Thanksgiving Reflections

November 16, 2018

My Grandmother Holden was born in 1886 and died in 1972. Let me just list a few of the changes that came during her lifetime:

  • 1900 – Kodak introduced the Brownie camera. The US had 10 miles of paved roads and 8000 cars.
  • 1903 – First flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.
  • 1907 – First electric washing machine.
  • 1908 – The first Model-T by Ford.
  • 1909 – Plastic was invented.
  • 1913 – Henry Ford created the assembly line.
  • 1923 – Talking movies invented.
  • 1928 – Television was invented.
  • 1929 – Car radio was invented.
  • 1930 – Bringing electricity to rural America occurred from the 1930s to the 1950s!
  • 1932 – Air conditioning invented and scientists split the atom for the first time.
  • 1939 – First commercial flight over the Atlantic. The helicopter was invented.
  • 1942 – Although Penicillin was discovered in 1928, it did not become viable as a treatment until 1942.
  • 1945 – The first computer was built. The microwave oven was invented.
  • 1953 – DNA discovered.
  • 1960 – Lasers invented.
  • 1961 – First man in space.
  • 1967 – First heart transplant.
  • 1969 – Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
  • 1972 – Pocket calculators were introduced, and the first ones cost over $100.

Listening to older people, you hear stories of the past. None of us are that far removed from a very different time. They recall a time when people had furnaces that had to be stoked by hand, out-houses, horses and early motor cars with bad roads to name but a few items. An older generation lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They experienced rationing and a time before many modern conveniences we simply take for granted.

My kids had a hard time imagining such a time when listening to older relatives, and the truth was so did I. I like thermostats, in-door plumbing, and autos that start with a key or a button and have a heater and air conditioning. When we count our blessings, the difficulty may be to notice them. We take a great deal for granted. It is only as we begin to imagine a different time or place where those conveniences don’t exist, that we can begin to see the magnitude of what we have.

Having received much, let us be wise enough to give glory to God accepting our blessings with prayer and thanksgiving.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Bible Dictionary

November 9, 2018

A great deal of Bible study can be done with a few basic tools. As with any tool the questions are: what is it and what do I do with it? Let’s begin with every reader’s friend, the dictionary.

Through the years, I have asked people in classes and one-on-one Bible studies, “What does this word mean?” I have consistently received fuzzy to wrong answers, which is why I keep asking the question. When you run across a word that you don’t know, you may discern the general meaning of the passage by context. But you won’t really know what the word means until you look it up in a dictionary. Guessing rarely works well especially when the goal is understanding. I’m constantly looking up words.

A standard English dictionary has its place in Bible study. The Bible may have words that are not yet in your vocabulary, and the regular dictionary comes to the rescue. However, a standard English dictionary does have a limitation. It is defining what words mean now. As we read the Bible, we are wanting to know what the word meant at the time this passage was written. For example, the standard English definition will define baptism as sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or immersing them in water because that is the way the word is used in the religious world today.

The Bible dictionary helps by dealing with words in their biblical context and dealing with the specialized words and names of the Bible. What are some of the things you can look up in a Bible dictionary?

  • Words that you don’t know or are fuzzy on, e.g., propitiation, grace, justification, sanctification.
  • People. If there is more than one person by the name you have looked up, the dictionary will help distinguish them. It will give a survey of what the Bible says about this person. Some dictionaries give pronunciations.
  • Bible Places. It will give a description of what happened at this place and what we know about it, and it will describe its location.
  • Books of the Bible. It will provide basic information to the reader: author, date, destination, origin, and an overview of the book.

I would choose a newer dictionary over an older one, so that you have recent archaeological information. The venerable Smith’s Bible Dictionary published in 1863 has Dagon as a fish god. Archaeology has demonstrated he was a grain god. I would choose a dictionary written by conservative scholars (e.g., dictionaries from Holman, Nelson, and Zondervan). Check the preface for theological outlook of the editors and contributors. Dictionaries are also keyed to a particular translation, and some are cross referenced to several translations (like Nelson’s and Holman’s). The preface should let you know the translation on which the dictionary is based. Finally, remember that with all reference works, they must be tested by scripture itself. Bias that doesn’t match up with what the Bible actually says can be found in dictionaries as well as commentaries.


The Bible and Archaeology

November 2, 2018

Admittedly, archeology does not necessarily interest everyone, and some aspects of archaeology can be tedious, but many of the results of archaeology are exciting for the student of the Bible.

Backgrounds. Archaeology has helped us understand ancient customs and the background to certain passages. The Nuzi tablets, for example, contain marriage contacts which obligate a childless wife to give her husband a handmaid who would bear children for the couple. This helps us better understand the actions of Sarah in giving Hagar to Abraham (Genesis 16:1 ff.) and of Rachel in giving Bilhah to Jacob (Genesis 30:1-3). This doesn’t make the actions moral in the eyes of God, but they would have been viewed as socially acceptable for the time.

Translation. The meaning of the Hebrew word, pim, was unknown in 1611. The KJV translators conjectured from the context of 1 Samuel 13:21 that it mean “file.” The KJV reads, “Yet they had a file for the mattocks …” Archaeologists have found small weight stones in Palestine with the word pim on them. The name of the weight was evidently the expression of the price for sharpening the plowshares, making a pim about 2/3 of a shekel. The ESV taking advantage of what has been learned from archaeology has “… and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares…” (1 Samuel 13:21, ESV).

Defense. The criticism of alleged inaccuracies in scripture have been refuted by certain discoveries. For example, the Hittites were unknown outside the Old Testament, and many thought this was a case of an historical error in scripture until archaeologists discovered the Hittite city of Hattusas. Before the ivory finds in Samaria, some skepticism was expressed over the phrase “houses of ivory” in Amos 3:15. We now know that ivories were used either to adorn the walls as paneling or were inlaid in furniture. “Houses of ivory” were houses decorated with ivory not built out of ivory as archaeology has now shown. Amos knew what he was talking about.

Many more examples could be given to illustrate the importance of archaeology to Bible study. But archaeology reminds us that we are dealing with real people, places, and events.


The Discipline of Children

October 26, 2018

I’m now a grandfather. The raising of small children is in my past. I’m proud of our children who are both Christians and hardworking, productive people. So, I will venture to say a few things on what I’ve learned about disciplining children.

I have learned that sometimes a child acts up in order to gain attention. The way to fix that problem is give them the positive attention he or she is seeking. Of course, this means recognizing the problem in yourself that maybe you’ve been too busy.

I have learned that sometimes acting out has to do with stresses in the child’s life. We need to know what’s going on in our child’s life. We may have to sit and talk, ask questions and explore. Otherwise we are only treating one side of the problem and maybe making things worse. We are adding a stress rather than discovering and dealing with the stress. A problem at school can manifest itself with acting out at home, and vice versa.

I have learned to distinguish childish behavior from rebellious behavior. The latter received the greater punishments. By the way, I include lying with rebellious behavior. Part of our teaching, training, and disciplining children should results in a person who respects authority.

I have learned that children will try to divide and conquer, so it is important for Mom and Dad to be on the same page which means consulting one another.

I have learned to start small. The danger is that we will give a snap decision of a punishment that we will later decide is too severe, and then we will change our mind. Best to start small, and if the same infraction occurs, build slowly with greater punishment.

I have learned that children will test boundaries, but if you are inconsistent in your boundaries, the testing of those boundaries will be worse. I’ve seen children out in public that seem to push their parents buttons all the time. If you are always using anger to discipline your child, you are doing it wrong. The problem probably lies with your inconsistency.

I have learned that corrective discipline needs to be unpleasant, so we avoid repeating the offense. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, ESV). What works for one child may not for another.

Discipline is more than correction. We also teach our values and beliefs about God, and those values and beliefs need to be seen in our daily lives.

The goal is consistent, fair discipline, which involves knowing what is going on in your child’s life. This goal includes the positive sharing of values and beliefs. The reward is wonderful times and conversations with your adult children who are moral, spiritual, and responsible adults.


More than Chemistry

October 19, 2018

Two people fall in love. They find they have “chemistry.” Italian researchers have found that this “chemistry” is more than a metaphor. They studied 58 people who had recently fallen madly in love. These scientists from the University of Pavia found that the powerful emotions of new love are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF). Compared to a control group of singles and people in long term relationships, the newly in love had far higher levels of NGF.

But after one year, the couples who have stayed together find their levels of NGF dropping down to the same level as singles and couples in a long-term relationship. This chemistry may be important to bonding two people together, but this emotional high does not last. Although researchers can now point to a particular molecule, the wise have always known this truth from human experience.

Since the Bible teaches us to make a “till-death-do-us-part” commitment in marriage, we realize that such a commitment means going beyond the emotional high of new love. Marriage takes work. Couples must learn how to communicate. They must also learn how to resolve conflict. They must meet one another’s needs. Emotional ups and downs should be expected. The birth of children and living with teenagers often impacts marital satisfaction. Bills, illnesses, repairs, and crises are the stuff of life with which all of us must cope. The promise of “for better or for worse” should never be entered into lightly. Yet the vows speak of the reality of life.

The person who contemplates going beyond the boundaries of his or her marriage also needs to hear this warning. The emotional high will be short lived, but the consequences will last a life time and maybe even an eternity. God’s ways are truly what is best for us and our children.

Emotions can and do change. Researchers have found that couples who have a drop of feeling in love can change the direction of their relationship. If they begin to do again some of the things of courtship—they communicate, solve problems, and meet needs, then the feelings of love can return. It takes time. In fact, doing the right things must come first. The emotions will lag behind. The difference is caused by an initial lack of trust. Will this person disappoint me again? But as the couple works at the relationship, trust is rebuilt, and the relationship restored. Actually, it won’t be quite the way it was. Researchers have found that it can actually be better.

“Till death do us part” is God’s plan for marriage. The powerful emotions of falling in love are a part of the way God has made us. Yet, we all need to be reminded that marriage takes work. It must be more than chemistry.


Does God Exist?

October 12, 2018

To be human means to be aware of one’s existence and to have questions about existence. One of the basic questions involves God. Does God exist? Nine out of ten adults in our country believe in the existence of some kind of God. Two out of three adults would describe God as the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe. The remaining one-third is divided among those who say there is no God (1 in 10), those who believe that God has a different nature, and those who believe divinity is within them.

We each approach the task of answering that question in our own way. Some of us grow up believing in God. Yet child-like faith often goes in search for solid answers as an adult. Some are raised with skepticism, yet spiritual hunger leads to reexamination. What brings belief in God into focus may vary. Baxter told the story of a Russian scientist who reflected on a child’s ear as the child sat in his lap. That was the catalyst for concluding the universe needed a designer, and therefore, God exists. Whatever the catalyst may be for our thinking, we have two basic areas of evidence to examine: the world around us including human nature and the claims of religious texts. Has God revealed something about Himself in nature? Has God given a special revelation of Himself in words?

As we ponder our world, what is a sufficient cause for the universe? Either there is an eternal God or eternal matter. In a universe that is running down, it seems to take greater faith to believe in eternal matter with oscillating universes or multiverses than to believe in God, the Creator.

One hundred plus years after Charles Darwin, a new crop of scientists is questioning the sufficiency of chance and natural selection to explain life. Life is more complex than Darwin could imagine. Books like Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box open again the debate about a designer. Is it easier to believe in God, the Designer, or blind chance?

Human nature also argues for the existence of God. My sense of ought, of what is right, fair, and just, cries out for a standard by which such things can be measured. If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes. Yet, from a toddler’s cry, “It’s not fair!” to an adult’s struggle with ethical decisions, human nature seems to argue for a Moral Being, a first cause of morality.

The explanation for the Bible that seems to best fit the evidence is that God exists and that He has inspired it. The unity of the Bible seems beyond human achievement. The Bible anticipates findings of modern science. It contains predictive prophecy.

We must wrestle with the evidence from our world and from the Bible. It’s a very basic question about life. Do you believe God exists?


The Parable of $100,000

October 5, 2018

The Bible reader must be careful. The message must be properly understood and not distorted. Sometimes passages do need further enlightenment that will change our perspective. This may come from considering all that scripture says on a subject, allowing scripture to interpret scripture. It may arise from new insights gained from history, customs, geography, understanding literary forms, or the biblical languages.

Yet, there is also the danger that we will fail to understand and apply simply because we don’t like what it says—our own willfulness gets in the way. Maybe scripture challenges our beliefs and attitudes, and we shrink away. Søren Kierkegaard told a challenging little parable of $100,000:

Suppose that it was said in the New Testament—we can surely suppose it—that it is God’s will that every man should have 100,000 dollars: Do you think there would be any question of a commentary? Or would not everyone rather say, “It’s easy enough to understand, there’s no need of a commentary, let us for heaven’s sake keep clear of commentaries—they could perhaps make it doubtful whether it is really as it is written. (And with their help we even run the risk that it may become doubtful.) But we prefer it to be as it stands written there, so away will all commentaries!”

But what is found in the New Testament (about the narrow way, dying to the world, and so on) is not at all more difficult to understand than this matter of the 100,000 dollars. The difficulty lies elsewhere, in that it does not please us—and so we must have commentaries and professors and commentaries: for it is not a case of “risking” that it may become doubtful to us, for we really wish it to be doubtful, and we have a tiny hope that the commentaries may make it so.

Let us be careful readers and students of the Bible searching for the truth (see Acts 17:11). Yet, let us not protect our hearts from scripture’s rigorous demands, but allow it to challenge and change us. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NASB).