Archive for July, 2008

Word Filled Wednesday

So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:21

I must admit I am constantly fascinated by Creation…seriously I am astounded by our God at times. There are so many creatures in the sea, birds in the air, animals on the land. All created by Him. One of my favorite ways to describe our God is to call Him the Creator. More often than not I get lost in thought about things of this earth He has created.

I am not gonna lie…I am not a boat person! But to see some of the creatures above I braved a boat ride while on vacation…while not the most thrilling day of my life it was well worth it to see the dolphins frolicking and the manatees (who most certainly teased us with their little noses…erhm big noses!) slowly moving in the water of the bay. I have always been in awe of manatees, I even did a project on them in 8th grade, which I still have…..

But as I think back on that day last week I realized it was a wonderful way to revel in my glorious Creator…and all that He has created. I think about the book of Genesis a great deal because it describes something so glorious to me…

I hope your get a glimpse of how glorious our Creator God is today :o)

For more WFW go visit The 160 Acre Woods!

Cheerio

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It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

The Deuteronomy Project

Winepress Publishing (April 16, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Richard B. Couser received the Book of the Year award from Your Church magazine for his earlier book, Ministry and the American Legal System, praised as “the best church and law text in print.” He has also written a number of book chapters, monographs, religious news columns, and educational materials for both the Christian and legal community, and spoken to numerous church and legal groups. He has served as president of the Christian Legal Society, a national organization of Christian attorneys, and as a leader of other Christian organizations and his church. Couser’s passionate love for the text of Deuteronomy informs his writing. His personal research forThe Deuteronomy Project includes most resources on Deuteronomy available in the English language as well as courses on the seminary level. Couser is a graduate of Yale University and Stanford Law School.

Richard B. Couser is a grandfather. His wife Linda, two children, their spouses, and seven grandchildren are all faithful believers (except the newest baby who needs to grow a little before she understands her faith).

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 19.95
Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Winepress Publishing (April 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1579219381
ISBN-13: 978-1579219383

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter One

A Greek friend once taught me a traditional Orthodox prayer
known as “the Jesus Prayer.” It is simple; a single sentence: “Lord
Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Th e extended, continuous repetition
of this sentence is said to bring believers into a deeper, even mystical,
communion with God. I don’t know what effect such repetition has
on mind or body to add to the spiritual force that must spring from
absorbing the message of the prayer into one’s soul. Its seven words
contain all that is needed for spiritual life: confessing the Lordship of
Christ, the sin of the believer (without which there would be no need
for mercy), the plea for mercy, and the certainty that the Lord Jesus can
and will provide it to those who ask.

I knew a little, but very little, of such things when I first met Hal. I
had heard it at an early stage of my adult life as a believer of the practice
of “praying the Scriptures”—taking a word, a phrase, or a verse and
focusing meditation and prayer on it until it was absorbed into the soul
like the Jesus prayer. Despite my intellectual knowledge of spiritual
matters, my own life of prayer and meditation had been engaged lightly
and infrequently. I had never experienced the mystical union with God
from such prayer or meditation claimed by saints like Teresa of Avila,
Madame Jeanne Guyon, or John of the Cross.

Even at the “book-learning” level, there were times when my poor
and inconstant study of the Bible became stuck, wheels spinning in the
proverbial rut, at a point that seemed insurmountable. Deuteronomy is
a little-visited book, and it was just there that the mountain of Scripture
was planted in my path, with no way around. A visiting preacher in our
church asked once, only half in jest, if any of us could fi nd Deuteronomy
in our Bibles. Like too many people in the pew, even those who were
biblically literate, I could find Deuteronomy, but I almost never found
myself in it. Th e book is long—and long before Christ. For much of
its length, it seems to bog down in detailed laws that no longer apply,
at least to Christians. It consisted of Moses’ speeches and teachings,
but we had Jesus. It expressed the “old covenant,” but we had the “new
covenant.” It was, in short, too old, too long, too Jewish, and too irrelevant.
What was the point of studying it?

Yet many things about Deuteronomy intrigued me. It was Moses’
end-of-life speeches and teachings, summarizing everything he had
learned from the Lord and taught Israel for forty years. Surely the last
words of such a monumental fi gure in religious and world history were
worthy of attention.

It was also, I could see, a transitional book, marking the end of
Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, when the forty years of desert wandering
were over and the conquest of the Promised Land was about to begin.
Israel was camped on the Plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River, and
Joshua was about to assume leadership. Th e historical books of Joshua
through Second Kings would continue the story of the movement over
the Jordan and the life of God’s people in the land, a story of promise,
failure, and ultimately destruction and exile in Babylon.

And, I read in my study Bible, it was a covenant—a contract or
treaty document expressing the relationship between God and a special
people he had chosen to serve him and to exemplify to the nations
what a righteous nation under God is like.

I knew Deuteronomy to be a book embodying much of the law of ancient
Israel. A literal translation of the Greek title was the “second law”
or repetition of the law, and the title was appropriate. In Deuteronomy,
the laws Moses had given Israel in the three preceding books—Exodus,
Leviticus and Numbers—were sometimes repeated, sometimes summarized,
sometimes abbreviated or expanded. Modern Christians have
little interest in studying Old Testament law. But could the accounts
of people and events in both testaments of the Bible—including the
teachings of Jesus and his controversies with Jewish groups and leaders
of his time—gain meaning from understanding the law contained in
Deuteronomy?

It was also, commentators said, a book of deep theology. One writer
called it “Th e theological colossus that guards the entrance to Old
Testament theology.”1 From beginning to end, it was a document of
teaching and preaching, filled with instruction and understanding
on right living and relationships between people and God, between
people and their community, and between people and other people. It
contained the Ten Commandments. It is the most often quoted Old
Testament book by Jesus and the New Testament writers; it grounded
their understanding of what the universe was all about. If it was that
important to Jesus, perhaps it should be more important to me.
My mind turned over and over its opening phrase: “These are the
words. . . .” Like the beginning of the book of Genesis, or of the Gospels
of Mark, Luke, and John, it held a promise of depth in what followed
that kept one at the beginning, as if peering into a well of pure water
whose shiny surface reflected back the face of the viewer and needed to
be penetrated to taste what lay beneath.

I decided to visit Hal again to explore these thoughts.

“These are the words . . .” (Deut. 1:1).

Anna and I had stopped on a couple of Saturdays but hadn’t found
Hal at home. I took her for a tour of his rose garden, knowing he
would want me to share it with her. Some of the names of the varieties
had stuck with me, but Anna saw color and composition rather than
words, beauty rather than thought. Th e garden, she told me, was a
reflection of the gardener. She told me to call Hal and fi nd a time
to get together with him. She encouraged me to spend as much time
with him as I wanted. She sensed this was important to me and to my
personal spiritual journey. Her own lifelong journey in the Spirit told
her this was the right thing to do, the right time to do it, and the right
person with whom to do it. Hal was happy to oblige my request.

I found Hal in his study on a late summer evening, when the early
chill of fall was in the air. He was sitting in a deep red chair, facing the
hearty fl ames of a fi replace. A soft, dim light fl owed from the floor
lamp over his shoulder. Two others lamps, on a table and a desk against
opposite walls, helped illuminate the room. Th e study walls were floor
to ceiling bookcases on every side, broken only by the entrance door,
two west-facing windows with small panes, and the space where his
desk was set into the bookcases between the windows. Like a condensed
library in an English manor house or an expanded offi ce of a university
professor, bathed in the suff used orange of gentler light, it spoke as the
dwelling of one who lived by words.

Hal invited me to sit in the shallower and harder green chair across
from him. Would he help me study and understand Deuteronomy? I
had purchased some commentaries by various academics and others
about the book, and I was willing to read them—in fact I had already
begun to do so. But I wasn’t getting to the spiritual heart of the book,
so I pressed my case with Hal.

He needed little persuasion. He didn’t have a lot of people to pastor
anymore, he told me. It would be a joy to his heart to share what he
could with me. He asked me to commit to meet with him regularly and
to prepare for the meetings, not just by reading Deuteronomy but by
reading some background on it, studying it so we could talk at more
than a superficial level. When I assured him I would, he reached for his
Bible resting on a nearby table.

“Open your Bible to Deuteronomy and follow me while I read,” he
said.

“Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all the Lord had commanded
him concerning them. . . . Th e Lord our God said to us at Horeb. . . .
Th en, as the Lord our God commanded us. . . . When the Lord heard
what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore. . . . Because of you
the Lord became angry with me also and said. . . . But the Lord said to
me . . .” (1:3, 6, 19, 34, 37, 42).

“You see, Chris, that’s only the first chapter of Deuteronomy, and
already the words you are reading have been given six times as the very
words of God. You are not reading the great American novel. And this
is not a ‘page turner’ to hold you breathless until the next fictional
adventure. Rather, you have come onto holy ground, where the author
of all that is—the only fi nal and ultimate reality—has shared with you
a glimpse of that reality. You are peering into God’s mind more surely
than the scientist who studies the far reaches of the universe through
images from great satellite-mounted telescopes, or one who teases from
DNA molecules the secrets of the chemistry of being. And your author
is about to take you on a journey that will carry you farther and reveal
more to you than journeying to outer space on a rocket ship.

“Contemplate the very term word. Th e acts of creation themselves
occur as spoken word—‘God said’—let there be light, an expanse between
the waters, dry ground, living creatures, man in our image. God
reveals himself to humanity through both word and deed, but the deeds
in turn are remembered and told and retold through the word. Word
is communication, and communication is the essence of the triune
God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ‘Word’ expresses thought, logic,
rationality, relationship, feeling, and fi nally becomes the expression of
God himself: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.’ It is in this—the living Word—that all
things hold together. Martin Luther wrote, ‘But to hear God is bliss,
even if He were to sound out the same syllable all the time.’2
“In your soul, you have sensed what ‘the words’ really are and are
really about. You’re afraid to see God. You’re afraid to know him.
Th at’s why you’re stuck in your journey. You aren’t the fi rst, but you
have this—few who read these words have any understanding of the
Awesome Presence in which they stand. You have felt the fi re and seen
the cloud. Don’t turn back. Press on!”

It was enough for the evening. I was seized with awe and a dread. I
thanked him for his words and fl ed into the night journey home. Hal
had pried the scales a little bit loose from my eyes. I tried to see into the
dark, beyond the short range of the headlights, all the while keeping
my mind on worldly things enough to stay on the right side of the road
and not be blinded by the oncoming masses of glass and steel.

“Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert east of the Jordan—that is,
in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban,
Hazeroth and Dizahab” (Deut. 1:1). Th e words echoed in my mind.
Many Rabbis believe Moses’ words in Deuteronomy were not all spoken
on the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan. Rather they were accumulated
speeches given in the villages along the route of travel—Suph,
Paran, Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dihazeb, perhaps supplemented,
summarized, or finalized in Moab. Others believe that the villages
referred to are among the many nameless tells, those ancient mounds
that were cities or villages in millennia past that dot the Middle East,
no longer identifiable by name. Still others try to fi nd modern villages
in the area and transfigure the current name into a variation of the
ancient biblical name and speculate that these mark the boundaries of
the location of Israel in the time of Deuteronomy.

I saw none of these that night. As I drove through the little crossroads
and village squares of the several rural New Hampshire towns that lay
between Hal’s home and mine, I counted off their names as the biblical
towns of Deuteronomy: Barrington Suph, Northwood Paran, Epsom
Tophel, Chichester Laban, Loudon Hazeroth, Concord Dihazeb. I had
seen these villages before, from hills overlooking Cardiff in Wales, and
Monaco in southern France, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles,
and Albuquerque in this country, and from the windows of a hundred
airplanes fl ying over every part of America and much of Europe. Th ey
were every town, and all of their inhabitants stood on the edge of the
Jordan, on the plains of Moab. Instead of deserts, forests, farms, lakes,
and ponds fi lled in between the villages. It didn’t matter. What lay
around me was as dry as those dusty plains where Moses spoke.

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert
east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph,
between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab.
(It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by
the Mount Seir road.)

In the fortieth year, on the fi rst day of the eleventh month,
Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had
commanded him concerning them. Th is was after he
had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in
Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan,
who reigned in Ashtaroth.

East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to
expound this law.
—Deut. 1:1–5

Monday morning came and the workweek swallowed me. Telephone
callers demanding return courtesies, letters to read, letters to write,
reports to digest and act on, projects to move, meetings, people with
questions, people with needs, bills to send, the sweat of my brow by
which to earn my bread. Th e bright fluorescence and busyness of the
office environment could not be more distant from Hal’s warm library. I
was on the phone when the “notification” box flashed on my computer
screen. It was an e-mail from Hal. My heart quickened, remembering
our recent evening together. I clicked on “read” while still talking to
my client.

Chris: God speaks in rhythms as well as in words. Just as
the molecules and atoms and subatomic particles that make
up your being and everything else in the universe are bound
together in a vibrating dance held together by forces that
we give names to and try to measure but don’t really understand,
so does the Scripture cohere in ways we rarely see.

Th e Bible is a whole book, not a series of disconnected texts.
Like all good stories, it has a beginning, a middle, and an
end; protagonists and antagonists; a series of scenes in which
the main character, Adam, strives toward a goal that he is
frustrated in reaching, until he finds the path. It is, of course,
the good story, not a good story. But the music of Scripture
is writ small as well as large. Bars and measures have patterns
within themselves that go together to make up the whole
symphony. Look for God’s patterns in it. Read only the fi rst
fi ve verses of Deuteronomy until you see the pattern. Th en
tell me what it is. When you can see the small rhythms, you
will begin to be able to see the large. Blessings—Hal.

I rushed home that night and plunged into the text after dinner. It
took an hour, but eventually I saw it. Th e text began with Moses speaking
the words, progressed through a description of space (“east of the
Jordan”)—where the words were spoken—then time (“in the fortieth
year”)—when the words were spoken, to the core message, “Moses
proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him
concerning them.” Th en in perfect rhythm, it reversed order, speaking
to time (“after he had defeated”), then space (“east of the Jordan”), to
where it started (“Moses began to expound this law”). I picked up the
phone and called Hal with my discovery. His voice on the other end of
the phone betrayed his pleasure at my discovery.

“Th e technical term for what you’ve found, Chris, is a chiasm. It’s
a concentric structure of music or text that can operate on any level,
from the few verses you are studying, to the book of Deuteronomy, or
the Bible as a whole. You can see the logic of it in an English translation.
Th e poetry and music only come through fully in the Hebrew.

Th e liturgical churches understand, intuitively at least, something of
this, more than my own evangelical tradition. Truth and goodness are
communicated through beauty. Th e music and poetry of it awaken our
sensitivity to meaning. Th e Holy Spirit is not a hack writer. I think
you’re ready to go on.”

I had a practical question for Hal fi rst. “Why does God insert verse
two in here, Hal? Th e reference to the eleven days it takes to go from
Horeb to Kadesh Barnea seems out of place.”

“Th e point,” Hal said, “is to contrast the ease of God’s way with the
difficulty of man’s. Horeb is Sinai—where the law was given. Kadesh
Barnea was the place they were supposed to jump off for the Promised
Land. You are about to read that part of the story, but the bottom line
is that because of their lack of faith, it took the Israelites thirty-eight
years to make a trip they could have made in eleven days if they had
followed the Lord’s command. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Keep reading.”

Th e Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed
long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance
into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring
peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western
foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of
the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the
Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take
possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to
your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and to their
descendants after them.”
—Deut. 1:6–8

Hal was in a Socratic mood when we met next. He sat across from
me at a small table in the little coffee shop down the street from my office. Th e business day had not quite begun. To enhance the beginning
of their workday, people drifted in and out, picking up take-out cups
of flavored and specialty coffees. We sipped our own brew with bagels
and strawberry cream cheese, though we didn’t really want to eat but
felt obligated to purchase something to justify occupying the seats.
“Tell me about your education,” Hal began.

I recited my history: public school through the tenth grade, very
ordinary, followed by a couple years at a private preparatory school,
four years of undergraduate education, and three years of law school.
“Why did you spend nineteen years doing all that?” he asked next.
Th e early years were easy; I had, as did all children, to learn basics
that enable one to function in the world. After that, I was more goal oriented,
with the learning gradually becoming more focused on what
would be my life’s work in the law, work I could not have done without
everything that went before.

“How did you feel about education when you graduated from law
school?”

I recalled it well. I had been in school long enough. It was time
to leave school and practice the things I had learned. I was eager to
start my first job—to be a real lawyer, with cases and clients, helping
people, participating in the aff airs of life through my chosen field of
knowledge.

“And what does that have to do with the next three verses you are
studying in Deuteronomy?” Hal brought his brief quiz back to the
Scripture. I understood at once.

My schooling was the mountain where I had dwelt “long enough.”
When I finished my schooling, it was time to “break camp and advance.”
Th e Lord had put a world before me and prepared me to take
possession of it. Th e time for sitting at the learning desk was over—it
was the time of life to act. Deuteronomy 1:6–8 was every graduation
speech I had ever heard. I’d heard it at my own graduation; no doubt
my children and their children would hear it at theirs.

“But what does it teach spiritually?” Hal pressed.

His question led me on. We should move beyond being taught the
basics of the faith to act in the world as the Lord taught us to act. Th ere
comes a time when sitting at the Lord’s feet, at “the mountain,” is no
longer where we belong. Th ere are lands before us to conquer in his
name.

“It’s the life goal of every pastor,” Hal said, “to bring his flock away
from the mountain and lead them into acting on the promise. I hear
it in Moses throughout Deuteronomy, and in Paul when he says of
himself, ‘When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me,’ and
in the writer of Hebrews when he scolds his readers for still living on
milk like infants, and not being ready for the solid food of maturity.
Most people in the pew spend their life at the foot of the mountain,
being hearers of the word but not doers. I used to plead with God to
give me one congregation or one board of elders that could leave the
mountain before my ministry was over, but he never did. Th ere were
some very deep and committed believers I knew over the years, some
who moved on spiritually to deeper levels, and some who took possession
of the promises God had laid out before them. But if success in
ministry means leading people beyond the elementary level, I’ve been
one of God’s colossal failures as a servant.”

His eyes were beginning to tear, and I was about to begin reassuring
him that he must be wrong, that he surely had led many to a deeper
understanding, that pastors always had to deal with the lowest common
denominator in the congregation—the new people constantly
coming in who needed the milk of elementary teachings of the faith.
But before I could speak, he pushed his chair back, signaling the end
of our talk. “You’ll be late for work,” he said abruptly. “We’ll talk more
about Deuteronomy later.”

I e-mailed Hal that afternoon to ask if he was all right and to tell him
I was eager to discuss the next section of the text. Verses nine through
eighteen were about government, designation of leaders, judges and
judging, things I thought I knew a little about. Hal quickly set me
straight.

“You’re not ready to talk about what you think you know,” he replied
by return. “Th e subject of government will come up in the text again,
and we’ll talk about it then. Just read the rest of chapter one, verses
nineteen through forty-six, and the fi rst verse of chapter two.” So I did.
Later, Hal e-mailed me and told me to meet him in the fast-food area
of the airport for coffee the next evening.

Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from
Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites
through all that vast and dreadful desert that you have seen,
and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. Th en I said to you, “You
have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the
Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has
given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the
Lord, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged.”

Th en all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead
to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the
route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”
Th e idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you,
one man from each tribe. Th ey left and went up into the hill
country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and explored it.
Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought
it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord
our God is giving us.”

But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the
command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your
tents and said, “Th e Lord hates us; so he brought us out of
Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy
us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart.
They say, ‘Th e people are stronger and taller than we are; the
cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the
Anakites there.’”

Th en I said to you, “Do not be terrifi ed; do not be afraid of
them. Th e Lord your God, who is going before you, will
fi ght for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very
eyes, and in the desert. Th ere you saw how the Lord your
God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you
went until you reached this place.”

In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God,
who went ahead of you on your journey, in fi re by night and
in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and
to show you the way you should go.

When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and
solemnly swore: “Not a man of this evil generation shall see
the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb
son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his
descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed
the Lord wholeheartedly.”

Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and
said, “You shall not enter it, either. But your assistant,
Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because
he will lead Israel to inherit it. And the little ones that you
said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet
know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it
to them and they will take possession of it. But as for you,
turn around and set out toward the desert along the route
to the Red Sea.”

Th en you replied, “We have sinned against the Lord. We
will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.”
So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to
go up into the hill country.

But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and
fi ght, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by
your enemies.’”

So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against
the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched
up into the hill country. Th e Amorites who lived in those
hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of
bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah.
You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no
attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. And
so you stayed in Kadesh many days—all the time you spent
there.

Then we turned back and set out toward the desert along
the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed me. For a
long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir.
—Deut. 1:19–2:1

Manchester Airport is a busy regional airport. Tens of thousands of
flights and several million passengers pass through it every year. Th e next
evening, as I took my place across from Hal with a cup of McDonald’s
coffee, the security lines for the evening flights were formed, and travelers
by the hundreds were moving in and out of the terminal, a steady
wave of humanity on the way to or from some business or family or
recreational destination. Someone has observed that all stories ever told
could be titled either “I Took a Trip” or “A Stranger Came to Town.”
Th e story contained in the Hebrew Scriptures—the Old Testament, the
Bible that Jesus read—is of the “I Took a Trip” nature, a journey story
of God’s revelation to humanity, focused into the journeys of men and
women of faith and then of a people chosen to be a people of faith. Th e
story told in the Christian Scriptures—the New Testament, the part of
the Bible written about Jesus by those who walked with him or learned
from others who had—is of “Th e Stranger Who Came to Town.”
Hal sipped on his coffee and I on mine as we watched the fl ow of
people for a time.

“I thought we should discuss this section somewhere that we could
get a sense of journeys,” Hal began. “Watch the people going by. Th ink
about what the journey is, for each one—where they’ve been, where
they’re going—now, tomorrow, next week.”

I recognized the journey motif easily in the passage that made up the
rest of chapter one. Th e travel from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea on the
edge of the Promised Land, the mission of the spies, the rebellion against
entry into the land, the change of heart after it was too late and the
unsuccessful attempt at entry, and the thirty-eight years of wilderness
wandering. It was an abbreviated recapitulation of the journey story
told at great length in the earlier books, and a reminder to the people
of where they had been. In academic terms—I had learned from the
commentaries—it was part of the “historical prologue” that preceded
the requirements of the law that was to be given in Deuteronomy and
made part of a covenant between God and the people. But Hal was not
interested in academic analysis. After my summary, he plunged in.

“Journeys,” he said, “are not just travel in space. Th e journey of Israel
in this passage is a journey in space and in time, like these people
around us. But, more importantly, it is the journey of the spiritual
experience of the people. It covers most of the wanderings before the
entry into the land—a period of thirty-eight years—and the experience
of a failure of faith. Th ey have been brought out of the bondage
of Egypt, led through hardship to the edge of plenty, and promised
success by the Creator of the universe. Yet they refuse to go in, blaming
their unbelief on God’s evil motives toward them. Although God saved
them by bringing them out of Egypt, they claim he intends to destroy
them at the hands of Amorites. Although God loved them and carried
them ‘as a father carries his son,’ they claim that he hates them. It’s the
psychological phenomenon of ‘projection,’ where a person attributes to
another the same feeling that he or she has toward that person.”

“You mean they really hate God?” I asked.

“What else can you conclude?” Hal answered my question with a
question of his own. “At every turn, they do the opposite of what he
asks. Every time he shows them why they should have faith in him, they
are unfaithful. Th en the consequences of their unbelief are brought to
them. He sends them back toward the desert and tells them they will
not see the good land; only their children will. Th is is, in eff ect, a death
sentence—to wander in ‘that vast and dreadful desert’ for the rest of
their lives. Faced with the consequence of their sin, they repent and try
to make it up by doing what they’re no longer commanded to do—a
further rebellion—and the result is utter failure. At every point, they
act contrary to God, and the result is that the blessings are withheld
and given to a generation that will accept them.”

I wondered aloud with Hal about how I should fi nd the story relevant
to my own life—or to the lives of people fi ling by. Was it just about a
nation, or does it apply to individuals? Is it of interest only as history?
Or as moral teaching? Or does it represent something more?

“Th e Hebrew scripture of Deuteronomy,” Hal responded, “is written
with ‘you’—the people to whom it is addressed—in both the singular
and plural. Th e shift from addressing the individual to the group ‘you’
occurs throughout the book, often within discrete passages. Since
both are translated simply ‘you’ in English, you don’t see the difference
in English Bibles. In biblical studies, the technical term for this
is the ‘Numeruswechsel.’ Both singular and plural ‘you’ appear in this
passage. You don’t need to remember the technical term, but what’s
important is that the message is addressed to both the nation and to
individuals.”

“To me and my country, then, right?” I asked.

“For you, Chris, that means it is addressed to you personally and to
every other individual human being. But the heir to the Israel of Moses
is not the modern state of Israel, nor the United States, nor any other
contemporary nation. It is the church—in the words of the Apostles’
Creed, ‘the holy catholic church,’ the church universal, the community
of believers, or at least those who associate together and profess to be
believers.”

“So it’s really for me and the church,” I said. “But how is it relevant?”

“As for its relevance,” Hal said, “this would be a good time to talk a
little bit about how we should interpret Scripture. We’ll need to deal
with this all the way along in our study together. Th e story we are
reading now is, first of all, history, and we can learn from its example.

It is, of course, history with a moral. Th e story is not told just to tell
it, and not just because it happened or is interesting. It is a story with
a point, a teaching, something we need to absorb and by which we
need to be guided. Acting in faith and in accordance with God’s will
brings success, while unbelief and hesitancy in the face of God’s clear
command brings defeat, disaster, and wandering without hope in a
wilderness. As the saying goes, ‘Those who do not learn from history
are condemned to repeat it.’”

Th e security lines were growing short. Most of the evening fl ights
had loaded and left; the sojourners within them were on their way to
the next stage of their journey, or to their destination.

“What else?” I asked. “Th is sounds like a literal understanding.

Simple enough. Th e Bible tells a story, the facts are true, and there are
lessons to be gained. Are there other ways of understanding it?”

“Th ere are,” Hal said. “Beyond the literal historical sense—and the
moral or example we can take from that—are the allegorical, typological,
and anagogical senses of Scripture. Th ese are not the same, but people
use the terms somewhat interchangeably, and everyone doesn’t always
mean the same thing when they use them. Th ey must be used with
care.”

“I think I know about allegory and types,” I said. “But what’s the
difference?”

“In allegory,” Hal replied, “whole stories or sections of Scripture are
sometimes seen as symbolic or fi gurative of something else, ways of
expressing truths about God and humanity. Stories that don’t fi t well
with our current human understanding, such as the early chapters of
Genesis, or the books of Job or Jonah, are often seen as allegorical. A
great danger in allegory is that it can lead to fl ights of fancy where the
true meaning of the Scripture is lost in human imagining and we hear
man and not God. Another danger is that allegorical interpretations

become focused on words, or, worse, numbers, and fi nd hidden meanings
in the text that are supposedly known only to some inner circle.

Th is is the stuff that leads to cults.”

“And the allegory here?”

“Th e story of Israel is the story of humanity,” Hal replied. “God does
great things for them, and they turn away from him, afraid to follow
his commands, blaming him for their fears. In the end, they deserve
only wilderness wanderings and death.”

“And what about typology?”

“In typology,” Hal said, “particular historical events are seen as
prefiguring or symbolizing something that comes to full significance
in Christ. Th e crossing of the Red Sea prefigures baptism; Jonah prefigures the resurrection of Christ. Typology is usually grounded in the
Scriptures themselves, which often make these connections explicit.
Jesus taught that the Law of Moses, as well as the prophets and the
psalmists, all wrote of him, so we are not off base in seeing these connections.
Moses is a type of Christ in many respects.”

“You had something else, too,” I said. “A word I’ve never heard
before.”

“Anagogical,” Hal replied. “In anagogical interpretation, one finds—
beyond the literal, moral, allegorical, or typological—a spiritual and
even mystical sense in which the scripture has eternal significance
in leading believers to the true homeland. Th e anagogical sense of
Scripture is better felt than taught; it’s what comes from the depth of
contemplating God in prayer and meditation in light of the Scriptures.
When you understand Scripture in an anagogical sense, you will have
gotten beyond the milk of elementary teachings and will be eating real
spiritual meat.”

Th e last evening flights had landed and their passengers disembarked.
As Hal and I parted, we passed through the crowds on their journeys
through the world, briefcases in hand, suitcases trundling behind them,
and children in tow. I had much to contemplate. History with a moral.
Israel as an allegory of humanity, its journey that of Everyman. Moses
prefi guring Christ. And that other word—anagogical—the deeper
spiritual meaning. I could think of far too many events in my own
life—and in that of churches of which I had been a part—that were
troublingly similar to the story of the spies, the rebellion against taking
God’s promise, and the resulting exile in the spiritual wilderness. I
watched the travelers in the airport making their way past, to cabs or
cars or shuttle vans, carrying the baggage of life to wherever they were
going. Every one was a human soul on a journey—in time, in space,
and in their spiritual life. How many, I wondered, were wandering
in the wilderness? How many standing in disobedience to God’s clear
commands? How many on their way to the Promised Land? How
many—indeed, were there any—who knew God’s words in their truest
spiritual sense? Did I? Could I?

I was glad I would be meeting with Hal again soon.

Word Filled Wednesday (Vacation edition!)

Hello from Sunny Sanibel Island, Florida!

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

I love this verse and the beach always inspires such a peace in me. As I have sat on the beach and look out on what looks like infinite water I have be in awe of our Creator…He was so creative with the earth, the sea, the shells, the sand….amazing. I experience such peace here and I wanted to share a small piece of it with you.

Blessings.

And for more WFW check out The 160 Acre Woods.

Cheerio

It’s May 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book’s FIRST chapter!

and his book:

Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Liparulo is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.

Robert is an avid scuba diver, swimmer, reader, traveler, and a law enforcement and military enthusiast. He lives in Colorado with his wife and four children.

Here are some of his titles:

House of Dark Shadows (Dreamhouse Kings Book 1)

Comes a Horseman

Germ

Deadfall

Product Details

List Price: $14.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595544968
ISBN-13: 978-1595544964

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

1

At twelve years old, David King was too young to die. At least he thought so.

But try telling that to the people shooting at him.

He had no idea where he was. When he had stepped through the portal, smoke immediately blinded him. An explosion had thrown rocks and who-knew-what into his face. It shook the floor and knocked him off his feet. Now he was on his hands and knees on a hardwood floor. Glass and splinters dug into his palms. Somewhere, all kinds of guns were firing. Bullets zinged overhead, thunking into walls—bits of flying plaster stung his cheeks.

Okay, so he wasn’t sure the bullets were meant for him. The guns seemed both near and far. But in the end, if he were hit, did it matter whether the shooters meant to get him or he’d had the dumb luck to stumble into the middle of a firefight? He’d be just as dead.

The smoke cleared a bit. Sunlight poured in from a school-bus-sized hole in the ceiling. Not just the ceiling—David could see attic rafters and the jagged and burning edges of the roof. Way above was a blue sky, soft white clouds.

He was in a bedroom. A dresser lay on the floor. In front of him was a bed. He gripped the mattress and pushed himself up.

A wall exploded into a shower of plaster, rocks, and dust. He flew back. Air burst from his lungs, and he crumpled again to the floor. He gulped for breath, but nothing came. The stench of fire—burning wood and rock, something dank and putrid—swirled into his nostrils on the thick, gray smoke. The taste of cement coated his tongue. Finally, oxygen reached his lungs, and he pulled it in with loud gasps, like a swimmer saved from drowning. He coughed out the smoke and dust. He stood, finding his balance, clearing his head, wavering until he reached out to steady himself.

A hole in the floor appeared to be trying to eat the bed. It was listing like a sinking ship, the far corner up in the air, the corner nearest David canted down into the hole. Flames had found the blankets and were spreading fast.

Outside, machine-gun fire erupted.

David jumped.

He stumbled toward an outside wall. It had crumbled, forming a rough V-shaped hole from where the ceiling used to be nearly to the floor. Bent rebar jutted out of the plaster every few feet.

More gunfire, another explosion. The floor shook.

Beyond the walls of the bedroom, the rumble of an engine and a rhythmic, metallic click-click-click-click-click tightened his stomach. He recognized the sound from a dozen war movies: a tank. It was rolling closer, getting louder.

He reached the wall and dropped to his knees. He peered out onto the dirt and cobblestone streets of a small village. Every house and building was at least partially destroyed, ravaged by bombs and bullets. The streets were littered with chunks of wall, roof tiles, even furniture that had spilled out through the ruptured buildings.

David’s eyes fell on an object in the street. His panting breath froze in his throat. He slapped his palm over his mouth, either to stifle a scream or to keep himself from throwing up. It was a body, mutilated almost beyond recognition. It lay on its back, screaming up to heaven. Male or female, adult or child, David didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. That it was human and damaged was enough to crush his heart. His eyes shot away from the sight, only to spot another body. This one was not as broken, but was no less horrible. It was a young woman. She was lying on her stomach, head turned with an expression of surprised disbelief and pointing her lifeless eyes directly at David.

He spun around and sat on the floor. He pushed his knuckles into each eye socket, squeegeeing out the wetness. He swallowed, willing his nausea to pass.

His older brother, Xander, said that he had puked when he first saw a dead body. That had been only two days ago—in the Colosseum. David didn’t know where the portal he had stepped through had taken him. Certainly not to a gladiator fight in Rome.

He squinted toward the other side of the room, toward the shadowy corner where he had stepped into . . . wherever this was . . . whenever it was. Nothing there now. No portal. No passage home. Just a wall.

He heard rifle shots and a scream.

Click-click-click-click-click . . . the tank was still approaching.

What had he done? He thought he could be a hero, and now he was about to get shot or blown up or . . . something that amounted to the same thing: Dead.

Dad had been right. They weren’t ready. They should have made a plan.

Click-click-click-click-click.

David rose into a crouch and turned toward the crumbled wall.

I’m here now, he thought. I gotta know what I’m dealing with, right? Okay then. I can do this.

He popped up from his hiding place to look out onto the street. Down the road to his right, the tank was coming into town over a bridge. Bullets sparked against its steel skin. Soldiers huddled behind it, keeping close as it moved forward. In turn, they would scurry out to the side, fire a rifle or machine gun, and step back quickly. Their targets were to David’s left, which meant he was smack between them.

Figures.

At that moment, he’d have given anything to redo the past hour. He closed his eyes. Had it really only been an hour? An hour to go from his front porch to here?

In this house, stranger things had happened. . . .

Oh Summer (break), how I love you so….

Saturday just cannot get here fast enough…the beach is calling my name :o)  Sigh…

I adore the beach, I think it is the peace it offers.  The warm sand and the sound of the waves…to me it just does not get any better.  I guess when you live in the mountains the beach is quite the opposite so it is oh so very appealing!

It has been a crazy two weeks around here…my grandma was very sick and for a little while we thought we might lose her.  She is so important to me and I want her to stay around forever but I know that is not possible.  And to think of how much I love her…HE loves her oh so much more.

Work is going well, I have a new resident coming in after our summer break.  He is a sweet fellow, just hurting.  Of course that is why all of our residents are at the Joy House.  The kids have had some fun over the last few weeks going to the pool and lake.  They work hard through the summer in school too so I am excited for them to go home and have some time to refresh…their minds and bodies :o)  Sometimes my compassion gets to be too much as I think about them working all summer while other kids are enjoying their summer but the kids in our program did make some choices that brought them here.

Life is going well…I am running behind in preparing for grad school stuff so I need to get busy for that….I am not as excited as I have been about classes but I think it’s because I feel torn…work and classes.  I want to give all I have to both but that is not possible.  (30 minutes later…)  I just looked at the schedule again and then I got side tracked haha so I should finish this up.

Now I sit here waiting for my last client and them my break can begin…or the mad scrambling of packing and cleaning so we can leave at 4 a.m. Saturday morning (yes you read that correctly!)

Cheerio…

Word Filled Wednesday

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 1 Timothy 5:3-5 (NIV)

The above photo is of me and my grandma….affectionately known as Memaw (we live in the south what do we expect haha!) She is 85. We had a scare with her last week and thought we were going to lose her. She is my only living grandparent and has always been special to me. I lived with her for several year after my grandfather passes away. She now lives in a nursing home near our home because she has dementia. As we went through the hospital stay, and the doctor’s visits, and finally the procedure that was dangerous these verse kept going through my mind. I first heard them in a class last year I was taking for my master’s degree. At the time I did not think much about the verse but they really spoke to me last week. Mostly in thinking about my Mum because she truly is pleasing our God by serving my Memaw. Family is so very important to me and this verse really says a lot when you read it. Especially verse 5. We are to learn to put our religion into practice so we can take care of our parents and grandparents, just as they have taken care of us. Being a Christian is about relationships just as that is what family is really all about. God’s Word constantly amazes me as it speaks to every situation in life…I am in awe sometimes :o) So there is my sentimental WFW!

For more WFW check out


It’s July 15th, time for the Non~FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 15th, we will featuring an author and his/her latest non~fiction book’s FIRST chapter!

The feature authors are:
and their book:

Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:


Dr. John F. Ankerberg is the President and founder of The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute. He is also the producer and host of the nationally televised John Ankerberg Show, a half-hour program seen in all 50 states via independent stations, the DAYSTAR Network, the DISH Network, DirecTV and on the SKY ANGEL Satellite, numerous cable outlets, as well as on the internet. The program can be seen each week by a potential viewing audience in excess of 99 million people. John presents contemporary spiritual issues and defends biblical/Christian answers.

Writer and communicator Dillon Burroughs is author of fourteen books and serves as a staff writer and research associate for the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute. In the past two years, his books have sold over 113,000 copies while his edited works have sold more than two million copies. On subjects related to spirituality and culture, Dillon’s written projects have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Salem Radio Network news, Moody Radio Network, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, iLife Television Network, Prime Time America, Leadership Journal, NBC affiliates, The John Ankerberg Show, Discipleship Journal, Group Magazine, and many other media outlets.

Dillon Burroughs is a ThM graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary in addition to graduating with a B.S. degree in Communications from Indiana State University. As time allows, he also serves as an adjunct professor at Tennessee Temple University. Dillon lives in Tennessee with his wife, Deborah, and two children, Ben and Natalie.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736921222
ISBN-13: 978-0736921220

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Christianity:

What’s the Big Deal About Jesus?

“Christianity is good for you, but it’s not right for me. I think you ought to believe whatever makes you happy and gives you peace.”

“Christianity is the ‘right’ religion—isn’t that being naive?”

The label Christianity covers a broad range of people today. While over 2.1 billion people are statistically considered followers of Jesus Christ, polls by religious researcher George Barna have observed that only four percent of American Christians hold to a biblical worldview (that is, beliefs consistent with the Bible’s teachings), and just 51 percent of Christian clergy hold to such a view. As a result, even many who call themselves Christians have agreed with the quotes that appear above, asking if it is perhaps naïve to claim Christianity is the only way to God.

However, the above quotes are inconsistent with Christianity’s origins and founder. In this chapter we’ll briefly review how Christianity began, consider its early beliefs, introduce its founder, and investigate the reliability of the New Testament, which is part of the Bible.

A Firm Foundation

All of Christianity is built around one basic belief: the resurrection of its founder, Jesus of Nazareth. On Passover Friday around A.D. 30, Jesus was executed on a Roman cross on the accusation of conspiracy against the government. The Sanhedrin (Jewish leaders) had insisted that the Roman leader Pilate condemn Jesus, though Pilate had not found him guilty of any crimes worthy of death. After the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus in a tomb, the body disappeared three days later. Immediately this was followed by many “Jesus sightings” reported over the next 40 days. A social revolution began ten days later in Jerusalem, Israel, as over 3000 people joined the movement after a street message given by the apostle Peter (Acts 2). Christianity was off and running, and has been growing ever since.

Oxford University theologian Dr. Alister McGrath has noted,

The identity of Christianity is inextricably linked with the uniqueness of Christ, which is in turn grounded in the Resurrection and Incarnation.

How do we know Jesus came back to life? First, the 27 books of the New Testament are based upon this one event—the resurrection of Jesus. Despite the attacks of many, the writings of Christianity have been shown to have emerged during the first century with the courageous message that Jesus, a man executed by the government, was alive. This carried many implications about his life and death and beyond. What other motive did these writers have except that they truly believed all this had occurred?

In addition, many individuals of that day claimed to have encountered Jesus after his death. According to the Gospel writers and the missionary Paul, Jesus appeared a total of at least 12 times after his return from death:

The Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Christ

# Sighting Source

1. Mary Magdalene–Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18

2. Women returning from the tomb–Matthew 28:9-10

3. Two men walking to Emmaus–Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32

4. Peter–Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5

5. 10 disciples; two men from Emmaus–Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23

6. 11 disciples (including Thomas)–John 20:24-29

7. 7 disciples–John 21:1-24

8. 500 people at one time–1 Corinthians 15:6

9. James, the half-brother of Jesus–1 Corinthians 15:7

10. 11 disciples Matthew 28:16-20

11. 11 disciples before Jesus returned to heaven–Luke 24:50-53

12. Paul– Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8

In just one of these sightings, over 500 people claimed to see Jesus alive after his death. Did you know that if each of those 500 people were to testify in court for only six minutes, including time for cross-examination, we would have an amazing 50 hours of firsthand testimony? Few other events from over 2000 years ago find this level of support. None offer the number of witnesses the resurrection does for a supernatural event.

Further, the changed lives of the early followers of Jesus supported their report that Jesus was alive. All but one of Jesus’ 11 followers died for his belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Hundreds—if not thousands—of other Christians suffered or died within the first century of Christianity for their beliefs as well. The killing of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, led to the persecution of the Jerusalem church, which eventually forced many Christians to flee the area for safety.

“Could you convince thousands of people in our own day that President Kennedy had resurrected from the dead? There’s no way…unless it really happened.”

The amazing phenomenon of Christianity’s growth also stands as a powerful testimony that this faith is based on a supernatural resurrection. How could a crucified Jew (Jesus), former tax collector (Matthew), Jesus-hater (Paul), and small town fishermen (including Peter) establish a movement that has resulted in the largest religion on Earth? How could this happen?

When Christianity began, the Roman Empire was the greatest government of the time. Yet 300 years later, the Roman Empire had crumbled, and Christianity was continuing to grow. This, in spite of its humble beginning as a grassroots network of individuals who witnessed that Jesus had come back to life. Even though the proclamation of Jesus’ teachings produced persecution of the greatest kind, Christianity continued to spread across the Roman Empire—all the way to the palace of Caesar in Rome, the world’s political and social capital.

Christianity 101

So Christianity originated from a group of Jesus-followers who spread the message that they had personally witnessed his three years of teaching and miracles, watched him die on a cross, and then personally met, saw, talked to, ate with, and received instructions from him after his resurrection from the dead. But what are the core beliefs of Christianity? There are six central elements of
traditional Christianity.

First, there is the common understanding of Jews and Christians that there is only one true God—who is infi nite, holy, loving, just, and true. In addition, Christians believe that in the nature (presence) of the one true God there exists three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christianity does not believe in three gods, but one. As Dr. Norman Geisler, bestselling author and cofounder of Southern Evangelical Seminary, has written,

The Trinity is not the belief that God is three personas and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. That would be a contradiction. Rather, it is the belief that there are three persons in one nature. This may be a mystery, but it is not a contradiction. That is, it may go beyond reason’s ability to comprehend completely, but it does not go against reason’s ability to apprehend consistently.
Further, the Trinity is not the belief that there are three natures in one nature or three essences in one essence. That would be a contradiction. Rather, Christians affirm that there are three persons in one essence…He is one in the sense of his essence but many in the sense of his persons. So there is no violation of the law of noncontradiction in the doctrine of the Trinity.

Traditional Christianity also accepts the 66 books of the Holy Bible as revelation from God, perfect and authoritative for all spiritual matters. While Roman Catholicism accepts the additional authority of the pope and church tradition, and Eastern Orthodoxy accepts church tradition as equal in authority to the Bible, the earliest traditional Christianity and later Protestant Christianity have been based solely on God’s written revelation through his apostles and prophets.

Third, Christians believe every person who has ever lived (with the exception of Jesus Christ) has been born a sinner separated from God. It is our sin nature that keeps us from knowing and experiencing God and creates a need for reconciliation through a means only God can provide.

Fourth, in his infinite love, God has provided the solution to the barrier between himself and humanity through Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that the death of Jesus provides payment for our sins, and on the basis of our believing, he is our sinbearer and he will forgive us the moment we believe. All this is confirmed by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead—he has paid the penalty for sin and conquered death. In this way God offers a basis for a person to place his or her faith in Christ and to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, in which he enters your life and you walk through life with his power and guidance.

Fifth, this rescue or salvation God offers through Jesus is based solely on what God has done rather than on what people do. In other words, salvation is a free gift based on God’s grace to us (unearned favor) rather than good works or deeds we can accomplish, though these will accompany a person once he or she becomes a Christian. One of the major points of contention during the Protestant Reformation resulted from the Roman Catholic Church’s unbiblical teaching
that God’s grace consists of humans cooperating with God’s grace to merit salvation, rather than receiving salvation in full as a gift on the basis of faith alone the moment a person believes.

Sixth, Christians believe in an eternal afterlife. God allows individuals the ability to choose or reject him, and after death, that decision is final. Those who have chosen to believe in Jesus will enjoy eternity with him in heaven, while those who decline will spend eternity in hell, separated from God. God will accept every person’s decision and not force him or her to change their mind. While all this may sound politically incorrect in our culture, it has stood as an essential component of Christian teaching from the earliest times. The choice we make here on earth will have eternal consequences.

Jesus: Founder and CEO of Christianity

Christian philosopher Dr. C. Stephen Evans points out that “it is an essential part of Christian faith that Jesus is God in a unique and exclusive way. It follows from this that all religions [that disagree] cannot be equally true.”7 Again, if different religions teach contradictory things about who God is, salvation, the afterlife, and
even Jesus, then one or another could be true, but they can’t all be true at the same time. What are the big super-signs that help us decide which religion is true? According to biblical Christianity, if Jesus claimed to be God and proved his claim by his resurrection, then he is God and Christianity is true. No other religious leader in history has claimed to be God and risen from the dead.

Further, there are at least seven concepts Jesus taught about himself that stand unique to Christianity. First, Jesus communicated that he fulfi lled biblical prophecy, given hundreds of years in advance, that he was the promised Messiah. He repeatedly claimed to be the person that God’s Messiah was predicted to be, and many scholars have created extensive lists of these prophetic connections. Here are some examples of prophecies Jesus fulfilled:

Prophecy–Old Testament Prophecy–New Testament Fulfillment

Born of a virgin– Isaiah 7:14– Matthew 1:18,25

Born in Bethlehem– Micah 5:2– Matthew 2:1

Preceded by a messenger– Isaiah 40:3– Matthew 3:1-2

Rejected by his own people– Isaiah 53:3– John 7:5; 7:48

Betrayed by a close friend– Isaiah 41:9– John 13:26-30

His side pierced– Zechariah 12:10– John 19:34

His death by crucifixion– Psalm 22:1,11-18– Luke 23:33; John 19:23-24

His resurrection– Psalm 16:10– Acts 13:34-37

Second, Jesus stands as a unique, unparalleled individual among the leaders of various world religions. He made predictions about the future that could only be made by someone who claimed to be God. Further, he noted in advance several of the things that would occur at the time of his death and resurrection. Unlike anyone else, he also promised to one day return to earth to set up his future kingdom.

The Seven “I Ams” of Jesus in John’s Gospel

? “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35,48; see also verse 51).

? “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

? “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7; see also verse 9).

? “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14).

? “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

? “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

? “I am the true vine” (John 15:1; see also verse 5).

Further, Jesus is unique in his nature, being fully divine and fully human nature in one person. Jesus was born as a man without sin through a miraculous virgin birth. He challenged his own family, disciples, and even his enemies to prove him guilty of sin, but none could do so. Think of the reaction you would receive if you asked your parents, brothers, sisters, and friends, “Can any of you point to one sin I have committed?” Those closest to us know our faults. We all have them. Yet Jesus lived a perfect life free of sin.

As God’s divine son, Jesus performed miracles, healings, and exorcisms; fulfi lled Jewish prophecies; and accomplished his own resurrection. In these ways he affi rmed his divine nature, displaying power far beyond that of any person who has ever lived. Today people downplay the miracles, but they are documented in careful detail in the Bible, and even Jesus’ enemies did not deny his miracles. They weren’t able to. So they just claimed that he performed them with
the help of evil powers (Matthew 12:24).

The Exorcisms of Jesus

Exorcism– Source
1. Healed a demon-possessed man at Capernaum —Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37

2. Drove out demons and evil spirits Matthew 8:16-17; Mark 1:32-39; Luke 4:33-41
3. Healed the man possessed by demons at the Gadarenes– Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39

4. Drove a demon out of a mute man, who then spoke– Matthew 9:32-34;
Mark 3:20-22

Christianity is also the only major religion whose founder sacrificed his life for the sins of those who would choose to believe in him. Jesus’ horrifi c death on the cross stood as proof of his statement that “the Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Nature Miracles of Jesus

The Miracle—Source

1. Calming the wind and waves– Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24

2. Walking on water– Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48; John 6:19

3. Money in the fish’s mouth– Matthew 17:27

4. Withering of the fig tree– Matthew 21:19; Mark 11:14

5. Miraculous catch of fish– Luke 5:4-7

6. Turning water into wine– John 2:7-8

7. Second miraculous catch of fish– John 21:6

8. Feeding the 4000– Matthew 15:32-38; Mark 8:1-9

9. Feeding the 5000– Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:34-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:5-12

Sixth, as mentioned earlier, Jesus also rose from the dead. Those in his time could never account for his empty tomb and the disappearance of his body. Jesus’ followers spanned the known world testifying of his resurrection (his actual bodily appearing to them), teaching his words, and dying for their belief in him.

Finally, Jesus promises, at the end of time, to personally judge every person who ever lived. It would be eternally disappointing to have Jesus look at us, fairly judge us, and conclude, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).

Christianity by the Book

Those who want to investigate the truthfulness of the original Christian message can look to a wealth of manuscript evidence regarding the transmission of the 27 books of the New Testament through the years. The New Testament manuscripts offer more supporting evidence than any other ancient book. Christians also accept the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament) as part of their holy book, the Bible. Traditional Christianity believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, meaning the original words of the Bible’s books are without error and perfect in every way.

As a result, Bible translation, distribution, and teaching stand as important responsibilities within Christianity. The Bible is the most translated book in history, has been used as the script for the most-watched fi lm in history (the Jesus fi lm), and has enjoyed greater distribution than any book in the world. Over 100 million copies of the New Testament or Bible are sold every year worldwide.

Interesting Statistics About the Bible

The Bible was written over a period of 1600 years,

? by more than 40 authors of every sort—kings, peasants, fi shermen, poets, shepherds, government offi cials, teachers, and prophets—

? in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek),

? on three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe.11

What Makes Christianity Unique?

“Christianity isn’t about people in search of God, but rather God in search of
people.”—STEVE RUSSO

Many have suggested that Christianity is about having a personal relationship with Jesus, and not performing good works and following rituals. Religious movements throughout history ultimately hold to a signifi cantly different common thread—that certain actions or works are required to obtain a blissful afterlife. In Christianity, however, the key to reaching God here and now and dwelling with him for eternity is to receive and trust in a gift already provided by its founder, Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul made clear to Christians at Ephesus, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

God’s gift of salvation also brings assurance. If Jesus’ righteous life and atoning death on the cross is the sole basis for God’s gift, then a Christian doesn’t have to worry about earning or losing that gift. Once the gift is received, it belongs to the Christian forever because it rests on what Jesus did—not what the Christian did or does in the past, present, or future.

Christianity in Summary

As we compare and contrast the beliefs of various religions throughout this book, we hope to make the distinctives of each one as clear as possible. Here, we summarize the key teachings of Christianity:

Belief– Basic Description

God– One God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Holy Book– The 66 books of the Holy Bible are the authoritative
works of Christianity.

Sin– All people have sinned (except Jesus).

Jesus Christ– God’s perfect son, holy, resurrected, divine (second person of the Trinity) yet also fully human.

Salvation– Obtained only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by human effort.

Afterlife– All people will enter heaven or hell upon death based on whether they have salvation in Jesus Christ. The Bible does not teach reincarnation, annihilation (ending of the soul), or the existence of purgatory.

Some people assume that biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism are essentially similar. But is that the case? What differences exist? Are these differences really a big deal, or only minor details? Our next chapter will address these questions head-on.


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