Monthly Archives: December 2012

The One Year Bible

oneyearbibleI’m a preacher’s kid. I grew up in the church and never strayed. I attended a Christian college. I have spent my entire career in fulltime Christian service. Pretty decent Christian “resume.”

And yet, despite having reached the advanced age of 56, I have never read through the entire Bible. Never.

I’ve made a few attempts. But I would get behind a day, then several days, and then a couple weeks…and I’d give it up. It’s always easy to get bogged down in Leviticus, or example, and just lose interest.

Last year right about this time–just a day or two before the new year started–my friend Barb Kenley, a Presbyterian minister, mentioned on Facebook “The One Year Bible.” She said she’d used it several times to read through the Bible in a year.

It struck a note in my heart. I promptly downloaded the “One Year Bible” to my Nook.

What a blessing it has been!

With many plans, you read straight through the Bible, Genesis to Revelation. But the “One Year Bible” gives you a variety each day: an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, a passage from the Psalms, and a few verses of Proverbs. You read straight through all four parts, at the same time. If you’re bogged down in Old Testament genealogies, you can look forward to something inspirational from the New Testament, or maybe from the Psalms. My favorite part of each day was the capstone Proverbs reading–some real gems! (You actually read through Psalms twice. On July 1, you start all over again.)

The readings required at least 20 minutes per day. To keep on track, I set a few rules for myself.

  1. Read each day’s selection on that day. No matter how tired I was, or how late it was–read it that day. Several times I climbed out of bed because I realized I had forgotten to read for that day.
  2. NEVER decide to skip a day, and just read double the next day. The days will pile up and you’ll never get caught up.
  3. Don’t read ahead. Even if you want to read what happens next, save tomorrow’s reading for tomorrow. Never say, “I’ll read a couple days to get ahead, and then I can take a day or two off.” Keep the daily discipline intact.
  4. “Read for the message, not the mileage.” I forced myself to read at a slow pace, and almost always reread certain portions just to make sure I wasn’t missing something important. I didn’t want to read to “get through it.” (Though that became my attitude with the OT prophetic books!)

Some things I learned:

  • Despite attending church all my life, there are lots of stories I’d never heard.
  • Parts of the Old Testament are incredibly dull. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are particularly dreadful.
  • It’s extremely valuable to have the whole picture of the Bible in your head. My view of God’s Word has changed substantially.

Reading through the entire Bible is very demanding. I don’t want to continue that pace for two years in a row. So in 2013, I’m slowing down, reading entirely for the message (no mileage needed). I’m reading through the New Testament one chapter at a time, with some of the more interesting Old Testament books thrown in for filler.

But for anyone interested in reading through the entire Bible, I definitely recommend the “One Year Bible.” And I particularly recommend the New Living Translation, which I used. It rendered many familiar passages in ways which made it delightfully fresh to me. I should add that the “One Year Bible” is perfectly suited for an electronic reader, like my ColorNook.

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Yet Another Rant about “Happy Holidays”

merrychristmas-happyholidayscartoon

Here’s something I find ironic. Conservative Christians tend to support Israel wholly and unconditionally. Whatever Israel wants, they believe Israel should get. And yet, these same Christians adamantly oppose including Jews in a simple holiday greeting.

Jesus himself would have celebrated Hanukkah. But if, instead of saying “Merry Christmas,” I say “Happy Holidays” to include goodwill to Jews (and fellow Americans of other faiths), people will frown, and some will accuse me of participating in the War on Christmas.

At the end of his press conference a few days ago, I noticed that President Obama said “Merry Christmas.” If he had said “Happy Holidays,” the conservative media would be pillorying him. And their hand-wringing would seem incredibly petty to me…and no doubt to lots of other people, Christian and non. It’s a made-up, contrived grievance which plays well with the conservative base and really gets them riled up. The result is a bunch of indignant Facebook graphics.

Living in a country which was founded on celebrating pluralism, it seems intensely American to NOT exclude other faiths from well wishing. America is not about excluding faiths, about putting one religion above another. As a Christian, I’ll tell you that Jesus is the only way to salvation, and no other religion offers a path to heaven. But as a citizen of the USA, which has always invited diversity, I am totally fine with living amidst other religions. And as a nice guy, I don’t mind wishing them well on the holidays important to them. It seems both Christian and American.

Though, frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever said “Happy Holidays.” I’m a “Merry Christmas” kind of guy. And thankfully, nonChristians who have been hearing “Merry Christmas” all their lives, including getting bombarded with it during this time of year, don’t seem to get all bent out of shape about it. Minority religions seem to “get” the concept of pluralism a bit more clearly than the Christians, who command a distinct majority in American life and don’t think any other religion should be acknowledged.

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Where to Draw the Line with Guns

guncontrolWhen it comes to the right to bear arms, society has already accepted a huge number of “reasonable” restrictions. The range of allowable weaponry is fairly limited. As far as I know, I can’t freely buy a working bazooka, or a howitzer, or a grenade, or a mortar. In the interests of self-defense, I can’t place landmines and a rocket launcher in my yard. I don’t know anyone who owns a tank, or has a 50-calibre machine-gun mounted on their SUV. We have all kinds of restrictions on the right to bear arms, and we accept them. Just as we don’t allow people to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and consider that a reasonable restriction on free speech.

People could argue that these restrictions infringe on the “right to bear arms.” Yet nobody does. We’ve ruled out anything larger than an assault rifle, and anything that is fully automatic. This is where we’ve drawn the line, and society seems okay with that. Even the most rabid gun enthusiasts.

So as I think about drawing the line tighter, I see few options. I’m pretty happy with where things stand now. Banning all semi-auto weapons would affect most handguns and a large number of rifles of all calibers, right down to the common .22LR. Limit magazine size? That is talked about. Tax the heck out of certain ammo? The stuff is already very expensive. With some ammo, every trigger pull is a dollar spent.

So in the interests of “reasonable” gun control, what else can we do?

Training? In Indiana, it’s easier to get a Bushmaster than a driver’s license. We require no class or testing, as some states do. Background checks? They appear rather solidly in place, though I’m sure there are flaws in the system, things to tighten.

We’ll never get to the point of confiscating guns–not in America, with 300 million guns already out there–and I wouldn’t support that. But there must be further things that could be done. Any ideas?

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School Prayer Will Solve Everything!

huckabee-gunsMike Huckabee blames the school massacre in Connecticut on removing prayer from public schools. Really, Mike? God brings judgment on a nation by killing 6 and 7 year-olds with an assault rifle? Interesting God you serve. Or maybe you’re just drawing a totally obvious cause-and-effect?

During my lifetime, I’ve heard all kinds of societal ills blamed on that 1963 Supreme Court decision banning school prayer. It’s the reason for the divorce rate, crime, drugs, the crisis du jour. But why stop there? Let’s also blame 1963 for Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the debt crisis, Justin Bieber, low voting rates, declining church attendance, MS Windows, teen pregnancy, AIDS, poor math scores, illegal immigration, and the Macarena. And if we go off the fiscal cliff, let’s blame that on the lack of school prayer, too.

That way, we can blame everything on something that happened in 1963, rather than on our own present-day irresponsibility.

The school massacre is all about school prayer. It has nothing to do with guns or mental illness.

 

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Movie Review: “Lincoln”

lincoln

Pam and I saw “Lincoln” today. That makes two Lincoln movies this year, though this, if I may make a wild guess, was probably more historically accurate than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

Some thoughts.

  • Daniel Day Lewis–great choice! Looked so much like Lincoln.
  • Interesting, taking just a sliver or his presidency to cover in the movie. Nothing grand or sweeping.
  • I’ve not read about this piece of history–the passage of the 13th amendment. I found the movie fascinating, but I can’t speak to its accuracy. I’m assuming Spielberg stayed true to the actual story. Haven’t heard critics saying otherwise.
  • Sally Field was superb. So was Tommy Lee Jones. And David Straithairn. In fact, there was not a bad performance.
  • The beginning battle scene was fascinating–nasty, chaotic, probably a lot like the real thing. I’d love to see Spielberg direct a Civil War battle movie.
  • I liked the lumbering gait Lewis gave to Lincoln. There was a scene toward the end, where he walks away from the camera, where this was especially pronounced.
  • Loved the stories Lincoln told. Especially the one about George Washington’s picture in the bathroom. And the “true north” story.
  • It was a very human–and believable–Lincoln. Sitting in a chair with his socked feet sticking up. Crawling around on the floor to stir up a fire. Sitting in a chair motionless, deep in thought. His unruly hair. The shouting match with Mary.
  • My goodness, Congressmen spoke nasty to each other back then!
  • The legal and pragmatic realities, entanglements, and dilemmas that Lincoln faced were daunting, and explained pretty well. Like the various issues surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation as a purely wartime measure, and what would happen to slaves once peace returned. Lincoln had some truly enormous issues to wrestle with.
  • I loved the opening scene with the two black soldiers, and how they worked in the Gettysburg Address. Nice touch.
  • I really liked the scene sitting with Grant before the surrender, and then the Appamatox Courthouse scene.
  • An interesting surprise with Thaddeus Stevens at the end.
  • I totally did not recognize James Spader in his role. Gloria Reuben, either.

This was a thinking person’s movie. Very little action. The plot basically involved political wranglings and arm-twisting, and discussions of highly important issues wrapped in dilemmas. I highly recommend the movie, and won’t be surprised if some actors, starting with Day-Lewis, win Oscars.

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The War Continues

Jon Stewart: “Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely. In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion..perhaps around their necks? And maybe–dare I dream it?–maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.”

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Beyond the Comfortable

Andy Stanley, a prominent pastor in Georgia, wrote in his new book Deep and Wide, “I love everything we do and I love the way we do it. But that doesn’t make it right. That just makes it comfortable. Predictable. But perhaps ineffectual.”

Last week, Anchor’s worship team practiced with the worship team of a nearby black church. We’re doing a joint service together on Dec 23. I found it discombobulating, somewhat uncomfortable. They are just so different from us. But they have an extravagant passion for Jesus. And to the credit of our worship team, though we found the experience foreign and out of our comfort zone, we also found it to be exhilarating. I can’t wait to practice with them again on Thursday night.

I like how we do things at Anchor. I like our music, our style, our patterns. It’s all comfortable for me. But that doesn’t make it the right way to do things, nor the best way to do things.

It’s good to be stretched and thrown off balance.

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Our Obsessions with Christian Symbols

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision US, published an excellent article on the Huffington Post. He mentions how Christians are fighting the secularization of society by advocating for symbols, like the Ten Commandments posted in courtrooms and nativity scenes in public places. There are various other symbols which we Christians make much fuss over–prayer at public gatherings, “In God We Trust” on money, “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the annual hubbub over a “war on Christmas.”

Stearns argues that obsessing over these symbols is backfiring, alienating people from the true Gospel. He writes, “The kind of Christianity the world responds to is the authentic ‘love your neighbor’ kind. Its appeal can’t be legislated through court battles and neither can courts stop its spread.”

I’m totally on board with that.

I get very impatient with these side-issue symbols being the public face of Christianity. It must come across as very petty to a watching world.

Stearns says Christian America needs to “get back to the mission Jesus gave us to show the world a different way to live — a way that demonstrates the great character of God: his love, his justice, his compassion, his forgiveness and his reconciliation.”

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Great Christmas Music You May Not Know About

Pam and I have been listening to gobs of Christmas music–last night as we put up our Christmas tree, and today as we’ve been cleaning the house and cooking in preparation for tonight’s worship team Christmas party. We have a 60-song playlist on an iPod Touch, and it’s been running continuously. Some favorites:

  • “A Tractors Christmas.” This is easily our favorite Christmas album. Really fun.
  • “Christmas,” by Rebecca St. James. I discovered this about 14 years ago, and never weary of it. James has the most creative takes on traditional songs (like “O Holy Night,” “What Child is This,” and “O Come Al Ye Faithful”).
  • “Run Run Rudolph.” This would be my favorite song. The playlist includes three versions–by The Tractors, Luke Bryan, and Sister Hazel (which I just discovered). You can really rock out with that song.

Other Christmas songs I highly recommend you download from iTunes:

  • “Christmas in America,” by Melissa Etheridge.
  • “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” by Josh Wilson with Mandisa. Also, the Little Big Town version.
  • “A New York Christmas,” by Rob Thomas.
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by the Smithereens.
  • “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” by Los Lonely Boys.
  • “Christmas Baby, Please Come Home,” by Bon Jovi.
  • “Little Drummer Boy,” by Aly & AJ.
  • The Mercy Me “Christmas Sessions” album.
  • “Away in a Manger,” by Billy Gilman (beautiful!).
  • “Silent Night,” by Taylor Swift.
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A Stretch on Amazon Prime

Pam and I love Amazon Prime. Pay $79 a year, and get unlimited two-day shipping on most items. We’ve ordered scores of items through Amazon Prime, from tiny flash drives to much larger items. But nothing as big as the Commander Series 54 gun safe.

I read that Cannon Safe sells a bunch of these six-foot-tall, 1500-pound safes through Amazon. Cannon charges $700 to ship the safe, but when people buy it through Amazon, shipping is free. You wonder what kind of a business model makes that profitable for Amazon.

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