More Than Entertainment

June 22, 2018

Speeches can be divided into two categories. Some speeches are given merely to entertain. When heard, they are in a sense consumed at that moment. Nothing lasting is expected from them. The after-dinner speech is a good example of this type. We enjoy it, but nothing further is expected from us as listeners.

The second kind of speech is the one that intends to make a lasting impression. This speech is designed to inform or motivate the listener. The lecture of a teacher is a good example of this type. The final exam always involves more than simply: were you there when the lecture was given.

It is perilous for the listener when he confuses the second kind of speech with the first. Merely consuming and enjoying a lesson intended to inform or motivate is to fail as a listener. The consequences depend on what kinds of lessons are being ignored.

Such was the situation in the days of Ezekiel. He ministered to the Jews in captivity in the years before and after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The people enjoyed hearing him, but they were approaching his words in the wrong way. God says to Ezekiel:

As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. Ezekiel 33:30–32, ESV

The people could give Ezekiel compliments for the enjoyment of his lessons, but they failed as listeners. They failed to put into practice God’s message.

This raises an interesting question for the church. The goal of those who teach and preach is in the words of Peter: “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, ESV). The goal for teachers and preachers is to present the content God’s message not their own. The question we must ask is: can we fall into the same trap as the people of Ezekiel’s day? Can we view those who speak to us as “singers of beautiful songs” and then fail to be doers of the word we have heard (see James 1:22-25)? Each must search his own heart, but the message from the book of Ezekiel is clear. As listeners, hearing God’s word must be more than entertainment.


Better than Silver and Gold

May 4, 2018

With so many English Bible translations to choose from, we may be under the impression that everyone in the world has easy access to the Bible in their own language. However, that is not the case. Statistics from the Wycliffe Bible Translators put this in perspective. There are about 7000 languages known to be in use today. More than 1,500 languages have the New Testament and some portion of the Bible in their language. More than 650 languages have a complete Bible in their language. More than 2,500 languages across 170 countries have active Bible translation projects for their language. Approximately 1600 languages still need a Bible translation project to begin. At least 1.5 billion people do not have a complete Bible in their first language. More than 110 million do not have a single verse of the Bible in their language.*

English speaking people are fortunate from the standpoint of history. In the 1300s if an Englishman wanted to read the Bible, he needed to know Greek, Hebrew, or Latin. The first English Bible was that of John Wycliffe in 1382. But translators had a great resistance to overcome, because the mood of religious leaders of the day was that the Bible should not be in the common language of the people. As a matter of fact, the Council of Constance in 1415 angered at Wycliffe order his body to be disinterred, burned, and his ashes thrown into the river Swift.

The first printed English Bible was published in 1525 and was the work of William Tyndale. In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a dispute with a learned man is given in which the man argued that it would be better to be without God’s law than the Pope’s. Tyndale is said to have replied: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” But due to opposition, Tyndale had to flee England to do his work. The first printed English Bible was published in Germany and had to be smuggled into England in bales of cloth. Tyndale was later betrayed, tried for heresy, and executed in 1536.

The easy availability of the Bible in English is a blessing that is easy to take for granted. However, history testifies to the fact that some have risked and given their lives so that we may have it, and others must still wait for it to be given in their own language.

May we cultivate the attitude of the Psalmist: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalms 119:72, ESV). Have you read your Bible recently? Having and reading the Bible is better than silver and gold.

*https://www.wycliffe.org/about/why


Suggestions for Public Scripture Reading

February 23, 2018

The basis for the public reading of scripture in our assemblies can be found in the New Testament. Timothy, an evangelist in Ephesus, is instructed by Paul: “Until I come, continue to devote yourself to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Most modern translations render reading as public reading. Although the word can mean either private or public reading, the public nature of the other two items in the series, exhortation and teaching, would cause us to think of the assembly. Other passages also indicate a public reading of the word (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and Revelation 1:3).

The public reading of God’s word underscores its authority. It also gives opportunity for us to hear the message of scripture. Yet it must be done well. If we do it poorly, the hidden message may be that this is unimportant–the exact opposite of what we want to convey. Let me make some suggestions for public reading to help us achieve excellence.

  • Select a unit of thought to be read. Remember chapter and verse numbers are the later addition of editors. They may not always help in selecting a unit of thought. The reader may need to give some context to help the listeners. The goal is that the scripture selected will convey the same message to the listeners as if they had read it in context for themselves. (Most of the time for us, the passage is selected to go with the preaching text. If you want to know the passage prior to Sunday, let me know.)
  • Check for pronunciation and words you may not understand. A Bible dictionary can aid you in the pronunciation of Bible names, so can the book, That’s Easy for You to Say: Your Quick Guide to Pronouncing Bible Names. The web sites, biblespeak.org and thebibleworkshop.com, provide audio pronunciations of some Bible names. An app called Biblical Pronunciation is also available for Android and iOS. Some Bible names have multiple acceptable pronunciations. But nothing hurts a public reading like stumbling over the pronunciation of unfamiliar words and names.
  • Watch for problems that may arise in public reading that might confuse the sense. Failing to pause at the right place or pausing in the wrong place may confuse the listener. Consider the example Luke 2:16: “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (NRSV). If the reader fails to pause at the comma, it will end up sounding as if all three — Mary, Joseph, and the child — are in the manger.
  • Find the author’s meaning, place the stress and emphasis on the main point.
  • Read more slowly than you might speak but be willing to vary the speed and pitch to fit the tone of the reading. I once heard a comparison of audio books made by Audible.com with amateur produced audio books. The speed and pitch of the Audible books were well modulated. The amateur books sounded flat in comparison. And this difference effects the listener’s ability to pay attention and comprehend. No, I’m not expecting us to become professional readers, but it is something at which most of us can do better.
  • Communicate the emotion and tone of the passage with your voice if possible. Is there joy? Is there anger? Is there sarcasm? Is there humor?
  • Practice reading the passage aloud.

The Right Response to God’s Instructions: Psalm 119

February 16, 2018

When I arrived at my sister’s house, it was night. Rounding a curve in the street, I could see her house all lit up since it sits on a hill. The house had lights all the way around, so it was like a beacon. For me, the lights were welcoming. They were even helpful as I unloaded my luggage from the car. But I knew all those lights hadn’t been there on my previous visit, so I enquired about them. She said that there had been break-ins in her neighborhood, so she had the lights installed for security.

The same light can be welcoming or something that a person wants to avoid and hide from. It is the same light, but different responses to this light. Which brings us again to Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV). Even though the psalm presents this picture of God’s instructions as light for guidance, he also reflects the reality that it is not true for everyone. The author of Psalm 119 confesses he had gone astray (119:67, 119:176). He had returned and was now keeping God’s law, but there had been a time in his life when he was wandering in the wrong direction.

Besides the personal confession in Psalm 119, the psalmist also speaks of the wicked. “Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law” (Psalms 119:53, ESV). “Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law” (Psalms 119:61, ESV). God’s instructions have all the wonderful qualities that we looked at in the last article, but they require the right response from us. It is instructive to go through the psalm and ask: what kind of response is the psalmist making to God’s precepts? Here’s my list, and I’m going ahead and personalizing the list as ways I am responding even if it is a work in process.

  1. I feel reverence and awe for them because of who God is. 119:120, 119:161
  2. I diligently keep them. 119:4
  3. I remember them (119:11, 119:15) and meditate on them. 119:153, 119:176
  4. I delight in them (119:14) because they are more valuable than riches (119:35, 119:47, 119:72), better than money (119:103), and sweeter than honey (119:143, 119:174).</;i?
  5. I seek them as my counselors. 119:24
  6. I hope in them. 119:43
  7. I am comforted by them. 119:52
  8. I am blessed by them. 119:56
  9. I love them. 119:97, 119:119, 119:163, 119:165, 119:167
  10. I count them as my forever heritage/inheritance. 119:111
  11. I rejoice in them like someone finding a treasure (i.e., plunder). 119:162
  12. I am helped by them. 119:175

I’ve looked at Psalm 119 in four articles to tell my journey of moving beyond a few favorite verses to a deeper appreciation for this psalm.* I used some inductive questions to reflect on the psalm: What do I learn about the author and circumstances? What are his petitions? What does he say about God’s instructions? How does he respond to God’s instructions? Answering those questions and meditating on the psalm brings a deeper appreciation. God’s word can indeed be a light for my path, but for it to bring guidance, I must have the right response to God’s instructions.

*The articles in order are:


Characteristics of God’s Instructions in Psalm 119

February 9, 2018

When I think of Psalm 119, verse 105 certainly comes to mind: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105, ESV). The psalm emphasizes the importance of God’s instructions by the use of Torah (law) along with seven synonyms. One of those eight words will be in every verse except for four verses, but the psalmist compensates for these omissions by using two of these words in five verses. The emphasis is clear.

But how do I get beyond just underlining Psalm 119:105 or couple of other favorites? I never really appreciated the psalm as I should until I did an inductive study of it. I took a few simple questions and recorded my findings. I’ve already written about learning what I could about the author and his circumstances and noting his petitions to God. He has clearly telegraphed in the psalm by his use of law and its synonyms that a major theme is God’s instructions. So it is helpful to go through the psalm and record all that he says about God’s instructions. Here’s my list, but it is a project worth doing for yourself.

  1. God’s instructions are righteous. 119:7, 119:62, 119:75, 119:106, 119:137, 119:144, 119:160, 119:164, 119:172
  2. God’s instructions give life. 119:25, 119:37, 119:50
  3. God’s instructions are good. 119:39, 119:68
  4. God’s instructions are saving. 119:41
  5. God’s instructions are true. 119:43, 119:142, 119:151, 119:160
  6. God’s instructions teach good judgment, knowledge, and wisdom. 119:66, 119:98
  7. God’s instructions are sure, trustworthy. 119:86
  8. God’s instructions endure. 119:89, 119:152
  9. God’s instructions are broad. 119:96 How do we understand the word broad or wide in this verse? One approach is found in the NET: “I realize that everything has its limits, but your commands are beyond full comprehension.” Obviously, we get a clue from the contrast. Another approach is to compare limits to something that is boundless.
  10. God’s instructions are a light for your path. 119:105
  11. God’s instructions are wonderful. 119:129
  12. God’s instructions (in this case, promises) are tested. 119:140

These are the conclusions of a reader who has spent time in God’s word. I agree with his conclusions as someone who has also spent time in God’s word. The Bible is an amazing library that has a unified message despite the fact that it spans 3600 years, 40 some authors, three languages, and three continents. It contains predictive prophecy. In the places where it can be tested by history and archaeology it has been found reliable. We have sufficient manuscript evidence to believe we have reliable manuscripts. It has a message that makes profound sense of the human predicament, and its practice seems to produce the best in its followers.

If you are not convinced, I invite you to read and see. Investigate! Maybe you too will become convinced of the characteristics of God’s instructions in Psalm 119.


Plan to Read the Bible

December 29, 2017

The Bible is a big book—really a library of books. Although I have valued Bible reading since I was a teenager, I’ve never succeeded at it without some sort of plan. The plan could be very simple. I will read a section of scripture before I go to bed. The plan could be more involved—I will read the Bible through in a year. The plan should fit you.

  1. Choose a translation that you are comfortable reading. Translations fall into two categories: formal equivalent (e.g., KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, ESV) and functional equivalent (e.g., NIV, Easy-to-Read, NET, CSB). Formal equivalence attempts to match the forms of the original language as closely as possible in the receptor language. Functional equivalence attempts to achieve the same effect on the reader. Formal equivalent translations usually have a reading level of 8th to 12th grades and are harder to understand. Functional equivalent translations may have a reading level of 3rd to 8th grades, but leave more opportunities for bias from the translator. My advice would be start with the ESV or NKJV which have lower reading levels (about 8th grade) than the NASB or KJV (about 10-12th grades) and see how it goes. If you are having difficulty with comprehension, then switching to something like the NET, CSB, or NIV makes sense (about 7th grade). For people still having difficulty, the New Century Version or God’s Word have even lower reading levels (about 3rd to 5th) .
  2. Personalize your plan. Reading through the Bible in a year is a wonderful goal, but maybe that isn’t the proper starting place for you. My first time through the New Testament was without a time goal involved—I just set as a goal reading through the New Testament, and kept at it until I was finished. Reading through the New Testament in a year takes about five minutes a day. The next thing I did was read through the narrative portions of the Old Testament (Law and History), which gives you the basic story of the Bible.
  3. Listening may be a great alternative. Some people have difficulty sitting still to read. God needs action-oriented people too. Maybe you should consider listening to the Bible on mp3 files or CDs as you drive or do other activities. The YouVersion Bible app has audio Bibles for free as do some others. If you want CDs, local bookstores or Christianbook.com are sources for these.
  4. Define success. If success is defined as reading a particular portion of scripture on a particular day, then I’m a failure, although I’ve been reading the Bible through in a year for decades. I claim to be a regular Bible reading but not always a daily reader. Expect to get behind and have to play catch up. Get ahead if possible. If your goal is more knowledge of the Bible, then skimming or skipping a section may allow you to keep going. How many people have gotten bogged down in the first seven chapters of Leviticus (sacrificial laws) or the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles (genealogies)?
  5. Add variety and scope. If you succeed in reading the New Testament, then go on to read other portions of the Bible. Maybe you will work up to reading the entire Bible through in a year. I like reading guides that provide an Old Testament and New Testament readings on the same day for variety. I’ve also used different translations for variety.
  6. Do it. If you have come up with a personal plan, then the next step is doing it. As in forming any new habit, it takes time and you will have setbacks, but if you keep at it, reading the Bible brings many rewards.

Barriers to Bible Reading

October 5, 2017

The American Bible Society did a poll in 2013 where they found that 88 percent of respondents own a Bible, 80 percent think it is sacred, 61 percent wished they read it more, and the average household had 4.4 Bibles.

Lifeway did a survey to find out how much of the Bible people had read. Clearly from the pie chart, 53% have read very little of the Bible.

How much bible read

Biblica, the Bible society which owns the copyright of the NIV, did a survey to find out why Bible reading is down. They discovered three barriers to Bible reading. People read the Bible in fragments, a-historically, and in isolation.

In fragments means that people are reading verses rather than reading the larger units of thought: sentences, paragraphs, and books. Chapter and verse divisions did not come from the authors of the biblical books. Chapter divisions date from about the 13th century and verse divisions from the 16th century. My advice to readers is to ignore them in reading. Yes, they are helpful for finding things, but they do not show units of thought and sometimes arbitrarily break up units of thought.

My advice to beginning readers is to read a book of the Bible all the way through. I always suggest beginning with the gospels, then Acts and the epistles. In the Old Testament, reading through the historical narratives is of first importance: Genesis through Esther.

A-historical reading means the reader does not know where the book fits in history. Each book of the Bible is a piece of a larger story, and we need to know where it fits in this larger story. A Bible dictionary or study Bible may help you with this historical context. Good reading always involves asking and answering the reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where, and why?

Finally, people struggle with reading because they are reading in isolation. I read the Bible in the context of being a part of a church family. Enlist someone to start a reading plan with you, so that you have mutual support. Use a Bible class as an opportunity to read your Bible outside of class so that you are ready for the class discussion. The community of believers is the place to receive encouragement to read our Bibles.