Our God Is Real!

October 30, 2015

What if you were given a school assignment on critical thinking? Your assignment is to review a list of statements and mark them as factual claim, common assertion, or opinion. Statements include things like George Washington was the first president and people who wear glasses are smart. But one statement arrests your attention: There is a God. How would you mark it?

According to a recent news report, a Texas middle-schooler was faced with this choice. She marked “There is a God” as fact. According to allegations, she was told that she would fail the assignment unless she changed her answer, because God is not real. What would you do?

Since the news story broke, the school district has released a statement saying that the assignment was intended to spur critical thinking and was not intended to question religious beliefs of students. They further admitted, “… still this does not excuse the fact that this ungraded activity was ill-conceived and because of that, its intent had been misconstrued.”

What do we make of this news story? I’m well aware that not everyone believes in God. Yet, I believe there is sufficient evidence to prove the existence of God. So is God a fact or not? A lot depends on our working definition for fact. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “a thing that is indisputably the case.” Obviously, a dispute does exist, and some people deny the existence of God. However, the Merriam-Webster 3rd Unabridged Dictionary states a fact is “something that has actual existence … the reality of events or things the actual occurrence or existence of which is to be determined by evidence.” Clearly English usage allows us to say that the existence of God is a fact even if it is a disputed fact.

What lessons do we learn from this news story? First, I’m reminded of Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 3:14-16:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14–16, ESV)

We need to be prepared to make a defense of our faith.

Second, we need to be willing to take a stand for our faith. Jesus warns us: “

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32–33, ESV)

Taking a stand for our faith is not optional. These two lessons are imperative because our God is real!

What Difference Does Creation Make?

October 26, 2015

Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli is a good basic Christian apologetics book. It provides twenty arguments for the existence of God, and as their subtitle says hundreds of answers to crucial questions. They have a footnote in the book on the importance of belief in creation.* What difference does it make to us if we believe in creation or not?

It makes a difference in our concept of God. If God is the creator of the universe, then certain things must follow. God is omnipotent, that is, he is all powerful or infinitely powerful. That last statement — infinitely powerful — needs to sink into modern minds. He must also be omniscient and infinitely wise. To create the universe includes its design, laws, and structures. Scientists are beginning to realize how many parameters must be just so for life to exist. God is also a great artist. We see tremendous beauty in the world around us. God must also be generous. God is all-sufficient. He had no necessity to create. Creation is a gift.

It makes a difference in our view of nature. Science grew up in the theistic West, not the pantheistic East. The reasons are simple. The Judeo-Christian view of God means that the universe is intelligible and orderly. We can observe, experiment, and understand. This view of creation also means that the universe is real. You may be taking that for granted, but Hinduism teaches that the world around us is an illusion perceived by an unenlightened consciousness. The Bible’s view of creation also means that the material world is good. Yes, there is moral evil in it, but the material world is to be enjoyed with thanksgiving being the creation of a good God.

It makes a difference in our concept of what it means to be human. If we are God’s creation, we owe our existence to him. We have no rights over against God; God has rights over us. That’s a humbling position, which is why human beings sometimes resist it. But this view of ourselves also means that our lives have meaning and purpose. If everything has evolved by blind chance, then there is no absolute meaning. Further, if God is our creator, then we owe God everything. Nothing is our own. We are obligated to use everything that we have in a way that will glorify him.

As Kreeft and Tacelli write, “No idea in the history of human thought has ever made more difference than the idea of Creation.”*

*Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 105–106.

Listening to the Bible

October 16, 2015

I want the Bible to be a regular part of our lives, yet some have a struggle reading. It may be that when they sit down to read, they fall asleep. It may be they have difficulty reading. It may be that they are just more action oriented and have trouble settling down with a book.

God has always intended scriptures to be heard as well as read. The Law of Moses specified that the law was to be read in the hearing of the people every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:10-11). Ezra read aloud the law to the people who came out of Babylonian captivity (Nehemiah 8). Paul wanted his letters read to the churches (Colossians 4:16 and 1Thessalonians 5:27), and Revelation has a blessing on the one who hears the book read (Revelation 1:3). Here are some resources for finding audio Bibles.

Online — biblegateway.com

BibleGateway has a number of audio Bible translations available: ESV, NASB, KJV, NIV, etc. They also have audio Bibles in a number of languages including Spanish. Cost: Free.

Apps (Android and iOS)
Bible.is (produced by faithcomesbyhearing.org) Multiple audio Bible translations are available as well as multiple languages including Spanish. The app allows for audio Bibles to be downloaded to the device so that the user isn’t streaming from the Internet. Cost: Free.

Bible (YouVersion by LifeChurch.tv). Multiple audio Bible translations are available as well as multiple languages including Spanish. The app allows Bible texts to be downloaded, but the audio must stream from the Internet. The app allows the user to vary the speed of the recording. Multiple reading plans are available. Cost: Free.

ESV Bible (by Crossway). The app provides the ESV text for free. The text is downloaded to your device, but the audio Bible must stream from the Internet. The app allows the user to vary the speed of the recording. Multiple reading plans are available. Cost: Free.

Logos (from FaithLife). The app is free, the ESV audio Bible is free, but the ESV text is $9.99. The audio Bible streams from the Internet. The app allows the user to vary the speed of the recording. Multiple reading plans are available.

Downloaded Audio Files
Audible has a number of Bible translations available in their audible book collection (audible.com). mp3 audio file downloads of the Bible can be found at a number of places. Here’s two suggestions.

ESV at Crossway.org

Bibles read by Max MacLean (multiple translations available)

The Bible on CDs
Cassette tapes have gone the way of the VCR. You may find some Bible tapes around used, but they would be difficult to impossible to find new. Even audio CDs are giving way to CDs in mp3 format. The reason for this is simple. The mp3 format takes less space, so the entire Bible can be placed on about 7 CDs versus 64 CDs in the standard CD audio format. This means there will be a big cost difference between these two formats ($35 for mp3 CDs and about $70 for standard audio format CDs). Most modern CD players will also play CDs in the mp3 format, but check your device to make certain. Audio Bibles on CDs can easily be found for the KJV, ESV, and NIV. They can usually be found at our local bookstores as well as online places like Amazon.com and Christianbooks.com.

Of the various audio Bible formats available, those online and in apps are easier to navigate to particular books and chapters. With mp3 and CD Bibles the track names are often not helpful in finding a particular Bible location. They may however be easier for some users, and if you are listening through the entire Old Testament or New Testament, the navigation issue may not be a problem.

Some people like to listen to the Bible as they do other things (like doing chores or driving to work). Others enjoy listening to the Bible with the text in front of them. Regardless, recordings of the Bible are a great way of immersing ourselves in the Word. Given all the things that we listen to in our world, maybe it’s time for us to include listening to the Bible.

The Problem of the Fourth Day

September 18, 2015

The fourth day of creation in Genesis 1 raises a question. How do you have day and night before you have the sun and moon? Howard J. Van Till in his book, The Fourth Day, would basically say that you can’t. As an astronomer, he begins with natural processes and concludes that Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally. Instead, Van Till thinks the chapter is a literary picture of God as a craftsman going about his work week. He believes that God is the creator, but he can’t take Genesis 1 literally.

Others suggest that the sun and moon were created on Day 1. That what is happening on Day 4 is the appearance of the sun and moon from the vantage point of the earth’s surface and their appointment to the task of marking seasons, days, and years. The NLT captures this interpretation: “Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years” (Genesis 1:14, NLT). Questions arise as to how natural this translation is, and whether the approach violates the overall symmetry of the account.

I have to admit I was troubled by this question as a young man. But I wonder whether we are buying into a presupposition of natural processes that is not fair to the narrative. God is the one who begins the natural processes, but he does so by supernatural act. What do I mean by this?

Umberto Cassuto, a Jewish commentator, approaches the question like this:

… so throughout those first three days God caused light to shine upon the earth from some other source without recourse to the sun; but when He created the luminaries He handed over to them the task of separation, that is, He commanded that the one should serve by day and the others should serve at night, and thus they would all become signs for distinguishing the two periods of time.1

Others have made this same suggestion. There is nothing unreasonable about this interpretation (except to materialists and the media) once you begin with an omnipotent God. The question then becomes somewhat like complaining that Jesus didn’t use vineyards in turning water into wine. But that is the point. He didn’t use natural processes; he performed a miracle. God created the natural processes and an orderly creation, so that science is possible. But he started with a supernatural act.

Is our too small of view of the omnipotence of God the problem of the fourth day?

1Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: from Adam to Noah, p. 38.

Yes, There’s Poetry

September 12, 2015

I was reading the Bible with someone recently, when the reader said: “This looks like poetry.” We happened to be looking at a verse in Lamentations, so I replied, “Yes, Lamentations is a series of five poems that correspond to the five chapters of the book.” I could have said more. The poems are laments over the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The first four poems are acrostic poems. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 has each line begin with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which has twenty-two letters leading to twenty-two lines (or verses). Chapter 3 has each letter of the alphabet three times for a total of 66 lines.

Knowing when you are looking at poetry is helpful. It wasn’t until the publication of the RSV in 1952, that readers were alerted to all the poetry found in the Bible. Previous versions may have printed the psalms in poetic format, but the poetry of the Bible extends beyond the psalms. At least one-third of the Old Testament is in poetry.

Although meter and rhythm are a part of biblical poetry, they are a part that is difficult to reproduce in translation. The main characteristic, however, is parallelism which can be reproduced easily in translation. In 1750 Robert Lowth argued for three basic types of parallelism. The three types are synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic.

Synonymous parallelism means the second line repeats the meaning of the first line often matching it grammatically as well. More recent scholars have tweaked the idea of synonymous parallelism. They suggest that even in the repeating of an idea, there may be clarification of the idea in the second line. Antithetical parallelism means the two lines are saying the opposite, that is, the second line is providing a contrast. Synthetic parallelism occurs when the second line is adding ideas to the first.

Recognizing when you are reading poetry in the Bible is helpful. You will expect more imagery and figurative language in poetry. Knowing something of the structure of Hebrew poetry will also aid your understanding and appreciation of the Bible’s poetry.

When it comes to Bible reading, yes, there’s poetry.

The Library

September 4, 2015

The word Bible comes to us from the Greek word, biblos, which simply means book. Yet the Christian Bible is in reality a library of books. The ability to carry around this library in a bound format came with the advent of the codex. We would simply call the codex a book format, but this was the format that replaced the scroll and was introduced in the first century A.D. It’s compact size and capability to access pages randomly gave many advantages.

Sometimes I think it would be helpful to see the individual books of the Bible as separate books. They would seem far less intimidating. Most of the books of the Bible, if printed separately, would seem to be only pamphlet sized. Many books of the Bible could be read in an evening.

Since the Bible is a library of related books, we need to become familiar with the library to understand individual books in detail. The Bible covers a lengthy period of history. For example, the period from Abraham to Jesus is about 2000 years. It helps to get a handle on the major events and people of this narrative.

A convenient place to start is with Jesus and the gospels (Matthew through John). Adding the Book of Acts would then give you the narratives of the New Testament. The narrative portions of the Old Testament are found in Genesis through Esther. Many people get bogged down in the legal texts (think Leviticus) and genealogies. Genealogies have a function, and understanding that function is more important for the reader than the individual names. Although I believe every word is inspired, good readers sometimes skim as they attempt to see the big picture of what is going on. Careful reading needs to take place for these difficult texts, but I don’t want these texts to cause you to fail as a reader. After you have the flow of history then it is easier to begin on the remaining books.

We understand the Bible in the same way we understand any other book. We don’t understand a regular book by reading a passage here or there. We understand it by reading it all the way through and understanding it in context. The same is true for the books of the Bible.

When I run across a word in a book that I don’t understand, I look it up in a dictionary. The same is true for the Bible, and we even have specialized Bible dictionaries that are very helpful. When I don’t know where a place is, I will look it up on a map. That often makes what I’m reading more meaningful. When I’m puzzled by a cultural or historical reference, I try to find out more. This is actually reading 101 and doesn’t take a lot of reference books to accomplish. A lot can be done with a Bible dictionary and an atlas.

The Bible is meant to be understood by ordinary people. The reading skills needed are the skills that you have already used in reading other books. You just need to begin your exploration of this most important library.

The Value of Jesus

August 28, 2015

The aroma of very expensive ointment filled the house. While Jesus reclined at table, a woman had poured the ointment on Jesus’ head. It was a lavish gift. The anointing of a guest’s head with oil was customary, but not like this. The expense was extraordinary. One gospel placed the value of the ointment at 300 denarii – the pay of a common laborer for 300 days (Mark 14:5).

The objections came. It could have been sold and given to the poor. But Jesus said it was a beautiful thing. She had prepared Jesus for burial. We don’t usually sit at the dinner table, while the undertaker prepares us for our funeral. Jesus’ words would have struck them just as odd. The cross unspoken lingered like the aroma of the expensive ointment. Yet, he said to them that her deed would be told to the whole world wherever the gospel is proclaimed.

Judas, one of the Twelve, plotted with the religious leaders, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” The price was thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). The betrayal price set in motion the events that led to the cross. It was a large amount, but not nearly as large as the expensive ointment. How odd those thirty pieces of silver gained was a terrible loss, and “wasted,” expensive ointment was a wondrous gain!

It is as if the woman in the story said, “Jesus, I love you so much that I give you this ointment and so much more, I give you myself.”

It is as if Judas said, “Jesus, I don’t love you enough to pass up thirty pieces of silver.”

Two juxtaposed stories (Matthew 26:6-13, 26:14-16) both contain something of value. In both the valuable things say something about the participants and reveal spiritual priorities. Both stories foreshadow the cross.

Wherever these stories are told, an uncomfortable truth follows. We must make the same sort of decision. We will either be like the woman and say, “Jesus, I love you so much that I give you this and this and even my very life,” or we will be like Judas and say, “Jesus, I don’t love you enough to pass up this or that” as we name our price: jobs, family, possessions, pleasures, or thirty pieces of silver.

We all put a price tag on Jesus either to follow or reject. In your life, what’s the value of Jesus?


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