Category Archives: Bible
Abortion and the Christian: Given the Mood of the Country, We’ll be Called on to Defend What We Believe
With President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice, we’ll soon be hearing a lot more about abortion, the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 and when life begins in the womb.
As Christians, we’ll be in the thick of things, whether we speak up or are merely linked by association. So here are a few key things to know as the debate about Kavanaugh heats up.
A Brief History of Birth and Abortion
First, let’s look backwards. Throughout most of the world’s known history, abortion has either been illegal or so rare as to go unmentioned. Even though abortions took place in clandestine areas, they were mostly sought by prostitutes or by those attempting to hide illicit affairs.
Child birth itself killed a fair share of babies and mothers.
A few historical societies have allowed abortion, but before modern scientific breakthroughs, the goal was to keep as many kids alive as possible. Child birth itself killed a fair share of babies and mothers, and childhood diseases that are now eradicated or easily treatable killed many other children in their first few years of life. Just 100 years ago, a flu epidemic swept the nation – and most of world – decimating the population. In one family I personally know of, three children died in a single week.
In agrarian societies, more children meant more workers for the farm, so there was no incentive to limit the number of children being born. If you had 10 and six or seven lived to adulthood it was great news.
So killing babies through abortion was a ridiculous idea for most of history.
The Roe v. Wade Decision
It wasn’t until the Free Sex Era of the 1960s and ‘70s that the easy access to abortion became a growing concern. In 1970, a Texas woman named Norma McCorvey – who became infamous under the pseudonym Jane Roe – became pregnant and sought to end her pregnancy. But the illegal abortion center she went to had been shut down. She then falsely claimed she’d been raped, thinking that would get her access to a legal abortion. It didn’t.
McCorvey sought the help of two female lawyers, who filed a lawsuit to declare the Texas law prohibiting legal abortions to be unconstitutional. It eventually reached the Supreme Court, and after being argued and reargued over more than a year, the Texas law was declared unconstitutional on Jan. 22, 1973.
While the Left makes this seem like purely a women’s issue, the ruling was a relief to many men at the time.
That ruling, in effect, struck down any state laws prohibiting abortions. The ruling was based on a somewhat liberal and convoluted interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (That amendment deals primarily with voting rights and the selection and removal of state senators, but it does have a clause that says states cannot infringe on people’s individual rights. Because of this, Roe v. Wade is often cited as granting the right to abortion. While the Left makes this seem like purely a women’s issue, the ruling was a relief to many men at the time who no longer had to face either marrying the women they got pregnant or paying 18 years of child support.)
Roe v. Wade did allow states to prohibit abortions after a fetus is deemed to be “viable,” meaning that it can survive after birth. At the time this was considered to be the third trimester, meaning states could stop abortions only after the first two trimesters, at about 26 weeks or so.
A subsequent 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, acknowledged that modern science has pushed the viability date back, meaning that babies in the second trimester could be viable, but the decision left a rather vague guideline to follow in determining an exact date. Most states, to avoid drawn-out court battles, dropped most abortion laws for many years, although recently some conservative states have again brought them into play.
While people on the Left have raised the specter of Kavanaugh’s appointment leading to making abortion illegal in the United States, at best all it could mean is a reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision. If that happened it would leave it up to individual states to decide on the legality of abortion. Probably even the most conservative states would allow some form of early abortion while liberal states like California could build a Planned Parenthood abortion facility on every block if they chose to.
Planned Parenthood and the Rise of the Abortion Industry
Which brings up the next part of our look backward: The prominent role of Planned Parenthood in the abortion debate.
The group’s name sounds like it’s a nice organization, helping parents make wise decisions about parenting. In reality, it is primarily an abortion facility with some very dark beginnings.
The roots of the organization are generally traced to Margaret Sanger, who was a birth control advocate in the early part of the 20th century. Her stated goal was to liberate women from the “slavery” of motherhood. But she was also in league with leaders of the eugenics movement.
Eugenics was the basis for Adolph Hitler’s belief in a superior Aryan race and the inferiority of the Jews.
Eugenics was a pseudo-scientific belief that some races – those primarily from Northern Europe – were superior to other races. Those “feeble-minded” inferior races, as Sanger called them, included Negroes and undesirable immigrants, especially South European Catholics. (Eugenics was the basis for Adolph Hitler’s belief in a superior Aryan race and the inferiority of the Jews.) Sanger was also said to have had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
At least a part of the early idea behind eugenics was that undesirables like the black population could be controlled or even eliminated by birth control, abortion and forced sterilization. Although Sanger later disavowed her prejudice against people of color, it was from these roots that Planned Parenthood began.
Currently, Planned Parenthood claims it offers women a range of contraceptive services and even mammograms. But we know from former Planned Parenthood employees and pro-life research that most clinics only offer abortion services. A few offer contraceptives, but few if any offer more than that.
Medical Research and the Beginning of Life
Bringing things into the present, we can look at the medical research regarding a baby’s development in the womb. As the Supreme Court acknowledged in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the age of viability keeps changing as medical technology and research has increased the ability to keep babies alive at a younger age. Doctors now even have the ability to do surgery on babies in the womb.
The age that life begins varies depending on who you talk to. Those on the farthest conservative side say that it begins at fertilization, since everything is in place for the formation of a human at that point the sperm hits the egg. Those on the farthest liberal side generally believe that life doesn’t start until the baby is fully delivered (allowing for the controversial partial-birth abortion).
Even a definition that life begins with a heartbeat or brain function places the beginning of life within the first month and a half.
A baby’s heartbeat can be detected by about day 22 or 23 after fertilization. Brain waves can be detected at 40-43 days. So even a definition that life begins with a heartbeat or brain function places the beginning of life within the first month and a half. It is hard at that point to call it simply a mass of tissue or a part of a woman’s body, as pro-abortion advocates describe it.
The Question of Murder
The question then arises, is abortion murder? The answer is yes, no, maybe – again depending on who you ask. The pro-abortionist will say that it isn’t, that it’s simply removing an unwanted growth, as you would a wart. They claim it won’t be a baby until it is birthed.
For those advocating for abortion, the deciding factor to call something murder or not depends on the woman’s choice.
Ah, but what happens if someone kills the mother and the baby dies in the womb? Or hurts the mother in a way that causes the baby to die inside the womb? Then it is considered murder, or in the first case, double murder. So it seems that for those advocating for abortion, the deciding factor to call something murder or not depends on the woman’s choice. If she chooses to end the life of the child, it’s not murder. If someone else ends the life of the child at the same stage of pregnancy, then it is murder.
Staunch pro-lifers will say that killing the baby, whether by making a choice of abortion or at someone else’s hand, is always murder. But there are also the maybes – those who believe abortion is murder, except if the baby was conceived through rape or incest, or the mother’s life is in danger.
Statistics show (depending on the wording of the question on surveys) that the number of Americans who think abortion is wrong is growing, and is now more than 50 percent of the population.
The Christian Perspective on the Value of Life
So what does the Bible say about abortion? Surprisingly, the answer is: nothing.
But this hardly means the Bible condones it. As I mentioned at the beginning, in earlier times abortion was at such odds with the goal of keeping children alive that it hardly warranted a prohibition against it.
The Bible does, though, make frequent mention of the value of life, even in the womb. All life is created by God even when human means of conception are used (Jer. 1:5, Ps. 139:13-16).
Murder is almost always defined in the Bible as the taking of innocent life.
Murder is wrong by God’s standards, which He stated in the Ten Commandments and which Jesus re-emphasized. Murder is almost always defined in the Bible as the taking of innocent life. Nothing could be much more innocent than a baby in the womb.
Children are considered a blessing from God (Ps. 127:3-5, John 16:21). All human life is considered valuable and made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26).
Given the value of human life, in the womb and beyond, there hardly needs to be a specific prohibition on abortion to see that it is not part of God’s will. In other words, there is no doubt that abortion is wrong.
As Christians we must stand strong on this – in love, of course, not in condemnation (if you have had an abortion, please read this message of hope). When confronting other Christians who believe that a woman’s right to choose trumps the life of the baby, we can use the life-giving message of the Bible as our God.
Non-Christians, though, will put little trust in what the Bible says. Then we will get better traction by speaking of the medical science.
We mustn’t be afraid to speak up.
Many times, we as Christians try to avoid controversial subjects such as these. But when something is clearly so wrong as abortion, then we mustn’t be afraid to speak up. And, given the current emotional state of our country, Christians will become part of this narrative, whether we want to or not. Knowing the facts, and what we believe, is an important part of standing up for what we believe.
As my personal style rather obviously attests, I pay no attention to what GQ magazine has to say. So when it released a list of 21 Books You Don’t Have to Read, and included the Bible as one of those, it made little difference to me.
But some Christians have been in an uproar about the Bible’s inclusion on this list because, of course, it is vital to our faith. They are angry with GQ’s advice that you don’t have to read the Bible to have a successful life. My question, though, is, Why have so many Christians seemed to follow this advice for years?
It isn’t so much that these Christians don’t think the Bible is important as that they live as if most of it is irrelevant to their lives.
“Bible illiteracy” is a phrase used with increasing frequency by pastors to describe their congregants’ lack of knowledge about the book they supposedly revere. It isn’t so much that these Christians don’t think the Bible is important as that they live as if most of it is irrelevant to their lives.
Of course, they’d never say so. Most of them have Bible apps on their phones and can quickly pull up any verse. Some of them get the daily push notification for the Verse of the Day, which they take time to look at several days a week. On Sundays, some of them read the verse along with the pastor when it pops up on the big screen for a minute or two.
But, unfortunately, that is the extent of Bible reading for all too many Christians, even those who take exception to GQ’s list.
Why is this? I think there are several reasons, and with chagrin, I admit that those of us in church leadership may be sabotaging the very thing we desire to see in our congregations. Here are a few thoughts on why Bible reading has become so lax among so many Christians.
Reading has become irrelevant. Society as a whole has placed decreasing value on reading anything longer than 140 characters. Many people tell me that they seldom read a book, often less than one per year – and some tell me this with a measure of pride in their voices. Perhaps it’s our decreasing attention spans that cause this problem, or we’re so inundated by information from so many sources that reading seems like an overwhelming endeavor.
If people aren’t going to read the latest action thriller, they probably aren’t going to read through 1 Chronicles.
Whatever the reason, it has spilled over into our Bible reading. If people aren’t going to read the latest action thriller, they probably aren’t going to read through 1 Chronicles. Reading starts by example. If parents aren’t reading the Bible, it’s unlikely the kids will start on their own – and if church leaders aren’t reading the Bible, the congregants won’t see it as a priority, either.
Bible studies don’t live up to their names. Often today’s Bible study consists of watching a video and answering questions from a book by an author who quotes Bible passages to illustrate his point. There is nothing wrong in this in itself, because many authors have valuable points to make about Christian life. But they are studies that often mean the participants don’t have to open the Bible, or even bring one along.
A Bible study should have the Bible as its center point, and should consist of entire passages to include context. Otherwise it becomes a study about pieces of the Bible instead of a Bible study.
The Big Screen. When was the last time you heard a pastor asking you to turn to a passage in your Bible? Most churches today, even those of relatively small size, have at least one big screen at the front that flashes the pastor’s next point and the verses to illustrate that point. It’s also popular to have “talk notes” that list out the verses.
Again, nothing wrong with this, and it can often be helpful to have everyone looking at the same translation. But I’ve noticed that few people even bother bringing a Bible to church, and those that do seldom turn to a passage to follow along. The problem is that this makes actually reading the Bible, placing a passage in context, seem irrelevant. On many occasions, when reading the verses before and after, I’ve gained new insight or even noticed additional information. Pastors are often limited to 30-40 minutes in their sermons, which frequently means they can’t bring out all the nuances and information about a passage that you can pick up by seeing a verse in context.
The Little Screen. Many people have switched to doing most of their reading from a tablet or smartphone, including their Bible reading. Because I often read more than one book at a time, this is great for me – except for Bible reading. I’ve switched back to reading a paper Bible.
One reason is that it does help me better place things in context, when I can see an entire page, or even two pages at a time. There’s also a certain weight that words on paper have that doesn’t seem present in electronic versions.
But probably the main reason I chose to go back to paper is to avoid the distractions. When reading on my tablet, I saw the various notifications pop up from email, text, Twitter, news feeds and Facebook. Even when I chose to ignore them, they were a distraction. Reading in paper avoids those notifications and the temptation to “just for a second” look at those other things.
Why should we read about how to treat slaves or how to get along with our multiple wives in an era when neither of those are part of our culture?
Lack of relevance I. The Bible is a book that began being written 4,000 years ago, and was last added to 2,000 years ago. Many of the customs, histories and even language feel old and out of place, hard to relate to in modern times. Why should we read about how to treat slaves or how to get along with our multiple wives in an era when neither of those are part of our culture? And not boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk – is that even a thing?
Lack of relevance II. The Bible is a book that calls us to live differently than the world. But living different from the world seems to mean little more than going to church on a fairly regular basis and not cussing quite as much. Other than that, we justify things like pursuing money and the things money can buy as a top priority, leaving a spouse because we want something “more,” and planning for the ultimate, retirement. After all, we don’t want to turn off the world from Christianity, right? So we’d better make it acceptable to them or they’ll think we’re weird and won’t want to join us.
Of course, with both relevance I and II, it’s very easy to justify leaving the Bible on the shelf. After all, the verses we get on our daily app are so much more encouraging. (Today’s was, “For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” Very encouraging as long as I don’t have to think about it too long, and it only took seconds out of my day to read it!)
I’ve already written about the importance of Bible reading, and will add more in the future. But for now, I think it is important that before we criticize GQ for making the Bible sound irrelevant, we’d be best served to spend more time making it relevant for ourselves.
Gary Kauffman is a Christian life coach, freelance writer and part-time church staff member in Augusta, Ga. No, he cannot get you tickets for The Masters.
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, the entire country was caught up in the fad of collecting pet rocks. Yes, that’s right, people used rocks as pets.
These were smooth stones from Mexico that were adorned with googly eyes. They came in cardboard boxes (with “breathing” holes), straw bedding and a 32-page tongue-in-cheek manual on the care and training of your pet rock. Believe it or not, the creator of this fad sold more than a million of them.
Of course, the people who bought them soon became bored with them because, after all, rocks can’t speak or listen to what you have to say.
Or can they?
Reading the Bible may give owners of those rocks hope that their beloved pets aren’t stone deaf or that they live in flinty silence.
At the end of Joshua’s life, after he had led the people of Israel into the Promised Land and won many important military victories, he made his famous vow, “As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.” The people all agreed with that statement, adding their vows that they, too, would serve only Yahweh.
Joshua told the Israelites that there’s a witness to what they said – a stone.
And then in Joshua 24:26-27, Joshua told the Israelites that there’s a witness to what they said – a stone. “Joshua recorded these things in the book of the law of God; he also took a large stone and set it up there under the oak next to the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘You see this stone – it will be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words the LORD said to us, and it will be a witness against you, so that you will not deny your God.’” (emphasis mine)
Wait a minute – does that mean stones have ears? How can a stone hear anything and how can it serve as a witness unless it has a mouth?
But maybe they do have a way to communicate, if necessary. In Luke’s version of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Pharisees were upset at the praise the people showered on him. They asked him to tell the people to shut up. But Jesus said that wouldn’t do any good.
“He answered, ‘I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out!’” (Luke 19:40)
Stones and rocks are important themes throughout the Bible. God caused water to gush from a rock (Exodus 17:6), fire to burst out of a rock (Judges 6:21) and said He would feed people with honey from a rock (Psalm 81:16). Jesus said God could even create human beings from stones if He chose to (Luke 3:8).
In the Old Testament, God is repeatedly referred to as the Rock. Psalm 31:3 is just one of many examples: “For you are my rock and my fortress; You lead and guide me because of Your name.” God even refers to himself as a rock in Isaiah 44:8: “You are my witnesses! Is there any God but Me? There is no other Rock; I do not know any.”
Jesus is called a stone that at first was rejected but then became the chief cornerstone (Mark 12:10). He is a stone that will break people who fall on it and crush those it falls on (Luke 20:18), and a stone that the Israelites will stumble over (Rom. 9:32-33).
Peter, nicknamed “Rock” by Jesus, presents a final case that stones are, indeed, alive.
“Coming to Him, a living stone – rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God – you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, emphasis mine)
Like Joshua’s stone, we hear God’s words and are witnesses to them.
We, as Christ followers, are the stones that are built into a living sanctuary for God to dwell in through His spirit. Like Joshua’s stone, we hear God’s words and are witnesses to them. Like the stones Jesus referred to during his triumphal entry, we lift voices in praise of him.
So while pet rocks will never do more than sit in silence, we, as living stones, have a rock-solid calling to bear witness to everything God has done in the past and give voice to what He will do in the future. It’s how we will rock the world.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but often an old dog can teach a young dog a few new tricks.
Recently I saw a video on social media that showed a woman trying to teach her new dog to sit. As an older dog watched, the young puppy danced eagerly around the woman in anticipation of the reward treat, but wasn’t sitting. Then the next time she commanded “Sit!” the older dog reached out it paw and pushed the new dog’s hind end down into the sitting position. The woman rewarded both the young dog for sitting and the old dog for helping in the training.
Perhaps in a sign that I’m getting older, lately I’ve become more aware of the biblical mandate to act like the old dog in the video. The Bible actually has a lot to say about our responsibilities as teachers, especially in regard to parents teaching their children, but also just in general to be an example to and to instruct the next generations. Here are a few:
Ps. 71:18: Even when I am old and gray, God, do not abandon me. Then I will proclaim Your power to another generation, Your strength to all who are to come.
Ps. 145:4: One generation will declare Your works to the next and will proclaim Your mighty acts.
Deut. 6:6-7: These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Titus 2:3-5: In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered.
Recent issues have accentuated the fact that this younger generation views the world differently than the older generations.
The Millennial Generation, those born between about 1983 and 2001, are numerous and are bent on changing the world. The oldest of them are moving into positions of influence and power in corporations and in our churches. Even in Generation Z, those born since 2001, we’re seeing a move toward wanting to make a difference in the world.
Recent issues in this country, from politics to gender differences to responses to criminal activity have accentuated the fact that this younger generation views the world differently than the older generations.
People in Generation X, born between 1965 and 1983, seem particularly irritated with these younger generations, dealing with them in the “Get off my lawn, you whippersnappers” vein. Baby Boomers and the last vestiges of the Greatest Generation seem to, by and large, pretend the Millennials and Z’ers don’t exist.
The Bible has a clear mandate for those of us who have more years behind us than in front of us.
Millennials and Z’ers are now populating our churches as well and bringing new ideas with them, often influenced far more by secular ideals than by the Bible. Rather than simply complaining about them, or ignoring their existence, the Bible has a clear mandate for those of us who have more years behind us than in front of us – we are to be the equippers, the instructors and the influencers for the generations coming after us.
That’s an awesome task for those of us on the north side of 50, in both senses of the word awesome – a great privilege and an overwhelming proposition. But it’s important, so here’s what you’ll need to carry out God’s commands.
Knowledge – If we’re going to teach those coming behind us, we have to know what we’re talking about, which means we’ve got to be reading and studying the Bible. Too often we rely on church tradition or what we’ve heard rather than really examining for ourselves what Scripture says. The more we know, the more we can pass on to the next generations.
Relationships – We can’t ignore the younger generations (or yell at them to get off the lawn) and expect them to learn anything from us. We have to get to know the Millennials and Z’ers at a personal level, and let them get to know us. On a positive note, research has shown that Baby Boomers and Millennials often develop a strong connection with each other.
Confidence – Modesty and insecurity often kick in when it comes to teaching others. “Who am I to tell someone else how to live?” is a common question. Well, the answer to that is, “God tells you to.” Unless you’re a very unusual specimen of a human being, you’ve lived a life that has strayed from perfection, sometimes far from it and with more frequency than you’d like. Instead of destroying your credibility, it actually enhances it. We’ve all experienced the mistakes that make life hard and have found the better way to live. We can use our experiences to help others keep from making and experiencing those mistakes.
Kindness and patience – Remember, we’re passing on our knowledge of God’s kindness toward us (Titus 3:3-5), so we need to use kindness when instructing others. It will be tempting to be harsh, or at least roll our eyes, when they don’t “get it” right away. I know I didn’t learn all my lessons in one easy step, and I’m sure you didn’t either. God shows patience with all of us, as He will with those in the next generations. When we pass on God’s Word with patience and kindness, we have a better chance to make a lasting impact on the future generations.
Equipping future generations isn’t an easy task but it can be fun task. And the interesting thing is that as we instruct the next generations we’re going to be learning even more ourselves. Turns out the old saw I quoted at the beginning isn’t quite accurate – even us old dogs can still learn a few new tricks.
I have rarely talked to a fellow Christian who hasn’t expressed a desire to improve the amount of time he or she spends reading the Bible. And that is a worthy goal – we should continually be devoted to reading the Scriptures.
Reading God’s word is important, as Paul tells us in 2 Tim. 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” It also keeps us from being led astray, as Jesus warns in Matt. 22:29: “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Acts 17:11 echoes this, where we read that after hearing Paul’s teaching, the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily to see if he was telling the truth.
The Bible is written is such a unique way that even devout Christian scholars who have been reading it for 50 years delight in finding new insights in it.
It seems increasingly rare, though, to find a Christian – even one who has spent decades in the faith – who has read the entire Bible. Some have admitted that they’ve never read the Old Testament. Many have haphazard reading patterns of a few days of intensity followed by a month of never cracking the cover. For many Christians, it seems, their entire Bible reading plan consists of the Verse of the Day from a Bible app and reading along with the pastor on the handful of verses he projects onto a screen during his sermon.
Why do so many Christians not make Bible reading a regular part of their day?
So if the Bible is important, if it holds decades’ worth of insights and most Christians desire to know more, why do so many Christians not make Bible reading a regular part of their day?
There are several reasons, one of the biggest being that reading in general has fallen out of favor with most Americans. Many people say, some with chagrin and some with pride, that they’ve only read one book in the past year – or maybe none. Christian comedian John Branyan says, in a hilarious retelling of the Three Little Pigs, that Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 55,000 words; the average American has a working vocabulary of 3,000 words. So we’re much more likely to look for a theatrical version of a story on DVD than picking up a book.
But on Jan. 1, many well-intentioned Christians will select a Bible reading plan, determined that this year they will read all the way through the Bible. I can tell you when most of them will be waylaid – in about the middle of Leviticus. Some will get bogged down by the middle of Exodus, some will dutifully, possibly with glazed eyes, fight their way through Numbers and even Deuteronomy. But the majority won’t make it into April with their Bible reading.
But if you really want to achieve your goal, here are a few tips, and a link to my own Bible reading plan.
Set aside time each morning: Yes, mornings can be chaotic, especially for those with school-age children. But getting up just 20 minutes earlier can give you some peace and quiet to read God’s word before the chaos commences. Giving up sleep is hard but, believe me, that time reading will be more refreshing than the extra bit of shuteye.
You can try other times of the day, but I’ve found that it is far easier to put off the reading later in the day than getting up earlier intentionally to read.
Just read: Often people assume that they need to discover deep meaning in every verse they read, so they plod through them slowly, pondering each one. Soon they’re consuming an hour to read three chapters. Instead, just read. You may read three chapters and go, “Huh, I didn’t get much out of that.” That’s perfectly OK, because there will be plenty of mornings when you find juicy nuggets.
Just reading also helps you see the broader picture of the Bible.
One thing I’ve found is that each time I read through the Bible, I notice new things. That information had obviously been there the previous year when I read the Bible, but my mindset a year later is different, and different passages will mean more to me.
Just reading also helps you see the broader picture of the Bible, and how it all forms a complete narrative, rather than just seemingly random sections of words.
Find a readable translation: Many readers get bogged down by feeling they have to read the Bible in the King James Version. There is nothing wrong with the KJV; it’s just harder for the average American to grasp (remember, it was written at the time of Shakespeare, when people had a much broader vocabulary, plus used words that didn’t mean the same as they do today). There is a wide array of translations available today, ranging from word-for-word translations to ones that merely translate the meanings, with many variations in between. I personally feel the Holman Christian Standard Bible (recently renamed the Christian Standard Bible) is a great mix of readability and accurate translations. The New International Version (NIV) is also popular for its readability, although I find it is sometimes a bit loose in the translation. The English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) give more word-for-word translations that are still relatively easy to read through.
Give yourself some grace: Most reading plans break the scriptures into 365 sections – read one section per day and you’ll make it through the entire Bible in a year. But what if something unexpected happens – a hospital stay, out-of-town guests for the weekend – or even planned events like a vacation keep you from reading? Often, a day or two or even three or four can pass without getting to your daily reading plan. Then once you return to it, you’re faced with the daunting task of reading eight or 10 or more chapters to catch up. You fall behind, and then further behind, and soon you give up.
My reading plan offers a little more forgiveness – it is based on 338 days. You could miss almost a whole month of reading and still finish in a year. You could even start in the middle of January and still easily finish in a year.
If you miss a couple of days, there’s no catching up to do.
It is also not based on the actual calendar date. If you miss a couple of days, there’s no catching up to do. Just pick up where you left off.
I also tried to base the daily reading on a similar number of verses. Sometimes that means reading just one chapter but other times it could be six chapters – although the most common amount is three chapters. But it is essentially the same length of reading per day, about 20 minutes. That allows you to easily slot it into your daily routine.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect plan, and there are many other good Bible reading plans available. But I do think it’s a good way to get started that makes reading the Bible a bit of an easier task.
If you’ve been reading your Bible on a regular basis, you’ve come across a word dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, depending on the translation you’re reading. It is so ubiquitous that people often read right over it, often unaware how important that one word can be to creating a better understanding of the words they’re reading.
This important word is “therefore.” It pops up a lot. The New International Version (NIV) uses it 442 times, the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) employs it 611 times, it appears 785 times in the English Standard Version (ESV), 903 times in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and a whopping 1,340 times in the New King James Version (NKJV).
Obviously, it is an important word or it wouldn’t be used that much. So what does it mean?
Anytime you see the word “therefore” you have to ask, what is it there for?
Anytime you see the word “therefore” you have to ask, what is it there for? It is a connector word that links one thought to the next. The passage that comes after the “therefore” always will relate to the passage that came before it. The dictionary definition is “in consequence of” or “as a result.” Or we could say, if this passage is true then the result is the next passage. The NIV and HCSB, especially, often replace “therefore” with “that is why” or “then.”
Consider Eph. 6:13: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” What is the “therefore” relating to? Why are we to put on the full armor of God?
Back up to verse 12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Here we see that the reason we need the full armor of God is because we are fighting a battle against spiritual forces of evil.
Or consider Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What is the “therefore” there for? Why are we no longer condemned?
Back up again to chapter 7, where Paul has spent a good deal of time lamenting the fact that the Law cannot save, and it in fact just makes sinning seem all the worse. He tries to do what is right but ends up failing, and the Law condemns him for failing. In verse 24 he cries out in anguish, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” The answer comes in verse 25: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”
What follows is 8:1. The “therefore” refers to his failing and Christ’s deliverance. Because of that deliverance, Christ followers are no longer condemned for their sins. He goes on to explain that what the Law was powerless to do, Christ did for us.
The Bible often explains a passage with another passage, and “therefore” creates that link. Therefore, the word “therefore” is an important piece in understanding the Bible better.
In the famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an albatross (a large sea bird) leads a ship to safety. But soon after their rescue, the main character, the mariner, shoots the albatross, and the ship is again in peril.
To punish the mariner for his churlish action, the ship’s crew forces him to wear the dead albatross around his neck. As he watches the crew succumb to death, the albatross serves as a constant reminder that he is to blame. Today we use the term, “wearing an albatross around one’s neck” to signify a psychological burden, often brought on by one’s own foolish or careless action.
Unfortunately, many Christians today live as if they are that ancient mariner, wearing their guilt around their necks like a big dead bird. I became aware of that recently when, within a span of a few days, I had a friend tell me he still dealt with guilt about things he’d done more than two decades before; another friend confided that she still felt shame for actions committed years before; and another person talked about the anguish he felt daily about the sins he’d committed.
Understand, these are all devout Christians who have been walking with the Lord for decades, who have confessed these sins repeatedly, yet they still function as if they are bound and condemned for them.
I have a feeling these are not isolated cases. But by worrying about, thinking about and feeling guilt and shame about our past sins, we are seriously impairing our ability to live the abundant life Jesus promised.
I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame?
It’s not that I don’t understand where my friends are coming from: I have plenty of sinful behavior in my past and I regret having caused God the pain of my actions. I still suffer from some of the consequences of those actions.
But I no longer feel guilt or shame for them. I choose instead to believe the truth of the words in Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This is one of the greatest statements in the Bible. I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame? And it’s not just the Romans passage that gives me that confidence.
- Jesus came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18)
- God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12)
- Jesus set us free to have freedom (Gal. 5:1)
- God sweeps away our sins and remembers them no more (Isa. 43:25)
- God has taken our blood red sins and washed them white as snow (Isa. 1:18)
- The Lord will never charge us with our sins (Rom. 4:8)
- Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice once for all sins (Heb. 7:27)
There are a number of other scriptures in the same vein – that once we are in Christ Jesus, once we are following him as our Lord – all of our sins have not only been forgiven, they have been removed completely from our account. We are free and we are washed clean.
But, you may argue, you don’t know what I’ve done in my past. No, I don’t, but it doesn’t matter. Really.
What matters as a Christian is not what you have done but what Christ has done for you. No evil of your past can compare with the abundant life of your present or the glory of your future.
If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?
The difference is where you choose to turn your eyes and ears. Will you keep looking behind you at how you have failed, or will you focus on Christ and how he has overcome? Will you look at your weakness, or his power? Will you accept the lies of the enemy, or listen to the voice of the Great Shepherd calling you to the truth?
As a follower of Christ you no longer have to be captive to shame and guilt for your past actions. All you have to do is accept the truth that you are free and no longer under condemnation. If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?
The ancient mariner could never get over the guilt of killing that albatross, forced to wander the earth to tell his tale of woe. But as a Christian, your guilt has been removed. Christ died for that guilt so that you, unlike the ancient mariner, can live a life of victory.
Gary Kauffman is Bible teacher, Christian life coach and freelance writer/photographer living in North Augusta, South Carolina.
“What is God’s will for my life?”
That is one of the most frequently asked questions by Christians, often in a voice tinged with anguish, confusion, longing or fear – sometimes all of them at once. It is a legitimate question because as sincere Christians we want to honor God in all that we do. Knowing His will is an important part of that.
The question is often asked by young people in college or soon after graduation, when they realize that the real world awaits. Is it God’s will that I take a job in the secular world or that I go into full-time Christian work? And if so, is it God’s will that I attend a seminary or go onto the mission field? Is it God’s will that I marry that cute girl I saw in church but whose name I don’t even know yet?
But older people ask it as well, sometimes with even more angst because there are families, bills and prestige to consider. Is it God’s will that I go back to school? Is that job offer three states away God’s will for my life? Is it God’s will that I buy a motorcycle instead of car because of the better gas mileage? (Yes, I’ve actually heard that one.)
I’ve wrestled with the question myself and I’m sure you have too. Doing God’s will is important. So what if I told you a sure-fire way to determine God’s no-doubt-about-it will for your life? Interested?
OK, here’s how you do it – read the Bible.
Oh, did that disappoint you? After all, the Bible says nothing about going back to school, or job offers in other states, or marrying cute girls, and is especially silent on the motorcycle vs. car debate.
God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once.
But it is chock-full of passages about God’s will for your life. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
It is God’s will that you:
- Love God with all your heart, soul and strength. It says so in Deut. 6:5 and Jesus emphasized it in Matt. 22:37, Mark: 12:30 and Luke 10:27.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27
- Love one another as believers. John 15:12, 1 John 4:11-12
- Make disciples. Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:1, Heb. 13:7
- Be generous. Mal. 3:8-10, Luke 6:38, 1 Tim. 6:17-19
- Live in victory. John 10:10, John 16:33, 1 Cor. 15:57
- Keep His commands. John 14:15, 1 John 2:3
- Be thankful. 1 Thess. 5:18, Eph. 5:20
There are a number of other things that are God’s will as well, such as prayer, submitting to one another and being filled with the Spirit. If you are a married man, it is God’s will that you love your wife unconditionally as Christ loved the church; if you are a married woman, it is God’s will that you submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ.
Maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”
The point is, God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once. So before we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” when facing new situations, maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”
If we’re not already loving and being generous and living in victory, etc., then maybe we should concentrate more on those things before wondering about that out-of-state job or the cute nameless potential marriage partner. It’s not that God doesn’t care about those things, or that He doesn’t have a will for those areas of our lives. He does. But it seems rather self-serving to seek His will in the unknown if we’re not already living in His known will.
Plus, there’s a good chance that once we start following His will as outlined in His Word, the path of His will in those other situations, even regarding motorcycles and cars, will become much clearer.
After his resurrection and just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus came up with an interesting option for Christians. He said that if a select few people felt like it, if it wasn’t too much bother, they could tell people about him. This is called the Great Suggestion.
Um, really, no, it’s called the Great Commission and Jesus was hardly suggesting it as an option. He was commanding it, to all of his followers then and now. Yet today, many Christians treat his final words as a nice suggestion that somebody should be doing, as long as it isn’t them.
The Great Commission is found in Matt. 28:18-20, although frequently it’s listed as verses 19-20, and often only verse 19 is quoted. But it is actually verse 18 that is the key to understanding the rest of the Commission. Here’s what Jesus said:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
The very first thing Jesus states is that all authority has been given to him in heaven and earth. Not some authority, not just authority in heaven, but all authority in heaven and on earth – in other words, it’s all the authority there is, anywhere in the universe. No one has more authority than Jesus – not a police officer, not the president, not even your mom (sorry, Mom).
Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.
What does it mean when someone has authority over you? It means they have the right to tell you what they want to have done. Someone in authority, ideally, will be someone who understands the big picture, understands what needs to be done, how to do it, and can give you the order to do so. We have learned to obey authority – if the blue lights start flashing because you chose to ignore the speed limit sign, you’d better pull over. If your boss tells you to get a project done by a certain date, you’d better get it done by then.
Why? Because we have submitted ourselves to these people as having authority over us – and because there will be consequences if we don’t obey that authority. Run from the cops and eventually you’ll be tasered and thrown into prison. Ignore the boss’s instructions and you’re soon standing in the unemployment line.
Yet how do we – how do most Christians – respond to Christ’s authority? Do we say, well, Jesus said it and he has all authority so I’d better snap to it? Or do we say, cool suggestion, Jesus; somebody better get busy on that, and then look around the room to find someone who should be doing it?
Jesus isn’t just telling us that he has all authority in heaven and earth to brag about it. It’s not, “Hey, I got all authority from the Father. What’d you get?” He is telling us this for a reason, and the reason follows in verse 19, which begins with Therefore.
Now, anytime you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you have to ask yourself, what is it there for? Because what follows the therefore is based on what was said in the previous sentence or paragraph. In this case, Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.
And that command is to go and make disciples. There are two verbs that are connected here, “go” and “make.” Go means, of course, that you aren’t stationary. You aren’t sitting back waiting for these disciples to magically appear around you. It is an aggressive action on our part. But is that how we generally think of this process? I think most of us sit back, waiting for people to show up at our church and decide to become involved in the church activities. The closest we come to “go” is to occasionally invite someone to check out our church sometime.
So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group.
The second verb is make, and this is a modifier, describing the next word, disciples. Again, make is an aggressive action. Nothing is magically going to appear. It will take time and effort on our part. And notice what we are supposed to make – not more church members, not more people to sit in worship service, not even more people to lead Bible studies or sing on the worship team. The command is to make disciples.
For many years, this verse has been loosely and lightly interpreted as doing evangelism – simply telling people about the good news of Jesus and hoping they would attain salvation. But that is not what Jesus is commanding here. The Greek word for disciples is mathetes, meaning a student or committed learner. The two English words, make disciples, are actually summed up in one Greek word, matheteuo, which is in the imperative form in Greek – imperative meaning it is absolutely necessary, or a command. It also points to the words “make disciples” as the central focus of the sentence. The people to be made into disciples are every ethnos, or people group.
So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group. That hardly sounds like some passive action, or a suggestion.
But Jesus isn’t done yet. He goes on to describe what this disciple making will include. First, we will baptize these new believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then we will teach them. What we’ll teach them is to obey or observe everything he commanded, through his words while on earth and through his revelations to Paul and other writers of the New Testament. In Greek, the word commanded carries the connotation that we are aware of the purpose of the commands – in other words, we don’t just obey blindly, but we do so because we know the purposes behind them. Again, there is an all-inclusive word here – we are to obey everything he commanded; not just the things we like or we approve of, but everything he told us to do.
The magnitude of conveying everything Jesus commanded, including the purposes behind them, indicates more than a one-time contact with someone. It requires more than a casual relationship with someone. It is an ongoing teaching process, one that Jesus took three years to accomplish with his disciples. But many of the early disciples took longer – Silas and Barnabas spent years pouring into Paul, who then spent years pouring into Luke and Timothy and Titus and others.
But just making disciples wasn’t the end goal. The end goal is to make disciples who make more disciples. After all, Jesus told us to obey everything he commanded, and one of those commands is to make disciples. So our disciples will have to obey that command as well.
His final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.
Note also that making disciples is not listed among the gifts of the spirit. The gifts of the spirit are those special abilities that the Holy Spirit has endowed on some, but not all Christians. They are to be used together to build the body of the church. Among the gifts that some, but not all, Christians have are prophecy, teaching, hospitality, even evangelism. But discipleship isn’t listed because it is expected of all believers. It’s not something special endowed to just a few, but a command entrusted to all believers.
When Jesus came to the end of his time on earth, when it came time for him to say one last thing, to give one last command, to in essence to sum up everything he’d been saying all along, he chose to say this. It wasn’t to build big churches, to sing beautiful songs, to develop outstanding church programs, it wasn’t even to simply evangelize. No, his final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.
The question now is, will we accept Jesus’ authority? Do we believe that Jesus has the right to tell us what to do? If so, are we willing to take action? Are we willing to enter into the long, involved process of making disciples rather than sitting in church letting words wash over us?
Perhaps the better question is, What authority do we have that exceeds Jesus’ authority to not do what he has commanded?
Years ago in college, I was privileged to see a show by a Christian illusionist. His act amazed and delighted me.
Among his magnificent tricks was placing his full-grown assistant into a box and shrinking it down to 1-foot-square cube, making objects disappear and reappear and levitating. Before each act, though, he would say something like, “Nothing you see here is magic. It is all just an illusion.”
Throughout the performance he kept reassuring us that he was an ordinary man who had no magical powers and everything he did was simply a trick of the eyes. I wanted to scream, “Noooo! I’m not that easily fooled!” I preferred to think the illusionist had some special powers rather than that he was fooling me by doing what any ordinary human being could do with the right training and preparation.
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”
There’s a verse in the Bible that reminds me of that magic show. It’s James 5:17, which begins with “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”
Remember the testimony about Elijah in the Old Testament? He prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain for more than three years (1 Kings 17:1), he was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:2), he lived with a widow and her son and caused her meager food supply to never run out (1 Kings 17:13-15) and then raised her son back to life after he died (1 Kings 17:18-24).
But Elijah was barely getting started at this point. He defied the king and his wicked queen (1 Kings 18:17-18), called down fire from heaven in an awesome display of God’s power compared to false idols (1 Kings 18:21-40), brought the rain back (1 Kings 18:41-44) and outran a chariot pulled by horses (1 Kings 18:46).
Want more? He was fed by an angel (1 Kings 19:5-7), felt God’s presence and heard His voice in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13), prophesied the death of the evil Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 21:20-24), called down more fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10-15), parted the waters of the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8) and was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). And then Elijah appeared with Moses alongside Jesus (Matt. 17:3).
Yep, Elijah sounds just like every other human being I know.
Seeing the assertion from James that Elijah was an ordinary human with no special powers blows my mind, much like the amazing illusionist I saw. I prefer to think that he was some special godly creature.
Because if what James said is true, then it means any of us – including me – should be able to perform at least some of what Elijah did. Seem laughable? In our own power it is, but James’ prologue to his statement about Elijah is, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
What brought about all the miracles and awesome display of power by Elijah? His righteousness. What made Elijah righteous? His utter dependence on God and his willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him (not that he didn’t have doubts – at one point he thought he was the only righteous person left in Israel and expected to die at Jezebel’s hands).
God is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us.
Since Pentecost, all true followers of Christ have his spirit, the Holy Spirit, living in us. He is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us. Can we raise the dead, call down fire from heaven and part a river? Absolutely not! But the Holy Spirit could through us.
In all likelihood, we won’t be called on to do the more showy works that Elijah did because we’re living in a different time. More likely, the Spirit’s work in our lives will be to give us joy and peace in times of turmoil, to give us the words to speak at the right time and to lead others to following Christ. But he also might give us the power to end travesties like sex trafficking, abortion and lethargy in our churches.
And that, unlike the amazing illusionist, would not be a trick of the eyes. It would be demonstration of God’s power that is as real and available to us today as it was to an ordinary human like Elijah.
Ordinary human beings rock – when we allow the Holy Spirit to move through us!