Monday, January 27, 2014

My new favorite Bible reader

I really like my Logos Bible Software program. However, it is huge and can be slow. I don't think its the fault of my computer which is fairly robust. Whether or not I should, sometimes I still wonder about this, I do most of my Bible reading and essentially all of my Bible study electronically. I still use Logos but only when I need my commentary resources or need to copy and paste for presentations. I'm still using YouVersion to track my daily Bible reading plan. However, I am now using esvbible.org for my every day reading, prayer, and study. And I just discovered a feature I didn't know was there I wanted to let you know about. There are several reasons why I'm using this site now:

  • It runs no ads. I don't want someone trying to sell me something while I'm studying the bible. I get enough of that from everywhere else as it is.
  • It's fast. 
  • It's the ESV
  • It has Max McLean, my favorite reader of audible Bibles.
  • But my new favorite feature is reader mode. This defaults to no verse or chapter numbers. You can toggle this on and off but you may know that those were added to the scripture text much later to make things easier to find. However you they can get in the way. Crossway is releasing a new paper ESV like this soon, but the site will do it now.  
You can see how to go to the reader page below.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How Could a Good God Allow So Much Suffering?

I'm drawn to this question because I've so often needed to answer it. I’ve looked into the eyes of parents who had lost two of their three sons in less than six months. I’ve stood over the tiny casket of a premature baby while her twin sister struggled for life back in the neonatal ICU. I’ve wept with parents who had just said good bye to their 16 year old daughter who had died of meningitis. I've listened helplessly as spouses have struggled with the outrageous pain of discovering their spouse's infidelity.

Because of the time we live in, we learn about some tragedies in real time like tsunamis, shootings, bombings, and accidents. The day of the Boston Marathon bombing, I came home and could not stop watching it. As sad as that was, I was still detached from it, because I didn’t know anyone directly affected. But we experience suffering very differently when it's personal.

When my friend and previous coworker Danny Reagan died in 2006 at the age of 38, my son Will, 18 at the time, had been working for Danny in his construction business. I saw the paramedics carry Danny out of his house. Kat and I were sitting in a room crowded with his wife, family, and friends as they told us the news that Danny was gone. When Will showed up later, I was standing in the parking lot of the hospital.  We stood and held each other and sobbed for five minutes. Later, when I saw Danny's three children being brought into the hospital to learn the news, I thought I would throw up. In such circumstances, the question "why" is an emotional stab rather than a hypothetical conversation.

Philip Yancey explains that asking how there could be a God when such awful things happen is a bit ironic. That’s because such a question would never occur to us without an awareness that there is a God who could have prevented it. Some shake their fist at heaven when tragedy strikes because we sense there’s someone there to whom we can complain.

Because this issue is one of the major objections to the faith, there are plenty of books that address the question directly. Biblical writers don’t seem to do that. Rather, they tell extended stories for us to immerse ourselves in that cause us to wrestle with the question. One of those is the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, recorded in the book of Genesis. Joseph's story gets less ink than either Abraham's or especially of his grandson Jacob's. Still, the last thirteen chapters of Genesis deal with the relationship between Jacob's sons, with his younger son Joseph as the focus. That story begins in chapter 38 and goes through to the end at chapter 50. I'll be walking through that story Sunday as the fourth message in the series, Know Why You (Can) Believe.

You can see the outline and discussion questions here:

In Christ,


Gene 

P.S. The video/audio for this message is available here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

How Could a Good God Allow So Much Suffering? (Message Outline)

How Could a Good God Allow So Much Suffering?
Genesis 50:15-22

We can live with hope and generosity because God is always working to accomplish his purposes 

1. See examples of suffering 

  • Hate: Genesis 37:4, 8
  • Betrayal: Genesis 37:18-20, 26-27, 33-34
  • Hopelessness: Genesis 38
  • Temptation: Gen. 39:7-8
  • Falsely accused: Genesis 39:15-16
  • Punished for doing the right thing: Genesis 39:20
  • Forgotten: Genesis 40:23


2. See examples of how God redeems suffering 

  • Promoted: Genesis 41:37-40
  • Protected: Genesis 42:1-5
  • Provided: Genesis 44:18-33



3. See how trusting God transforms your view of suffering

Genesis 45:1-8, 24

Genesis 50:15–21 (ESV) When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Questions for discussion and reflection:
1. How have people questioned your faith in God due to suffering?
2. When have you been tempted to doubt God through personal suffering of or that of others?
3. How have you seen God redeem suffering?
4. How can you account for Joseph’s response to his suffering? What makes the difference in one who turns toward God and one who turns away from God? 
5. Why do you think Joseph tested his brothers to the extent that he did?
6. What evidence can you give for trusting God in the midst of suffering? 
7. How may suffering and evil actually be evidence for God?
8. How can a focus on the cross help you face suffering?

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Time to Speak

Other than a video study I led more than 20 years ago, I’ve not formally addressed abortion in my ministry that I can remember. I never intended for it to take this long. I can now say that part of the reason was the sin of cowardice. That’s not to say that I didn’t have some legitimate concerns. I didn’t feel I knew enough. In most cases I thought I would more often be speaking to people grieved over their own experience with abortion, rather than speaking to strong supporters of it. Out of the danger of being accused of only being known for what I was against rather than what I was for, I stayed quiet.

This year I met a husband and wife who were the most passionate opponents of abortion I have ever met. After a visit to our church, I went to their home to talk with them. Within seconds the husband of this couple was shaking and in tears as he told me of his incredulity that every believer did not see what was so plainly obvious to him. They attended one more Sunday and I haven’t seen them since. (Somehow they heard that I preached on this subject and since then they've been attending regularly.) Perhaps you would find their position extreme but they got my attention. I believe there is a place for public protests and I think we should always be willing to ask ourselves how God is calling us to address worldwide tragedies such as abortion, human trafficking, world hunger, and the like. However, I don’t think that we tend to bring about change by shouting at people through protest, but rather by getting up close.

Several years ago I was surprised to learn that a friend of mine was pro-choice. We had been friends for a few years and had spent a lot of time together. When the subject came up, I expressed what I believed to be the only position possible for someone who took the Bible seriously. It’s important to note that this conversation happened in the context of a friendship. I didn’t think much more about it, so I was surprised when several years later he told me that I was the one who had influenced him to move from being pro-choice to pro-life.

While we keep asking ourselves hard questions about how to be informed and what we must do to influence public policy, we need to remember that we will often influence more through relationships than through other means. I’m convinced that a major part of the answer to how God’s people respond to abortion is that that we more passionately pursue functioning as the church. As we worship, evangelize, disciple, and welcome people into our lives and churches, we function as salt and light in the world. That must lead to lifestyles that show we care about people and the circumstances they face by befriending individuals and supporting ministries that care for unwed mothers.

So Sunday I will wade in, very, very late to the conversation. I am grieved over my past silence. The only thing I can do is to begin now. You can see the scripture, outline, and discussion questions for the message here.

Compassion and Conviction: Message Outline

Compassion and Conviction: Applying the Gospel to Abortion
Know Why You (Can) Believe, Part 3

Jeremiah 22:1–3 (ESV) Thus says the Lord: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

1.     ____________ the weak.

Jer. 22:3 Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.



2.     __________ as the church.




3.     Be _______________ about the issues.




4.     Be _______________ about the issues.




5.     Find a way to __________


Questions for discussion:
1.     What role should people of faith have in the debate regarding abortion?
2.     What examples can you give of where you have seen disciples of Jesus do this well or where you have seen them do this badly?
3.     The sermon makes the point that only the Holy Spirit working in believers to develop his fruit, especially self control can faithfully address this issue? Do you agree or disagree and why?
4.     How do you understand doing justice and righteousness?
5.     Discuss how each the functions of the church play a role in the long range influence on this issue?

6.     How do you find information that you trust regarding the issues surrounding this subject?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hot Fires and Cold Hearts

Where I’m from in southeastern Kentucky the primary industry is mining coal. My dad’s dad was a coal miner. I knew plenty of others who earned their living in the mines. We sold some of the gear that miners needed for their work in my grandmother’s (mom’s mom) feed and garden supply store. Occasionally a miner would come in to the store after work and would be covered head to toe in coal dust. It’s no wonder my grandfather had black lung.

When my sisters and I were young, dad often used a wood burning fireplace to help heat our house. We loved coming in from the cold or even better after playing in the snow to a hot fire. Because of all the coal that was transported around the area, it was not unusual for us to be able to get our hands on a few pieces of coal lying on the side of the road. I remember asking dad why we didn’t use that to burn in the fireplace. If I remember correctly he told me that it burned too hot, that it was dangerous to use it in a simple fireplace not designed to handle a fire that hot.

I saw a headline this week that caught my attention and got me thinking. It read:


We don’t just feel and we don’t just think. We do both and we need both.
We are not just brains and we are not just hearts.

You may see yourself as more one than the other. Some whose personality style is stronger on feeling than thinking may believe that we need not bother much with thinking better, but consider this: without the right kind of thinking you won’t have the right kind of feeling. Rightly approached, the knowledge of God and specifically the truth about who Jesus is and what he accomplished is like coal that can burn long and hot in the furnace of your soul. But to focus primarily on feelings is like throwing newspaper into a furnace. Sure that makes a big flame for a moment, but it won’t keep the fire going when the cold winds of doubt and discouragement blow on your soul.

My personality style is more feeler than thinker, but I’ve learned how critically important it is for me to feed my mind with solid content and to keep before my mind the truth about who Jesus is, because these very realities, even though I already know them, refresh my mind in a way that causes the fire, the feeling in my soul to burn hotter. If I don’t feed my mind, my heart doesn’t burn hot for God.

In our current series, I’m leaning a little harder on the thinking side. But rich thinking about the certainty of the resurrection will lead to a powerfully hot fire within your soul. I’ve seen this work in my own heart. I’m convinced it will in yours as well. You can listen/watch the beginning message in the series here and see the outline for Sunday’s message here.

Evidence for the Resurrection Outline (continued from week 1, only slightly altered)


Evidence for the Resurrection
1 Cor. 15:3-5
Know Why You (Can) Believe, cont.
1 Corinthians 15:3–8 (ESV) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
A Sampling of the Evidence

For the empty tomb

·      The disciples would not have believed the resurrection if Jesus body was still in the grave.
·      No one else would have believed them if someone could have produced Jesus’ body
·      The discovery of the empty tomb has numerous independent sources
·      The resurrection stories in the gospels are simply stated. They don’t contain the characteristics of legend.
·      The tomb was discovered empty by women
·      Early efforts to discount the resurrection acknowledge that the tomb was empty

For the physical appearances after the resurrection

Paul’s list of appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 guarantees that they happened
·      See text above
·      The stories of the appearance in the gospels have numerous independent sources
·      The appearances were physical
·      They were no more likely to expect this then than we are now

For the beginning of the Christian faith and the church

·      A crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms
·      Belief in the resurrection turned this reality on its head
·      This belief transformed the disciples and ultimately all of history

Mark 14:48–50 (NIV) 48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.

John 20:19–20 (NIV) 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Most people think that, when it comes to Jesus’s resurrection, the burden of proof is on believers to give evidence that it happened. That is not completely the case. The resurrection also puts a burden of proof on its nonbelievers. It is not enough to simply believe Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. You have to provide some other plausible account for how things began.  Keller, Timothy (2008-02-14). The Reason for God (p. 200). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Additional Sources

Friday, January 3, 2014

Impromptu Conversations

When my son Will was about 10, we were driving home from church on a Sunday evening and he said to me, “Dad, sometimes it's hard for me to believe everything in the Bible.” That was a critical moment in my son’s life and in our relationship. He’d never said anything to me like that before. I’m sure you have noticed that significant conversations rarely announce themselves in advance. We just have to be ready for them when they arrive.

There are a couple of things that I'm grateful for as I look back to that moment. One, is that Will and I had the kind of relationship where he felt comfortable to be honest with me. Second, God helped me to respond reasonably well. I was able to say to him that I understood and that I too at times had such questions. We talked about some of his questions and I told him that it was important that he keep thinking and investigating and that he continue reading his bible as he did. I told him that I had discovered that there were good answers to his questions, even though I didn’t always remember them, and that there was no conflict between rational thought and belief in Jesus. That was the end of the conversation. It wasn’t long; it was just a quick moment and then it was over.

Are you ready for these kinds of impromptu conversations? They don’t only come from children. Sometimes a coworker, a friend, or a neighbor will throw up a challenge that needs a response. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know,” as long as you can also say and mean, “But I am willing to find out.”

It was never safe to be complacent about being ready to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15) and it certainly is not now. There are many resources for helping us answer our own questions as well as be prepared to help others. We need a disciplined approach to reading and preparing. This is the responsibility of every believer, not to win arguments, but to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. I’m recommitting myself to consistent reading and thinking about the kinds of objections people have to the faith. Opportunities for such conversations are only going to increase. Would you join me?

To help, over the next few weeks I plan to address some of the toughest of these questions like,  “If God is good, why is there suffering and evil in the world?” and “Why do Christians say Jesus is the only way to God?” and, “Isn’t religion the cause of much of the violence in history?” Sunday I’ll begin by sharing evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Since Jesus rose from the dead, everything he said matters. If he didn’t, nothing that he said does. You can see Sunday’s outline here.

Evidence for the Resurrection (Outline)

Evidence for the Resurrection
1 Cor. 15:12-20
Know Why You (Can) Believe

1 Corinthians 15:12–20 (ESV) 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

A Sampling of the Evidence

1. For the empty tomb

  • The disciples would not have believed the resurrection if Jesus body was still in the grave.
  • No one else would have believed them if someone could have produced Jesus’ body
  • The discovery of the empty tomb has numerous independent sources
  • The resurrection stories in the gospels are simply stated. They don’t contain the characteristics of legend.
  • The tomb was discovered empty by women
  • Early efforts to discount the resurrection acknowledge that the tomb was empty


For the physical appearances after the resurrection

  • Paul’s list of appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 guarantees that they happened
  • 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 (ESV) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
  • The stories of the appearance in the gospels have numerous independent sources
  • The appearances were physical
  • They were no more likely to expect this then than we are now


3. For the beginning of the Christian faith and church
  • A crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms
  • Belief in the resurrection turned this reality on its head
  • This belief transformed the disciples and ultimately all of history

Mark 14:48–50 (NIV) 48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.
John 20:19–20 (NIV) 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Most people think that, when it comes to Jesus’s resurrection, the burden of proof is on believers to give evidence that it happened. That is not completely the case. The resurrection also puts a burden of proof on its nonbelievers. It is not enough to simply believe Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. You have to provide some other plausible account for how things began.  Keller, Timothy (2008-02-14). The Reason for God (p. 200). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Additional Sources