seeker-sensitive churches to move away from concepts like atonement, propitiation, redemption, the wrath of God,etc. because they don’t tend to bring in big crowds. They are difficult concepts, or too boring. Some of our looser Bible translations omit these words altogether to make the New Testament “easier to understand.” But the consequences of this way of thinking and our lack of understanding are becoming more and more evident in our churches.

To summarize: far from losing something when we reconcile Grace and Truth, we gain a way of salvation through the cross. When we leave Grace and Truth misunderstood and unreconciled, we lose something very, very, very important; we lose the Gospel itself.