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A Downward Spiral

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A Downward Spiralby John AdairWhen the book of Judges opens, the people of Israel had just come off of the experience of a great victorythey had conquered the land of Canaan and divided the land among themselves. When their leader Joshua died, however, no one stepped in to take his place. And this was the plan of God, to rule His kingdom from heaven, with His people living in humble submission and dependence upon His provision.The book of Judges shows us the disturbing results of this arrangement; the people ignored the Lord as their king and did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). And the people did this not just once but time after time after time. The cycle of misery spun its way across three hundred years, ever downward, leaving Gods people in greater and greater desperation with leaders who grew increasingly compromised over the course of this period. The downward spiral came to its lowest point in chapter 19 when the men of Benjamin brutalized a defenseless woman, and the people of Israel countered by taking out a bloody revenge on the perpetrators (Judges 20). The time of great unity and victory in the conquest of the land had given way to civil war and defeat as they settled the land. Judges shows us that human depravity had the upper hand among Gods people. It also reveals how eager God was to bless His people if they would only repent and walk in obedience.

Basic Bible Study Toolsby Charles R. SwindollThe more serious you become about personal Bible study, the more you will be aware of the importance of owning some good study tools. Numerous books are available today, some of which are listed below. You should form the habit of purchasing at least one study aid per month for your own library.1. BiblesIt is best if you have a study Bible that has paragraphic notations or divisions. You will also want to get some of the modern translations, versions, and paraphrasespreferably in hardcover. There are several excellent versions of the Bible. For casual reading, theNew International Versionis my preference. However, for serious study with accuracy in mind, I recommend theNew American Standard Bible.2. ConcordancesA concordance is a must. It is an alphabetical listing of all the words in the Bible and of all the verses in which they appear. Young's Analytical Concordance to the BibleorStrong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bibleare my preferences. Acquire anexhaustiveconcordance of the translation you use for study. Most good computer programs for Bible study (see No. 7) allow for multiple-word searches, including lexical searches in the original languages.3. Dictionaries and Encyclopedias EnglishMerriam-Webster's Collegiate DictionaryorThe Random House Dictionary of the English Language BibleThe New Unger's Bible Dictionaryis the best. TheologicalBaker's Dictionary of Practical Theologyis a good tool. Greek and HebrewVine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words EncyclopediaThe Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible(5 volumes) andInternational Standard Bible Encyclopedia(4 volumes) are excellent.4. Geographical and Cultural Helps A good atlas is indispensable for understanding context.The Moody Atlas of Bible Landsis highly recommended. (Also, if you have not yet been to Israel, you should go!) Bible backgroundsThe New Unger's Bible Handbook,Halley's Bible Handbook,Merrill Tenney'sNew Testament Times: Understanding the World of the First Century, or Alfred Edersheim'sBible History: Old Testament5. Bible Doctrine Books Systematic Theologyby Lewis Sperry Chafer,Systematic Theologyby Charles Hodge, orSystematic Theologyby Augustus H. Strong Biblical Theology of the New Testamentby Charles C. Ryrie Major Bible Themesby Lewis Sperry Chafera good, concise book6. Commentaries Surveys of the entire BibleThe Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty(in two volumes, Old and New Testaments) is outstanding.The Wycliffe Bible Commentaryis my preferred one-volume commentary. Expositional (verse by verse)some of the best are by Donald G. Barnhouse, Kenneth S. Wuest, William R. Newell, R. C. H. Lenski, H. C. Leupold, William Barclay, John F. Walvoord, Arthur W. Pink, and Tyndale House Devotionalbooks by G. Campbell Morgan, F. B. Meyer, Alan Redpath, H. A. Ironside, and Charles R. Swindoll Analyticalbooks by W. Graham Scroggie and Merrill Tenney as well as the I. C. C. (International Critical Commentary) series (critical and tends toward the liberal side)Concerning Commentaries: Best to purchase one of the entire Bible first Best to use different types in your study Best to consult themafteryour own personal study Best to read with discernment; don't be afraid to challenge or disagree An excellent volume by John Glynn,Commentary & Reference Survey, lists and explains the most popular and recommended commentaries (from various perspectives evangelical, liberal, etc.) on every book of the Bible. It is helpful when you're looking for which commentary to buy ... and which one not to buy.7. Bible Study Computer Programs BibleWorks (for PC)see www.bibleworks.comDesigned for analysis of the biblical text, BibleWorks is the best program for the PC platformfor all levels of users. It offers search tools, lexicons, and dictionaries for Bible study, sermon preparation, and detailed Bible research. Libronix Digital Library System (for PC)see www.logos.comAn astounding assortment of commentaries, books, dictionaries, and tools allows for quick research on any passage or topic. Many of the recommended resources in this article are in the Libronix Library. Accordance (for Macintosh)see www.accordancebible.comFrom basic Bible study helps to advanced research tools, Accordance is the best program for the Mac environment. Accordance offers Bibles, commentaries, lexicons, and a comprehensive library of materials and tools that can grow with your needs.8. Web Sites www.bible.org"In the last decade bible.org has grown to serve millions of people and ministries around the world through providing thousands of trustworthy resources for Bible study including an exciting new translation of the Bible (the NET Bible)"from their Web site. www.bibleplaces.com"BiblePlaces.com features photographs and descriptions of sites in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Greece with an emphasis on biblical archaeology, geography and history"from their Web site.9. Bible Study Methods Living by the Bookby Howard G. and William D. Hendricks Independent Bible Studyby Irving L. Jensen How to Study the Bible for Yourselfby Tim LaHaye Methodical Bible Studyby Robert A. Traina

Being Knowledgeableby Charles R. SwindollSlice it any way you wish; ignorance isnotbliss. Dress it in whatever garb you please; ignorance isnotattractive. Neither is it the mark of humility nor the path to spirituality. It certainly is not the companion of wisdom.On the contrary, ignorance is the breeding ground for fear, prejudice, and superstition ... the feeding trough for unthinking animals ... the training field for slaves. It is blind and naked (Tennyson), the mother of impudence (Spurgeon); it brings despairing darkness (Shakespeare), never settles a question (Disraeli), nor promotes innocence (Browning). And yet it remains the favorite plea of the guilty, the excuse of the lazy, even the Christians rationalization for immaturity.We dare not fall into that trap! Our spiritual fathers didnt. Trace your heritage back to Moses, and youll find that the people were given the Truth of God in written form that they mightknowand that their children might know the right path to follow. In Samuels day, there was established a school of the prophets to dispel ignorance among the people. This philosophy carried into the New Testament as Jesus frequently rebuked His listeners for not reading, fornot knowingthe underlying principles for living. How often Paul expressed similar convictions with such strong words as, I do not want you to be ignorant (Romans 11:25;1 Corinthians 10:1;12:1;15:34;1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV). Dr. Luke recorded great commendation for the church at Berea because they were examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).Our own nation saw the need for being knowledgeable ... for perpetuating an educated, well-trained body of godly people who could proclaim Gods message with intelligence, authority, and conviction. The oldest institution of higher learning in the United Statesfounded only sixteen years after the landing at Plymouth, Massachusettswas established for the purpose stated on its cornerstone. It still remains etched in stone near an iron gate that opens to the campus of Harvard University:After God had carried us safe to New Englandand wee had builded our housesprovided necessaries for our liveli hoodreard convenient places for Gods worshipand setled the civill governmentone of the next things we longed forand looked after was to advance learningand perpetuate it to posteritydreading to leave an illiterate ministeryto the churches when our present ministersshall lie in the dustNew Englands First FruitsThis continued until European liberalism, with its subtle narcotic of humanism and socialism, began to paralyze the nerve centers of theological thought and weaken educational philosophy. Doubt and despair replaced certainty and hope. Mental discipline, honed on the wheel of exacting academic requirements and intellectual integrity, began to lag. Permissiveness became the order of the day. This has evolved into a postmodern mentality that now considers a commitment to truth and a thorough study of Gods Word a joke. Thank God, there are some exceptions. But they arepreciousfew ... especially among clear-thinking saints.To be sure, therearedangers connected with being knowledgeable. Solomon warned us of the worst in EcclesiastesPRIDEthe wearying, futile pursuit of knowledge, a flesh trip that can cause a head to outgrow a heart. Mere intellectualism can be only striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:17).Our ministry is purposely named Insight for Living Ministries because thats what knowledge is to be used forfor practical,lifeapplication. May I personally urge you to become a better student of your Bible? Familiarize yourself with its content. Filter todays difficult times through its grid. The better you know the Word of God, the more quickly you will recognize the path to help you find your way through the fog of our postmodern mist.My single desire is to support the premise that knowledge, rather than being an enemy of the faith, is anally... perhaps one of our strongest. Rest assured; we will forever remain committed to excellence in communicating biblical truth ...andits application. That is Insight for Living Ministries.

Biblical Illiteracyby Charles R. SwindollDuring my days serving as a pastor in New England, I heard of a teacher named Thayer S. Warshaw who quizzed a group of college-bound high school juniors and seniors on the Bible. The quiz preceded aBible as Literaturecourse he planned to teach at the Newton (Massachusetts) High School, generally considered a top public high school in the nation. Among the most astounding findings he got in his replies from the students were:Sodom and Gomorrah were lovers.Jezebel was Ahabs donkey.Some students thought that the four horsemen appeared on the Acropolis, that the New Testament gospels were written by Matthew, Mark,Luther, and John ... that Eve was created from an apple and that Jesus was baptized by Moses. Seriously! The answer that took the cake was given by a fellow who was in the top five percent of the graduating class, academically.The question:What was Golgotha?The answer:Golgotha was the name of the giant who slew the apostle David.If it were not so pathetic, it would be hilarious. Isnt it amazing how pitifully illiterate John Q. Public is of the written Word of God? In a land filled with churches and chapels, temples and tabernacles, there is only an insignificant handful of fairly well-informed students of the Book of books. We have Scripture in hardback, paperback, cloth, and leather ... versions and paraphrases too numerous to count ... red-letter editions, large-print versions, big as dictionaries and small as microchips ... yet the years roll by as one generation after another passes on its biblical illiteracy.Our nations technical knowledge and scientific expertise overshadow our grasp of Bible basics to an appalling degree. We are, therefore, moving toward an era similar to the Dark Ages when copies of Scripture were chained to the pulpit in Latinthe private language of the clergy ... when the public was kept stone ignorant of the life-changing teachings of the truth. But I see one great difference; in those days, biblical ignorance wasforced... in our day it isvoluntary. Therein lies the saddest fact of all.Upon whom do we rest the blame? Who deserves to have the finger of accusation pointed at him or her? Some would say the fault lies with theseminariesof our world. Part of the problem indeed rests there. As we look around our world, we can find seminary professors who no longer hold to such foundational truths as the deity of Jesus, His substitutionary death, or His second coming. While this troubles us, we thank God for those seminaries that continue to place their focus in the right place ... teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God.Others choose to blame thepulpitsof our land. Weak preaching can take a terrible toll on a congregation. Ive said for years that a mist in the pulpit will invariably cause a fog in the pew. Far too many preachers are specializing in longhorn sermonsa point here and a point there with a lot of bull in between. Our preachers must get back to their primary responsibility: to proclaim Scripture to Gods people and point the way to reconciliation with Him.Still others would blame this satanic, pressurized system we call theworldsociety, with its persuasive pleadings and so-called academic argumentson a fanatical, foolish belief in the Bible. To embrace its truths, we have been told, is tantamount to committing intellectual suicide. The morticians promoting this lie have nothing to offer in the Bibles place but the grave ... a cold hole in the ground.But in the final analysis, biblical ignorance is apersonalchoiceyour choice. If something is going to be done to plug the dike, it will takeyourfinger to stop the leak ... and I mean fast.

Charting the Course to Biblical Literacyby John AdairChrists church has fallen into a troubling rut. Studies show that Christians know less of the Bible than at any other time in recent history. The level of Bible knowledge has decreased even among our best and brightest. One administrator of more than 20 years at a Christian college noted, Our assumption now is that incoming freshmen know nothing about the Bible, and that we must start at the most basic level. Did you catch that? Christian colleges assume that incoming students know nothing about the Bible! What has happened? Why has our collective knowledge of the Bible dropped so dramatically in recent decades?The most obvious reason is that Christians are not spending as much time reading and learning Scripture. In a world where so many enticements battle for our attention, the Bible often gets lost in the shuffleeven for those who desire to read it. Yet the Bible stresses the importance of hearing and knowing Gods Word (Psalm 1:2;119:11;1 Timothy 4:13). Therefore, Christs church must recommit to spending time reading, memorizing, and hearing Gods Word. Parents need to encourage these good habits in their children, just as fellow believers need to encourage them in each other. One can find a number of creative ways to study the Bible. This months featured resource,Scripture for Skillful Living: 40 Verses from Proverbs, offers an excellent opportunity to commit Gods Word to memory.Theres a deeper reason for our problem. Sure, this world is full of distractions. But its too easy to look only outside of ourselves for the source of the problem. Any problem facing the church should prompt us to look first at ourselves as individuals. If our need is a better knowledge of Gods Word, then we must ask what motivates us to know Scripture. The occasional exhortation of a parent or a respected preacher may make an immediate impact but not likely a lasting one. No, our true motivation to pursue the knowledge of Gods Word comes from a much deeper placeour spiritual maturity rooted in our abiding love for Jesus. When we love Christ purely, we want to live lives that please Him, that reflect His desires for us and, most of all, that reveal to others that we know Him. And, because the Bible is where God has made Himself known, our knowledge of Scripture is the key way to grow in our knowledge of Him.Should we know the Bible better in order to grow spiritually? Or should we grow spiritually in order to know the Bible better? Its both. Lets break out of our rut and chart a new path, a route built on a foundation of spiritual commitment and a deep knowledge of Gods Word. Only then can we truly be a people of the Book.

Cool Skepticismby Charles R. SwindollNine-year-old Danny came bursting out of Sunday school like a wild stallion. His eyes were darting in every direction as he tried to locate either his mom or dad. Finally, after a quick search, he grabbed his daddy by the leg and yelled, Man, that story of Moses and all those people crossing the Red Sea was great! His father looked down, smiled, and asked the boy to tell him all about it.Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. The Egyptian Army was gettin closer and closer. So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians. While that was happening, the Israeli Navy built a pontoon bridge so the people could cross over. They made it!By now Dannys dad was shocked. Isthatthe way they taught you the story?Well, no, not exactly, the boy admitted, but if I told it to you the way they told it to us, youd never believe it, Dad.With childlike innocence, the little guy put his finger on the pulse of our sophisticated adult world where cool skepticism reigns supreme. Its becoming increasingly more popular to operate in the black-and-white world of facts ... and, of course, to leave no space for the miraculous. I mean, no intelligent mind that gets its cues from scientific data or mathematical axioms or natural laws can tolerate those things being altered. Certainly not by some so-called divine intervention. Give me a break!Its really not a new mentality. Peter mentioned it in one of his letters:I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will ... laugh at the truth. This will be their line of argument: So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? Hell never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation. (2 Peter 3:34 The Living Bible)Skeptics think like that. If they could choose their favorite hymn, it would certainly include the words, As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be ...Take gravity. Heavy objects fall toward earth. Always. So a builder can construct a house and never worry about his materials floating away. Count on it.Take chemistry. Mixing certain elements in precise proportions yields the same result. Always. So a doctor can prescribe a medication with predictable confidence.Take astronomy. The sun, the moon, those stars work in perfect harmony. Always. Even the mysterious eclipse comes as no surprise. Weve got it wired right down to the second.Take anatomy. Whether its the pupil of the eye expanding and contracting in response to light, or our skin regulating our body temperature, or our built-in defense mechanism resisting panic or fighting disease, we operate strictly on the basis of facts. Hard, immutable, stubborn facts. Plain as black print on white pages. Reliable as the sunset. Real as a toothache. Clear as a window pane. Absolute, unbending, undeniable, unchangeable.People who conduct their lives according to such thinking are called smart. They havent a fraction of tolerance for the supernatural. Theyve become skeptical in their tight world of absolutes. To them, it is sloppy to think in terms of the unexplainable, the miraculous. If insurance companies choose to leave room for acts of God, thats their business. Not smart people. Those are fightin words in scientific laboratories and operating rooms and intellectual rap sessions and newspaper editing rooms.Then what about miracles? Well, just limit them to a childs world of fiction and fables. And, if necessary, to stained glass sanctuaries where emotion runs high and imagination is needed to make all those stories interesting. After all, whats a little religion without a pocketful of miracles? And if we started trying to account for all those things in the Bible, think of the time it would take to explain stuff like how the sun stood still or why all those fish suddenly filled the disciples nets, or what brought Lazarus back from beyond, or why the dead body of Jesus has never been found, or how the death of Christ keeps on cleaning up lives, or how come the Bible is still around.Smart skeptics dont have to worry about explaining little things like that. Its easier simply to embrace a wholesale denial of the miraculous ... which is fine and dandy, so long as those skeptics are alive and well and able to shrug their way through all those stories. It seems so plausible, so sensible ... until they themselves get sick, face death, and need miraculous help crossing their final river.By the way, what does happen on the other side of that river? Hey, if I told you what the Bible really says, you wouldnt believe it!Famineby Charles R. SwindollThe word hangs like an awful omen in our heads.Mentally, we picture brutal, grotesque images. Cows ribs and hips protrude. Babies eyes are hollow. Bloated stomachs growl angrily. Skin stretches across faces tight as a trampoline. The outline of the skull slowly emerges. Joints swell. Grim, despairing stares replace smiles. Hope is gone ... life is reduced to a harsh existence as famine takes its toll. Those who have seen it cannot forget it. Those who havent cannot imagine it.We are told famine is coming. Its only a matter of time, declare the experts. There was a time when such predictions appeared only in science fiction books, but no longer. Prophets of doom are now well-educated economists, university profs, and official spokesmen for our culture, not to mention various authors who interpret our times as threatening and terminal. Of greatest concern is the enormous, ever-expanding population explosion. The undeniable statistics tell their own tale.Our world reached one billion back in 1825. One hundred years later we had doubled in populationtwobillion. By 1975, we doubled againfourbillion. Today we are nearing seven billion. The supply of food required to feed seven or more billion people is unbelievable. Worse than that, its unattainable in light of our current agricultural system. Were told the gaunt shells of humanity that now populate North Africa will someday cast their shadows across North America. One reputable authority predicts that there will come a time when the inhabitants of the worlds big cities will be living on bacon bits, fruit in a tube, recycled foods, protein pills and cakes, and reconstituted water.For us who are well fed, the idea of famine is foreignvirtually unimaginable. Its what plagues India or Ethiopia ... neverus! Fear of famine doesnt compute in a country where streets are lined with McDonalds, 31 Flavors, and restaurants by the hundreds.My first rude awakening to the reality of hunger occurred early in 1958 when our troop ship full of U.S. Marines pulled into the harbor of Yokohama, Japan. We were so thrilled to see land, having been at sea for seventeen days, we were initially unaware of the barges full of Japanese men and women that were soon tethered to our ship. I later learned that this was a common occurrence. They had come to paint the ships hull while we were at the dock for three days. Their pay in return? The garbage from our tables! The thought stunned me.Another kind of famine exists that is equally tragic ... but far more subtle. God spoke of it through the prophet Amos. Read his words very carefully:Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord GOD,When I will send a famine on the land,Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.People will stagger from sea to seaAnd from the north even to the east;They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,But they will not find it. (Amos 8:1112)We may find physical famine almost impossible to believe, but how about aspiritualfamine? You dont have to wait another century for that! Take a trip across the United States. Or pick any country. Talk about a famine! Its easy to misread the words of Amos. He didnt predict a lack of churches or chapels, temples or tabernacles, seminars or Sunday church services. He spoke of a famine ... for hearing the words of the LORD. Remember, a famine does not mean an absence of something ... but ashortageof it ... a scarcity that creates a starvation scene.In our enlightened, progressive, postmodern age, an ancient, dusty prophecy is fulfilled. Hearing the unadulterated truth of God is a rare experience. How easy to forget that! We have come upon hard times when those who declare and hear the Word of God are the exception.How easy to be spoiled ... presumptuous ... proud ... ungrateful ... when our spiritual stomachs are full! Funny thingthose who are full usually wantmore. We belch out increased demands rather than humble gratitude to God for our horn o plenty.Tell me, when was the last time you thanked God for the sheer privilege of hearing more of His Word than you couldeverdigest? And when did you last share just a crumb from your table?Thats why theres a famine.

Five Promises from a Shepherd to His Flockby Charles R. SwindollA number of years ago, a friend dropped by my study. Hes a true friend, one who knows me well ... and loves me, warts and all. He also speaks the truth in love, which is exactly what he did in the last twenty minutes of our visit that day.I could tell we werent through when he closed his folder. He had that look of unfinished business as he tilted his head and took a deep breath. I appreciated his reluctance; he didnt want to come storming into a somewhat sensitive subject ... but he couldnt leave without looking at me squarely in the eyes and saying some hard things.Go ahead ... tell me whats eating away at you, I urged.Well, I dont know how I should say these things, Chuck. But I cant just ignore them either. The fact is, Im concerned.Concerned about what? I probed.You. This recent decision youve made to add the presidency of Dallas Seminary to your responsibilities. Its not the decision itself; Im pleased with that. Its what it could do to you. I mean, you already have a lot on your plate ... and now youre adding this. Im concerned that you might get so busy youll start cutting corners in your preaching. Ive never worried about you falling morally. But I do worry that you could be tempted to decrease your time with God. It could easily become less important to you. I want to urge you:Do not let that happen. We need you to continue doing original work, reading widely, thinking deeply ... and speaking with the kind of depth and passion we have come to expect.He said several other equally important things, which Ill not forget. As he finally stood to leave, I walked over and embraced him. I told him how much I appreciated his words, the genuineness of his heart, the courage of his warning.He left as he had arrivedquietly, unobtrusively. I sat back down, swallowed hard, and sighed. His visit was both timely and memorable. Not only did he need to say those things, I needed to hear them. Solomons words, which I often quote, bore fruit that day. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. (Proverbs 27:6, emphasis added).You need to know, just as my friend did, that I remain deeply committed to pastoring the local church. Its my primary passion, regardless of any additional roles I undertake. Whether you listen to sermons on theInsight for Livingbroadcast or sit in a pew at Stonebriar Community Church, you have every right to expect me to feed the flock carefully prepared meals ... and not stumble into the traps that litter the path of over commitment. As my mother used to say, Congregations should be fed good diets of solid meat, not a bunch of pea-patch stories. They should never leave hungry. Do your job, Charles.Ours is a day of superficiality. If you can fake it, youre often admired as being clever, not criticized for being phony. The ministry is no exception. People trust ministers to be diligent and spiritually sensitive, to do their homework and think creatively, to remain fresh and innovative, to stay excited about their callings, faithful in prayer, and pure in their motives.But the painful truth is that we ministers can be lazy, indifferent, perfunctory, controlling, and mean-spirited. Were not above predictability or plagiarism, especially if weve not managed our time well. I know of few professions where envy can be more prominent or pride can be more manipulative. Its easy to learn how to hide those ugly faces behind pious masks.So ... at the risk of appearing stronger than I am or coming across in tones too religious to be real, Im going to risk making a few promises to you that I made to my friend many years ago. Theyre just as important today as they were then.1. First, I promise to keep doing original and hard work in my study.No hectic schedule of mine will rob you of a strong pulpit or Bible-teaching ministry. You deserve the best of my efforts.2. Second, I promise to maintain a heart for God.That means I will pray frequently and fervently. I will stay devoted to Him and to the things of my calling. I wont simply talk about doing those things ... Ill do them.3. Third, I promise to remain accountable.Living the life of a religious Lone Ranger is not only unbiblical, its dangerous. I am committed to being open with other men of integrity.4. Fourth, I promise to stay faithful to my family.My wife deserves my time, affection, and undivided attention. Our now-grown children and grandchildren, the same. I wont forget that, no matter what.5. Fifth, I promise to be who I am.Just me. No amount of public exposure will turn my head -- scouts honor. If I start acting sophisticated, remind me how disgusting it looks, how ridiculous shepherds appear when they start using pious words, trying to strut their stuff. I plan to keep laughing, saying things a little off-the-wall, hanging out with the guys who arent impressed, and making a few mistakes each month. Sort of keeps the ol humanity gears greased.I have my friend to thank for these thoughts. He deserves the credit. Hes like my mother with guts enough to remind me, Do your job, Charles, to warn me of potential pitfalls, to remind me that hes not ready to put an X across the face of another minister he once respected.Pastors like me need more friends like that.

How Can I Get Started Reading the Bible?by Biblical Counseling MinistryQuestion:Im a new Christian, and I want to learn more from the Bible. I have an old Bible that belonged to my grandmother, and its difficult to understand. Where do I begin? How can I get more out of reading the Bible?Answer:Its great to hear about your desire to read Gods Word. Many Christians long to know more about the Bible, but like you, they feel frustrated because of the strange words and unusual writing styles. If youre reading an older version, such as the King James Version, the Bible can feel particularly foreign to you. How can you begin to understand what you are reading?The first step is to purchase a Bible that you can use at home and at church. You might ask your pastor what version he uses when he preaches. Its helpful to own a copy of the same version so that you can follow along during his sermon.Many people want to know which Bible version Chuck Swindoll uses. He preaches from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) because he believes that this version represents the most accurate translation of the original text. The Bible was originally written in ancient Hebrew and Greek, with a few sections in Aramaic. Therefore, any English Bible is a translation, and as such, it reflects the translators philosophy. Some Bibles present a nearly word-for-word translation, while other versions offer a looser, more contemporary translation.The NASB translators determined to keep their version as literal in regard to the original text as possible. This is the genius of the NASB, but we must also recognize that for many people this is a drawback, since the literality may produce a rather wooden rendering. The NASB is not as smooth nor as idiomatic as other translations.Although Chuck preaches from the NASB, he owns other versions and reads them occasionally. In recent years, he has come to highly regard the New International Version (NIV).Every version has virtues and limitations. Some Bibles contain study notes to help you understand the text or articles to help you apply what you reading. To learn more about Bible versions, you might readThe Complete Guide to Bible Versions, by Philip W. Comfort. This book provides a list of the various versions of the Bible along with a quick overview of the history and philosophy of the translation.The Bible is not a typical book; rather it is a collection of sixty-six books written during various times and by different authors. With an ordinary book, you begin on page one and read to the end. But because the Bible is a collection of books, you may approach it differently. Here are a few approaches to reading the Bible:Scheduled Bible ReadingMany people follow a Bible-reading schedule, such as one of the schedules listed on the following Web site:http://www.bibleplan.org/. Imagine that Bible reading is like taking a bus tour of a large city. On a bus tour, you cover a lot of ground without spending too much time in any one place, and thats what scheduled reading should be. The idea is to become familiar with the major themes, stories, and chronology of Scripture. Then, if you want to study a particular passage, you can get off the bus and spend focused time in that specific place.Devotional StudyThink of the Bible as a long banquet table full of delicious entrees. You may step up to any section and select a morsel of truth. Christian devotional books take this approach. Each day the book includes a meditation on a verse or two to guide your reading.However, be careful not to use the Bible like a crystal ball. Some Christians try to find a message from God by closing their eyes, flipping open their Bibles, and pointing their fingers at a verse. The flip-and-point method often leads to frustration, because the verse might not mean much to you. Or worse, it leads to error, because you may take the verse out of context and interpret it to mean something that the author never intended.If you wish to read what the Bible says on certain topics like discouragement, hope, or eternal life, you can purchase a topical index, such asA Topical Bible Guideby Bob Phillips. This small book is worth its weight in gold! It contains verses on one hundred topics of interest, and you can pick a few verses to read as a devotional study for the day. Write down the verses on cards to carry with you, or look up and underline the verses in your Bible. Youll be able to remember the verses more clearly when you know where they are found in your Bible.Book StudyYou can also select a certain book of the Bible to study. If youve never read the Bible before, you may want to look in the table of contents and find the book of Mark. Mark is a fast-moving account of Jesuss life and is perhaps the easiest of the four gospels to understand. As you read a selection every day, ask yourself, What is the author trying to tell me about Jesus in this passage? Dig for the timeless principles that the Bible is teaching, and apply those principles to your life. For example, inMark 1:21-28when Jesus is casting out the evil spirit, He demonstrates His authority over demons. The author is teaching the truth that Jesus is the greatest authority in the physical and the spiritual realms, and you can feel confident in His power.You may want to jot down the Biblical principles you discover in a notebook or prayer journal. As you examine the verses, ask yourself a few application-type questions. Are there any promises that I can claim in these verses? Is there a command that I need to obey? Are there any sins that I need to avoid? Is there an example to follow? What encouragement or comfort may I gain? What new perspective is God showing me?God has given us His Word to nourish us through every stage of our Christian development. It is pure milk for newborn believers (1 Peter 2:2) and solid food for the mature (Hebrews 5:14). You can feed on the Scripture every day for the rest of your life and never exhaust its storehouse of nourishment. May God richly bless your study of His Word.

How We Got the Old Testament (The Content and Extent of the Old Testament Canon)by Wayne StilesNow these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.The apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:11)The use of the Old Testament Scriptures by the church has been the subject of debate from the time of the early church fathers to the present. The debate primarily concerns the question of what writings are truly in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures. The wordcanonis from a Greek word that means a "rule" or "standard"; in the second-century Christian church it came to be understood as "revealed truth."1Yet for some Christians the truth represented a different number of books than for other Christians. For example,[Augustine] regarded the church to be the custodian of Scripture and thus may easily have concluded that on matters of the extent of the canon the church had the authority to decide ... Augustine seemed to consider church reception to be sufficient warrant for canonical authority; this he gave as the reason for accepting the Maccabean books as canonical.2Some held that the canon extended to encompass all the books read in the church for edification, which would include the Apocrypha and sometimes the Pseudipigrapha (a collection of anonymous, apocalyptic writings). Others held that the canon represented simply the Jewish Bible, corresponding to the Protestant Bibles of today.3Not until the age of the Reformation did the debate began to rage. In 1546 when the Council of Trent made a formal statement that all who did not accept selected Apocryphal writings should be damned, the Protestants responded with an equally resolute voice. Even today, the question of canonicity remains completely valid. If there are disputes about what is Scripture, the legitimacy of faith itself is at stake. As the theologian Roger Beckwith aptly states, "with no canon there is no Bible."4The Concept of the Old Testament CanonIts ironic that evangelicals today base their beliefs solely on Scripture, and yet Scripture was recognized by tradition. The way the canon was regarded in history played an integral role in the canons recognition. The tradition and authority of the people of God throughout history have attested that there was a group of writings, divinely inspired, which were recognizable as such. The internal evidence of the Old Testament itself affirms its divine origin. Deuteronomy itself "also reaffirms in Israel the idea of a 'canon,' a collection of written materials by which the life of the nation would be administered."5Deuteronomy 31:24-26says,It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, "Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you."The believers between the testaments held that there was a known corpus of Scripture, for in their writings they would often refer to it with the authoritative phrases, "as it is written," or "according to Scripture," or "it is written." In fact, references to almost all of the books of the Old Testament are considered to be Scripture by those of the intertestament and the New Testament eras. Beckwith says of this period thatWith the exception of the three short books of Ruth, Song of Songs and Esther, the canonicity of every book of the Hebrew Bible is attested, most of them several times over ... [It] is very striking that, over a period ranging from the second century BC (at latest) to the first century AD, so many writers, of so many classes (Semitic, Hellenistic, Pharisaic, Essene, Christian), show such agreement about the canon.6In addition, there are at least twenty-eight documented separate titles for the Old Testament canon, proving that the individual books had become a collection sufficient enough to warrant various titles to the group (canon) as a whole.7Church history heavily considered what Jesus and the New Testament writers thought about the Old Testament in determining canonicity. The number of references to the Old Testament by New Testament writers is abundant, and it attests to the fact that there was an established canon at the time of their writing.Probably the most complete secular evidence (in secular writings) on the concept of a canon resides in the work of Josephus. Josephus not only understood that a canon existed, but he also listed what he believed that canon was (Against Apion1.7f., or 1.37-43). This list is identical to the Jewish and Christian canon with the exception of omitting either the Song of Songs or Ecclesiastes.8Josephus mentioned that there were copies of Scripture in the temple itself, and before its destruction in AD 70 it contained a collection of books. The Jewish community considered this collection canonical, for "the main test of the canonical reception of a book must have been whether or not it was one of those laid up in the Temple."9This evidence reveals the fact that the concept of a canon did indeed exist before the beginning of the Christian era.The Construct of the Old Testament CanonNot only does the literature testify to the concept of a canon existing, but it revealed the construction of that canon as existing in three parts: the Law, the Prophets and the Hagiographa (meaning "holy writings"). This method of arranging the various books emerged from numerous sources outside the Old Testament itself.The earliest evidence of the arrangement stems from the prologue to the bookEcclesiasticuswhich specifically mentions on three occasions the three parts of the canon. The author says, "Many great things have been communicated to us through the Law and the prophets, and the others who followed after ... my grandfather Jeshua, after devoting himself for a long time to the reading of the Law and the prophets and the other books of our forefathers ..." Here the author clearly states that the canon contains three recognized parts; and these parts, having titles and sections, show that by the writers time (about 180 BC), the canon was considered closed.Jesus Himself, the most authoritative witness for the Christian, states inLuke 24:44the three sections of the Old Testament as "the Law of Moses and the Prophets and Psalms." "Psalms" undoubtedly meant the whole Hagiographa, for Christ often referred to Daniel (which was a part of that third section), as well as the book of Psalms itself. Philo, a first century AD Egyptian Jew, and the tenth-century Arabian writer al-Masudi both refer to the Hagiographa as the "Psalms."10Because the Jews placed the book of Chronicles in the Hagiographa, another statement of Jesus alludes to the three sections of the completed canon. He said inLuke 11:50-51(also inMatthew 23:35), "the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation." Jesus certainly refers to the Zechariah of2 Chronicles 24:21. This is significant, because His statement extends from the first of the three sections (such as Abel in Genesis) to the last of the three sections (Zechariah in Chronicles), implying the inclusion of the second as well. Christ makes the same point by mentioning the prophets, for prophecy had virtually ended with the composition of 2 Chronicles, written about 400 BC.Judas Maccabaeus and his associates compiled a list of the Prophets and Hagiographa in 164 BC, at least 250 years prior to the generally assumed date of the closing of the canon (AD 90, at the Council of Jamnia). The historical book ofSecond Maccabees 2:14fdescribed it this way: "And in like manner Judas (Maccabaeus) also gathered together for us all those writings that had been scattered by reason of the war that befell, and they are still with us. If therefore ye have need thereof, send some to fetch them unto you."Beckwith states,Judas knew that the prophetic gift had ceased a long time before (1 Macc. 9:27; cp. Also 4:46; 14:41), so what is more likely than that, in gathering together the scattered scriptures, he and his companions the Hasidim classified the now complete collection in the way which from that time became traditional ... The manner in which Judas Maccabaeus did his work was presumably by compiling a list, not by combining books in large scrolls ... If Judas gave such structure to the canon, he must have had a definite collection of writings to work on.11The Old Testament books, as grouped in the canon, had a recognized order. Even though that order was different for different people, the fact that the books had order, however arranged, reveals that they were recognized as canonical and that the canon was closed at the time of its ordering.The number of the books also played a vital role. The evidence shows that the number of the canonical books was always assumed to be twenty-two or twenty-four. The books themselves were the same in both groupings, just grouped differently. "In earlier days they combined Ruth with Judges, and Lamentations with Jeremiah and thus made twenty-two books equivalent to the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet."12It is "difficult to conceive of those books being counted, and the number being generally accepted and well known, if the canon remained open and the identity of its books uncertain ... Agreement about their number implies agreement about their identity."13The Contents of the Old Testament CanonThe Canonical BooksIt makes sense that upon completion of an Old Testament book the book was canonical. Theoretically this must be true, but actually, a book of Scripture wasconsideredto be such by virtue of the authority of the human author. So while the Pentateuch was completed with the death of Moses and the Prophets and the Hagiographa with its authors, therecognitionof the canonicity of these books may have been centuries after their actual completion.Consequently, as opinions differed, there existed some disputelargely about five books of the Old Testament, sometimes called the "antilegomena" or the "books spoken against." These were: Ezekiel, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Esther. The secular motifs in these books, as well the apparent contradictions with other undisputed canonical books, were the leading cause of concern to some scholars. But the disputes themselves imply that the books in question were considered canonical, because contradictions in uninspired texts would have been assumed, and therefore, nonexistent.Some scholars assume that the presence of the dispute proves that the canon was still open and not established until the Council of Jamnia in AD 90. The motivation behind such an assertion stems from the desire to canonize some Apocryphal as well as some Pseudepigraphical booksbooks by anonymous authors. Beckwith offers a compelling argument that Ezekiel was not debated.14He says it was part of the already closed Prophets and not the Hagiographa, which was the subject of debate at Jamnia. In particular, only the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes were debated. Indeed only Ecclesiastes was debated according to Rabbi Akiba. Green quotes Rabbi Akiba from the Talmud regarding the Jewish opinion of the inspiration of the Song of Solomon:"Silence and Peace! No one in Israel has ever doubted that the Song of Solomon defiles the hands [i.e. is Scripture]. For no day in the history of the world is worth the day when the Song of Solomon was given to Israel. For all the Hagiographa are holy, but the Song of Solomon is a holy of holies. If there has been any dispute, it referred only to Ecclesiastes... . So they disputed and they decided."15And what did they decide? "'The wise men desired to withdraw (ganaz) the Book of Ecclesiastes because its language was often self-contradictory and contradicted the utterances of David. Why did they not withdraw it? Because the beginning and the end of it consist of words of the law.' Sabbath 30b."16The book of Second Esdras shows that Ezra republished the twenty-four books of the inspired law. "How could such an assertion be made if five of the twenty-four books were known to have been added to the canon about AD 90, only ten years or so earlier?"17In the end, the Hagiographa triumphed. Two factors helped, says Pfeiffer:The first was mere survival. In ancient times, when books had to be copied laboriously by hand on papyrus or parchment, no literary work could survive for a few centuries unless it had attained considerable circulation... . We may wonder, for instance, why Esther should have survived among the Jews, while Judith perished, since the appeal of both was mainly patriotic.18The Non-Canonical BooksThe books which were recognized as non-canonical, primarily the books from the Pseudipigrapha and Apocrypha, could not be included in the canon for one reason: their date is much later than the previously attested date of the closing of the canon recognized by Judas Maccabaeus in 164 BC. The confusion comes in that many of the books in question are impeccable historical sources and are true in what they say. But truth does not of necessity constitute a place in the canon. The books such as First Maccabees, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus contain great value historically, but value is not enough to warrant canonicity. Even within the valuable book of Ecclesiasticus lie personal biases Holy Scripture would not commend. The author, Jesus the son of Sira, reveals a great deal of his personal character as he "not only expresses his views quite frankly on a variety of subjects, making no secret, for instance, of his intense dislike for the fair 'weaker' sex (9:8; 23:22-27...)."19Even Augustine believed in the inspiration of some of the Apocrypha.Nevertheless, in the heat of the argument, Augustine limits his Old Testament to the Jewish canon when he writes in his tract on "Faith of Things not Seen" appealing to the Scriptures as follows: "Unless haply unbelieving men judge those things to have been written by Christians, in order that those things which they already believed might have greater weight of authority if they should be thought to have been promised before they came. If they suspect this let them examine carefully the codices of our enemies the Jews. There let them read those things of which we have made mention."20Harris states, "Philo ... evidently accepted the twenty-two Hebrew books, for he quotes from many of them and from them only, as authoritative."21Saint Jerome, as well as Rufinus, were crystal clear on the matter [of not considering them canonical] but their reaction to the pressure exerted on them indicates that many leaders thought the additional books ought to be recognized as inspired... . Jerome yielded to the popular request in furnishing a translation to the church at large but never permitted his scholarly convictions to yield to the point of recognizing these books as canonical.22The Essene canon contained some of the Pseudepigrapha which they claimed to be divine. But most of these writings were midrash (commentary) on canonized books and logically therefore would not be Scripture. For if the Pseudepigrapha contained a copy of a canonical book as well as commentary on it, why would it not negate the original canonical book, because the Pseudepigrapha with its inspired commentary would be much more valuable? In addition, "If they were conscious of being inspired, why did they not have the confidence to use their own names?"23Even the quote inJude 14of First Enoch 1:9 does not require that First Enoch is Scripture. To quote what is true in Scripture is different than saying that what is quotedisScripture. Even Paul quoted a pagan poet inActs 17:28, but he certainly did not regard it as Scripture but as simply true. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes also all recognized a closed canon and generally saw that prophecy had ceased before the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha were written. None of the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha were in the canon of the Jews, and it was to this canon that Jesus Himself and the Apostles appealed.Implications and ConclusionsThe implications of such a study are twofold. For those who believe that the writings other than the Jewish and Protestant Old Testament are inspired, there needs to be serious reconsideration. Jesus Himself implied that the last prophet was Zechariah in the book of Chronicles. The undisputed value of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha is not the issuethe issue is whether they were ever even candidates for canonicity.For those who believe the Jewish and Protestant Old Testament, there is the value of comfort and assurance. The study of canonicity should awaken a deepening devotion to the Scriptures God has seen fit not only to reveal to us but also to uphold and confirm through many different agents.The grass withers, the flower fades,When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;Surely the people are grass.The grass withers, the flower fades,But the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:7-8)

Looking at the Big Picture . . . and Finding Hopeby Charles R. SwindollIf you know a little about the birth of Jesus, it might be best for you to forget it and start from scratch.The Christmas story has been so sanitized and romanticized over the centuries that even Hollywoodas jaded a culture as can be found anywherealways fails to capture the gritty pathos that surrounded Jesus's arrival. Truth be told, even some churches annually idealize the birth of our Savior. Yet it wasanythingbut ideal.Without question, 6 BC was a lousy time to live in Judea. Herod the Great had seized the throne of Israel through bloody intrigue and with political support from Rome. Then, once in power, he guarded his stolen title, "King of the Jews," so ruthlessly he even put his own sons to death when any of them posed a significant political threat. Macrobius, a fifth-century writer, recorded, "When [Caesar Augustus] heard that Herod king of the Jews had ordered boys in Syria under the age of two years to be put to death and that the king's son was among those killed, he said, 'I'd rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son!'"Caesar's comment illustrated the sad irony of Israel's condition. Herod, though not really Jewish, pretended to be a good religious Jew by eliminating pork from his diet, but he indulged an insatiable appetite for power. He built a magnificent temple for the God of Israelan architectural wonder in its dayand gave its administration to one corrupt high priest after another. He taxed Jews through the temple in keeping with the Old Testament Law and then used the proceeds to break the first commandment, building cities and temples in honor of the emperor and his pantheon of Roman deities.The larger Roman Empirebounded on the west by the Atlantic ... on the east by the Euphrates ... on the north by the Rhine and Danube ... and on the south by the Sahara Desertwas as vast as it was vicious. Political intrigue, racial tension, increased immorality, and enormous military might dominated everyone's attention and conversation. Judea existed under the crush of Rome's heavy boot. It was a time of unprecedented economic and political advancement for the rich and a time of horrific oppression for everyone else. By the first century BC, a dark cloud had settled over Israel, blocking any ray of hope.The first Christmas, all eyes were on Augustusthe cynical Caesar who demanded a census so as to determine a measurement to enlarge taxes even further. At that time, who was interested in a young couple making an 80-mile trip south from Nazareth? What could possibly be more important than Caesar's decisions in Rome ... or his puppet Herod's edicts in Judea? Who cared about a Jewish baby born in a Bethlehem barn?God did. As the New Testament reminds us:But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.Galatians 4:45Without realizing it, mighty Augustus was only an errand boy for the commencement of "the fullness of time." He was a pawn in the hand of God ... a mere piece of lint on the pages of prophecy. While Rome was busy making history, God arrived. He pitched His fleshly tent in silence on straw ... in a stable ... under a star. The world didn't even notice. Reeling from the wake of Alexander the Great ... Herod the Great ... and Augustus the Great, the world overlooked Jesus the baby.It still does.As they were in Jesus's day, so our times are desperate. Moreover, they often are a distraction from the bigger picture. Just as the political, economic, and spiritual crises of the first century set the stage for the "fullness of time" to occur ... so today, in our own savage times, our God is weaving His sovereign tapestry to accomplish His divine will. Times are hard, indeedbut they never surprise God. He isstillsovereign. He isstillon the throne. As the psalmist reminds us: "Our God is in the heavens; / He does whatever He pleases" (Psalm 115:3).In my 50 years of ministry, I have never been more committed than I am today to pointing our generation to the Word of God. It remains the only source of strength and divine direction during these difficult days.Whenever I can, I challenge pastors and leaders in ministry to recommit themselves to practical, expository preaching and teaching from the Scriptures.With the same urgency, I exhort youwherever God has placed youto live out the truth of God's Word before your family and neighbors through evangelism, Bible study, and memorization of God's Word.Feeling anxious about these difficult days? I understand, and Jesus does too. Times were no different when Jesus was born. Because so many lives have been turned upside down this year for one reason or another, we are encouraging our readers and listeners to reflectjust as Mary didon what God is doing in their liveson a special message or important truth. Christmas is a good time to ask ourselves this question:Will I focus on Jesus as the center of my life and cling to Him regardless of the circumstances I face?This is what theSnedekerscame to realize: "God's glory can and does shine through deaf, crippled, and legally blind angels, and He has given to us these special individuals so we might see His Glory."Political corruption ... religious compromise ... economic crisesthese will always be on the front page. But we must remember that our God is on the throne. He promises to use our desperate times to accomplish His bigger and better purposes in our world ... and in our lives.

Reading the Old Testament for All It's Worthby Charles R. SwindollWe never outgrow our love for a good story, do we? There is something compelling, something magnetic, and something altogether unique about the best stories. They engage, both our minds and our hearts. They allow us to empathize with the experiences of other human beings. They also create opportunities to learn from the lives of others.The greatest communicator of all time, Jesus Christ, used stories to communicate the truth about God, our lives, and our world. He often chose to employ stories when faced with a diverse crowd of people, hungry for His teaching. In some cases, He selected stories to veil the message, while other times He used them to clarify and illustrate truth. Stories were one of His favorite communication styles.That should come as no surprise. As a young Jewish boy, Jesus heard the truths of our Creator and of His people's amazing history delivered in story form by reading and learning the Old Testament. Stories were vital to passing along the Jewish heritage of faith.In our modern day, these fascinating stories too often remain tucked away in the "white pages" of our Bibles, pages so little used that they look brand new. In many Bibles they stay stuck together. How unfortunate, since there is a wonderful timelessness about the great stories of the Old Testament. God in all His wisdom as our Creator knew all about human beings when He commissioned the writing of the Old Testament: we remember truth better when it's placed before us in story form.I have discovered in my walk with Christ that there is nothing quite like the Old Testament to help me gain an understanding of our heavenly Father, the living God. It was through the Old Testament that I first gained an appreciation for who God is and what He does.When we crack open those early pages of Genesis, we meet God at the creation of the world, as His handiwork goes forth throughout the heavens and the earth. Turn a few more pages and we witness His personal relationship with humans, from the first moments Adam and Eve were created. We see His hand as it reached down into the nations and chose Abraham. Through this one man, God developed an entire nation of people to bear His name, to witness to His miracles, and to carry His message into the world. When we read of the Israelites' failures, we see God's mercy and compassion as He dealt patiently with them. God's desire to redeem His people, despite their rebellion, never drifts far from the pages of these fascinating stories. And it's through the majestic hymns recorded in the Psalms that we learn to offer exuberant praise to our heavenly Father.Beautiful, isn't it? Even so, the reality is that far too many Christians today still feel intimidated by the Old Testament. Have its pages in your Bible become brittle from disuse? Are they stuck together inyourBible? I want to suggest one action and one approach to increase your appreciation for the books from Genesis to Malachi. First, read and study all that you can about the history and culture of the Old Testament. Commentaries, encyclopedias, and atlases can deepen your study of God's Word in a way that will bring the accounts of the Old Testament to life. God has gifted some writers to study, to conduct research, and to teach us through books. Go there! Read their words and expand your mind. The goal is not for us to get puffed up in our knowledge but that we might know our God more deeply.Second, if you want to appreciate the Old Testament for all its worth, remove the halos from above the heads of every person you find there. Take away all of the auranot all of the respect but all of the aurathat keeps you distant from the Abrahams, the Davids, the Elijahs, and the Daniels of the Old Testament. Otherwise, you will hold them at such a distance that you will not see yourself in their lives. Sure, they lived in a different era; their times were more primitive, more rugged, not nearly as comfortable, and certainly not as modern, but they were people just like you and me who went through situations similar to those we go through. They were ordinary, garden-variety human individuals who knew nothing of their future and only occasionally understood their present. They, too, wondered what life was all about, just like you and I wonder over the same question today. So take away all the glowing halos so you can see the people of the Old Testamentfor whomGod created them to be ... people.Their stories are our stories. They struggled to trust God and to obey His commands just like we do. And because their stories are inspired by God, we find in them life-giving wisdom that brings us into relationship with our Lord, which will guide us down the path He has planned for our lives.I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds like a great reason to read the Old Testament for all it's worth.

Something Oldby Charles R. SwindollThere is something grand about old things that are still in good shape.Old furniture with the patina of the ages, dripping with history, is far more intriguing to me than the uncomfortable, modern stuff. When you sit in it or eat on it or listen to music out of it, your mind pictures those in previous centuries who did the same. You try to imagine their world of oil lamps, buggies, outhouses, and potbelly stoves. Each scrape or dent hides a story you wish you knew.Old hardback books are far more fascinating than those slick-cover paperbacks that flood today's market. The classic works, leather-bound with colorful end pages and gold-gilded edges, have a feel and a smell that defy duplication. As I handle them, pore over their contents, enjoy the tiny print, and drink in the late author's thoughts, which are both profound and quaintly stated, my mind rushes back to simpler times. I find it therapeutic to hold in my hands pages that have endured the ages, volumes that have crossed oceans in wooden crates, containing lines that other eyes have pondered and other fingers have marked. Even reading the same words in updated reprints is not the same. Something about the authenticity of antiquity thrills me within.Old cars that have been restored capture my fancy much more quickly than the latest models. Caught in a time warp, as I watch one of those old beauties pass in review, I can't help but smile and let the wonder in. Every year there is an Interstate Batteries Great American Race from coast to coast, where more than eighty pre-World War II autos make their way through cities and villages, driven by men and women who look like they've just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell canvas. What fun ... what classic vehicles! Among them I've seen a spotless 1928 Auburn Boattail Speedster, a velvet black 1934 Ford Phaeton, a handsome 1932 Hupmobile Cabriolet, a vintage 1930 Pierce Arrow with gangster whitewalls and that handsome hood ornament. I've also seen a 1931 seven-passenger Buick convertible with the old trunk mounted over the rear bumper, the show-stopping maroon and black 1932 Packard Model 902, and even a bright red 1910 Knox Raceabout chugging along the blue highways. Big, bold running boards, solid slabs of metal forming giant fenders and domed hoods, chromed hubcaps, and flat windshields transport driver and admirer alike to another place in another time when men were courteous gentlemen, women were feminine ladies, children were innocent, teachers were respected, movies were clean, songs were romantic, and life was uncluttered and often just plain fun.Old churches have a charm and elegance about them that cannot be matched today. When you step into themas I have done in the countryside of old England, on the windswept coastlines of France, in the backwoods of Virginia and Vermont, and on the soft rolling hills of Tennessee and Texasthere lingers a smell of old stained-glass, hardwood floors, and oak pews that time cannot erase. As you settle into one of the creaking pews, your imagination runs free as a robed choir is harmonizing on the final refrain of "Love Lifted Me," or the pipe organist, at full volume, is filling the sanctuary with one of Bach's masterworks. The thunderous voice of the preacher is in the woodwork, and the altar beckons you to be still and know that God is God. The graveyard adjacent to the church, with its gray slate stones and eloquent etchings, leaves mute reminders of another era when the sting of death broke other hearts. Strangely, such sights and songs and smells equip us to face our own battles with renewed vigor.It's the old thingsthings that have outlived the fashions and the fads, that have endured wars and recessions, presidents and plaguesthat remind us to pause and encourage us to strengthen our roots. Old bridges, old walls, old houses, old boats, old bikes, old hymns, old pictures, old memories ... these things do more than prompt nostalgic feelings, suggesting to us that we are not alone in this long and sometimes lonely journey from earth to heaven. They link us to days gone by, to eras when colorful history was being shaped and harder times were being endured. By touching something old, something new is stirred within us ... something we need so that we might carry on. By standing on the shoulders of yesterday, the view into tomorrow is not nearly so frightening. On the contrary, fresh and new feelings pulsate within us. New determination to press on. New courage to stand alone. New feelings of gratitude to keep us humble. New joy to take the grind out of today's demands. New strength to endure today's tests.I suppose it's my love for old things that makes me love the Old Testament so. Its old, timeworn stories never fail to shout out, "You can make it! Don't quit ... don't give up!" Its truth, secure and solid as a stone, smiles back, as if to say, "I'm still here, waiting to be claimed and applied." Whether it's some ancient prophet's warning or a patriarch's prayer, a poet's calm psalm, or a preacher's challenging reminder, the Old Testament lives on.It invites us to admire it, as we would a fine piece of furniture. It awaits our holding it and pondering its pages as we would a treasured old volume that other hands have held. It offers us new vistas of scenery that we might enjoy through the windshield of a vintage automobile. It still speaks as in the days when reformers heralded hope from strong pulpits, when revivalists pled for souls in open-air campaigns, when faithful expositors taught saints of yesteryear (and more important, lived lives of uncompromising integrity), when rugged missionaries left all the familiar comforts of home and carried its message to hostile tribes, exotic islands, and other cross-cultural destinations.From grand cathedrals alongside honking traffic, great churches in busy suburbs, quaint chapels tucked away in quiet woods, and primitive huts in dense forests, the timeless truths of the Old Testament's39 books have been proclaimed. In spite of the attacks of its critics, the attempts of the Adversary to silence its message, and even the failures of some of its preachers, the Old Testament endures like an ageless anvil wearing away the hammers.The grass withers, the flower fades,But the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)Though ancient, it has never lost its relevance. Though battered, no one has ever improved on its content. Though old, it never fails to offer something pure, something wise, and something new.Why We Have Confidence in the Bibleby Charles R. SwindollWhat is your final authority in life? I mean, when youre cornered, when youre really up against it, when youre forced to face reality, upon what do you lean?Before you answer too quickly, think about it for a few moments. When it comes to establishing a standard for morality, whats your guide? When you need an ethical compass to find your way out of an ethical jungle, wheres north? When youre on a stormy, churning sea of emotions, which lighthouse shows you where to find the shore?There can be no more reliable authority on earth than Gods Word, the Bible. This timeless, trustworthy source of truth holds the key that unlocks lifes mysteries. It alone provides us with the shelter we need in times of storm.But we need to understand why. Why does this book qualify as our final authority?Gods Word Is TruthYour word is truth, Jesus said as He prayed to the Father (John 17:17). Truth, real truth, truth you can rely on, truth that will never shrivel up or turn sour, truth that will never backfire or mislead, thats the truth in the Bible. That is what the Bible is about. That is why the Bible provides us withtheconstant andtheneeded support.Gods Book Is Gods VoiceScripture is Gods message. It is, in fact, Gods Word. The apostle Paul testified clearly to that truth in his first letter to the Thessalonians:For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)Think of it this way: Gods Book is, as it were, Gods voice. If our Lord were to make Himself visible and return to earth and speak His message, it would be in keeping with the Bible. His message of truth would tie in exactly with what you see in Scripture His opinion, His counsel, His commands, His desires, His warnings, His very heart, His very mind. When you rely on Gods voice His very message you have a sure foundation; you have truth that can be trusted; you have power that imparts new life and releases grace by which you can grow in faith and commitment.Gods Word Will EndureDo you realize there are only two eternal things on earth today? Only two: people and Gods Word. Everything else will ultimately be burned up everythingelse. Kind of sets your priorities straight, doesnt it? The stuff we place on the shelf, the things we put frames around, the trophies and whatnots we shine and love to show off, the things were so proud of its all headed for the final bonfire (2 Peter 3:7,10-12). But not Gods Book! Peter reminds us that the truth stands forever (1 Peter 1:25). Grass will grow and then it will wither; flowers will bloom and then they will die. But Gods written message, the truth, will abide forever. All His promises will be fulfilled. His redemptive truth cannot be annulled or changed. His powerful Word will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which it was sent (Isaiah 55:10-11). His Word will endure!Gods Word Is InspiredBut wait. Doesnt all this talk about the Bible lead to an important question that must be asked? The question goes like this:How can anyone get so excited about something that was written by men?We have no problem with the Giver of truth. He gave it ... but wasnt the truth corrupted when He relayed it to earth through the hands and minds of sinful men?This is the perfect moment for you to become acquainted with three doctrinal terms:revelation, inspiration,andillumination. Revelationoccurred when God gave His truth.Inspirationoccurredwhen the writers of Scripture received and recorded His truth. Today, when we understand and apply His truth, that isillumination.The critical issue your confidence in the Bible is directly related to your confidence in its inspiration. How then can we be sure that Gods Word is free from error, absolutely true, and therefore, deserving of our complete trust? Paul provides great help in answering this question:All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)When God revealed His truth for human writers to record, He breathed out His Word. When we dictate a letter to someone, we breathe out a message and someone else types what weve said. But did the writers of Scripture simply take dictation?If you know much about the Bible, you realize that it was written by many different people with many different personalities. Peter doesnt sound like John; John doesnt sound like David. Somehow each writers personality was preserved without corrupting the text with human weakness and error. That rules out the idea of dictation.So how did God cause this to happen?Second Peter 1:21gives us a further clue: For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.The English phrasemoved byis translated from an ancient Greek nautical term (phero) describing ships at sea. When a ship was at the mercy of the winds, waves, and currents of the sea, it was moved by a power apart from its own. Thats the word used here. They raised, as it were, their sails, and the Holy Spirit filled them and they were moved by His desires.Gods Word Will Hold You UpSo our conclusion is this in the Bible we have the preservation of a completely dependable, authoritative, inspired text. The question each of us must ask ourselves is this:Can I rely on it, especially when I go through those chaotic experiences in life?My answer, and I pray it is your answer, is absolutely and unreservedly! The wonderful thing about relying on Gods Book is that it gives you stability. It gives you that deep sense of purpose and meaning. No other counsel will get you through the long haul. No other truth will help you stand firm in the storms of doubt and uncertainty. No other reality will give you strength for each day and deep hope for tomorrow. No other instruction has the power to give new meaning to your life.

Why You Can Have Confidence in the Bibleby Charles R. SwindollWhat is your final authority in life? Before you answer too quickly, think about it for a few moments. When you're cornered, when you're facing an intimidating obstacle, when you're forced to deal with reality, upon whom or what do you lean?There can be no more reliable authority on earth than God's Word, the Bible. This timeless, trustworthy source of truth holds the key that unlocks life's mysteries. It alone provides us with the shelter and protection we need in times of storm.But we need to understand why. Why does this book qualify as our final authority?God's Book Is God's VoiceScripture is God's Word (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Think of it this way: if our Lord were to make Himself visible and return to earth and speak His message, it would be in keeping with the Bible. His message of truth would tie in exactly with what you see in Scripture. When you rely on God's voiceHis very messageyou are standing on a sure foundation; you have trustworthy truth.God's Word Will EndureDo you realize there are only two eternal things on earth today? Only two: people and God's Word. Everything else will ultimately be burned up. Kind of sets your priorities straight, doesn't it? The stuff we place on the shelf, the things we put frames around, the trophies and awards we shine and show offit's all headed for the final bonfire(2 Peter 3:7,1012).But not God's truth! It "endures forever" (1 Peter 1:25). Grass will grow and then it will wither; flowers will bloom and then they will die. But God's written message, the truth, will abide forever (Isaiah 40:78). His Word will endure!God's Word Is InspiredBut wait.How can we get so excited about something that was written by men?We have no problem with the Giver of truth. He gave it ... but wasn't the truth corrupted when He relayed it to earth through the hands and minds of sinful men?This is the perfect moment for you to become acquainted with three doctrinal terms:revelation,inspiration, andillumination.Revelationoccurred when God gave His truth.Inspirationoccurred when the writers of Scripture received and recorded His truth. Today,illuminationoccurs when we understand and apply His truth.The critical issueyour confidence in the Bibleis directly related to your confidence in its inspiration. How then can we be sure that God's Word is free from error, absolutely true, and therefore, deserving of our complete trust? Paul provides great help in answering this question:All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)When God revealed His truth for human writers to record, He "breathed out" His Word. But did the writers of Scripture simply take dictation?When we read the Bible, it's clear that Peter doesn't sound like John; John doesn't sound like David. Somehow each writer's personality was preserved without corrupting the text with human weakness and error. That rules out the notion of dictation.So how did God cause this to happen?Second Peter 1:21gives us a further clue: "For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."The English phrasemoved byis translated from a Greek nautical term describing ships at sea. When a ship has lost its sails and is at the mercy of the winds, waves, and currents of the sea, it is "moved by" a power apart from its own. That's the word used here. When writers of Scripture received God's Word, the Holy Spirit supernaturally guided their writing instruments as they were "moved by" His leading to write His truth.

God's Word Will Hold You UpOur conclusion is this: in the Bible we have the preservation of a completely dependable, authoritative, inspired text. So we must ask ourselves:Can I rely on it, especially when I go through chaotic experiences in life?My answerand I pray it is your answeris absolutely and unequivocally YES!The wonderful thing about relying on God's Word is that it gives you stability. It gives you that deep sense of purpose and meaning. No other counsel will get you through the long haul. No other truth will help you stand firm in the storms of doubt and uncertainty. No other reality will give you sufficient strength for each day and sure hope for tomorrow. No other instruction has the power to give new meaning to your life.

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