Fruit in Its Season: An Ode to Psalms.

psalmslight

“everything written about me in the. . .Psalms must be fulfilled.” – Jesus. (Luke 24:44)

Tonight I end a journey that began on Wednesday night, August 26, 2011. It was on that evening I began walking Psalm by Psalm, stanza by stanza, and at many times verse by verse through the book of Psalms with our Wednesday night Bible study. Our time has been broken up by once a month business meetings, travels, and special events such as VBS and special guests, so by God’s providence tonight is the end of that journey as we study Psalm 150. It is with a jubilant heart of peace and tears of thankfulness I arrive here today. This will not be my last journey and I encourage you as an individual or pastor to take a similar journey. To encourage you, here are a few of my reflections on the Psalms.

The Psalms are the heartbeat of the Bible and therefore the heartbeat of God.  If you want to stay close to His heart, you need to hear His heart. You will find the rhythm in the book of Psalms. I knew as a first time/ full-time senior pastor, I desired to lead in prayer meeting by focusing on prayer. This led me to the conviction (before I knew for sure when and where I would go) our Wednesday night Bible study would initially consist of a study in the book of Psalms.  I read early on, “the Psalms paint pictures.” With that in mind the journey over the landscape of this vast book has been like a hike through the largest National Park with the highest of heights, the deepest of valleys,  with the brightest of sunlight, the darkness of night, the bitterness of stagnate water (of my own heart) and the refreshing and reviving coolness of a mountain stream (of God’s heart). The Psalms tickle the imagination and inoculate the heart with Truth. Spend time in this book and you will find the words more delightful than honey and more valuable than gold.

There are so many things I have learned throughout the study of the book it would be impossible to innumerate them all. However, there are three returning truths one can see from the vantage point of every hill and valley in the book: the mercy of God, the justice of God, and the mission of God. I have also included a word on His protection, providence, and Messiah.

His Mercy

By far, one of the most repeated words in this book is kesed – God’s love. I will never forget an evening cup of coffee with my pastor and a Hebrew professor, Dr. Wayne VanHorn, when he walked me word by word through Psalm 23 (I carry those notes in my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia to this day) and his bright eyes as he spoke of God’s love (most often translated “mercy”) in Psalm 23:6. Without this kind of love, all of our lives, efforts, and trials are in vain. This is the kind of love God has for His people – very well characterized by the translation “mercy.” Dr. VanHorn told me that night (and I’ve never forgotten it) that one could consider this the “Covenant Love of God”. I have also seen it recently rendered by Alec Motyer as “God’s committed love” and it is also often translated “steadfast love” and “lovingkindness”.  Just as we would have no hope or salvation apart from the kesed of God, there would be no book of Psalms apart from that same kesed. Go to great lengths to find this covenant love throughout the book. It is never far away.

His Protection

We are all refugees. If we do not recognize this, we do not understand the mercy of God. He is our Rock, Fortress, Refuge, Strength and many such other names by which He is called that means He is our home (or “dwelling place” Ps.90:1). We find our rest in the shadow of His wings – in the midst of the “mercy seat” beneath the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. This picture alluded to by David many times is proof positive of his understanding of Salvation. Without God’s atoning sacrifice and the blood upon the mercy seat – there is no hope for sinful mankind. There is power in the blood after all. I have told our Wednesday night gathering, “we enjoy singing ‘the old rugged cross’ for David the song was ‘the old mercy seat’.” It is little wonder Luther was teaching Psalms alongside Romans and Galatians when he came to his core understanding of the Gospel.

His Providence

He cares for us. Jesus makes sure we know this when he quotes Psalms to us in the “Beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount. God is a God who fills us with “the finest of wheat.” Without the Psalms of David, there would be no songs of Mary and Zechariah in the book of Luke.

His Justice

Some of the most puzzling lines for many in the book of Psalms are those lines labeled “imprecations”. However, in the full counsel of God’s word and understanding of His character, they are not as difficult as they would be isolated from the context. God is a just God. He has or will visit justice on all of His enemies. This includes and is not limited to sin, death, hell, the wicked, and those who cause His little ones to stumble. Every prayer in the book of Psalms will be answered, including the imprecations against the Psalmist’s enemies. The reason for this is that all of our true enemies, are actually God’s enemies.

His Mission

Psalms is a missionary book. One does not have to read too long about God’s special people to realize He desires all the goiim (Greek: ethnay) to become part of His special people. This is the staff on which the music of the book of Psalms is written. The Psalms by nature are invitational and provide motivation for God’s chosen people to be missionaries to the ends of the earth. They will be drawn in by our pure worship of Him as Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.  This is perhaps best illustrated with the shortest Psalm – also the shortest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 117. This Psalm is not only the heartbeat of the book of Psalms, but is quite literally the heart of the Bible. This Psalm has the same number of chapters from Genesis 1 to its first verse as it does from its last verse to Revelation 22.

Praise the Lord, all nations!
    Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

His Messiah

From the prophecies of Psalm 22 to the promises of Psalm 91, one finds Jesus fulfilling every ounce of unrequited expectation of the couplets and questions of the book. As with the Bible, so goes Psalms. If one reads the Psalms and misses Jesus, he has missed the book of Psalms.

Praise Him!

As I close this time and study in Psalms, I have also crossed another great milestone in reading through Spurgeon’s Treasury of David. Having spent so much time with Mr. Spurgeon, it seems fitting to give him (almost) the last word from his final introduction of a Psalm,

“We have now reached the last summit of the mountain chain of Psalms. It rises high into the clear azure, and its brow is bathed in the sunlight of the eternal world of worship, it is a rapture. The poet prophet is full of inspiration and enthusiasm. He slays not to argue, to teach, to explain; but cries with burning words, ‘Praise him, Praise him, Praise ye the LORD.’

“Here, the word says, ‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord,’ what if that were reversed and it said, ‘let everything that praises the Lord have breath?’” – David Platt.

Indeed. Hallelujah. Amen.

I praise Him not only as one who was found in mud and brought to new heights, but as one who hopes to be planted deep in mud with roots reaching down to the waters of life. On His word, may I meditate day and night.

Study Materials

There is nothing quite like reading the Psalms in one’s heart language and “meditating on them day and night.” However, I have found many sources to be of great value for further reflection and recommend them to the pastor wishing to embark on a similar journey or as the leader of in-depth Bible study. Of irreplaceable value has been the original language of the book of Psalms. This, coupled with Koehler and Baumgartner’s Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon has been a treasure trove of riches. If your Hebrew waxes and wanes, I highly recommend Zondervan’s Hebrew Reader’s Bible (it’s “Bible” feel, sizable font, and accessibility is superb). Of inestimable value at different intervals for personal devotional reflection have been the Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon, Calvin’s commentaries, W.S. Plummer’s Commentary on the Psalms (Banner of Truth Trust), and lately The Psalms by Day: A New Devotional Translation by Alec Motyer. Of instructional value have been Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook by Mark D. Futato and David M. Howard, Jr., the ESV Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible.

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Important Takeaways From Noah You Do Not Have To Watch the Movie to Realize

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Yesterday was a very rainy day in Georgia, so my wife and I naturally found ourselves on our day together at our cultural Ark riding out the storm otherwise known as a theater. In keeping with the rainy day theme, we watched Noah, a film that has been described by its director as “the least biblical biblical movie ever made.” As it turns out, as far as the plot is concerned, he mostly accomplished his goal. However, it seems he and the script writers did not so easily escape some important Biblical themes.
After a question from a friend in regards to my thoughts on the movie, I thought I would share a few takeaways piqued by my having viewed the film that you will not actually have to watch the movie to realize.

Here they are:

1) This Story is Not a Nursery Story.
2) God’s Judgment is Real.
3) Life Really Is Precious.
4) God’s Ways are Not Our Ways and Are, well, Miraculous
(For the Biblical Story of Noah, see Genesis 6 – 9)

1) This Story is Not a Nursery Story.
This story puts front and center the sin of man, God’s judgment and His justice. The story of Noah is not, nor has it ever been a children’s bedtime story. We may paint their walls with animals and rainbows, but the reality is the very real work of God’s redemptive plan and His unmitigated wrath are at work for and against a wicked world. This leads us to the very serious nature of the Cross and God’s wrath being poured out on His Son in order that sinful man may come to Him. Though a very beautiful story, this story is not one for the faint of heart, it is intended to cut to the heart. (Acts 2:37)

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2) God’s Judgment is Real.
At one creative moment in the film, Noah realizes that his heart is also tainted with sin, as are those of his entire family. This conviction experienced by Noah is right on the mark and is certainly one that would be necessary for Noah to ever be deemed “righteous” as he was (Hebrews 11:7). Man’s heart is indeed wicked without the redemptive work of God, and that is key to understanding the good news of the Gospel. That is not amiss in the story of Noah.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5 ESV)

The fact that God is just and His wrath is real is the driving point of the story. A flood that eliminates everything with the breath of life in it is very serious.

The fact that God saves sinners for his glory is the point of the story. We all are sinners and in need of God’s grace and forgiveness that is only available through what Christ has done.

One day, Christ is returning to (as the Creed says) “judge the quick and the dead and the sons of men.” And it will be just like this story from Genesis:

37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,
39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Mat 24:37-39 ESV)

The only way to avert this kind of judgment is trusting in Christ.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.(Romans 3:23 – 26)

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3) Life Really Is Precious.
An interesting, unexpected twist of the plot is the way in which God provides “wives” for Ham and Japeth through a Providential blessing given by Methuselah to Shem’s wife. The interaction between Noah and Methuselah may be strange at times, but is one the more believable blank-fillers the film writers introduce. We have no reason from the Text itself to assume Noah and Methuselah did not interact on some level. However, we also have no reason to assume they did. I actually enjoyed the idea and thoughts this line produced. Shem’s wife becomes pregnant with twin girls just before the Ark embarks without the knowledge of Noah who ultimately, after his own conviction of sin and depravity, assumes God intends to wipe out all of mankind. (Though we are to understand from the Biblical text that Noah and his family understood what was going on).

• I like the idea of Methuselah and Noah interacting. (Plus, Sir Anthony Hopkins is a fine actor).

• I like that there is a theme of “she who was barren” included in this movie because that is absolutely key to the overall narrative of grace and redemption of God’s particular people all the way to the New Testament. (i.e. Sarah, Samson’s Mother, Ruth, Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary)

This major subplot however is based off an entirely made-up scenario because Scripture says plainly: On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, (Gen 7:13 ESV)
With all this in view, Ham and Japeth’s “wives” are twin daughters born to Shem and his wife. The subplot is Noah’s wrestling with killing these babies or not so that man may indeed ultimately be blotted out. Watching the scenes unfold, there seems to be some echo of Abraham and Isaac (I might be the only one who thought that). One may be put off by the whole thing or one may be profoundly moved by the story. One at least may come away with the impression that Noah “Chose Life.” Though completely unfounded in the Noah context, I think this conversation about the preciousness of life in the womb is a very real talking point for the mixed audiences this movie will draw.

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4) God’s Ways are Not Our Ways and Are, Well, Miraculous.
The oddest creative addition to the film by far were the “Watchers” who seemed to be fallen angels This was certainly a very creative nod to the Nephilim of Genesis 6 – that word literally means “fallen ones”. They also reminded me of the Ents of Middle Earth. As interesting as they were, I thought them to be an unfortunate addition (and major distraction) simply because of their role in building the ark. I do not think it would have taken away from the story a bit to delete them and allow Noah and his family to take a long time building their own life vessel.
The Story is Miraculous and certainly requires the faith that God gives (Ephesians 2:8 – 10) to embrace and understand not only that it is trustworthy but the working out of God’s redemptive purpose for mankind realized in the finished work of Jesus Christ (His death, burial and resurrection 1 Cor. 15:1 – 4 ). We do not need talking rocks who used to be angels to build an Ark, it’s unnecessary. (However, God could produce talking rocks if he wanted to (Luke 3:8Luke 19:40 ).

However, we do know, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9 ESV)

All of God’s miracles are making way to and bearing testimony to the “Grand Miracle” as C.S. Lewis would term it. That God became man, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death and rose from the grave to save sinners.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Rom 5:8-9 ESV)

So, we are all invited to embark on the Ark. Jesus took on God’s wrath so that we may enter in. That is a miracle of miracles.

 

Loyal to the King: C.S. Lewis

“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.” Letter  dated 8 November 1952, published in Letters of C. S. Lewis (1966)

Though it has been noted that Lewis was not an adherent to “inerrancy” as many conservative Evangelicals define such today (and may infer as much from the above quotation), he was a stalwart defender of the word of God, right on down to the much debated Pauline Epistles.   

As a pioneer in modern apologetics, Lewis was as thorough in thought in matters of faith as he was in literary criticism.  Today, on his 114th birthday, I am sharing a few quotations from one of my favorite tidbits by Lewis that is less circulated today than are his classic books.  The selections are from his introduction to J.B. Phillip’s translation of the Pauline Epistles entitled, Letters to Young Churches. I will subdivide the sections in to my own headings in order to supply a flow of thought lost in not reproducing the entire introduction.

There are many inferences which may be drawn from the following section – but above all you see the preeminence of Christ and the reverence Lewis held for the Scriptures in interpreting the things of Christ.  The necessity of the language of the Bible being understandable in its current context helps us in avoiding translational idolatry.  The concern with which he defends the Pauline epistles are as appropriate (and needed!) today as these thoughts were in 1948. 

1)      Modern English translations are necessary and helpful.

. . . the kind of objection they feel [those opposing a new English translation] is very like the objection which was once felt to any English translation at all.  Dozens of sincerely pious people in the sixteenth century shuddered at the idea of turning the time-honoured Latin of the Vulgate into our common and (as they thought) “barbarous” English.  A sacred truth seemed to them to have lost its sanctity when it was stripped of the polysyllabic Latin, long heard at Mass and at Hours, and put into “language such as men do use” – language steeped in the commonplace associations of the nursery, the inn, the stable, and the street.  The answer then was the same as the answer now.  The only kind of sanctity which scripture can lose (or, at least, New Testament scripture) by being modernised is an accidental kind which it never had for its writers or its earliest readers. 

. . . The truth is that if we are to have translation at all we must have periodical re-translation.  There is no such thing as translating a book into another language once and for all, for a language is a changing thing.  If your son is to have clothes it is no good buying him a suit once and for all: he will grow out of it and have to be re-clothed.

2)      The common language of the Bible is as shocking as the Incarnation.

Does this [the common language of the Bible] shock us? It ought not to, except as the Incarnation itself ought to shock us.  The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic, and unliterary language. If you can stomach the one, you can stomach the other. 

3)      The Pauline Epistles are essential to Christianity.

For a man who wants to make that discovery [of Christianity] must face the epistles. And whether we like it or not, most of them are by St. Paul. He is the Christian author whom no one can by-pass.

4)      The misconception about Paul is untenable.

A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St. Paul.  It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the gospels) and that St. Paul afterwards corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the epistles).  This is really quite untenable.

5)      The letters are really a working out of the Gospel.

All the most terrifying texts came from the mouth of our Lord: all the texts on which we can be saved come from St. Paul.  It if could be proved that St. Paul altered the teaching of the Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed.  But there is no real evidence for a pre-Pauline doctrine different from St. Paul’s. The epistles are, for the most part, the earliest Christian documents we posses. The Gospels come later.  They are not “the gospel”, the statement of Christian belief.  They were written for those who had already been converted, who had already accepted “the gospel”. . . God’s act (the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection) comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in the epistles: then when the generation who had known the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide for believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord’s sayings.

6)      The attack on Paul and his writings is staging for an attack on Christ and His Identity.

The ordinary popular conception has put everything upside down. Nor is the cause far to seek.  In the earlier history of every rebellion there is a stage at which you do not yet attack the King in person. You say, “The King is all right.  It is his Ministers who are wrong.  They misrepresent him and corrupt his plans –  which, I’m sure, are good plans if only the Ministers would let them take effect.”  And the first victory consists in beheading a few Ministers: only at a later stage do you go on and behead the King himself.  In the same way, the nineteenth century attack on St. Paul was really only a stage in a revolt against Christ.  Men were not ready in large numbers to attack Christ himself.  They made the normal first move – that of attacking one of his principle ministers.  Everything they disliked in Christianity was therefore attributed to St. Paul.  It was unfortunate that their case could not impress anyone who had really read the Gospels and the Epistles with attention: but apparently few people had, and so the first victory was won.  St. Paul was impeached and banished and the world went on to the next step – the attack on the King Himself.  But to those who wish to know that St. Paul and his fellow-teachers really said the present volume will give very great help.

C.S. Lewis

A Lesson from the World’s Greatest Sunday School Teacher


My Grandmother Blackmon was once nominated for  a similar title, and could share this honor with countless others. Fewer still are the individuals who could call themselves a Mom, Sunday School Teacher and a Nurse (though there are many I am sure). On this Nurses’ Day, I share some of her words.
My ‘Granny Blackmon’ went back to school at Holmes Community College in order to become a LPN because she simply loved serving and caring for people. I have, in my possession, a little white Gideon’s New Testament that she kept with her on the job. In the little tome is her name, specific scriptures she wrote in the covers for prayer needs and verses to lead others to Salvation. Also intermingled in the pages are prayer lists of patients and their needs, spiritual and physical. In the back cover she wrote this:

Believers in Jesus Christ Walking in the Spirit, will never die early.
True – they may die young. Some of God’s choicest servants died young – But never early!
God decides.
Why haven’t you died yet? God left you on this earth to spread the Gospel, to encourage other believers, to be a blessing,
To Minister.

Thank you Granny for your obedience and ministering even after your earthly pilgrimage.

Take up and Read. Getting in to the Bible in 2012.

The above title is a reference to the conversion of Augustine. Upon hearing this simple phrase, he turned to the book of Romans and was soundly converted.  There is no doubt about the sheer power of the Word.  Because of this, it is imperative that we too would daily, “take up and read.”

[His] word illuminates where our feet tread and gives light for each step of the way (Psalm 119:105 JRB).  When I was a high school student sitting in my pastor’s study, he pulled a small clay oil lamp modeled after the Biblical period from his desk and handed to me.  He pointed out that this is the image the Psalmist had in mind when the Spirit stirred him to write these words.  One cannot see much in an utterly dark place with such a lamp. This teaches us dependence upon the Word.  We cannot, nor perhaps should we, try to look all along the path – we need the light for today and we need His word for today.

With all of this in mind as we begin 2012 I offer encouragement and some helps to guide you through the Word this year.  15 – 20 minutes a day will get you through the Bible this year with some time to spare.  Bear in mind though, the Bible getting through you is more important than just getting through the Bible. However, in my experience, I have been immensely blessed by the recall that I have an opportunity for when I am daily in the word.

Apps:

Whether you have a Droid or Iphone there are several great free apps of the Bible that will not only include the text but additional tools:

Logos

ESV (perhaps the most attractive and easy to use)

YouVersion 

Kindle/Ebook

The text of the Holman Christian Standard Version and the English Standard Version are available for FREE!

Holman Christian Standard

English Standard Version

Helps:

A sight that is extremely helpful in Bible study and in daily reading is BibleGateway.com.

The ESV Bible has many resources online, some pay, some free.

Bible Plans:

You may want to do something as simple as just read through the Bible. However, if you have tried before and left Joseph in a pit or got half way through what not to wear in Leviticus, then I advise you to get a plan.

You may want to try something as simple as: Read 2 Old Testament books, then 1 New Testament book. Example: Genesis and Exodus then Matthew, etc.

Or, a more detailed plan may be more helpful for you.  I have done all the above.

Here are some great plans:

And Old Classic is the M’Cheyne Plan.

If you would like to read from the Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms each day, here is a plan that will take you through the Old Testament once and twice through Psalms and the New Testament.

You may wish to read the Bible Chronologically

I have done all the above, plus reading straight through.  You can read the entire Bible in as little as 3 months if you read 10 – 12 chapters a day.

Again, the ESV has several more plans here.

Whatever you do, commit yourself to the Word this year. Now, take up and read!

The Voice and the Void

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word
of Christ. –
Romans 10:17

 

66%* of American Christians never or rarely read their Bibles.  This heart breaking number is enough to alert us to this reality: The Reformation (among 21st century American Christians) has practically failed. Today, 494 years after a learned German monk posted his disputations regarding indulgences and the lack of access to the gospel upon the public church door of the Castle Church in the University town of Wittenburg, Germany is a good time to ask if those concerns have been assuaged.  The “formal cause” of the Reformation was the question of the authority of Scripture alone.  This was the heartbeat of the Protestant Reformation: that the Word of God be made available in the vernacular tongue of the people at large, so that they might have access to the Gospel.

Trevin Wax recently stated, “The Church is not a group of people who enjoy the Bible as a hobby.”And we treat it that way, don’t we?  We like to think of the Bible as a collection of sayings to help us or to entertain us, or we like to buy expensive prints of certain verses to adorn our walls – we like to debate about it, we like to have many versions, and different covers – but what good does any of this do if we never read it?

One of the simplest songs kids learn in church at Vacation Bible School simply goes like this: “The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me! I stand alone on the word of God, The B-I-B-L-E.”  Yet, many of these very same kids have multiple Bibles that were given to them for special occasions that are collecting dust or still are in their original boxes, gold leaf untarnished.  One of the saddest realities in our churches today is that the majority of people in church rarely actually read the Word of God for themselves, even though it has been translated time and time again in many different fashions just to be more readable and accessible.  Most have forgotten that there was a day when the Bible was neither available nor accessible to a non-priestly, non-scholarly class. That issue alone was enough to drive many Reformers to hiding, and caused them to be persecuted, burned, and strangled.  Further still from our minds is the fact that there are many people groups around the world still literally dying without the Word of God in their hands – let alone their hearts.

A few weeks ago, I attended Catalyst conference in Atlanta.  During this conference I was given two New Testaments.  The first was the Voice, a new work not yet released with the Old Testament, that is intended to make the Bible more accessible to an over stimulated, visually sensitive and art drenched generation.  This is admirable, as there is something to the Reformation heartbeat in regards to the generational vernacular at work here.  Many scholars, poets, pastors, and artists worked painstakingly to produce an almost lyrical work.  As fascinated as I was as a Biblical languages nerd with this volume, I was forced sober with the second New Testament I was given.  It looked much like something you would give a high school graduate with its burgundy bonded leather cover and gold leaf title “Holy Bible”, but when you flip through the leaves to find John 3:16, it’s not there.  Neither is the book of John.  Nor the letters of Paul, including Romans! Or even the one single page of the book of Jude. No, it was entirely blank.  And this is what the Bible looks like for millions of people in the world.  Millions of people we have been instructed to
preach the gospel to. Millions of people who have no hope.

As I held this volume, I had to think again about the other volume I held.  I do not disparage the publication of the Voice in particular, because if I did, then I might have to ask myself how I also feel about the recent updates of the New International Version, the Holman Christian Standard, or even the one that will eventually come for my beloved English Standard Version. This eclipse is coming full shadow today by the news that HarperCollins has now acquired Thomas Nelson Publishers (they already own Zondervan).  This means that this humongous publishing house now owns fifty percent of Evangelical Christian publishing – that includes Bibles.  Is there greed in the Bible Publishing industry? Absolutely. That reality alone should probably cause us to immediately shut down the printing presses and think twice about how many Bibles we should purchase this year, but it won’t. The question at stake here should pierce our hearts as deep as a two-edged sword: Do we really need another English Bible, with all the production, publication and promotion costs that entails, while the American Church is satisfied to place it on the shelves next to all the others while thousands of people groups do not have a single syllable of the word of God in their heart language? The
Bible brings life, and for every day that passes, enough people to fill 16 Boeing 747s die without hearing the Gospel in their own language. More than the population of the United States lives daily with the reality that they will slip into hell, without receiving the word. More than 2,000 distinct languages have not a single verse of scripture in their native tongue. *

One time after a backyard Bible club in college where I had spoken, I was proud of my little leather strap Bible that fit snuggly in my back jeans pocket.  As we were playing games with the kids one little boy ran up to me and tugged on my shirt sleeve.  He asked me, “How many Bibles do you have?” I thought of the many translations, various editions, paraphrases, and collectible volumes on my shelf, and instead of producing a number I said, “several”. He asked, “Can I have that one in your pocket?” Then I (at the time reluctantly) reached in my back pocket – ironically, where my wallet usually went – and gave the volume to a smiling kid.

If we believe everything we say we believe about the Bible, then do we not think that we ought to get it into the hands of those who do not have it?

Perhaps we should hear and heed once more the lyrics of an old Fanny Crosby Hymn:

“Millions grope in darkness waiting for Thy Word, set my soul afire Lord, set my soul afire.”

* These numbers can be found here: OneVerse http://www.oneverse.org/, and are made available by the Seed Company, a ministry partnered with several groups, including the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their mission is to complete the task of seeing the gospel translated into the language of the peoples of the earth who do not have the life-giving word of God in their language.

Get the Picture?

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,  2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,  3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,

Luke 1:1-3

I get a lot of questions, and one question I get often is: Why four gospels?  The ever present follow up question is: Why are they (seemingly) different?  We, in our 21st century Western mindset have lost a great deal of framework in understanding what type of writing the “gospels” are.  I recently in an oversimplified fashion answered this question in a sermon and hope it may be found helpful.

If we can think of the gospel writers kind of like photographers, we may think about them this way:

Today we live in a crazy day where people have cameras on their phones already  in their hands or in their pockets and they can take a quick snap shot. If you want to think about one of the gospel writers as one of these guys with one of these phones who wants to take a quick snap shot, and he may then tweet the picture, email it, put it on his blog or facebook for quick distribution, then that guy would be Mark.

If you are thinking about a family portrait, by a person who takes the picture so it can be placed on a mantel so everybody can see, and he helps us to know who these people are, who they were, what they were doing, and why grandma and grandpa did what they did and why they were there then that would be Matthew.

And then, you have John.  John comes way out of left field, and he wants you to feel what you are looking at, he doesn’t even bother to take out his camera; he paints a picture in beautiful broad strokes and colors, and includes details that nobody else does so you can really get the story from the point of view that John is trying to paint.

And then there is Luke, and Luke when he takes a picture,  he does it with precision,  he has come to study, he has brought his biggest camera with his biggest telephoto lense. He takes this panoramic picture, he wants you to take it all in and get this complete composite you are viewing.

Another thing about photographers is that they do not all take pictures of the same things.  This is also true for the gospel writers.

Each gospel photo-album, though different is still an accurate and true representation of the whole picture.