“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” Romans 10:17 (ESV)
We all know that the Bible is the word of God, that it is the most read book in human history (estimates of 6 billion copies printed), and that there are more than 6,900 translations. But is reading the best way to absorb the word of God? Are there advantages to hearing it?
Recently, I fell behind in my effort to read the Bible through in a year. Something always got in the way: Meetings, work, family time. Reading the Bible was pushed to the side. I didn’t want to be a slacker. I wanted to keep this commitment.
Then, I remembered that several years ago I listened to the Bible on CDs. I enjoyed the richness of the Lord’s teaching, but somehow in the move from Indiana to North Carolina, the CDs got lost. Should I buy another set? Was this my answer for staying up on my read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year assignments? Could I stream the Bible for free online?
No. Yes. Yes. I eventually found out. I decided to avoid the cost of a new set of CDs because I could listen for free from multiple sources. This was the answer.
This new way of “reading” turned dead time into useful time. For example, on my 30-minue weekly trip to Wilmington, I listen to more than my daily assignment. I hear the Bible while making a pot of beef stew, doing yoga, or riding the exercise bike.
Sites to download or stream the Bible are plentiful on the Internet. All I had to do was click on the speaker icon on Biblegateway.com to hear the word in the elegant voice of Max McLean read Exodus to Revelation. Unlike me, Max doesn’t stumble over names of places like Kiriathiam or names of people like Jehoichin. But there are other great site too, including Biblestudytools.com, audiobible.com, and theonlineword.com, to name just a few.
Whether you read the Bible, as has been done for thousands of years, or listen to Scripture through online streaming or downloads–as we’ve done the last 30 years or so, the truths of the Bible are a priceless guide.
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Although I am not Catholic, I have always appreciated the Pope’s stance on the issues of the day. How we treat the poor, the unborn, and divorce are all issues of the Pope’s leadership for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and many others, Christian, and non-Christian worldwide.
So when Pope Francis last month reversed the church’s position on capital punishment–stating it is “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans,” as reported in USA Today, an American newspaper, I listened.
“The Vatican said the pontiff approved a change to the catechism, which gives worshippers a go-to guide for official Catholic Church teachings on subjects ranging from the sacraments to sex. Previously, the catechism said the church didn’t exclude capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” says USA Today.
My previous view of capital punishment is that it’s wrong to deprive another of her or his life, except in limited and extreme circumstances. My reason reflected the fact of racial and economic imbalances in those executions and the number of inmates on Death Row found proven innocent by organizations like the Innocence Project. I believed that some people, like terrorists who killed scores of innocents, though, deserved to die. Of course, their deaths would not bring those people back to life, but it gave me some satisfaction.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord,” Romans 6:23
But it wasn’t until a Facebook post on the page of a friend, a retired Methodist pastor in Indiana, that my view radically changed, like a slap in the face, being dunked in cold water, or an electric shock. He wrote simply “Kudos, to Pope Francis,” Then came the surprising words from a woman responding to his post: ” Try to remember that your salvation is the result of the death penalty.”
What? My life being spared? I have never killed anyone, stolen anything, or been arrested. What did she mean?
I had never thought of salvation–deliverance from God’s wrath– in comparison to capital punishment. I had been condemned to die, but by going to the cross, Jesus stepped up and took my place. Yet it seems a good comparison. In one the courts condemn an individual to death. In the other, God sentenced us to die ( the wages of sin, Romans 6:23) but loves us so much that He provides His only Son to die in our place.
Is there any greater love? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” it says in John 15:13. Jesus set an example of this love when He followed the agonizing path to the cross. Without this sacrifice, no one would have eternal life.
Adam and Eve existed in a perfect world, but they chose to sin. As a result, they were forced from Eden to live in a world of hardship and the death of the physical body and the soul. The world we live in today.
How do you feel about capital punishment now? Does Jesus’ sacrifice affect your opinion? Is there a comparison between the two? For me, like the Death Row prisoner who gets a reprieve from the governor, I am so relieved and thankful. And I grant my fellow humans–any and all on them–a reprieve from death, no matter how gruesome, the number murdered, or the circumstances. They deserve punishment, but not death.
And I thank Pope Francis for pointing that out.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” 1 Peter 4:8
I admit it, I am not the most hospitable person on the world. I’m one of those persons who never learned to smile. Most of the time, I’m stone faced. I’m a proud introvert. I don’t mean to be standoffish, but sometimes I am.
But is that an effective witness for Christ? Was Jesus an introvert? How many opportunities to witness have you, and I, missed? For example, when Jesus was travelling through hostile Samaria and stopped by a well. He starts a conversation with a woman, then offers her “living water,” as told in John 4:10. A pretty extroverted act.
Clearly, Jesus was not an introvert. He often started conversations with strangers. And we must emulate Him. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
We must be bold in sharing! While screaming the gospel on a street corner may not be the best way to share, we do not want to be a closet Christian either. “But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in Heaven,” it says in Matthew 10:33.
We must be hospitable to others. Our kindness will create opportunities to witness.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” John 15:13
Who would you die for?
Would that decision be spontaneous, like your sister is drowning in a lake and you try to rescue her even though you can’t swim? Or have you already made the choice, such as if your family is ever in danger, you’ll gladly step in front of a bullet if that’s would keep them safe. Or a friend needs a kidney transplant, you volunteer despite the risk to your own health. Or a combat soldier who will follow orders even though he will be open to machine gun fire?
Jesus made the choice to die for us on the cross. Because gave his life so our sins are washed away and He serves as an intercessor for us in Heaven. What a friend is He?
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He made the choice to follow His Father’s decision that He be ransomed for our sin. “Father, if you are will, take this cup from me: yet not my will, but yours be done,” Luke 22:42.
Giving up your life is never easy, but “if you haven’t found something you are willing to die for, you aren’t fit to live,” says the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his life for what he believed.
What would you die for?
“And he (Jesus, at the Last Supper) took the bread, and, when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them,” Luke 22:19
Truth be told, saying grace around our house is a hit or miss proposition. I usually remember if it’s a more formal occassion, like the wife and I at dinner. But eating with the grand kids I may forget. Though when I remember, it’s likely to be monotoned “God is great. God is good. Let’s us thank him for our food. Amen,” from Austin, my six-year-old grandson who usually leads grace at family gatherings.
If I’m by myself, say at McDonald’s, I usually forget to blesss the hamburger and fries. Or for meals with acquaitances–like a business lunch–it’s sometimes ackward to wait for a break in coversation so you can silently pray while your peers may or may not say grace.
If I’m self conscious folding my hands and blessing the food, I push through and say grace any way. How can I let being self conscious stop me, when the Lord again has provided a meal. I’m reminded that many people around the world–including those Americans–are hungry.
A recent survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation of 1,686 Americans found that saying grace is a common practice. Eighty percent of African-Americans, sixty percent of Hispanics, and forty percent of whites regularly say grace at least a few times a week, according to the poll. It also found that 74 percent of white Protestants and 52 percent of Catholics say a quick prayer of thanks over their food. The survey is filled with intriguing statistics.
“Saying grace is a widespread practice in the United States. About half of all Americans take a minutes to say a prayer over their food,” according to The Post’s story.
Like threads laced through the fabric of a quilt, the majority of Americans say grace. It is another ritual that makes us Americans, American.
“I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together,” 1 Samuel 10.
Almost everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. A Hebrew boy faces a ten-foot giant. A shepherd challenged by professional warrior. Saul’s army quakes in their boots and allows little David to face an almost certain, unpleasant death by being run through by a sword, crushed by huge arms, or beaten by a fist twice the size of his own. Yet David prevailed. He picked up five smooth stones from a brook, readied his sling and slew the giant foe.
In many ways, this story is similar to Christianity. A radical named Jesus and His twelve disciples turned the world upside down as their message spread around the globe. And today–some 2,000 years later–Christianity is the world’s largest and fastest growing religion. It has more than 2.2 billion followers in more than 238 countries and regions of the world, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. They follow Jesus’ command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…,” Matthew 28:6.
Who spread Christianity? How has it stood through the centuries? What are the challenges to the faith today? How does it differ from other religions? Is the Bible reliable?
We’ll explore the answers in the coming weeks in this blog. We’ll examine key figures in history and the issues of today. People like the Roman Emperor Constantine and how his conversion spread Christianity across an empire. Martin Luther and how nailing his Nintey- Five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, triggered the Protestant Reformation. And the issues of today–homosexuality, abortion, the Middle East– and how they are polarizing the church today.
Join me as we explore the most important questions anyone ever asked: Is Jesus real and, if so, should I follow Him? Like David stooping to select a stone, have the courage to answer the questions for yourself.