How Should We Read the Psalms?

The Bible is not just a book. It is relationship in words. God’s word to men and women, boys and girls. A living action between the almighty Creator of the universe and his most cherished creation: humanity. We do not understand Scripture unless we hear in it the divine-human dialogue.

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The Psalms prove this. In the beloved 150 songs and poems in the middle of the Bible, we witness not just God speaking to us, but the privilege we have of speaking to God. This is the essence of relationship: two parties interacting with each other. And what an interaction! The Psalms express the full range of states of the human heart:

How Should We Understand What the Prophets Had to Say?

It’s okay to be honest if you’re having difficulty understanding sections of the Bible. Remember, our difficulty understanding Scripture is not a problem. It is what you’d expect of a body of scriptures that speak into the complexities of human experience, and contain the high truth of a transcendent God. When we come to the Prophets, typically the questions that get asked are: What are they talking about? Is this about them or us? Is prophecy about the past or the future?

What Is Important About the Land of the Bible?

One of the ways we know that the truth of the Bible is rooted in reality is that the story of the Bible—the drama of God’s interaction with humanity—unfolds in a real place. This is a real God engaging with real people across a timeline that goes for thousands of years in a specific part of the world. The Bible is not detached philosophy. It tells us what happened (in history) so that we can understand what happens (in life).

A Prayer for When You Are Seriously Ill

Illness is not only distressing, but confusing. Many people have a hard time knowing what to pray when they are seriously ill. The Scriptures make it clear that God listens to the cries of our hearts when we are in distress (the Psalms especially demonstrate that). It is honoring to God whenever we talk to him. If you do not know what to pray when you are seriously ill, here is one possibility…

Dear God,

I hurt.

My body is not working like it used to. I do not like being weak. I do not like pain. I do not like uncertainty. Thank you for letting me tell you this.

How Should We Understand the Law?

Most people who start to read the Bible from the beginning for the first time will typically have this experience: Genesis is fascinating with the story of creation, Babel, the flood, and the epic stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The exodus story is gripping. And then comes the law. Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments are familiar. Next come the flurry of laws and stipulations, many of which are so far removed from our culture and hard to understand that the Bible reader can get bogged down. Mid-Leviticus, typically.

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What is “the law”? What is the purpose of the more than 600 regulations? And, very importantly, how much of this applies to our lives? Why do we believe that “You shall not commit adultery” in the Ten Commandments applies to us but “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” does not?

Peace – A Reading for the Fourth Week of Advent

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

— Luke 2:13-14

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Peace is a noble aspiration at any time, in times of war or in times of harmony. When you find yourself at odds with someone, or when you’re feeling pretty good about your relationships. When you feel in harmony with God, or when you feel a discord. It is always important to pursue peace.

What is the Big Picture of the Book of Beginnings?

If someone were to ask you to take as much time as you wanted to answer the question “Who are you?” you would start at the beginning. Your birth, your parents, your hometown, your ethnicity. To fully understand a person, a people, or a place today, you must go back to their beginnings.

That is why the Bible starts with “In the beginning.”

Genesis

Generations of believers have found the meaning and purpose of life—including its tragedies and triumphs—by reading Genesis, the book of beginnings. When we read Genesis we should see the larger part of the God-story in it. The book is not merely a sequence of events. It is a theology about God’s intention in creating humanity, about the dreadful corruption within humanity, and about God’s way of restoring humanity, beginning with one man and one tribe.

Joy – A Reading for the Third Week of Advent

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

- Luke 2:10-11

Great joy? Is it almost too much to hope for? Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? A nonstop buzz of Christmas lights and weary shoppers, boisterous television specials and pleading children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on the night that changed the world: “I bring you good news of great joy!”

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It was just another night of work in the field for the shepherds, with a chill in the air and the soft bleating of their flocks.

Love: A Reading for the Second Week of Advent

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

- Luke 2:4

Bethlehem was like any other town in the hills of Judea. And yet it was the birthplace of the greatest king of Israel, David, and one thousand years later, the Messiah.

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How does such an honor come to the ordinary? Were the people of this town particularly worthy? Was there some great strategic advantage to where it lay? Were the people of Bethlehem politically savvy, having a long history of producing great leaders? Not at all. The little town of Bethlehem was in the shadow of great Jerusalem just six miles to the north. Even the meaning of Bethlehem, “house of bread,” is unremarkable. 

How Should We Understand the Stories of the Old Testament?

When I was a boy, I was given a set of recordings of dramatized Bible stories, and they captivated my attention. They were well-produced audio narrations complete with sound effects like the clanking of swords, rushing waters, roaring lions, chariots, and nails being driven through Jesus’ hands. The stories lodged in my head as I listened to the recordings over and over.

It is common in Christian churches for children to be taught the Bible story by story. Then, somehow, we get the idea that as adults we can handle the higher truths we find in places like the epistles of the New Testament. But this is to miss the grand scheme of the Bible. The backbone of the Bible is story or narrative. If we look at the whole sweep of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, there is one grand story: the creation, the fall of humanity into sin and corruption, God’s efforts at redeeming humanity, and the final remaking of all things. This is the metanarrative of the Bible.

Book Picks for Christmas

Books are great Christmas gifts because when the right book is given at the right time, it can change a life.

Here are my book picks for this year. (In the interest of decorum, I won’t recommend my own books. Info about one is here.)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
When World War II began, Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete, became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. Now available in a young adult adaptation as well.

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life
by Eric Metaxas
What are miracles, and why do so many people believe in them? What do they tell us about ourselves? And what do we do with experiences that we cannot explain? In Miracles, Eric Metaxas offers compelling — sometimes electrifying — evidence that there’s something real to be reckoned with, whatever one has thought of the topic before. Miracles is also a timely, thoughtful, and civil answer to the books of the “New Atheists” — Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris — who have passionately asserted not just the impossibility of miracles and the supernatural, but the outright harmfulness of belief in them.

 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
by Eric Metaxas
As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer-a pastor and author. In this New York Times best-selling biography, Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life-the theologian and the spy-and draws them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil.

 

 
The Cross of Christ
by John Stott
The work of a lifetime, from one of the world’s most influential thinkers, about the heart of the Christian faith. “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. . . . In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” With compelling honesty John Stott confronts this generation with the centrality of the cross in God’s redemption of the world — a world now haunted by the memories of Auschwitz, the pain of oppression and the specter of nuclear war. Can we see triumph in tragedy, victory in shame? Why should an object of Roman distaste and Jewish disgust be the emblem of our worship and the axiom of our faith? And what does it mean for us today?

Hope: A Reading for the First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 30)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

- Isaiah 9:6-7

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In the Old Testament, some of the prophecies about Christ are mysterious statements. They were so bold and so large that they were treasured through the generations until they were fulfilled and finally understood. Isaiah’s oracle about a son who would be born–Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and all the rest–was one of those landmark prophecies. In that moment of inspiration, Isaiah revealed Jesus would be Mighty God.

Ideal December

My wife, Ingrid, and I were talking yesterday about how we might keep Christmas simple this year in order to focus on the things that really matter. (This, by the way, is a conversation we have every year, and sometimes it actually makes a difference!) The thing about festivals and holidays is that you have to be intentional about focussing on meaning and avoiding distraction. It doesn’t happen automatically.

My ideal December includes:

Together Again

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And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

It is an amazing sight when the General Assembly of the United Nations is gathered in the great hall in the UN building in New York. In the massive hall with giant wood panels, lofty ceiling,