Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why Study The Bible? Here Are Five Reasons!

Earlier this year, I wrote a series of articles on personal devotion centering on prayer (which you can read here).  I’m starting a new series here centering on Bible study:

There is good news and bad news on the Bible literacy front.  According to a 2014 survey conducted jointly by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, half of all Americans strongly agree that the Bible contains everything one needs in order to live a meaningful life.  In addition, half of all Americans believe the Bible has too little influence in American life.  In our increasingly secular society, it is rather surprising to find out that half of all Americans still believe these things.  This same survey also states

 that 88% of Americans own at least one Bible.  However, only 19% are actually “Bible engaged”-which this survey describes as those who read the Bible at least four times a week and believe it is the actual or inspired Word of God.  This 19% is also the number of Americans who now consider themselves Bible skeptics.  That number has almost doubled from 10% to 19% in almost three years.  Thirty-nine percent of Millennials never read the Bible at all. 

Biblical literacy is indeed falling.  One of the reasons is that the secularization of our culture has brought about lack of understanding as to why it is so important to be a student of the Bible.  So, before I write about how to study the Bible effectively, we have to grapple with this question:

Why study the Bible?  

1.     The Bible is the inspired Word of God – How can I claim this?  I could give many reasons, but here are three:
·        Although the sixty-six books of the Bible were written over 1600 years apart by over forty human authors who come from a variety of backgrounds (including shepherds, farmers, fishermen, physicians, kings, and priests), the message of the Bible is remarkably consistent.  It is the story of God’s relationship with humanity.  It tells the story of the creation and fall of mankind as well as  the redemption of mankind in the person and work of God’s son, Jesus Christ.  That redemption is available to all who repent of their sins and follow Christ. 
·        If you were going to make up a story, would you make yourself look good or bad?  I think most people would honestly say that you would make yourself look as good as possible.  However, the Bible is just the opposite.  Consider that the Old Testament was written by a variety of Jewish writers, yet it details repeated instances of disobedience and gross sin even by some of such Biblical heroes as Noah, Moses, and David.  Here is one New Testament “head-scratcher” for those who are skeptics of the Bible.  In 1st century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was not considered credible, yet the Bible writes that it was three women who first discovered that Jesus rose from the dead!  If a 1st century Jew made it up, why would you choose people who your society does not see as credible?
·        There have been countless archeological finds that support the veracity of the Bible.  These are being discovered almost constantly.  Just this summer, an article was published about a find in the valley of Elah just west of Jerusalem.  An ancient piece of pottery contains the name of one of David’s rivals, Eshba’al.  This name had never been found in any writing outside the Bible until this was found. Another example is found in this article on the possible discovery of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha.
2.     The Bible is culturally relevant – Our culture is steeped in phrases and concepts that are uniquely Biblical.  Yet, sadly, most people don’t realize this.  Consider these phrases
·        “I’m at my wits end!
·        “I escaped by the skin of my teeth!”
·        “Don’t cast your pearls before swine”
·        “A house divided against itself cannot stand”
·        “He was a good Samaritan”

Where did these phrases come from?  You guessed it…the Bible!  (If you want to read more about this, here is a list of 122 phrases that we use in everyday life that come from the Bible.)  In fact, I don’t think you can consider yourself educated without knowing something about the Bible.

3.     The Bible supplies a moral framework for your life – How do we know what is right and wrong? 

Some will say that you just know these things intuitively.  However, what we think is intuitive is not intuitive in all societies.  In many societies in the world, rape, incest, and even murder are not considered sinful.  The Ten Commandments in the Bible as well as many other passages in the Bible reveal to us God’s view of sin.
4.     The Bible is a source of great wisdom – We live in an age in which knowledge is abundant but wisdom is rare. One of the definitions of wisdom that I found is “the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand.” Another way to describe wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge that is applicable to a given situation. What good is knowledge without the ability to apply it? That is where the Bible comes in. In fact, the Bible has one entire book (Proverbs) that is just devoted to wise sayings. There is more wisdom in any chapter in that one book than you will get in any secular college or university for four years!
5.     The Bible is the means to encounter God – Anyone who has ever spent significant amounts of time in study of the Bible will understand the meaning of Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

God’s word is alive!  I have no idea the number of times that I have encountered God through his word, but is certainly hundreds of times.  I will often read a passage that I have been through dozens if not hundreds of times in the past and yet will see some facet of that passage that I have never seen before.  God has spoken to me by using His word so many times in my life as I have gone about my regular activities.  God still speaks today and He is not limited by His word alone in the way He can speak to us, but I have found that the primary way that He speaks to His people is through His word.  But He can’t speak to you through His Word if you don’t know it!  Want to encounter God?  Spend time getting to know Him in His Word!

Want to read more?  Here are a few links to related articles on this blog:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Living A Christian Life In an Anti-Christian World

As I shared in my article "Stability For Our Times" earlier this summer, this is not an easy time to be a Christian. Our culture is swiftly turning against so many things that were for many decades part of our Judeo-Christian heritage.  From the sanctity of marriage to the sanctity of life, we have largely turned our backs on the clear teaching of scripture.  So what are Christians to do during these increasingly anti-Christian times?

I believe that the things we are called to do today are strikingly simple but incredibly important.  Let’s look at a few of these things that we are called to do in order to be effective “salt and light” in our times.  These things may seem so obvious that it may seem silly to even spend the time writing about them.  However, I fear that the most obvious things are the things we overlook the most.  Now, God had the Ten Commandments.  I don’t rate nearly that high, so I’ll call these my Ten Suggestions:

  1. Attend church regularly - In this increasingly secular age, it is vitally important that we Christians participate in the life of the body of Christ at the local level.  Watching sermons on television, listening to Christian radio, and reading good spiritual books or articles (like this one, I hope!) may all be helpful, but nothing can substitute being part of a loving, Bible-believing, and spiritually-alive body of Christ.  If you are part of such a body, thank God every day…and then attend!  If your church meets multiple times a week, be sure to be a part of the life of the church as much as possible.  Hebrews tells us that we are not to be “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some…(Hebrews 10: 25a NASB).  If you are not currently part of such a body, start prayerfully looking for one.  There are a lot of good churches out there!  (P.S. If you are in the Evansville, Indiana area and are looking for a home church, here is a link to the website for my church Fair Haven Christ's a great group to be a part of!)
  2. Be prompt in your attendance –  Satan loves lukewarm Christians…and nothing says “lukewarm” better than consistently showing up late to meeting.  A church with members who show up late consistently doesn’t attract very many new people…and why should it?  If a guest attends your church at the announced starting time, and many of the members show up late, what would this tell him or her about the church? He or she may not be that interested in coming back! Frankly, it is greatly discouraging to your pastor and church leaders to see members drag in late week after week   By the way, a great way to encourage your pastor and church leaders is to get there not only on time but a little early.  Bottom line…be there and be there on time!
  3. Encourage one another daily – As the second half of the scripture quoted above states “…but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25b) Being a part of the body of Christ means to encourage one another every day, not only in church but in our everyday lives.  We need each other! Here’s an idea…when was the last time you had another family from your church over for a meal?  We usually don’t get to know each other well during the short periods that we are in church.  We get to know each other better when we spend time with each other during the week.  Here’s an even better idea…How about inviting another family from your church that you don’t know very well over for a meal (or out to eat if you are more comfortable with that)?  New families will tend to stay when they make more connections.  Be one of those connections!
  4. Develop the habit of spending time in God’s word every day -  It’s been almost twenty years since I read an article by Pastor Jack Hayford that changed my life.  He stated that for decades he had made it a practice to “not turn the light off until he had turned the light on.”  In other words, he wouldn’t turn his bedroom light off at night until he had spent some time in the light of God’s word…the Bible.  Since then, I have, by God’s grace, tried diligently to put this into practice.  There have only been a handful of days in the last two decades that I haven't spent some time during that day in God's word.  Because of this, I believe I am a much more stable and mature Christian than I was then (though I know I certainly still have a long way to go!)  This is not a law but a habit.  A habit is just something that one chooses to do time after time after time until it just becomes part of you.  Make reading the Bible part of who you are!
  5. Develop a habit of daily prayer – As I shared in my series of articles on prayer earlier this year, prayer is simply talking to God in faith.  It is laying aside my agenda to find out what God’s agenda for my life is.  (If you’d like to read my suggestions on how to improve your prayer life, please follow the links at the end of this article.)
  6. Spend moments with Christ throughout your day - As important as it is to have a regular devotion time with God daily, it is equally as important to realize that God wants to hear from you throughout your busy day.  As you go about your daily activities, be aware that you can bring your petitions before God anytime…day or night!  Something troubling you? Take it to One who can take care of your trouble…then just trust Him!
  7. Listen to God! - Not only does God want to hear your prayer, but often (believe it or not!), He may have something to say to you.  He may want you speak a kind word to a co-worker, help someone in need, or just bite your tongue when someone says something that bothers you.  God still speaks today! (To read about a particular instance in my life in which I found God speaking to me, read my column, "God Can Do Things In Prayer That Are Just So Cool!".  Also, here's a short video of my pastor Mike Douglas sharing about hearing "The Voice of God."  It's good!)
  8. Be an example to your family members - My pastor often states that we men are called to be the "high priests" of our families.  I believe that's right.   As a husband, father, and grandfather, it is my
    responsibility to live a life before my family members to make them want to come to Christ.  Are you being that model for your family?  Wives have a similar charge.  Both parents are commanded to raise their children in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4 KJV). (Here's a link to another short video of Pastor Mike sharing about being a witness to your family..."Tell Them About God!")
  9. Read (or watch) stories of faith – One of the best ways that I know to strengthen my faith is to

    read biographies of great Christians who have lived out there faith.  Not a reader?  Well, you should be!  Seriously, there are also some great movies and documentaries out there about great men and women of faith that will strengthen your faith.  One of my favorites (both the book and the movie) is “The Hiding Place” – the story of Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom. If you've never read this Christian classic, I would encourage you to pick up a copy! When I read about the obstacles that these men and women had to face and they with God’s help were able to overcome, it makes my troubles seem small in comparison!
  10. Develop a winsome personality to outsiders – Scripture teaches us that we are to be a  “sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” (II Cor. 2: 14b).  Do you and I carry that aroma…that fragrance of Christ...wherever we go?  The world is tired and fed up with “bible thumping” Christians (as they caricature us).  What they can’t turn away from are people who are joyful no matter what the circumstances.  Do we reflect that joyful spirit around others?  Or are we grumpy around them most of the time?  I’ve heard Jewish talk show host Dennis Prager say that the greatest advertisement for religion are those adherents to a religion who do good in their God’s name…and the greatest advertisement against religion are those who do evil in God’s name.  Which kind of advertisement are you?
As Christians, we could bemoan our status as "outs" in a society that increasingly marginalizes us and treats us with contempt.  Or we could just go with the flow and take in the secular worldview that is so prevalent today (as unfortunately so many "Christian" churches are doing).  However, we are not called to do either of these things.  The Lord calls us to be courageous.  In fact, the last words that Jesus shared with His disciples are good words to share with you as I close: 

 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33 NASB)
Want to read more?  Here are links to related articles on this blog:

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Horrific Iran Deal

Below is a letter that I wrote to my Congressman, Larry Bucschon, and both of my senators in Indiana, Senators Coats and Donnelly. "If you feel as strongly as I do about this horrific deal (I use that word "horrific" very sparingly.  It is well-deserved in this case!), I would encourage, I implore you, to speak up against this deal.  Let your Congressmen know.  Write a letter to the editor.  Don't let this moment pass without doing something about it!  (By the way, you are most certainly welcome to use anything from this letter when you write.)

If you are not familiar with the facts of this agreement, I would encourage you to educate yourself.  I have included some resources at the bottom of this post that will help you be more informed about this.

August 10, 2015

Dear (Congressman/Senator),

There are many important issues facing you in Congress when you get back from August recess.  However, I believe there is nothing more important facing Congress than the vote on the Iranian nuclear agreement.  This is very likely the most important vote that you and your colleagues will ever make.  It could be the most important vote in Congress of the decade.  Perhaps even of the century.  It is that important.

It’s hard to even write these words, but our government has made an agreement with a radical terrorist state.  A state that is the prime sponsor of terrorism in the world.  Worse than Al-Qaida.  Worse than Boko Haram.  Worse even that the Islamic State.  With this agreement in place, Tehran will have $150 billion dollars at its disposal, which it will most certainly use to fund its vast terror network.  The Iranian regime has vowed for decades to annihilate Israel.  No other nation in the world has publicly stated as one of its goal to annihilate another country.  We will be aiding and abetting Iran in its quest to destroy Israel.  We are in fact becoming an accessory to what could be one of the greatest crimes in the history of civilization.  God will certainly judge us for this. Not only this, but there is nothing in this agreement that prevents Iran from acquiring ICBM’s, which they are doing as I write this.  As you know, there is only one reason for a country to acquire Intercontinental ballistic missiles.  That reason is to send nuclear missiles to another continent.  Guess which continent Iran wants to send these missiles to?  It’s not Antarctica!  As much as Iran hates Israel, it hates the U.S. just as much.  Every Friday, the regime sponsors “Death to America” chants in its mosques.  They call Israel “The Little Satan”.  America is “The Great Satan”.

This deal is worse than Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich agreement, which paved the way for World War II.  In 1938, no one knew of Hitler’s plan to annihilate the Jews in Germany.  In 2015, everyone knows that Iran desires to annihilate the Jews in Israel.  In 1938, nuclear weapons had not been invented.  The Iran deal of 2015 will actually pave the way for the fanatical regime in Tehran to get nuclear weapons.  (Although it could conceivably take fifteen years for this to happen…a time period Charles Krauthammer calls a young man’s idea of a long time!... I don’t believe that it will take nearly that long.) The Munich agreement of 1938 did not usher in a European arms race.  The Iran deal of 2015 is ushering in a Middle East arms race as we speak.

As a follower of Christ, I take the injunction of Genesis 12:3 seriously.  Speaking to Abraham, God says in this passage:

And I will bless those who bless you (Israel),
And the one who curses you I will curse
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

I truly believe that one of the reasons that God has blessed America in the almost seventy years since the founding of the modern state of Israel is that, up until very recently, we have stood with Israel.  Tragically, since President Obama has taken office, we are now opposed to Israel in almost every conceivable way.  In fact, if this agreement takes place, we will be in the position of having to defend Iran against Israel if the Jewish state chooses to attack Iran to prevent its own destruction.  Words fail me to describe my revulsion at this thought!

Imagine if we could have done something to have prevented 9/11.  Well, we have the opportunity to help prevent a catastrophe that would be worse than a thousand 9/11’s.  Your vote against this deal is critical to the future of our country.  Indeed, your vote is critical to the future of civilization.  I implore you and your colleagues to vote a resounding “NO” against this unconscionable deal!

Sincerely yours,

Wayne Nall Jr

The Iran Nuclear Deal (Prager University 5 minute video)
Worse Than We Could Have Imagined (Charles Krauthammer article)
Charles Krauthammer explains why iran nuclear deal terrible 2-minutes
The Iran Deal's Collapsing Rationale (Wall Street Journal article)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Stability For Our Times

It would be a joy to be able to write on this American Independence Day, which is the two hundred and thirty-ninth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence,  that all is well in America and in the world.

Unfortunately, it is anything but the case.

As we look around us, the world seems to be unraveling before our eyes…
1. The international situation has not been as perilous as this in many decades, perhaps since the 1930’s, during the ascendancy of Hitler in Germany and the Japan aggressions that would preface their attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
2. The Islamic State (or ISIS), which is now “celebrating” it’s one year anniversary, may be the most diabolical party to rise up in the world since the Nazis.  We hear reports daily of atrocities, including even the crucifixion of children, that we couldn’t even have imagined a short year ago.
3. Vladimir Putin of Russia is making noise in Ukraine as he continues to slowly gobble up this former Soviet satellite while the world watches passively by.
4. The maniacal regime in Iran is well on its way to developing a nuclear weapon, perhaps even abetted by the deal that President Obama and John Kerry are frantically trying to make….a deal columnist Charles Krauthammer describes as “The Worse Agreement In U.S. Diplomatic History.
5. Here in the United States, race relations seem to be at its lowest point in decades, with riots in Baltimore, New York, and Ferguson, Missouri in the last year.  Add to this the horrible mass murder of nine congregants of a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina last month by a white racist, and more fuel is added to the fire.
6. The Supreme Court has done what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago in arbitrarily decreeing “gay marriage” legal in all fifty states, striking down multiple laws enacted by the people in an act of breathtaking judicial overreach.  
7.  As a result of the Supreme Court ruling and other similar rulings, the religious liberties of Bible-believing Christians in America are threatened as never before in our history.  Within forty-eight hours of the Supreme Court ruling on "gay marriage," Mark Oppenheimer wrote a column in Time Magazine stating, "Now's the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions." This is only the first salvo.  Pastors and churches who hold to the Biblical definition of marriage have been put on notice that they will be treated as bigots and homophobes by the press and eventually by their own government.

This list could go on for pages….

So as we Christians look around us, it would not take much effort to give in to despair.

Instead, I find great reason to hope

I came across a scripture recently that has given me much hope in these unstable times that I’d like to share with you.  It was written 2800 years ago by the prophet Isaiah, but it could have been written yesterday:

And He will be the stability of your times,
A wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge;
...the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.
(Isaiah 33:6 NASB/NIV)
In this increasingly unstable world, Isaiah points us to God (and, in prefigure, to Jesus Christ) as the source of all stability in a fractured universe.

Isaiah too lived in a time of great upheaval.  He watched (and warned) as the northern kingdom of Israel was gobbled up by Assyria.  The Lord revealed to him prophetically that the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah would soon be conquered by Babylon and suffer unspeakable atrocities because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people.  Yet, Isaiah found stability in the midst of instability.

I believe that we as Christians can do the same today.

It is indeed a dark world that we live in…one that seems to grow increasingly dark with each passing day.  However, as John would state in his gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5 NIV) The darker the night, the more obvious the light becomes.  As we live our lives out in faithful commitment to Christ in an increasingly chaotic world, I believe that the opportunity to share our faith…our differentness…will grow rather than decrease.  When everything is going well, people don’t generally look for answers.  It is when chaos ensues that people began to look for a source of stability.  That is when we can point people to Christ, who is our source of stability.

In a future article (which I have since can read here), I hope to share with you some suggestions on how we as Christians can be “salt and light” in this increasingly dark world.  Suffice it to say today that this is certainly no time to panic or to lose hope.  Time and again in scripture we are told “Do not fear” or “Don’t be afraid” when we are faced with difficult circumstances. 

God gave a message to Jeremiah almost 2600 years ago that is also relevant to us today:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:11, 12 NASB)

The difficult times of heat and drought will come.  However, we are called to be like “a tree planted by the water” that, because its roots go deep into the stream, doesn’t quit bearing fruit. 

As Paul predicted near the end of his life, “in the last days difficult times will come.” (II Timothy 3:1 NASB).  I believe that it is very possible that we are indeed in the last days.  Yes, the world is spinning into chaos.  We always knew that it would.  However, now is not the time to fold.  It is not the time to be in despair.  It is a time to be strong, sturdy, and stable…as we look to Him who is indeed “the stability for our times.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Charleston Tragedy: Racism, Gun Control...And The Power of Forgiveness!

I like almost all Americans was horrified when I woke up Thursday to hear of the senseless killing of nine members of a historically black church during a Wednesday evening bible study in Charleston, South Carolina.  The young man, who has since been caught and has confessed to the killings, is obviously a virulent racist, as the photos and blog posts on his website attest.

It saddens me that this type of racism still exists in America, yet there is no doubt that it still does.  Having grown up in Alabama during the 1970's and 80's, I know that there is still a hard-core of "unreconstructed rebels" out there who still harbor racism.  I am thankful that my parents taught my sister and I differently.  I can't help but think about who programmed this young man to hate to such a degree that he felt justified in taking nine precious lives, all because of the color of their skin.  And, of course this also stirs up old wounds from the Civil Rights Era.  I have heard several references on the Sunday shows to the tragic bombing of a black church in Birmingham in 1963 (where my parents were living at the time and which I wrote about in this article "September 15, 1963").  Yet, as I heard one commentator note, there is at least one profound difference in that tragedy almost fifty-two years ago and this.  The local and state governments then did everything they could to downplay that tragedy and not to bring to justice the perpetrators. Today, every level of law enforcement and of the government in South Carolina was and is intent in bringing this young man to justice.  To me, the conclusion that we should draw from this, at least from the race angle, is that we truly have come a long way since those dark days.  I don't for a minute believe that this young man's thinking reflects the way that most South Carolinians think.  The remaining members of the AME Emmanuel church have themselves testified to the outpouring of support among people of all races, and that is how it should be.  I told my wife that if I lived there, I would be hard pressed not to go to their Sunday service today as a measure of support.  Judging from the size of the crowd at that service, which included the governor of the state (who is not white but Native American), the response has been overwhelming in support.

One of the issues that continually comes up whenever we have one of these shootings in gun control.  Could this have been prevented by more gun control laws?  I hardly think so.  The issue to me clearly is not the type of weapon this young man used to commit this horrendous crime, but the hatred that was in his heart.  If he hadn't had access to a gun, he could have used a knife or another kind of weapon. I would grant you that he might not have easily taken as many lives that way, but he certainly could have done great damage.  You could just as easily make the point that had one of the church members had a gun that evening and been able to use it, many lives might have been spared. There is an element in our society that hates the fact that we have the 2nd Amendment guaranteeing our use of firearms and would like to change it.  I don't believe that will happen anytime soon.

However, the most encouraging thing that happened out of this tragedy happened at a hearing for Dylan Roof, the young man who committed these murders.  At the hearing Friday, (which you can watch here), representatives of the victims' families were given an opportunity to speak in front of the perpetrator.  I watched this short hearing, and I couldn't help but be moved by the words of the family members, whose loved ones' lives had been taken less than forty-eight hours before.  In this hearing, one by one the family members stood at the microphone and told the assailant how much that his action had hurt them, but then told him that they forgive him.  First up was Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance.  She said
I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.

Following Collier was an unnamed relative of victim Myra Thompson who stated

I would just like him to know that, to say the same thing that was just said: I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change him and change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay.

Others spoke in the same vein.


As I have heard it stated, this says volumes about the type of people in that church and what they Clementa C. Pinckney, who himself was one of the victims.  It also highlights a distinctive feature of Christianity that is not found in any other religious system...that is forgiveness.  How can a person have forgiveness in their heart for someone who had caused them such grief?  It is only through knowing Jesus and understanding his forgiveness of us that we can forgive others.  
were taught by their beloved pastor,

Jesus taught forgiveness.  Following the Disciples or Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, he made this remarkable statement:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Jesus taught us that God will forgive us only when we have a forgiving spirit toward others, even when they have done unspeakable evil towards us or our loved ones.  Does this mean that they are not held accountable for their actions. Certainly not!  This young man could and should serve the appropriate penalty as proscribed by the government.  However, we as Christians cannot harbor hatred in our hearts.  Why?  Because Jesus himself died for us when we ourselves were unworthy of forgiveness.  Paul says it well in Ephesians 4:21
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Our ability to forgive is based on the fact that we ourselves have been forgiven.  Jesus died the most heinous of deaths on our behalf so that we can escape hell and live with him in heaven.  We have been forgiven much.  Because of this, we must forgive ourselves.  

This brings to mind the story that Corrie ten Boom told in her book "The Hiding Place." Corrie and her sister Betsy were interned in the notorious women's prison Ravensbrook in Nazi Germany.  Though Corrie survived the horrible ordeal, Betsy did not.  She tells in her book about the day that she met one of her former prison guards after she had given a talk on forgiveness:

Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. ...
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard in there." No, he did not remember me.
"But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, ..." his hand came out, ... "will you forgive me?"
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." ...
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling."
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"
For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.
 What a beautiful story of forgiveness!  I would pray that each one of the members of these families would feel the love of God as intensely as Corrie ten Boom did that night in 1947.

Forgiveness is not easy.  It takes tremendous courage.  This also reminds me of a remarkable woman who I know how can testify about the power of forgiveness.  Her name is Ina Kae Simpson and she is a member of the church where I attend.  Ina's husband Charlie Simpson was murdered in 1997 by a young man who was on drugs.  Ina's decision to forgive this young man had a part in his salvation and eventually even in his release.  I was so impressed with her story that the Lord put it on my heart to write a short book about her experience.  (You can purchase this book "Grace In Shoe Leather" on for only 99 cents here.)

I'd like to close this post with the words of the sister of Depayne Middleton Doctor, who spoke at the hearing in Charleston on Friday:

That was my sister, and I’d like to thank you on behalf of my family for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.
Hate can't win...but love can!

Want To Read More?  Here are links to related articles on this site:

Stability For Our TimesWhy Pray?
The Greatest Single Ingredient Of A Successful Prayer Life

Friday, April 3, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: Killing Jesus

Killing Jesus", the movie based on the book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, debuted on National Geographic channel last Sunday night, and we decided to watch it. Although I had not read the book, I had read the first two books in the series, "Killing Lincoln" and "Killing Kennedy", and had also seen the NatGeo films based on those books.  I thought both the books and the movies were quite good.  However, I went into this one with some apprehension, as I had heard that they were going to be showing the life of Jesus from a "historical" perspective.  This can often mean that the writers or producers of the work are going to disregard the most authoritative and complete source about Jesus, the Bible. Yet, I tried to go into it with an open mind.  I decided to "Live-tweet" my reaction on Twitter and invited my followers to read and react.  

It didn't take long to find out that my apprehensions about the movie were not unfounded. Although a few scenes in the movie were well-done (such as the scene of the woman caught in adultery), I found three huge problems with the Jesus portrayed in "Killing Jesus."

1.  The Jesus in "Killing Jesus" doesn't know who He is - Early in the movie, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is depicted. In this scene, his cousin John the Baptist has to encourage Jesus that He has a calling. Jesus is so taken by this, that He asks John to baptize Him. Jesus doesn't know that He is called and has to be told? At this point I tweeted, "Jesus did not have to grow into His role. He knew who He was from the beginning", and provided this link to John 1:1-4, which describes Jesus as the eternal Word of God, who was with God from the beginning. 

There are so many scriptures that verify that Jesus knew exactly who He was, that I wouldn't have space or time to list them here. I will mention a couple here. The first is Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well:
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us. Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
Pretty plain, isn't it! And note, that this was very early in the ministry of Christ. He didn't discover somewhere along the way that He was the Christ. He knew it from the beginning.

Luke records an event much earlier in the life of Christ, which took place when Jesus was only twelve years old. (You can read the entire passage in Luke here.) In this account, Jesus and His parents have gone to the temple for Passover. His parents make the return journey back to Nazareth, assuming that Jesus is in the crowd with other members of the caravan. When they realize that He is missing, they go back to Jerusalem and find Him teaching in the temple. When they express consternation at Him, He replies "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?" (Luke 2:49)

Now, this might not seem obvious to us now, because we are used to calling Yahweh "Father", but this form of addressing God was certainly not common to Jews before Christ. In fact, God is referred to as a father only fifteen times in the entire Old Testament. In most of those cases, He is described as the Father of people of Israel. In the passage in Luke, the young Jesus was making a statement at only twelve years of age that He had a special Father-Son relationship with God, and that the temple was His Father's house.  In fact, this would be the first of 165 times that Jesus would refer to God as "Father!" (For more on the Fatherhood of God and Jesus' unique relationship with God the Father, see this excellent article.) Bottom line is this: The Jesus of the Bible was far from uncertain about His role.  He knew that He was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God from a very early age.

2.  The Jesus of “Killing Jesus” doesn't perform any miracles – Although miracles occur in “Killing Jesus”, it is not Jesus who actually performs them. The first one is Jesus’ encounter with Peter on the Sea of Galilee. In the Biblical account, Jesus gets in Simon Peter’s boat and begins teaching, after which He tells Peter to “let down your nets into the deep.” Peter argues with Him, saying that they have toiled all night and have caught nothing, yet he reluctantly accedes to Jesus’ request and puts his nets in the water. And then:
When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken… (Luke 5:6-9)
In contrast, the account of this scene in “Killing Jesus” has Jesus’ requesting Peter to go out in his boat. After casting the net, they wait for a while, but nothing happens. Jesus says, “Let’s pray.” After they pray, the fish start swarming up, after which they pull in a boatload of fish. Jesus seems as astonished as Peter at this event. He attributes the miracle to the fact that they prayed and states, “Thank God!” This is obviously a far cry from the biblical account.

In the closest thing to a miracle performed by Jesus in the movie, another scene shows a young boy who has a demonic spirit. Jesus holds him until He convulses and lays as dead, then, after Jesus prays, the boy gets up, astonishing the crowd. No casting out of demons. Perhaps it was just an epileptic fit! 
Now, this is like no other Biblical account that I know of. In every account in which Jesus encountered demons, He spoke to them and ordered them to leave, which they promptly did. (See this account in Matthew, which is the only account in the gospels of Jesus’ encountering a boy with a demon.)

A little later in the movie, a young woman comes to Him with leprosy and He touches her, but there is no healing. He just seems to comfort her. At this point, I tweeted, "Jesus didn't treat lepers, He healed them!" and provided a link to the account in Matthew of one those healings.

3.  The Jesus in “Killing Jesus” does not appear to anyone as the resurrected Christ – The foundation of the Christian faith is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, there is no Christianity, and there are no Christians. As Dr. William Lane Craig stated:

Without the belief in the resurrection, the Christian faith could not have come into being. The disciples would have remained crushed and defeated men. Even had they continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, his crucifixion would have forever silenced any hopes of his being the Messiah. The cross would have remained the sad and shameful end of his career. The origin of Christianity therefore hinges on the belief of the early disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
In “Killing Jesus,” after a mostly-correct rendering of the crucifixion (although even here they leave out key elements such as the three hours of darkness) and the burial of Jesus, we are shown the disciples going to the tomb on Sunday morning and finding it empty. Now, I will give them credit for the empty tomb. At least they did show this. However, the scene ends with Mary Magdalene looking to heaven in praise to God. (Contrast this with the biblical account of Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ at the tomb) The movie then cuts to the Sea of Galilee. There, Peter is back on his boat. casting out his net. As he looks at his empty net, he sees the fish swarm into the net. He also looks up to heaven in praise to God. (Contrast this with the biblical account of Jesus’ encounter with Peter after the resurrection.) So, is Jesus really resurrected? We are only left to wonder.

Yet, the bodily resurrection of Christ is one of the most attested to events of ancient history. Ambrose Fleming, who was one of England’s most outstanding scientists and the man considered to be the “Father of modern electronics”, stated of New Testament documents:

We must take this evidence of experts as to the age and authenticity of this writing, just as we take the facts of astronomy on the evidence of astronomers who do not contradict each other. This being so, we can ask ourselves whether it is probable that such a book, describing events that occurred about thirty or forty years previously, could have been accepted and cherished if the stories of abnormal events in it were false or mythical. It is impossible, because the memory of all elderly persons regarding events of thirty or forty years before is perfectly clear.
William Lane Craig states:
The empty tomb story in Mark is based on an earlier source scholars date to within seven years of the crucifixion. Contrast this with sources from Roman and Greek history which are usually one to two generations or even centuries after the events they record. The earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were over four hundred years after his death! Even two generations is too short a time to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts.
(For more on the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Christ, read this booklet by Lee Strobel “The Case for the Resurrection" or watch his equally well-done DVD "The Case for Christ")

We can glean more about the roots of “Killing Jesus” from Mr. O’Reilly’s own words. His is quoted in an interview after the book came out saying a CBS interview, "It's not a religious book. There's no religion in the book, nothing. It's all about history." Really? What is historical about this twisted version of the Biblical account?

As Dan Delzell put it in this Christian Post article written about the book:

To spiritualize the historical Christ means to move the Messiah outside of the "historical" category into the nebulous category of "maybe." While that can be a helpful starting point when engaging in Christian apologetics with skeptics, it falls far short when attempting to write a history book about Jesus Christ. And that is exactly why "Killing Jesus" misses the mark. Bill wanted his book to present accurate history, but he left out way too much…Imagine writing about Babe Ruth but not mentioning baseball. Or writing about Dr. Martin Luther King without addressing racial prejudice. Or what about writing a history of Mormonism while leaving out the founder of their faith, Joseph Smith. Likewise, if you are going to write about the founder of Christianity, it is imperative that you get Him right. Bill got Him half-right…

As far as the movie is concerned, I’m not sure I can go even that far.

My final tweet of the evening sums up my view of “Killing Jesus.”

“Based on #KillingJesus movie, Bill O'Reilly may know Lincoln, Kennedy, and Patton, but He doesn't know Jesus!

I invite you to follow me on Twitter as I "live-tweet" "A.D - The Bible Continues" beginning on Easter Sunday, April 5 on NBC.  

You can also follow me on Facebook and Google+.

Want to
My Take on "The Bible" Miniseries (2013)
Why Pray?
The Greatest Single Ingredient Of A Successful Prayer Life

My book "Grace In Shoe Leather" is a fascinating true story of crime, forgiveness and redemption.  Get your copy on Amazon here...Now only 99 cents!

Check Out My New Facebook Page - Flyover Country!