How Much do You Love the Bible?

The Bible
Holy Bible

How much do you love the Bible?

I personally have at least 10 copies of the Bible in various English translations.  I also inherited a couple of family Bibles and have been given Bibles or Bible portions in several languages besides English.  How often do I read the Bible?  I try to read a bit each day, but there are plenty of days when my schedule is demanding or I am focused on particular tasks, and don’t get around to my daily reading.

The Bible is a genuine treasure

For more than 2,000 years, this ancient book has been preserved intact.  The earliest of the Old Testament books could have been written down as far back as 1400 BC.  The last of the New Testament books were written sometime just before the end of the first century AD.  So from beginning to end, there is a time span of perhaps 1500 years.  The total number of authors who contributed directly to its content have been estimated at around forty.  Writers range from Moses to the Apostle John.   Yet, even though it truly is a human masterpiece, many people throughout history have regarded it as divinely inspired as well.  The Bible has been such a central part of human civilization that it is often quoted by people who would never claim to be believers in its divine inspiration.  Because of its unique role, many people have called it our greatest treasure.

The amazing power of the Bible

The Bible has amazing staying power. despite centuries of severe and continuous criticism.  In fact, people around the world love it and have experienced changed lives from its pages.   Contemporary people with scientific degrees, progressive politicians, and technical innovators love the Bible.  Lots of other folks who are very comfortable in the twenty-first century read it regularly and gain great comfort and wisdom from it.  The fact that the Bible remains a perennial best seller in the United States, and that its readership in Asia, Africa and Latin America is growing widely, illustrates its continuing power and influence. The Bible’s more than thirty centuries of transforming power in people’s lives shows that, far from being an outdated book, it maintains the ability to speak to the profound issues of the human condition.

Chinese Christians get their first Bibles

Check out this short video of some Chinese believers who received their first very own Bibles.  If you are moved by this scene, as I was, it shows that somewhere deep down, you have a love for this sacred book that can grow as you get to know it better.  Michael Bogart

The Importance of Forgiveness

The Importance of Forgiveness

Importance of forgiveness
Importance of forgiveness

It is hard to overstate the importance of forgiveness. Have you ever had trouble forgiving someone?  Almost everyone has had the experience of being hurt so badly that they held a grudge for years after the event.  Many people know that forgiving the person who hurt them is the right thing to do. But knowing what is right and actually doing it are different things.

A helpful video

For those who need a bit of clarification about the concept of forgiveness, a short video I came across recently explains the three main types of forgiveness and their applications.  The forgiveness types are exoneration, forbearance, and release. Though the Bible doesn’t use these exact terms, I believe the points made in this Prager University video are consistent with what scripture has to say about the nature and blessings of forgiveness.  I hope you find it helpful.  Michael Bogart

 

Intermediate Bible Quiz: Answer Key

Answer key
Answer key

How did you do on the Intermediate Bible Quiz?  Here are the answers.

Basic Information

The Bible commonly used by Protestants contains a total of (1) 66 books. It is divided into two main sections: the (2) Old Testament and the (3) New Testament. The first section was written mainly in the ancient (4) Hebrew language; the second section was written in the (5) Greek language of the First Century.

 Bible People and Storyline

The book of Genesis describes the first humans as living in a garden named (6) Eden. There they fell into (7) sin by eating forbidden fruit. To prevent the complete corruption of the human race, God later sent a devastating flood while saving a remnant under the leadership of (8) Noah. Later, the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the Tower of (9) Babel. After this, God called a man named (10) Abraham to begin a line of chosen people who would represent him to the rest of the world. The great-grandson of this man was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. His name was (11) Joseph.

After several generations of slavery, the descendants of this former slave and his brothers became known as the nation of (12) Israel. They were delivered from their slavery under a lawgiver named (13) Moses. Although God promised them the land then known as (14) Canaan in which to establish themselves, they showed a lack of faith and many of them died in the wilderness. After forty years of wandering, God raised up a man called (15) Joshua to lead them into this Promised Land.

In this new land, the nation was at first ruled by servants of God called   (16) judges, one of whom was a woman named Deborah. Later the nation was ruled by a series of (17) kings, the best known of which was David. When this line of rulers became foolish and disobedient to God, he divided the nation in two, with the northern capitol in Samaria while the south had its capitol in (18) Jerusalem. Though they were warned to cease worshipping idols and devote themselves to the true God, the people continued to disobey, with the south eventually suffering exile in (19) Babylon. A book of 150 musical poems, some of which were written during this time, was used by God’s people in worship. It is entitled (20) Psalms. Though called to represent him in the world, God’s people often needed correction by men and women speaking on God’s behalf. These people were called (21) prophets.

The second main section of the Bible begins with the life and ministry of (22) Jesus. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (23) Mary and born in the city of (24) Bethlehem. He performed many (25) miracles to validate his claims of being the Son of God. After being accused of blasphemy, he was condemned and put to death by the cruel method of (26) crucifixion. After (27) three days in the tomb, he rose from the dead. The book of (28) Acts is the history of the early Christians. They formed a new people of God, known as the (29) Church. The basic Christian message, called the (30) gospel is the good news that, though people are guilty before God, anyone may be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in God’s Son.

The associate of the Lord and main spokesman for the earliest Christians had been a simple fisherman. His name was (31) Peter. The majority of the letters in the second section of the Bible were written by one man: the Apostle (32) Paul. Other letters were written by various Christian leaders. One of these letters makes it clear that faith without works is dead. It was written by (33) James, who was probably a brother of the Lord. Several other letters were written by the Apostle (34) John, who was especially close to the Lord during his lifetime. The book of (35) Revelation fittingly climaxes the Bible, closing with the promise of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth.

Never be discouraged.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

 

Basic Bible Quiz

Bible information
Basic Bible Quiz
Basic Bible Quiz

This 15-point basic Bible quiz is designed to measure your basic knowledge of the overall storyline of the Bible .  Fill in the blanks to see you much you know!

The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) ______ Testament and the (2) _____ Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) ________________ tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) __________.   They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) _______________.

 After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6)__________, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) _____________. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) __________.   Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) ______________.

The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of  (10) __________. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) ____________. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) _________________.   One of these leaders named (13) ____________ was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) __________. The book of (15) ________________ closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.

How did you do? You can find the answers in the key to this Level 1 Quiz posted as a separate blog.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

Basic Bible Quiz: Answer Key

How did you do on Basic Bible Quiz?  Here are the answers:

The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) Old Testament and the (2) New Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) Genesis tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) Eden.   They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) Serpent (or Devil).

 After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6) Noah, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) Israel. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) Moses.   Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) prophet.

The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of (10) Jesus. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) Church. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) Apostles.   One of these leaders named (13) Peter was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) Paul. The book of (15) Revelation closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.

If you missed some answers, don’t be discouraged.  A knowledge of the Bible is something that comes with time.  Keep reading!

 

How to Pray for People

Have you ever wondered how to pray for people?  Are you tired of the standard prayers typically prayed by Christians? Perhaps you can relate to what I am talking about: “Dear God, please bless so-and-so with (health, a job, salvation, a renewed spiritual interest, an easier life, etc).” Not that there is anything wrong with these things. They may be legitimate matters for prayer, but it seems to me that we Christians often settle for so little when we make requests of God.  What follows is what I hope is a remedy for these routine kinds of prayer

Do we know what God wants?

Maybe the problem is that we don’t really understand what to ask God for. Maybe we just get caught up in responding to the urgent felt-needs of those around us. Maybe we have become creatures of habit, falling into the set patterns of our particular circle of friends and church associates. Whatever the reason, I sometimes find typical prayer sessions to be bland and all-too predictable: the same categories of prayer; the same focus on immediate physical and material needs; the same salvation requests.

The problem of group dynamics

Prayer sessions can easily be dominated by two or three people who either don’t mind sharing most of the prayer requests or who enjoy being the perpetually needy ones. Maybe you can relate to feeling like this at a prayer gathering, “Here we go again. Brother Sam has been feeling upset again this week. He is requesting that we ask to God to remove the source of his frustration. Beside him, brother Ned needs a job for the third time in the past year. Sister Sue is asking for her son’s salvation just as she has since we have first known her years ago. Another Christian lady has urgent health issues and can hardly function in her daily routines. (But, if so, how is she well enough to come to this prayer-gathering?) Across the circle, sister Mary is sharing another compelling story she came across on the Internet this week. She wants prayer for an individual a continent away who has been “on her heart” for days but whom none of us has ever met. So we bow our heads and ask God to intervene.

Let me be clear: I am not condemning such prayers or the people who pray them. In my experience, the motives of those who make these kinds of requests are usually good. They care about people and they want God’s blessings on those people and circumstances they care about.  Yet I have become increasingly discontent with prayer requests which go no further than these kinds of things.  It is entirely possible that, as a pastor, I have simply been jaded by attending many dozens of these prayer sessions.   Part of the solution is to set ground rules for prayer times that limit one or two people from dominating the agenda.

Getting beyond the routine

Maybe I am also frustrated by the lack of discernible growth in these dear folks whose prayers seem to be on the same level year after year. It could be argued that these types of prayers simply reflect poor biblical teaching on the part of their leaders, including me. What I do know is that we ought to be asking God for much more.  So, I have put together a collection of prayer requests that I believe are more in line with those modeled in scripture. I am urging that, along with praying for jobs, and protection, and the solving of various problems—-all of which may be valid—that my fellow believers should consider praying “outside the box”. But what does a biblical, yet edgy prayer request look like? Let me give some examples. Try praying for these things:

  • That people develop a deep love for God
  • That people have thoughts, words and actions controlled by the Holy Spirit
  • That our friends become willing to accept a life-changing direction from God
  • That we experience a sacrificial attitude in marriages, families and other relationships
  • That those we are concerned about come to genuine repentance
  • That together we are a voice for Christ’s Kingdom when one is needed
  • That people develop the mental commitment and toughness to resist temptation
  • That Christians demonstrate our oneness in Christ
  • That we all become competent in applying the truths of scripture to our own lives
  • That we strive for personal excellence as a visible result of honoring God in all we do
  • That Christians are seen as models of tolerance in situations in which tolerance pleases God
  • That Christians model godly family living
  • That Christians face their own blind spots
  • That we decide to be content with what cannot be changed
  • That we develop consistency and skill in their work
  • That believers respond to conflict with truth, righteousness and mercy
  • That our friends acquire the ability to persevere through hardship and failure
  • That we all learn true forgiveness
  • That our churches grow in their ability to speak about their faith in ways which ring true with the unchurched and unbelieving people around them
  • That we discover joy in giving to others
  • That Christians commit themselves to basic spiritual disciplines
  • That we develop healthy eating and exercise routines
  • That we stop judging others’ motives
  • That folks learn the difference between explicit biblical teachings and their own inferences based on certain verses of scripture
  • That we all become amazed at God’s care and provision in their lives
  • That troubled people find God to be the acceptance and beauty that they have been looking for
  • That stubborn folks find God to be tougher and smarter than themselves
  • That all of us desire to become more than they have dreamed possible for God’s glory
  • That we find deep enjoyment in the life God has blessed them with
  • At all times that God’s people show themselves as models of God’s grace

I could add many more requests that are biblically-based and relevant to the society we are currently living in.  It could be that if we consistently prayed for ourselves and others like this, we might actually turn the world upside down!

Michael Bogart

 

Passion Week 4: Relating to Jesus’ Resurrection

Jesus is risen!

Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday of Passion Week changed everything!  Out of all the followers of Jesus, only a few of the women were able to keep their wits enough to focus on practical things. Several of the women got up very early on Sunday morning, met at an agreed location, and set out together for the tomb to finish embalming Jesus’ body . As the walked through the darkness, the women must have quietly discussed both the heartache they still felt, and the task ahead. Specifically they wondered how they were going to roll aside the great stone that sealed the entrance.

Upon arrival, the women were stunned to find a scene of confusion. The stone weighing several tons, was not only rolled aside, but seemingly tossed aside some distance away. The Roman guard was dispersed and the tomb was empty.  Not knowing what else to do, they began the return journey to inform their friends. Mary Magdalene lingered behind because she wanted to ask what had happened of a man she presumed to be the gardener.  It was only when the man spoke her name that she realized he was actually Jesus, fully alive.

There were other experiences that day. After being urged by the women to see for themselves, Peter and John ran to the tomb and confirmed that it was empty.   Other followers of Jesus had been on their way home to figure out how to restart their lives– only to meet a fellow traveller, who they suddenly recognized to be Jesus at the end of the day’s journey.  Later Jesus appeared to his disciples when they were together in the upper room.  On still another occasion, Jesus appeared among the disciples when Thomas, who had been absent before, was present.

After his resurrection, Jesus seems to have been physically with his disciples a number of times during a period of several weeks, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. Imagine the emotional swings they must have experienced during those days.  In all of their discussions with Jesus, one thing was certain to these men and women: Jesus had come to life again after dying. His death was no tragic accident, but a supreme payment of human transgression. Most importantly, Jesus had shown himself to be the Son of God by taking on a new kind of life: a life he was offering to share with them.

There are many truths to be gained from the resurrection of Jesus.  One that should always be emphasized is the almost unbelievable fact that you now have hope.  The gracious God, who loved and pursued us through history, has never given up on your reconciliation. For reasons of his own, God wants you back and has done all that is needed to forgive you, cleanse you, and make you his own. The resurrection proves this almost unbelievable fact.  So, next time life seems hopeless– next time your heart is broken, or weighed down with worry, remember that there is hope in Jesus’ resurrection. Put your full trust in him. Hold onto the gift of life he offers you.  It will guide you through all that life brings your way, and will bring you eternal life with him!

Passion Week 3: Relating to Jesus’ Suffering

Jesus’ death and burial

It is on Saturday of Passion Week that fear really took hold.  Jesus’ followers– scattered the day before– have gone into hiding. They were terrified of betrayal by their neighbors or other who might recognize their connection with Jesus.  That Saturday of Passion Week, every footstep in the street, every knock at the house next door, every raised voice, caused the terror to rise to the surface again. The extreme disillusionment and sorrow of Friday is taking its toll on Saturday. Life is not simply flat and gloomy: now it is horrifying.

Had God abandoned them?  Were they heretics as their enemies claimed? Was Jesus a liar or a misguided fool? In their minds, the fishing, or the collecting of taxes, the farming and small businesses of their former lives now appeared to be a respectable alternative to all the talk about the coming Kingdom of God.  What about the miracles, the crowds and the new hope inspired by Jesus’ teaching over the past several years?  These now appeared foolish and even dangerous.  So the followers of Jesus quietly made their plans to slip back north up to Galilee and just disappear.  Fear had caused a sudden abandonment of everything these men and women had so optimistically believed as recently as one week before.

Many of us have experienced (or are experiencing) this kind of fear.  That deep kind of fear is dark and overpowering.  It makes us desperate and irrational.  It can cause us to be suspicious of those around us.  We feel like cornered animals with no way of escape.  So we crouch, ready to fight and flee, abandoning all we once held dear. Threatened layoffs at work, accusations by associates, a medical diagnosis or some huge disillusionment can have this effect on us.  Are you in the grip of fear? Are you considering throwing away some of your dearest commitments?  Do you feel abandoned by God?  Hold on: God isn’t finished.  Hope is just around the corner!

Passion Week 2: Relating to Jesus’ Betrayal

shutterstock_2885117
The crucifixion

It is  Friday of Passion Week.  Jesus had been awake for more than twenty-four hours.  At this point in what we now call Passion Week, Jesus had endured the difficult interrogation by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious council) all alone.  Both during and afterward, Jesus was beaten and humiliated.  His friend Peter had managed to enter the courtyard of the High Priest where Jesus was being held, but when Peter was asked if he was one of Jesus’ followers, he strongly denied it in Jesus’ very presence.

Then Jesus was shuffled off to Pilate, who quickly passed him off to Herod Antipas.  Herod humiliated Jesus and then returned him to Pilate for final judgment. We should remember that Pilate was in a difficult spot.  As Roman governor felt blackmailed by the Sanhedrin into sentencing Jesus to death.  Seeing no way out of the predicament, Pilate made it clear Jesus had violated no Roman law.  Even so, after a whipping that left little skin on Jesus’ back and resulting in a catastrophic loss of blood, the Romans forced Jesus to carry a heavy wooden beam through the streets.  Before he reached the place of execution, Jesus stumbled and fell.  A bystander named Simon was then forced to carry the cross on the final leg of the journey.

At the place the Romans called Calvary (Skull Hill), Jesus was nailed to the crossbeam and the crossbeam was attached to post to which Jesus’ feet were spiked.  There Jesus hung from 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon.  At noon a darkness came over the sky as Jesus increasingly lost strength.  With a final cry of agony, he gave up his spirit, causing the veil in the Temple to split from top to bottom.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two members of the Sanhedrin who refused to condemn Jesus, asked for and received permission from Pilate to remove Jesus’  body for burial.  Joseph kindly offered his own unused family tomb for the purpose.  The burial party was under the pressure of time due to the commandment not to work on the Sabbath, which would begin at sundown–only a few hours away.  Because of this pressure the burial preparations were only partially completed.  One last caress by Mary, his mother and a mental note of the preparations still to be made, and they sealed the tomb.

But isn’t Jesus the miracle worker?  Isn’t he the Messiah, the Son of God?  How could God let him be treated like this?  Is God just a myth, or is he like the disciples who abandoned Jesus in his hour of need?  Maybe the skeptics are right when they sneer that nice guys always finish last.  Maybe the cynics are proven correct that evil ultimately crushes good and might trumps right.  The followers of Jesus were in deep shock.  For them, the crucifixion was more than a major disappointment: it was the crushing of all hopes and dreams. They were facing the real possibility that life ultimately favors whoever has the power to force their will on others. These are hardly the thoughts that faithful Jews should have had on the sabbath following Passover.

Have you ever felt abandoned and punished unjustly?  Have you wondered why evil sometimes seems to triumph?  Why is it that selfish and self-righteous people appear to prevail?  Those are truly desolate and terrifying thoughts, and many people have them.  Jesus’ friends and followers certainly felt that way at the foot of the cross and at the sealing of Jesus’ tomb.  But hold on: God isn’t finished. Hope is just around the corner!

Does Science Disprove the Supernatural?

Does Science Disprove the Supernatural

scientific microscope
Stanislav.nevyhosteny (Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of the major reasons why Millennials are skeptical of Christianity is the issue of science. Many Millennials have the idea that science has disproved Christianity. They may think that it shows the miracles in the Bible to be exaggerations or falsehoods. Skeptical Millennials aren’t the only ones who see science as making Christianity outdated—lots of older people feel much the same way.  So here’s my answer: science really isn’t the problem. The real issue is whether the supernatural exists or not.  Many Millennials assume that the physical world is all there is.

What is science?

So why is science the thing skeptics point to as their ultimate proof?   Because many of them have not thought deeply enough to realize that science isn’t the issue.  What is science? Science is just a tool. To be more specific, it is a procedure for gathering reliable information about the natural world. The scientific method begins with observations of how things work, whether its chemical processes, the laws of physics,  or biological functions. Observations lead to hypotheses—working models for what is happening. These hypotheses are then tested through experiments. If the experiments confirm the hypotheses, then we say that scientific facts have been discovered, or that a solid theory has been established. From there, the facts can be applied to practical issues like building better computers, or making better medicines.

Are science and Christian faith in conflict?

Understood like this, science and Christian faith are not in conflict at all. Science is a method for understanding the physical world God has made. The problem is when people try to elevate science to the level of religion. People do this when they say that science is the only reliable tool for understanding reality. In other words, the scientific method can tell us everything we need to know about everything there is.

So we are back to the real issue, which is whether the supernatural exists or whether the natural world is all there is. The answer to that question is always a matter of faith. Modern skeptics have faith that the natural world is all there is. Religious believers, including Christians, have faith that the natural world is only one part of total reality, and that the supernatural realm is just as real.

Science cannot say whether the supernatural exists

So, since the scientific method is a tool for gathering reliable information about the natural world, it really has nothing to say about anything in the supernatural realm.  It like saying that a thermometer is the only measuring tool we need. Thermometers are great for measuring temperature, but they are of no use in measuring length, or humidity, or speed.

To understand the supernatural, you need something other than science. Does the supernatural exist? Humans from all times and cultures seem to think so. Certain things that happen regularly to us as humans seem to defy ordinary explanation. But although we may sense the supernatural, we don’t have the tools for understanding much about it. What we need is someone who is from the supernatural realm to explain what we need to know about it. That someone is Jesus. John 1:18 tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Jesus makes God known

Of course you can accept that Jesus and the Bible give an accurate picture of reality, or you can reject that belief. Personally, what I see is that every time Jesus speaks about what we humans experience, he is right on target. He is right about what happens in the natural world and about what we seem to sense about the supernatural world. I choose to trust him. How about you?

Michael Bogart