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Displaying items by tag: Bible Exposition
Friday, 14 September 2012 13:36

Books of the Bible for Small Groups

A Small Group Leader’s Look at Books of the Bible Themes and Purposes and how they can be studied in the context of Small Groups


This is a list of all the books of the Bible and their potential use within Small Groups. Each book is given a brief theme and then an overview. Please keep in mind, all the Word of God is profitable and any study of scripture is bound to have lasting value—this list is just a tool for Small Group leaders to be able to quickly consider all the books of the Bible when prayerfully considering what should constitute their next group study.


OLD TESTAMENT

Genesis
Themes: Beginnings
Overview: Genesis explores grand themes such as God’s design, God’s plan, God’s sovereignty, God’s faithfulness, man’s sin, man’s folly. This is a great study for a wide range of Small Groups. Groups consisting of newer Christians will benefit from exploring foundational Bible stories. Groups with more seasoned members will benefit from a closer, theological examination of the themes that begin in Genesis and weave throughout the rest of Scripture.

Exodus
Themes: Redemption and Deliverance of Israel
Overview: Exodus explores God’s faithfulness and provision to a barely obedient person (Moses) along with a barely obedient nation (Israel). Much of the first 20 chapters will be classic, familiar accounts of God working through Moses. Chapters 21ff focus much more on the laying down of God’s Law for His people. Small Groups studying Exodus would find it most profitable to study chapters 1-20 separately from 21-40. Chapters 21-30 might be better suited to a guided examination of God’s holiness and character reflected in His law.

Leviticus
Themes: Holiness
Overview: Leviticus was the worship manual for the Jewish priests. Often readers get bogged down and bewildered by its bloody details. But if they can get past the unfamiliar nature of sacrificial worship, they will find some great instruction on God’s holiness, atonement, redemption, civil and moral ethics, etc. Just as with Exodus, Small Groups studying Leviticus might benefit most from a guided study of how the law reflects God’s holy character.

Numbers
Themes: Wanderings in the Wilderness
Overview: Certain chapters of the book of Numbers, such as Chapter 13, make for extraordinary rich spiritual material. But as a whole, Numbers is a challenging book for Small Groups. Much of it contained detailed census records interspersed with troubling historical accounts. It does highlight man’s fickle walk with God and thus Small Groups will likely benefit most from examining a few of the historical accounts separately from the law/census sections.

Deuteronomy
Themes: Second Law/Renewed Covenant
Overview: Deuteronomy covers the social, moral and priestly law for the Jews just before they entered the Promised Land. It has some excellent nuggets that speak to every dimension of life. Like pearls of a necklace, it is best to examine the many jewels of Deuteronomy individually.

Joshua
Themes: Conquer and Divide
Overview: Joshua recounts the Jewish conquest of the Promised Land. For the most part, it contains narrative history. The cracks of Israel’s obedience already begin to show and it underscores the need for total obedience to the Lord in all our dealings.

Judges
Themes: Seven Cycles of Defeat
Overview: Judges is a sad reminder of the cycle of sin in our lives. It shows that without the clear Word of God, and without a commitment to obey it, individuals and society rationalize horrendous decisions.

Ruth
Themes: Kinsman Redeemer 
Overview: Ruth is a quick, touching story of God’s provision for Ruth, her mom, and a lonely guy. It has wonderful themes of God’s love, relational love, obedience, truth, faithfulness, loyalty, etc. This is a charming story for Small Groups consisting of couples looking to remind themselves of commitment to God’s ways, to one another, and to family.

1 Samuel
Themes: Transition from Judges to Kings, Theocracy to Monarchy
Overview: 1 Samuel is filled with life-on-life principles that cover the gamut of living for the Lord. It chronicles Samuel’s start, Saul’s rise and fall, and even David’s hopeful life. A through-the-book study through 1 and 2 Samuel would take considerable amount of time, yet the stories and principles uncovered would speak to many dimensions of life for years to come.

2 Samuel 
Themes: David's Reign as King
Overview: 2 Samuel gives us the most detail of any one person outside of the Gospels for Christ. We learn about what makes David “a man after God’s own heart.” We also learn how even the most spiritual saints can fall. 2 Samuel can be studied alone or with 1 Samuel—both methods would be spiritually valuable to a Small Group looking to examine living for the Lord in a variety of circumstances.

1 Kings
Themes: United and Divided Kingdom, Solomon
Overview: 1 Kings picks up with the death of David. It has some powerful lessons in the early chapters. Soon, however, it’s clear that the Jewish heart is not fully sold out for the Lord. The division of the Kingdom and their decent is tragic. Many Christians do not understand Jewish history and even the profound meaning behind terms like “Judah” and “Israel” used throughout the Old Testament are lost when readers are not aware of the nature of the United/Divided Kingdom. 1 and 2 Kings would be most beneficial in Small Groups whose purpose is to convey biblical truth to the members.

2 Kings
Themes: Israel and Judah Fall, Exile
Overview: 2 Kings continues with Israel’s and Judah’s full speed decent toward outright rebellion. While there are a few bright spots, for the most part the spiral marches downward until the end of both kingdoms.

1 Chronicles
Themes: God's view of David
Overview: 1 Chronicles feels very similar to 2 Samuel and 1 Kings however it has a more sympathetic view of God’s people. Just as with 1 and 2 Kings, a study of 1 and 2 Chronicles helps readers understand the rest of the later portion of the Old Testament. Many Christians do not understand Jewish history and even the profound meaning behind terms like “Judah” and “Israel” used throughout the Old Testament are lost when readers are not aware of the nature of the United/Divided Kingdom. 1 and 2 Chronicles could be studied in conjunction with 1 and 2 Kings and would be most beneficial in Small Groups whose purpose is to convey biblical truth to the members.

2 Chronicles
Themes: God's view of the Kings of Judah
Overview: 2 Chronicles is similar to 1 and 2 Kings however it is more sympathetic to God’s people. See comments on 1 Chronicles for the benefits to Small Groups.

Ezra
Themes: Rebuilding the Temple and People
Overview: Ezra begins with the ending of the Jewish exile. The people begin to return to rebuild the temple of God. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that God must work and the people must purify themselves. Like many of the Old Testament historical books, there will be value in learning the accounts contained in Ezra, however, a close study of it would most likely benefit groups that focus on information rather than personal interaction and discussion—though the mixed marriage episode of Ezra 9 will doubtlessly yield much spirited questions! The leader will need to have some answers to the questions that are bound to come up.

Nehemiah
Theme: Rebuilding the Walls
Overview: Nehemiah is often studied by men’s groups for its organizational value. Nehemiah himself was a man who properly mixed reliance upon God with personal diligence. It’s an excellent study on these matters. Certain kinds of Small Groups (e.g. consisting of businesspeople or those looking for leadership principles) will be tempted to study Nehemiah for its principles of organizational management—and while there may be some valid points along the way, we must keep in mind that the purpose of the book is to record God’s amazing work during Israel’s troubled days.

Esther
Theme: Preserving God’s People
Overview: Esther is a simmering story of love, intrigue, betrayal and conquest. The Lord uses Esther and her uncle to save the Jewish people from genocide. Keep in mind that Esther never specifically refers to the Lord, though His hand is implied and evident behind the backdrop.

Job
Themes: Suffering and Sovereignty
Overview: Job is about a righteous man being tested. The first few chapters give a glimpse of the heavenly backdrop to a series of profoundly tragic events in Job’s life. Much of the book, however, centers on the poor counsel of Job’s friends. Only towards the end does the Lord step in and clarify what’s going on. Even then, God’s point is primarily that He is beyond our understanding and that we should trust Him. While there are gems throughout the book of Job (e.g. Job 19:25-26 is an astounding reference to Christ from this early Old Testament book) yet Small Groups studying the book of Job might want to consider focusing primarily on Job 1-3, browsing through chapters 4-37, and then zeroing back on chapters 38-42.

Psalms
Themes: Worship, A Personal Response to the Person and Work of God
Overview: Psalms is often viewed as a worship manual or poetry book. However, it is often classed with “Wisdom Literature” and provides numerous answers to the question: “How should a righteous person live in a sinful world.” While there is much devotional material for worship, there is just as much practical material for living life. The book of Psalms makes for a great Old Testament study into worship, living for the Lord, right thinking, faithful living, etc.

Proverbs
Themes: Wisdom / Fear of the Lord 
Overview: Proverbs is all about wisdom. Wisdom is defined as “fearing the Lord.” This book is replete with practical advice for how to live life successfully (the literal meaning of the word ‘wisdom’). Proverbs is best studied verse by verse, slowly in small bites and through discussion and meditation. Reading too much in one sitting (even a ½ chapter at a time) causes one to lose the weight and impact of what’s been taught. It makes for an ideal study during family devotions where 2-3 verses are read, discussed for 10-15 minutes, and then prayed about. Using a child-friend version allows for even the youngest readers to fully participate.

Ecclesiastes
Themes: Lived Apart from God is Empty 
Overview: Ecclesiastes is similar to Proverbs in practical advice for living a successful life. It has the added theme of also trying to help the reader assemble a rudder for life’s major decisions and how we should view each day of life we receive. Ecclesiastes is easier to study in a Small Group setting, than Proverbs, because of its shorter length and tighter arrangement of verses around thematic elements.

Song of Solomon
Themes: Romance: God's View of Love and Marriage
Overview: Despite the challenges of Song of Solomon (it can be tricky to follow because it jumps from different perspectives without warning) it’s a great study for married couples looking to turn up the dial on “all dimensions” of marital life. Keep the a/c on because an honest and candid discussion over the various passages will make for some very steamy conversation!

Isaiah
Themes: Salvation
Overview: Isaiah is a monument to God’s grace and plan for salvation. It is filled with amazing prophecy, chilling warnings, inspiration and comfort. It makes for a great study with a Small Group—as long as the guide is able to focus on the numerous nuggets and not get bogged down in the numerous details. A thorough understand of Isaiah is foundational to a thorough understanding of the New Testament.

Jeremiah
Themes: Warning of the Last Hour
Overview: Jeremiah faced a nation hostile to the Lord. It is filled with warnings to everyone—from spiritual leaders, to government, to the average person in the community. It is filled with many wonderful portions of scripture, some known to nearly all believers. At the same time, the numerous warnings are so dire and so protracted that a group study would necessitate a guided approach to finding the most relevant content.

Lamentations
Themes: Weeping & Mourning, The funeral of a City
Overview: Lamentations is written from the perspective that God’s holy city of Jerusalem has been sacked. It fully recognizes the validity of God’s judgment upon His people. There are some very beautiful passages but they are set in the midst of some very dark verses.

Ezekiel
Themes: Condemnation, Consolation, and Restoration
Overview: Ezekiel is another challenging book that is best studied by a group with a guide that moves over the more inscrutable sections. While there are some extremely important chapters (such as Ezekiel 36), there are several interpretative challenges that would confuse many Small Groups.

Daniel
Themes: God's Sovereign Plan for Israel 
Overview: Daniel has two very distinct components. On the one hand it recounts the history of Daniel and his friends in Babylon. One the other hand, it foretells God’s redemptive plan with the Messiah. The historical accounts are going to be extremely familiar (e.g. Daniel and the Lion’s Den) whereas the prophetic accounts are going to be both fascinating and confusing and will likely produce much spirited debate; yet lead to a vastly richer appreciation for the precision of God’s prophetic plan.

Hosea
Themes: Loyal Love
Overview: Hosea is a shocking and almost disturbing account of a prophet’s love for his very unfaithful wife. Ultimately, however, it is a picture of God’ loyal love for His people despite their waywardness. With the right guidance, this book can help groups to wrestle with God’s unconditional love as well as the depth of our own sin. It’s a picture of Romans 5:8 in all of our lives. Also note, that there is a Christian movie called “Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea” that provides a faithful rendition of the book. Adding that movie to the study would make for a warm evening of fellowship and edification.

Joel
Themes: The Day of the Lord (In Retrospect and Prospect), Locusts
Overview: Joel is a short book foretelling the coming judgment of God through an army of locusts. It focuses on the Day of the Lord and provides helpful material in learning Eschatology. It would be best studied in conjunction with other prophetic books such as Zechariah, Daniel and Revelation.

Amos
Themes: Social Injustice of Israel
Overview: Amos centers on the social justice of Israel and provides many principles that correspond to life today. A study focused here and there on various sections of this book would provide a helpful look into ethics and our social responsibility.

Obadiah
Themes: Edom's Judgment, Brother's Keeper
Overview: Obadiah contains the prophetic account of the coming judgment on Edom. It’s very short and ultimately very specific in content. It would be best studied in the midst of a larger study on the Minor Prophets.

Jonah
Themes: God's mercy upon Repentant Gentiles
Overview: Jonah is a familiar story about this prophet’s disobedience, punishment, obedience and disappointment with God. All through the book runs the underlying theme that God is faithful to all people even when we’d rather He not be. It has great principles that would be excellent to draw out in the context of a children’s ministry or youth group—adults would benefit too, of course, though the overall study would be limited to a couple of weeks. This book would make a nice introductory study for a group launching into an examination of global missions.

Micah
Themes: Justice of God Versus the Social Injustice of Judah
Overview: Similar to Amos, Micah centers on the social injustices of Israel. It has some themes/principles that clearly cross into life today.

Nahum
Themes: Nineveh's Judgment & Destruction, Flood
Overview: Nahum predicts God’s coming judgment upon Nineveh. Apparently the city soon forgot Jonah’s warnings and they will finally face destruction. This book would be best studied in the midst of a larger examination of the Minor Prophets.

Habakkuk
Themes: Faith & Doubt & Answers
Overview: Habakkuk is about a prophet’s sincere questions towards God and God’s answers. It’s about a man’s faith being tested but ultimately triumphing because of the character and faithfulness of God. Habakkuk could be studied in 5-7 lessons and serve as the framework to a larger examination of apologetics.

Zephaniah
Themes: Future Global Judgment/Day of the Lord
Overview: Zephaniah is a short book covering prophecies of future global judgment as well as future restoration. Like some of the other minor prophet books, it contains helpful material for eschatology but should also be studied in conjunction with the other apocalyptic literature.

Haggai
Themes: A Call to Construct the Temple, Misplaced Priorities
Overview: Haggai is an excellent book often overlooked because it’s placed between two heavily prophetic books. It’s about how the people of God have discounted God, and yet God is calling them to be renewed in their faithfulness to Him. There is much good material for a Small Group study.

Zechariah
Themes: Israel's Comfort and Glory, Preparation for the Messiah
Overview: Zechariah contains numerous important prophecies for both the first and second coming of the Messiah. It’s a great book for the study of Eschatology but needs to be also read along with Daniel and Revelation.

Malachi
Themes: Disintegration of a Nation, Hearts of Stone
Overview: Malachi is another very practical book that is often overlooked. It’s filled with excellent principles for living life well. It’s brief enough that a group won’t get bogged down in it. Malachi makes a great book to go through between other longer portions of scripture.


NEW TESTAMENT


Matthew
Themes: Jesus as King
Overview: Matthew is the account of the life of Christ from a Jewish perspective. A thorough study of Matthew will help the reader develop a greater understanding of Jewish thinking/culture and prophecy.

Mark
Themes: Jesus as Servant
Overview: Mark is often considered to be Peter’s account of the life of Christ. It’s a fast-paced, highly dramatic exciting narrative. At some points, it zeroes in with great detail, at other points it moves swiftly. It’s a great introductory study into the life of Christ.

Luke
Themes: Jesus as the Son of Man, Jesus as the Perfect Man
Overview: Luke is the researched account of the life of Christ. It’s filled with details and precision. It’s meant for the person who has little understanding of Jewish culture and shows that although Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, He is the Savior of all nations.

John
Themes: Jesus as the Son of God
Overview: John is written from a somewhat different perspective than the other three Gospels and covers much more theology. The person studying John will develop a rich understanding of the details of Jesus’ life, but even more, they gain a deep and profound understanding of the person of Jesus. This is one of the best books for a Small Group to work through.

Acts
Themes: Birth and Growth of the Church
Overview: Acts gives the historical account of the birth and growth of the church. It’s filled with exciting and amazing drama. On the one hand, it’s a great study for a group because it renews our passion to serve in this ever-expanding kingdom of God. On the other hand, if the group is made of disparate believers, it might create tension as the group works through questions about God’s miracles for then and now. 

Romans
Themes: The Righteousness of God
Overview: Romans is Paul’s theological treatise on salvation. It’s about how sinful people (us) can be reconciled to God. Many groups study Romans only to find out that some of its doctrines and themes can become quite daunting. It’s really a terrific study, but the group needs to know that they will be challenged at every level as they work through the material. Leaders should be certain that the group is ready for this kind of commitment before launching into Romans—more than one group has shrunk as the less-than-committed members are not ready or willing to take on the challenges of Romans.

1st Corinthians
Themes: Correction/Condemnation
Overview: 1 Corinthians is Paul’s letter to a church that’s gotten off the right path. Paul’s tone is highly corrective. There is much wonderful, practical, vital material throughout this book and covers everything from pride, to personal purity, to lawsuits, to relationships with others, to marriage, to order in worship, spiritual gifts, to tithing, to Christ’s return, etc.

2nd Corinthians
Themes: Defense of Paul’s Apostleship
Overview: 2 Corinthians is Paul’s sequel to the first letter. Apparently the first letter caused some stir and this is Paul’s answer. It is filled with comforting, consoling words. It reflects Paul’s heart. Like 1 Corinthians, this second letter is filled with practical life-on-life principles and would make a great second study for a Small Group.

Galatians
Themes: Justification by Faith
Overview: Galatians is all about getting the doctrine of justification right. It’s a sharp, fast study into the purity of the Gospel. Likewise, towards the end, Paul gives those familiar verses on walking by the fruit of the Spirit. This book makes an excellent study for groups consisting of members who have come out of a ritual-based understanding of having a relationship with God.

Ephesians
Themes: New Life in Christ 
Overview: Ephesians is an excellent study for a Small Group that is just beginning. It has two divisions, Chapters 1-3 covers our position in Christ. Chapters 4-6 explain how to live that out. It’s a wonderful balance of solid and profound theology intermixed with practical application for life.

Philippians
Themes: Joy and Unity in Christ
Overview: Philippians is often called “God’s Guide to Joy.” Indeed it is, but it’s also much more. It could just as easily be called, “God Guide to Relationships” as Paul helps put in place right thinking so that the Philippian church would have right relationships with the world, their enemies, false teachers, close friends, and less-than-close “friends.” It makes for a great study for a newer Small Group or one that is looking to deepen the fellowship between believers.

Colossians
Theme: All-Sufficiency of Christ
Overview: Colossians is very similar to Ephesians in theme and content, just shorter. It’s a great study for a new group because it focuses on Christ, on our relationship with Him and how that relationship should impact every area of our life. It’s one of the best studies for a Small Group that is just starting out.

1st Thessalonians
Themes: The Model Church
Overview: 1 Thessalonians contains Paul’s happy letter to a church that enjoyed his commendations. They were already living faithfully and just needed some more encouragement for life. This book would make a great, practical study by any group. It also contains some eschatological doctrines too spice-up the group’s discussions.

2nd Thessalonians
Themes:– Work While You Wait, Comfort and Correction
Overview: 2 Thessalonians contains more exhortation than its predecessor. It contains a higher percentage of eschatology and should be studied by a group after they’ve worked through 1 Thessalonians.

1st Timothy
Themes: Shepherd’s Manual, Directions to a Young Pastor
Overview: 1 Timothy is an extremely important book for the setup of the church leadership. It contains numerous exhortations to the pastor about doctrine, teaching, example, false teachers, etc. Likewise, it lays out in detail the qualifications for those in leadership. Although 1 Timothy is essentially a manual for pastors, it should be read and studied by every believer. The principles it contains are not just for leadership, but for everyone.

2nd Timothy
Themes: Soldier’s Manual- Ministry is a battle to be fought
Overview: 2 Timothy is similar in usefulness to 1 Timothy. It goes over similar ground for teaching, conduct, etc. It is somewhat shorter and is best studied by a Small Group that is going through the Pastoral Epistles together (e.g. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus).

Titus
Themes: Adorning the Doctrine of God
Overview: Titus is similar to 1 and 2 Timothy in content and purpose. It was written to Titus to guide him in establishing churches. It is more practical and life-on-life than the Timothy epistles. There is so much personal content in Titus that it even makes a great group study independent of the other Pastoral Epistles.

Philemon
Themes: From Bondage to Brotherhood, Slave to Saint
Overview: Philemon is a short letter from Paul to Philemon about an escaped slave. It’s a quick read and most certainly will be bundled together with other of Paul’s letters. It does highlight principles about the transformation of a person, forgiveness, faithfulness, etc.

Hebrews
Themes: The Superiority of Christ 
Overview: Hebrews is a deep and profound study into the supremacy of Christ. This book works through many important Old Testament teachings and shows how they pointed to Christ, were fulfilled in Christ and how they are surpassed in Christ. The group that studies Hebrews together sets out on a course towards a deeper understanding of Christ, greater understanding of our calling as His kingdom people and even a greater understating of our mutual role towards one another.

James
Themes: True Faith Works 
Overview: James is a series of intensely stated but extremely practical points for practical living. It’s a favorite for Small Groups because every week has something for everyone. It’s a great study and just the right overall length.

1st Peter
Themes: The Christian Response to Suffering
Overview: 1 Peter is an important and helpful book for many dimensions of Christian living. It speaks to attitudes of the heart—our approach to the Word, to instruction, to our identity, to the church, to Christ, to family, to trials. It’s an excellent study for a Small Group.

2nd Peter
Themes: Character and Counterfeit Christianity
Overview: 2 Peter primarily warns of false teachers. It covers some very important groundwork for understanding how we got God’s truth and what it means to have counterfeit truth. If studied along with Jude, this would be a great book to work though for a group hoping to have a better understanding of the times in which we live relative to the warnings of the Lord.

1st John
Themes: The Tests of Eternal Life
Overview: 1 John is all about examining ourselves in light of who we are in Christ. Over and over, John lays out principles that true believers will follow. The implied warning is that if these principles are not true in our lives, then we should examine our faith to be sure it’s real. The book of 1 John covers great themes of fellowship, holiness, love, relationships, Christ, God, etc. It makes an excellent study for Small Groups.

2nd John
Themes: Lookout for False Teachers
Overview: 2 John is much shorter than 1 John and basically a warning from the apostle that we must be on the lookout for false teachers. It’s so short that it will most likely be studied with other books. Ideally, it would be examined along with 2 Peter and Jude.

3rd John
Themes: Care for the Saints 
Overview: 3 John resets ground covered by 2 John reinforcing the principles that while we need to watch false teachers (2 John) we need to also lovingly take care of the saints.

Jude
Themes: False Teacher X-Ray
Overview: Jude is very similar to 2 Peter. It’s an X-Ray study on the inner workings and claims of false teachers. It contains much useful material for analyzing today’s religious hucksters. Groups looking to firm up their commitment to sound instruction should study Jude along with 2 Peter.

Revelation
Themes: The Return of Jesus Christ
Overview: Revelation is the final prophecy of God’s Word for the end times. It’s written in apocalyptic language that is difficult to understand and open to interpretation. There is much practical material as well, but usually that material is buried within prophecy. Revelation ends up being a very challenging study for Small Groups because a solid understanding requires real work, especially by the leader. Without a strong, clear commitment to verifiable truth, a group study of Revelation can quickly break down into heated debates about personal opinions.
Published in Church Resources

How do we know that the Bible is actually the Inspired Word of God?

Is the Bible actually God's message to us? When you think about it, this is one of the most important questions a person can ask. If the Bible is a message from God, we must listen to it and set our lives by it. If it is simply a religious text from antiquity, we might marvel by it, but we certainly won’t submit to it.

So IS the Bible inspired? Many people would say “yes” but not be able to give much support. Others would say “no” and might cite something they learned from a college professor or the DaVinci Code. Others would say “I’m not really sure and I don’t really care.” If you’re in any of these groups, I urge you to read closely what we’re about to cover.

If the Bible was inspired, what would expect from it? Pause right now and think about that. What would you expect from the Bible if it were truly a message from God?

I would imagine that you’d probably expect it to be deeply meaningful, deeply important, deeply inspiring. If you thought longer about it, you’d probably also think that when it spoke of things that were related to fact—such as geography, science, history, etc., it would be true. Lastly, if there were areas that it foretold events to come, you’d expect them to actually come about in the manner that was given to us. Well, let me encourage you that the Bible is all this and more!

Let’s start with some foundation concepts that we need to build upon.

For one thing, the Bible claims to be God’s message to us. Now before you start shouting “circular reasoning!” hear me out—in just a few moments, I’ll attempt to show you how we know the Bible is from God. But we need to know that it really presents itself this way. No one reads the ingredients on a box of Fruit Loops and wonders if it’s a message from God. Why would they? It never claims to be. Likewise, the book The Wizard of Oz doesn't claim to be a message from God so no one spends any time wondering about the truth-claims of its message.

But the Bible is different. In over 3000 separate instances, it claims to be a message from God. Over and over it says, “Thus says the Lord…” Over and over it says, “Grace to you and peace from God…” Over and over it says, “Hear the Word of the Lord…” So with 3000 statements like this, we need to sit down and consider the validity of statements such as these. Has the Lord really said these things? Is the Bible a clear and faithful copy of what God wants us to know?

As we dig deeper into this point, let’s think through some of the ways we’d expect God to show that He has indeed given us His message in the Bible.

For one thing, the Bible ought to be true in areas of history, right? Indeed! The Bible is the most consulted ancient text in existence. It is frequently used to explain the archaeological findings in the Middle East and often countries in those areas will have parks & monuments at places where biblical events took place. Modern archaeologists routinely use the Bible to triangulate their findings. The New Testament book of Luke is considered one of the most reliable sources to understanding the political conditions of ancient Rome.

So these days, the Bible is regularly acknowledged to be historically reliable, even by secular scholars. But this wasn't always the case. A couple centuries ago, scholars used to say that the Bible was filled with factual errors in relation to historical events. They’d cite a few examples of people/places that they assumed never existed. For instance, they use to say that the most famous king of Israel, known as David, never existed. He was just myth. And then they'd tease out the conclusion and say that since David never lived, massive sections of the Bible must be historically inaccurate. This "factoid" (a false fact presented as true) was often cited until the early 1990s. Then in 1993, archaeologists found steles (historical monuments of the ancient world) that referred to King David. Suddenly, one of the key examples of "biblical errors" came to an abrupt end. Wow, David really lived. 

The same is true for ancient people groups such as the Hittites, mentioned in the Bible. For much of modern scholarship, there had yet to be found any trace of the Hittites. The notion of Hittites really living was laughed at by scholars. But over time, not only has archaeology found proof of the Hittites, they now have the capital in along the Turkey/Syria border. Google “Hittite Capital” and you won’t find anyone saying “the Hittites were mythical people.” 

Well, we could go on and on with more examples, but the point has been made, the Bible IS historically accurate and these attempts to discredit it consistently end up being disproven.

How about geography? Did all those places really exist? When we read the book The Wizard of Oz, we hear about the Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road. In some ancient myths we hear about mythical places like Atlantis. The Book of Mormon talks about a whole subcontinent located below North America called Nephi. Yet no true scientist recognizes that these places have ever existed.

On the other hand, when you look at the Bible, it’s amazingly current. You’ve probably heard of Jerusalem, Jericho, Gaza…these are all real places today and are on the evening news all the time. They are also mentioned throughout the Bible. They are real places. Sure, some cities have changed their names but that’s not a problem—if you look at the history of many towns in America, they often change their names (note Hagerstown, MD). But where the Bible is concerned, there are NO lost continents, no mysterious lands, nothing like that at all. It’s just straight fact—in fact, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Bible is actually used in archaeology to help determine what cities are being discovered when they’re dug up.

Let’s go on to science…

People often say that the Bible is full of scientific inaccuracy. What they’re talking about is really the first few chapters of Genesis, because (let's be honest) these chapters are a pretty jarring read if you’ve never read anything like them before. You’ve got God creating things in the blink of an eye and not in the order we'd expect. To our modern senses, it seems so contrary to what we learn in High School and College. If that's you, I can relate. I didn't grow up reading or believing the Bible. At first, these chapters threw me too. So, I was once there too, I know how it is.


But I gave the Bible an honest look. If God COULD do anything, He certainly could do everything Genesis 1-11 contains. Likewise, if the Bible is truly from God, than either it really happened as it is described (which I personally believe) or at least it’s something God wants us to understand because the theology of the first eleven chapters of Genesis is amazing. If you are interested in this topic, there are many books that seek to prove the reality of Genesis through REAL science. Don’t let the skeptics drown out the voices of these up and coming scientific discoveries. Increasingly, our ability to examine nature is proving (rather than disproving) these things. Studies in String Theory, Time-Dilation, DNA, and astronomy continue to verify rather than discredit the Bible. Likewise, Creationist theories such as Irreducible Complexity and Apparent Age answer many (perhaps even most) questions from skeptics. And while I don’t have the time or resources to go into this exciting branch of science, look into these links and consider for yourself if perhaps the Bible is saying things that are true after all.

Another important point to understand is that the Bible is a book written to all mankind from God. Not everyone in history had 145 IQs. Not everyone in history understood cause and effect, scientific theory, etc. Yet the Bible is written FOR the professor of Harvard just as much as for the Motilone Indian in Columbia--both need to be able to read it and understand it. The wording had to be accurate, but meaningful. Therefore, the wording God uses accurately explains His truths in a manner that actually makes sense to all people groups throughout history. When you consider this point, it's quite astounding that a Berkeley Professors and a NFL football player and a CEOs can all find out that indeed, God's Word is true.

So we need to understand, when the Bible talks about science, it’s accurate--it might not use the same terms as we do, and it might not be as precise as our modern science, but when it speaks to matters of life and nature, it is accurate. For instance, the Bible says that the Earth is round (Is 40:22) –that wasn't even the prevailing belief in science until a few centuries ago. Likewise, it describes a limitless expanse of the universe (Is 55:9). Likewise, it talks about the stars being innumerable (Jer 33:22) and while we have tried to map and count every star, thanks to Hubble we've found out that some “stars” we’re looking at are actually whole galaxies--definitely not numerable! Sometimes you'll hear people talk about the dimensions of a giant round bowl in 1 Kings 7--it's 30 cubits around and 10 cubits across. The quick math says that pi would have to be "3" rather than 3.14. This is one of the few "Bible inaccuracies" that some people throw out. But there's a backstory that they are missing. For one thing, 3 and 3.14 aren't so far off, when you think about it and not bad for people who didn't have modern mathematics. But more importantly, the full description of the text in 1 Kings 7 explains that the disk is shaped like a flower where the lip flairs outward so that the dimensions of the lip are different than the inner dimensions of the bowl. Thus the questions of "pi" are resolved when we understand the irregular shape of the sides of the bowl. So all this is to underscore, that while I'm not saying that the Bible is a science text book, I am saying that when it refers to things that can be examined scientifically, it is accurate.

So far we’ve talked about how the Bible is amazingly frank and candid when it discusses matters of history, geography, science, etc. But these don’t fully convince or satisfy us—a telephone book better be pretty accurate, but we don’t put our eternal soul in its hands. So let’s move on…

The Bible is more than just an accurate ancient book, indeed it has a voice and tone that sets it apart from all other literature. When you read scripture, there is a powerful message that is being bull-dozed into your soul. It’s a message of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. It’s a message of God’s goodness and man’s rebellion. It’s a message of the measures God has done to reconcile us to Him, and it’s a message of the horrific reality that awaits those who refuse Him. This message is so complete, and so unified, we take it for granted. I doubt anyone reading what I just wrote blinked an eye because this is simply the message of scripture through and through. The fact that scripture has this message is something of a miracle in itself.

You see, the Bible is an old book. And not only was it old, it was written across a spectrum of cultures and regions. Some of it is a record of oral tradition that is so exact that it baffles modern scholars. Some of it is a force of unity that it amazes its students.

Here’s what I mean. The Bible was written by about 40 authors over 2000 years. Think about that for a minute. Have you ever heard JFK’s speeches? While they are beautiful, they clearly represent a perspective on life that is different from most of ours today. And yet, that was only 40-50 years ago! Look at the changes in America in the last century—from technology, to morality, to politics, to the family. Our nation has changed. And yet the Bible has an amazingly unchanging message from cover to cover.

And it wasn't just because they were all drinking the same Kool-Aid. Back then, generally is was just the rich who had access to education. Generally just the rich had access to the writing implements to record information. Generally just the rich had access to other copies of literature. Yet the Bible was written by the rich and the poor. It was written by kings and peasants; doctors and fisherman. It was written from Israel, Babylon and even a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. If Americans, can't agree with Americans from 40-50 years ago, how could the Bible be so unified when written over such a span of time and by such a spectrum of people?

And lest you think I’m talking about the obvious stuff—like “God is loving” I’m not. I wouldn’t be very impressed if the only unified thing the Bible could say about God is that He is loving. But there is so much more! There are subtle “rivers” of truth that flow throughout scripture that would be missed if it were not for the complete revelation. For instance, you may not know this but the classic phrase from Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is nestled into a subtle statement of the doctrine of the Trinity. Genesis 1:2 talks about “God” (the Father). Genesis 1:2 talks about the Spirit. Genesis 1:3 talks about the “Word”—which is another term for Jesus. A few verses later, when God talks about creating people, He says in Genesis 1:26 “Let us make man in our image”—wow, it sounds like God is plural there. However, in the very next verse it says, “God created man in his own image”–now it’s back to singular. Even in these verses we can see the germinal idea of the plurality of the godhead united in one person (sorry for the fancy theological terms there). That’s an amazing and subtle message that is carried through the whole Bible.

I could go on and talk about the unified message the nature of sin and the need for faith instead of works, the coming Messiah, the nature of God’s wrath, the nature of prophecy, etc. These, and countless other themes, are quite astounding in their unity. They present God in a complex array of facets, each complementing and further highlighting the person and nature of God. When you really take the time to look at these, and consider them in light of how the Bible has 40 authors over 2000 years, it’s beyond possible.

No other religious work can say this. The Book of Morman claims to be from God along with the Bible, but its contradictions with the Bible are dizzying. The Quran has so many contradictions, they have a whole system of how to handle them. They solve the problem by saying that whatever was spoken last overrides whatever was said earlier! Wow! [Now, just in case you’re thinking Christians do that with the Old and New Testaments, there is a huge difference. For one thing, the Old Testament has large sections that are about ceremonial law of sacrifices. But the ceremonial law was fulfilled (and therefore finished) in Christ so now we don’t need to follow that specific code anymore. It was legitimately fulfilled and therefore its purpose and presence is complete.] Going on, let's pause to consider Hindu writings. Hinduism has so many "gods" that no one even tries to assemble Hindu teachings into a single source. Their teachings cover so many “gods” that their contradictions end up being something akin to brand loyalties--you choose a god much like choosing Pepsi over Snapple. You like the taste of this god over that one. Again, the Bible is nothing like this.

As we look at the Bible, we begin to develop the clear impression that this book is like none other. Sure lots of books claim to be from God, but none have the precision, form, power, and message of scripture. Indeed, the very theme of the Bible is unlike anything else: God is holy and pure. He created man without sin. Man rebelled against God and has been cast from His presence. God loved man despite this rebellion. God made the way for man to be reconciled to Him: He sent His perfect Son who would give His life as a ransom for their sins. Then God would even give people the faith necessary to believe this message. Finally, God would place His Holy Spirit into His people so that they could then live and walk with Him. It’s an amazing message without parallel in the rest of the world.

And this brings us to our final “proof” that the Bible is the Word of God—it truly changes people’s lives. I once heard a proverb from Winston Churchill that "the world is run by tired men." I don’t know if he really said it, but it makes sense that he would because he was known to function on just four hours of sleep during World War II. The thing is, if we were to take Winston’s words and apply them to every person’s life in every situation, we’d really bungle the whole world. Everyone would be exhausted and things would start falling apart. What was “wise” for one dude, doesn't apply to all men everywhere.

But the Bible is not like that. The Bible (when interpreted and applied correctly) is relevant for every person in every culture in every epoch of humanity. It’s power works in kings and aboriginals. It’s transforming nature cleanses movie stars and skid row bums. As a pastor, I have a front row seat in watching God change people’s lives all the time; it's what keeps me excited about the ministry. I’ve seen first-hand how the clear, simple message can being about the total new birth in a prostitute so that after she followed it’s teachings, she was transformed and was nothing like the person she once was. I knew her before and after and her life is a miracle of the handiwork of God. The Bible changes lives. If you set out to obey each line of scripture, you WILL be different. And that difference won’t come as the result of your own “boot strap” will power, it comes by the power of God, through His Spirit, working in you and through you. It’s truly amazing!

So having said all of this, now we’ve got to make a decision. What are we going to do with all of this? Can we simply walk away? Do we have that luxury? Is that even an option anymore? Indeed it is not. You must decide what you are going to do. At this point, you can either harden your heart to God, or you can surrender your heart to Him and commit—like the psalmist in Psalm 119:4—to obey God’s word diligently.

Lastly, keep in mind that the message of the Bible is clear: We need a savior to reconcile us to God. I've written another blog post article about how we can be saved by God when we surrender to Him.

Also, if you have time, here's my personal story about how God transformed my life. If you come to Him, He will work in your life too.

If you need help, drop me a line. I’d love to help you walk with God through the study of His word.

Thanks and God Bless!

Russ

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Blog
Friday, 01 July 2011 12:39

Paul's Example of Noble Thinking

47 Ways Paul Demonstrated Noble Thinking in the Book of Philippians

In Philippians 4:8, Paul lists several practical domains that are to govern the thought-life of God’s people. Among them is the word “Noble” or “Honorable”. Another way to translate the word would be “Dignified.” There’s not much available on this grand topic, but here are 47 observations that I made of how Paul exemplified noble thinking throughout the letter to the Philippians:

1. 1:3 Thankfulness towards God

2. 1:4 A life of prayer towards God

3. 1:9 A mind growing in knowledge

4. 1:9 A mind growing in discernment

5.  1:10 Approval of the things that are excellent

6.   1:12-13 An optimistic/silver-lining attitude

7.   1:14 Ability to see the redemptive value in a trial

8.   1:17 Extending grace towards others rather than unforgivness or a critical spirit

9.   1:18 Joy at the proclamation of the Gospel

10. 1:19-20 – Optimism in his situation

11. 1:21-22 A mindset of being sold-out for Christ

12. 1:28 Not easily being in fear over situations

13. 1:29 Trusting in Christ during conflict

14. 2:2 Being unified around spiritual truths

15. 2:3 A view that considers others as more important than yourselves

16. 2:4 A view that looks to the interests of others

17. 2:5-11 An attitude that seeks to be like Christ

18. 2:12 An attitude of fear and trembling as we are living out our salvation

19. 2:14 An attitude devoid of grumbling and disputing

20. 2:21 An attitude that seeks Christ’s interests rather than your own

21. 2:24 trust in the Lord

22. 2:26 A concern for the emotional condition of others

23. 2:30 Valuing the work of the Gospel even above one’s own life

24. 3:3 No confidence in fleshly religion

25. 3:7-8 Willingness to lose everything for Chris’s sake

26. 3:9 Seeking righteousness from God on the basis of faith

27. 3:10 A desire to know God

28. 3:10 A desire to know the power of the resurrection

29. 3:10 A desire to become like Christ, even in death

30. 3:12 A desire to press on to achieve the things Christ has called you to do

31. 3:13 Not dwelling on the past

32. 3:15 An attitude of submission and unity

33. 3:17 Noting and following the example of other mature believers

34. 3:18 A tender heart for the condition of the lost

35. 3:20 An attitude of waiting for Christ to return to bring us home

36. 4:1 Standing firm in the Lord, not being swayed from God’s truth or unity of Spirit

37. 4:2 Harmonious living with others

38. 4:3 A willingness to help others in spiritual need

39. 4:4 A heart of rejoicing, at all times

40. 4:5 A gentle spirit

41. 4:6 Peaceful, non-anxious living

42. 4:6 A sustained habit of bringing everything to the Lord in prayer

43. 4:7 Allowing the peace of God guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus

44. 4:8 Thinking upon that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, excellence and being praise-worthy.

45. 4:11 Contentment at all times

46. 4:14 A heart to share with others

47. 4:23 God’s grace renewing and reviving our spirits

 

You can listen to my whole sermon on this topic here.

 

Published in Blog
Thursday, 23 December 2010 11:18

Christmas Bible Passages

Christmas Bible Passages

Note also, that my “Family Bible Verse Advent Calendar” includes a number of non-traditional Christmas passages that are very relevant as to why Christ came as a Baby.

 

Isaiah 7:14 (NASB95) 14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NASB95) 6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 11:1-6 (NASB95) 1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; 4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. 5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. 6 And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them.

Isaiah 60:1-7 (NASB95) “Arise, shine; for your light has come,

And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

    2         “For behold, darkness will cover the earth

And deep darkness the peoples;

But the Lord will rise upon you

And His glory will appear upon you.

    3         “Nations will come to your light,

And kings to the brightness of your rising.

    4         “Lift up your eyes round about and see;

They all gather together, they come to you.

Your sons will come from afar,

And your daughters will be carried in the arms.

    5         “Then you will see and be radiant,

And your heart will thrill and rejoice;

Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you,

The wealth of the nations will come to you.

    6         “A multitude of camels will cover you,

The young camels of Midian and Ephah;

All those from Sheba will come;

They will bring gold and frankincense,

And will bear good news of the praises of the Lord.

    7         “All the flocks of Kedar will be gathered together to you,

The rams of Nebaioth will minister to you;

They will go up with acceptance on My altar,

And I shall glorify My glorious house.



Micah 5:2-4 (NASB95) 2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” 3 Therefore He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the Lord, In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.

Zechariah 9:9-10 (NASB95) 9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.

Luke 2:1-20 (NASB95) 1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Matthew 1:18-2:23 (NASB95) 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. 13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” 16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.” 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

John 18:33-37 (NASB95) 33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Galatians 4:4-7 (NASB95) 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

 

Published in Verse Lists
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 22:55

Books Every Christian Should Read and Own

A major part of developing a strong, balanced walk with the Lord is having (and using) a good library. Solid Christian books  with the right tools to help you grow in Christ. Here's a list I posted a while back but have updated and annotated. It contains, IMHO, the most important books that every Christian should own and regularly use as they increasingly understand who God is and who He has called us to be.

Reference Books:

Unger's New Bible Dictionary. Moody, rev. 1988 ($25) - When you're studying the Bible, you need a tool that helps you understand what's even being talked about. A Bible Dictionary is like an encyclopedia, it's arranged by topic and covers nearly every topic and people group mentioned in the Bible. A decent Bible Dictionary is about 25 bucks and usually are just one volume, if you can afford a few extra dollars a much better alternative is the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia mentioned below.

Better: Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 5 Vol, 1976 ($100) - This is a classic tool that's not just for Bible scholars. It's five volumes of helpful information on thousands of topics. If you're any kind of student of the Bible, this resource will certainly help. One of the first tools I bought as a new believer and I still consistently use this.

The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, Moody Press, 1985. ($35) - While we all know what an atlas is, this tool is much more. It not only provides maps, it shows various routes that the biblical people followed. It makes sense of the myriads of people groups, cities, terrain, governments, etc.

An Exhaustive Concordance ($15-25) - There are various exhaustive concordances on the market--the classic is the Strongs Concordance. Perhaps the best is the NASB Concordance. Most people think of concordances as quick ways to find a verse that contains a specific word. While that's true, the power of this tool is not so much in finding verses, but how they index those words to the word in its original language with a succinct, helpful definition of that word.

Better: Bible Software such as Logos Library System ($50-100) - While an Exhaustive Concordance is good, computer software is usually better and faster. My favorite is Logos/Libronix. The thing to understand, however, is that if you're just looking for an electronic concordance, you can get pretty good free Bible software. I'd say save your money. However, if you want to build an electronic library of books, then Logos/Libronix is the way to go.

The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Various editions ($20) - Other than my Bible, this is probably the most powerful resource I have. It's a cross-reference tool that is on hyperdrive. When you're reading a verse, often you wish you knew other places in scripture that address the same topic. If you go to a concordance, there may be hundreds of references that would take too long to look up. But this tool provides the best relevant references that are not based solely on specific words, but on the topic/concept.

Vines Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, rev. 1984 ($25) - Once you have learned to use a concordance, you'll find that you will probably want even more explanation on word meanings. This is basically a Greek dictionary for English readers--it will give you the Greek word, is keyed to the Strongs Concordance number system, and gives you a far fuller definition of a word meaning.

 

Theology

Packer, JI. Knowing God. Intervarsity Press, 1973 - While it sounds like this might be some kind of touchy-feely book, its actually a classic introductory systematic theology. It's not basic nor is it simplistic. It's a helpful, useful explanation of God.

Grudem, Wayne. Bible Doctrine. Zondervan, 1994 and 1998 ($30) - A systematic theology is a tool that seeks to "systematize" Bible teaching on various topics. There are loads of these on the market. Often they make things of God more confusing for the reader. Dr. Grudem's book does just the opposite. It's a great read. For those who sincerely want to understand what things of God is all about, this book will be an exciting and challenging read. They will have many "a ha" moments as Dr. Grudem unravels the complex lines of truth.

Better: Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994 - This is one of my all time favorite books. I use it all the time--even in the past couple of days. When I have a question about a specific doctrine, I consult Grudem's work first. This is just like his Bible Doctrine book above, just with far more depth. IMHO, it basically makes other one-volume systematic theologies (and I have many) unnecessary.

 

Commentaries

Walvoord and Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. 2 Vol. Chariot Victor Publishing, 1983 ($60) - A commentary is a book that helps explain the meaning of a Bible passage. Unfortunately, many commentaries aren't worth the paper they are written on. Years ago, before I had a decent library, I'd waste countless hours reading bad commentaries, not finding any real help, and ending up frustrated and discouraged. The great thing about this commentary is that it's extremely succinct; you can drop in, look up a verse, find helpful information and get on with your day.

 

Bible Versions (most precise to least precise)

Greek Interlinear

King James Version

English Standard Version

New American Standard Version

New King James Version

New International Version

The New Living Translation

Study Bibles

MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1998 ($35).

The Life Application Study Bible. Tyndale Publishing

Zodhiates, Spiros. The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible. AMG, 1990 ($25).

 

Ancient Background Information

Freeman, James. Manners and Customs of the Bible. various editions ($15) - When you're reading a verse, often you'll read something that is clearly cultural. You'll be wondering what in the world is going on. This is the book for you. It identifies the key items that are better understood when laid against their cultural/historical backdrop. It's arranged by passages that follow the biblical order so it's very easy and quick to use.

 

Top Ten Books Every Christians Should Own and Read Besides the Bible, in order.

Pursuit of God, AW Tozer - My favorite book on walking with God.

Mere Christianity, CS Lewis - A great explanation for the reasons why our faith in Christ is sound. Dinesh D'Souza's book What's So Great About Christianity? is better, but it's longer.

Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis - A great way to get a sense for the spiritual battle we face when we leave Satan's lordship and surrender to Christ's.

The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges - A key part of growing in Christ is growing in Christlikeness. This book lays out with quick, succinct precision how to pursue a path of increasing holiness and purity.

The Gospel According to Jesus, John Macarthur - Ultimately, what's more important that a sound understanding of the Gospel? Macarthur's book lays out the Gospel in a way that is not only clear, not only powerful, but you'll end up with strong convictions that so much of our lives in Christ hang upon a proper understanding of the Gospel.

Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, Donald Whitney - Few good things come to the growing Christian without personal discipline. This book lays out most of the primary disciplines that all Christians should master. It is not nearly as stuffy as it sounds, but rather is practical, helpful, inspiring and motivating.

Living By The Book, Howard Hendricks - Every Christian needs to be men or women of The Book. We need to know how to read, understand, interpret and apply God's Word. Not only does sound understanding give us strength and confidence in our walk with Christ, but it also becomes a more effective tool for the Holy Spirit as He takes what we know correctly and He applies and enables us to live by it. This book offers clear, easy methods that will help you carefully approach a passage and understand it as the author meant.

How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul Little - A major component of being in Christ is sharing the Good News with those God has placed in our lives. This book explains the need and method of sharing your faith. It's a quick, helpful read.

Knowing God, JI Packer - Mentioned above, this book helps the student of God to understand their Lord better.

The God Who Is There, Francis Schaffer - We live in a philosophically sophisticated age. Often the world looks at us smugly and treats believers like back woods hillbillies. Yet this book is a tour-de-force of the rationale for the reality of God. While it's a challenging read, it's still accessible and enjoyable for most people. It will give you the clear conviction that Christianity is the only worldview that truly makes sense of the world.

 

So these are some of my recommendations, what are some of yours?

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A quiet and side debate in Christianity has been going on for centuries. Many of us probably don't know much about it and most of us probably don't care. Indeed, in many ways, the debate itself may appear irrelevant, though in reality it is not.

This debate deals with the nature of Christ's work on the cross. The issue is about whether Christ's death on the cross atoned for a limited number of people or if all people of all times were covered by Christ's blood.

Those who believe that Jesus died for all people look to the classic verse of John 3:16. They say that John 3:16 teaches "God so loved the *world*" and they say this use of the word "world" indicates that God's provision of salvation extends to anyone--God's salvation is not fixed, limited or just for specific people. They also go one to say that since this verse says "...whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" therefore, "whoever" must mean that the offer is open to all. Additionally, they also cite other verses such as 2 Peter 2:1 which says that false teachers deny "the Master who bought them..." and 2 Peter 3:9 which says that God does not wish anyone to perish...

I'd like to take a moment to add my two cents to this debate.

Now, at the outset, we need to understand that I'm not saying that we can just sit back as the frozen chosen. Nor am I saying that we don't have a responsibility to go out and reach the world for Christ. Likewise, I am not saying that God does not love the world, or that if someone comes to Him, He will reject Him; indeed, anyone who does come to Him, comes because God is drawing them to Him (John 6:44) and that all who do come to Him will be accepted by Him (John 6:37).

So the debate is not about these matters of practicality, but more about the theoretical extent of Christ's atonement. Often the terms thrown around are "Limited Atonement" versus "Universal Atonement." If it's not clear by now, I land on the side of "Limited Atonement" though I prefer to call it "Particular Atonement" or "Definite Atonement" or even better, "Full Atonement" because only those who are born-again have their sins fully atoned.

We need to begin by understanding what the Bible says about atonement. The very term “atonement” is literally the words “at” and “one” and “ment” all put together. The Hebrew word “atone” is the word “kapar” which is what we get “Yom Kippur” from (e.g. the Day of Atonement). At its root, kapar meant to “cover” –it was used of the pitch that covered Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6:14. Once our sins are covered, God’s wrath is turned away and we are no longer His enemies.

The book of Leviticus establishes the basis for our understanding of atonement. Leviticus explains that our sins need to be covered by an innocent life. When it is, we are “at one” with God—that is, that our sins are removed and we are in fellowship with God. Every Jew that had their sins atoned for were forgiven and in a right relationship with God (Lev 4:26, 5:16). This covering, this Yom Kippur, was only available to believing Jews. In fact, if they did not believe, Leviticus 23:29 says that they should be cut off from their people. The Jews were the first of God’s people to believe in a particular atonement—that it was only available to those who would rightly recognize what God had provided.

 

I believe that the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians believe in a "Limited Atonement" though they may not say it this way. Here's why:

When we use word "atone" we are saying that Christ's blood fully covers our sins. If our sins are fully covered, we have full access to God and heaven after we die. Thus, if every person was fully atoned for by Christ, then every person would be heading to heaven--this is called Universalism. But no Bible believing Christian believes in Universalism because scripture clearly explains this is not the case. For instance, where is Judas now? Jesus said of him in Matthew 26:24 that it would have been better for him not to have been born. This can only mean that Judas is not in Heaven right now, but rather in Hell. Therefore, if Judas is in Hell right now, we can all agree that there is at least one person in Hell (though in reality, scripture indicates there are many more). So my question is this: If Jesus fully atoned for all of Judas' sins, why is he in Hell? Some might say, "Because of his unbelief. That's the only sin that cannot be forgiven." While I may not agree with the merit of this statement, the statement itself confirms my point: Jesus did not fully pay for every sin of every person because there are some people who He did not pay for their sin of unbelief. Therefore, they have at least one sin that has not been atoned for and thus we all agree in a Limited Atonement! Hooray!

Now, so far I've given some logical reasons to help settle the concerns of those who believe in an Unlimited Atonement. But what surprises me about this debate is that we are so unwilling to let scripture speak for itself. Indeed, scripture makes it quite clear that only a limited, specific group of people will be elect--that is, chosen by God for salvation. Passages such as Ephesians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:1-2, Colossians 3:12 all indicate that we are selected and chosen by God to be in Christ.

The reason for the debate is that there are other passages that likewise speak of what seems to be a universal atonement. For instance, 1 Timothy 2:6 says that Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom for all.” 1 John 2:2 says “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” Do these verses, and others, indicate that every person in the world is atoned for and thus in a right relationship with God? Well, here’s some further thoughts on this question.

The question, then, is not about what the Bible teaches, but how do we understand what these verses mean?

 

Sadly, the debate has been waged for centuries and I don't claim to have all the answers. Yet in the matter of John's references to the "world" (and by extension, Paul’s use of “all”) I think that his point is fairly clear.

The question, then, is not about what the Bible teaches, but how do we understand what these verses mean?

Well, the debate has been waged for centuries and I don't claim to have all the answers. Yet in the matter of John's references to the "world" I think that his point is fairly clear.

A study of John's gospel reveals that he admits to driving the reader to several conclusions:

1) That Jesus is God (John 1:1, John 5:18, John 10:10, John 20:28).

2) That we need to believe in Him for salvation (John 1:12, John 3:15-16, 36, John 20:29).

3) The offer of salvation is extended to all people (passim).

Now, Point #3 is the crux and requires careful study.

John uses the word "world" numerous times in his Gospel. It's the Greek word kosmos and has many facets to its meaning. the word itself is about as portable and elastic as our word "world" in English. Kosmos can mean earth/planet (e.g. the world we live on), the way of society (e.g. the way of the world), a sphere of being (e.g. the wide world of sports) etc. Now with all these semantic ranges of meaning, what is John's nuance in his gospel?

The answer lies in John chapter 4. Here we have John's account of how Jesus blew apart the dividing walls of Palestinian society of the day. In John 4, Jesus was talking with the infamous woman at the well. She had been rather loose in her morals and shunned even by her own people. Adding insult to injury, she was also a Samaritan, a rogue group of people who had an aberrant view of God and His Word. Clearly this woman had many strikes against her and if there was ever someone unfit for heaven, it was this gal. And yet, Jesus' lovingly offered her the words of eternal life.

Now to see how John chapter 4 decodes the word "world", we need to see that Jesus stuck to some important truths. In verse 22 He maintains that salvation is from the Jews. This quick statement is critical in this passage and cannot be overlooked. Saying that salvation is from the Jews is Jesus' way of affirming all that had been previously taught in the Old Testament, namely that God's solution to sin and God's renewal of the person to make them fit for heaven was only sourced in the Jewish religion. If anyone in that age wanted a relationship with God, they HAD to become Jewish. This gets to the heart of salvation and election--God has ALWAYS been particular in choosing His people. Just as a groom is particular when he chooses a bride to the exclusion of all other women, God has likewise been particular in choosing His bride.

So, the Samaritans were a hybrid Jewish spinoff; were they accepted too? The answer is No, by Jesus' words here, the Samaritan religion itself was invalid. Just because they worshiped the same "God" in name as the Jews, their religion had so many problems that it was incapable of producing salvation. In order to be saved, they needed to repent of their man-made, false religion, and they needed to come to God on His terms as Jewish believers.

So back to the story: Jesus meets this woman and something amazing happens to her. While we could go into great detail, it's suffice to say that the woman acknowledges her sin, repents, and goes to bring others to Christ as well. In this startling  turn of events a Samaritan woman is offered salvation, her people are offered salvation, and they gladly embrace Christ--not that they might become Jewish, but that they would become born-again and members/citizens of God's family through Christ.

Okay, now getting back to the word "world" in John's Gospel-- the most important key in all of this is found down in verse 42, where the people make an important and startling conclusion--a conclusion that decodes John's use of the word "world" throughout his gospel. In John 4:42 the people say, "...we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the *WORLD*." In essence, they realize and see that Jesus is from the Jews, He is God's prophet, He is God's Savior, He is God's appointment means of salvation. And yet, though Jewish Himself, Jesus' offer of salvation is extended to anyone in the whole *world* even though they are NOT Jewish!!! They have been getting the short end of the stick for a while--all along, they've been hearing from the Jews that they are not really God's people because they are not really Jewish. Up till now, the Jews were right to say this. But now that the Samaritans have heard the Gospel from Jesus the Jewish Messiah, they now understand that He is God's gift, not just to Jews; but to them (the Samaritans) too! And not just to them; but to anyone in the WORLD who comes to Him like they did!Their use of the word "world" here proves that they are not thinking of every single person, but rather every people-group can come to God on the basis of Christ's death.

God's salvation is extended to ALL people of all nationalities. We see this in John 11:51b-52 which says, "...Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." It doesn't matter if they formerly were radically sinful, from a the "wrong" ethnic group, or following a corrupt religion--if they come to Christ with humble repentance and faith, salvation is for THEM TOO! Salvation is no longer about national or cultural identity, it is about a reconciliation with God through faith and trust in Christ Jesus alone.

Lastly, even though the offer of salvation is meant for all nations, and is not limited to just the Jews, we need to remember that only those who are chosen (John 6:65) and called (John 6:44) can believe. Indeed, John 14:17 tells us clearly that the "world" cannot receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:17) because He has blinded the hearts/eyes/minds of some (John 12:40). Thus, in His high priestly prayer, Jesus specifically says, "I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours (John 17:9)."

Did you get all that? This is a brief summary of what John's Gospel has to say about God's offer of salvation to the world. On the one hand, you can't get much more election-heavy that John, on the other hand, indeed the offer of salvation is given to all nations. This doesn't mean that Jesus atoned for each and every person, but it does mean that His grace is available to anyone regardless of their national or cultural identity. 

This understanding of the word *world* unites with the overall purpose of John's Gospel. You may remember that according to John 20:31, his gospel is specifically an evangelistic book to be read and pondered by all people, not just for Jews 2000 years ago, and that the readers would call upon Christ as Lord and Savior. Just as John's Gospel is intended to be read by any people group in the world, likewise the Gospel itself IS God's message for the whole world. It's God's offer of redemption and salvation to all people. This doesn't mean that all people are universally atoned for, but rather the offer is open and extended to everyone.  These uses of the word "world" throughout John's Gospel indicates clearly that God's grace and mercy extends to all people for all times. Indeed, we worship and serve a great and mighty and good God.

Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts too...

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