Clarity

csb_logo-300x143Clarity is important. When we read something that has life-changing implications, we want it to be clear. We want to be able to understand what’s being said, and how those words impact our lives. We want to be able to share them with the people around us, and be certain that those words are clear to them as well.

I was reminded of this the other day while reading the book of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 8, the people gathered at the city gates to listen to the reading of God’s Word. As Ezra the priest read the Scripture, people moved about the crowd helping the masses understand what was being read. Why? Because clarity is important.

Through the years, I have used a variety of Bible translations. I have read, preached, and taught from most of the more popular translations. And, even though I settled on a teaching translation for me a few years ago, I continue to struggle with how to help people find the best translation for them. I want something for them that is both accurate and clear, and sometimes the translations that I love are more of the former than the latter. I want the text they read to be true to the text, but I also want it to be understandable.

Thankfully, I can now encourage people to look at the Christian Standard Bible. The CSB is both clear and accurate. When the previews debuted a few weeks ago, my teenage son (who’s a fairly accomplished reader) and I began reading through the gospel of Mark together. And, while I was struck by what I read, I was more struck by what he said about what he read. He immediately commented how much more clear and understandable the text was, and how much more he enjoyed it than the Bible he had been reading. That was big for me. And, in the weeks since, I have only continued to grow more impressed by the translation. It is without a doubt where I would point someone seeking to buy a Bible.

I am reading the CSB devotionally this year. I am also preaching and teaching from the CSB for the next month or so. I’m primarily doing this to expose our church family to the translation. To be honest, I haven’t decided whether I’ll switch my preaching translation permanently (partly because I changed texts a few years ago), but I am really tempted to make that transition.

So, check out the Christian Standard Bible. You can read more about it at csbible.com. You can read the text there as well. In addition, there are apps for both Android and iOS devices, and more digital options become available all the time. You can also find print copies in Christian bookstores and various online retailers.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Study the Bible

We all want to grow in one way or another. And, many of us look at the new year as an opportunity to make a some changes in our lives. So, with that said, it seems like a good time offer a few suggestions to help us grow in our spiritual walks.

A great place to start deepening our relationship with God is by spending time in His Word. We know that the Scripture provides what we need for spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In the pages of the Bible, we learn about Jesus and the plan of redemption (Luke 24:27). We learn how we need to live and move forward in life (Psalm 119). We grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:17-18). We learn to distinguish truth from error and we see more clearly the areas of our lives that need changing (Hebrews 4:12).

First thing to do is to get a Bible. By that, I mean get a Bible you will use. Get one with print big enough you can see. Get one you can understand. There are a number of really good translations available. I usually recommend the English Standard Version (ESV) or the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). In addition there are a number of digital options that are good as well. Olive Tree, YouVersion, and the ESV app are all great tools you can use on your phone or tablet. Furthermore, you may find a study Bible a helpful resource and once again the ESV Study Bible or the HCSB Study Bible are hard to beat.

Second, get a plan. You can find a number of reading plans tailored to your goals. You can read the Bible through in a year or over the course of two years. You can read the New Testament through in a month or two. There are no limits to the suggestions. A month or so ago, Justin Taylor wrote about a number of great options on the Gospel Coalition Blog.

Third, set a time where you can minimize distractions and invest your time in reading. Find the best time for you whether it’s morning, evening or late night. To start, the length of time is not as important as the consistency.

Fourth, pray to seek the Lord’s help in understanding and applying what you read. The Holy Spirit is our helper as we spend time in the Word (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12).

Fifth, read. As you read, interact with the text. Ask questions like who, what, when, where, why, and how as you move through the text. Underline things and take notes. Jot down your questions, observations and insights. Converse with others about your readings, including your questions and insights. Get their input and seek their prayers about what God has laid on your heart.

Finally, live out what you learn. Reading the Bible is not primarily an intellectual exercise. By God’s grace, we are to apply the things we’re reading to our lives every day.

 

Speaking through the Ages

 

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It’s amazing to me the way God speaks through His Word. Sixty-six books written over the span of hundreds of years by scores of authors in a myriad of different contexts and circumstances all with one central theme.

I was reminded of this yet again today. This morning, I was reading in the Old Testament book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Hebrews. At first glance, it seems like these two book have little in common. One centers around a man’s life while in exile in a place very foreign to him and the other stresses the superiority of Christ. They were written hundreds years apart in very different circumstances. Yet, upon a closer look, they both emphasize the importance of faithfulness in the face of temptation and pressure to do something else.

Throughout the book of Daniel, we read of a quartet of young Jewish exiles who are growing up and growing old in Babylon. Over the years, they forsake the king’s food, refuse to bow down and worship his statue, and hold fast in the worship of their God in face of constant threats and opposition. The culture around them pushes them to worship one way, yet their hearts remain true to the one true God.

The book of Hebrews is also written to people being pressured to forsake their faith in Jesus. They are being beckoned to walk away and to worship in some other way. The author of this letter goes to great lengths to encourage his readers to hold fast to Jesus because He is superior in every way to anything they had ever known.

The correlation between these two very different writings struck me afresh this morning as I read of Daniel’s insistence to continue to pray to God in the manner in which he was accustomed. He did so knowing it would jeopardize his life. He refused to waver in his faith. He clung to what he knew to be right, even in the face of an incredible amount of pressure. As he did so, God not only delivered him from the lion’s den, but He also revealed to him a vision that concluded with this promise:

“And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’” (Daniel 7:27 ESV)

Daniel stood fast and drew encouragement by the promise that God would prevail.

As I turned several hundred pages (and several hundred years ) forward in my Bible to the book of Hebrews, I read of the marvelous provision of Jesus and its sole sufficiency to save us from sin and judgment. Despite pressure to look in some other direction, Hebrews reminds us to cling to Jesus and to salvation only He can offer. And, it challenges us to encourage others to do the same, especially in times where pressure mounts to do otherwise. Towards the end of the tenth chapter, the author writes:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV, emphasis added)

The pressure to walk away is real. The voices calling us to quit are loud. The temptation to give up is alluring. Constantly struggling against the winds of culture can be tiring. Yet, Daniel’s example challenges us to press on and to hold fast, even in the face of opposition. His vision encourages us with the hope of Jesus’ ultimate victory. The words of Hebrews remind us that Jesus is sufficient to bring us into right relationship with God and because of Him, we can stand with confidence. So, we should encourage one another to hold fast even in the midst of the difficult days in which we live.

So, draw strength from these words. Be encouraged by them. Words written hundreds of years apart by different men in the midst of different circumstances, yet united in a message of hope and deliverance and in the encouragement that offers.

 

Voices

Through the years, I’ve conversed with a number of people who have hearing loss. One of the things I’ve learned in those experiences is that it’s often not the volume of the speaker that’s the problem. It’s the number of people speaking. Sometimes, just the sheer number of speakers creates so much noise, the listener can’t really focus on the one voice they need to hear.

In a way, our society is like that. We are surrounded by so many sources of information. We go to news sites and get the day’s headlines. We hear a number of voices on social media offer their takes on those headlines. We have friends tell us their opinions through email and texts. Then, when evening rolls around, we see the entertainment industry try to shape our thoughts on those subjects through television and movies. Reporters, bloggers, news anchors, pundits, politicians, friends, neighbors, actors and comedians all have something to say to us about what’s happening. So many voices. So many opinions. So many, in fact, that we can’t really hear what we need to. In an age of information overload, where do we find the real answers we need? To whom do we listen? Which voice is saying what we really need to hear?

In the Old Testament, King Ahaziah injured himself and sent messengers to a neighboring country to inquire about his future. On the way, the messengers encountered the prophet Elijah who told them, “‘Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him, Thus says the Lord, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron” (2 Kings 1:6, ESV)? In essence, God asks, “why are you looking for revelation and insight from someone other than me?” We could almost paraphrase that question today by asking, “why are you listening to the wrong voices when I have spoken?”

In our world today, the temptation we face is to look for answers somewhere other than God’s revelation to us. Rather than seek out the wisdom of Scripture, we look for insight in so many other places. Sometimes, pastors and teacher succumb to this temptation thinking that something “more entertaining” or “cutting edge” will touch our people’s lives in some new dynamic way. But, all those other voices are just noise. They really don’t have the words that change lives. Their advice can’t really heal a broken home, and their platitudes can’t really offer lasting hope.

As believers, we need to know that God has revealed Himself to us. He has something to say to us personally. He speaks to us through the Scripture. Through it, God feeds our faith and helps grow us in grace. As pastors and teachers, we need to trust that His Word has what our people need to hear. God has given to us the message we need to convey to our people. As churches, we must expect that when we live out this Word, our communities will be changed. That’s the power of the Bible. That’s the power of gospel. That’s the power of Jesus. And, His is the voice we need to hear.

Forgetting God

Even as a history major, I’m the first to admit that sometimes reading history can be a bit dry.  Names, dates, places, and events presented with a bunch of past-tense verbs isn’t always riveting.  And, if we’re honest, sometimes our struggle with reading history seeps into our reading of the Bible.  We come to certain sections of Scripture and we get overwhelmed with the genealogy and chronology of kings with funny sounding names living in places with even funnier sounding names.  Our eyes glaze over and like a child swallowing medicine, we read as fast as we can to dutifully move on to something more familiar.  But God has a way of grabbing us even in those difficult portions of the Bible.

Take for instance the story of King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23).  He ascends to the throne at eight years old and almost two decades later, his priests make a startling discovery.  In the midst of their restoration of the temple, they discover a copy of the Law.  In other words, they find a copy of the Bible (or at least the Bible of their day).  And, when they read it to Josiah, he responds in a rather interesting manner.

“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.” 2 Kings 22:11 (ESV)

Why does he respond like this?  Because He sees the gap between what God asks of His people and how they’re really living.  It had been so long since anyone had encountered God in His Word that they simply forgot how to live.

They say that those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.  Sometimes, even when we know history, we make some of the same mistakes.  As I read this story again today, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us have done the same thing as the people of God in Josiah’s day?  We live in an age where we have more access to the Bible and biblical resources than any other point in history, yet we don’t seem to engage God in His Word like we should.  More importantly, we don’t seem to let God engage us with His Word like we should.  Let’s strive to change that today.  Let’s not neglect our time with God forget who He is and how He’s called us to live.  Carve out a few minutes to spend some time with God by reading your Bible.  Take another minute or two to ask Him to help you to live out something you’ve seen in it today.  It will change our lives…and maybe the lives of some people around us too.