Read the Bible in 2017

I was going to put together a solid post linking to Bible reading plans for 2017, but Tim Challies beat me to it.  This is a link to his post.  Please note links to Ligonier Ministries' plans as well.

Personally, I am going to use the Legacy Plan located at this link.

Read through the Bible.  I dare you.


November 14-21, 2016, Local Area Volunteers Collect Shoebox Gifts

The week before Thanksgiving, thousands of people from across seven countries are turning empty shoeboxes into gifts—filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items—for children living in poverty overseas.

Through Operation Christmas Child, a project of international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, volunteers are rallying with hopes of contributing shoebox gifts toward the 2016 global goal of reaching 12 million children in over 100 countries.

A list of drop-off locations and detailed information can be found at samaritanspurse.org/occ. More information can also be found at Facebook (facebook.com/OCCshoeboxes), Twitter (@OCC_shoeboxes), and Instagram (@operationchristmaschild).

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 135 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories. For many of these children, the gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.

MEDIA NOTE: For complete media materials including fact sheets and radio PSAs, visit samaritanspurse.org/occnewsroom.

Some questions and answers I prepared for a radio interview I did a few weeks back are below.

Q: Have you ever given out the shoeboxes yourself?
A: Yes, in Lima, Peru.

Q: What is Peru like?
A: Lima, Peru, is technically situated in the middle of a desert.  There is a string of mountains between Lima and the ocean, and rain seldom makes it across them to the city.  It’s hot and dusty.  There is high unemployment, so people build their homes as they are able.  In the poorer areas of the city there are unfinished homes, some missing windows or roofs, because people are not able to borrow the money to build them all at once.  But the people are beautiful and friendly.

Q: What was the most memorable part of that trip?

A: The cooperation between churches of different denominations was impressive, but the most memorable thing was the smiles of the children as they received the shoeboxes.  If you had put them all end to end, I saw miles and miles of smiles. 

Q: What are some of the places where you handed out shoeboxes?
A: Two of the more interesting places were an orphanage and a small church with a dirt floor. 
Q: What was the orphanage like?
A: Hogar de Cristo Orphanage in the Cercado area of Lima. This orphanage is the home of over 120 children. Nearly half have made their home there since the earthquake in Peru at the end of 2007.

In Peru, if a marriage ends in divorce, and the wife remarries, her new husband will put pressure on her to give up her children from the past marriage so she can have children for him.  Some of those children end up on the streets with no one to care for them.  There is a very inexpensive glue that is used to put the soles on shoes.  Some of the children on the street buy that glue and sniff it.  I don’t blame her.  If I had been disserted by my parents at that age, I might sniff glue to.  One of the children that I saw at the orphanage had been addicted to that glue, and it had messed up her mind. 

When I sat down in the third row, I had not noticed a young girl sitting next to me with her attendant, but as I leaned back into my chair, she clasped my forearm. I noticed the older woman who was caring for her move forward to catch the young girl's hand. I realized that my arm was gripped by a child.

No translator was in earshot. I did not know how to communicate with her. I held her hand against my forearm, and I just looked into her eyes. Her big brown eyes seemed to reflect a beautiful light. I looked into her eyes and knew I did not have to call for a translator. She saw Christ's love when I looked at her. She knew why I was there and what I had to say.

I learned latter that this young woman probably will never be able to understand a presentation of the gospel. But, despite the fact that the notion does not set well with the theologian in me, I know she learned of Christ's love through a simple gift packed thousands of miles away.

As the boxes were being opened I stood at the back of the room. I noticed a girl named Yohana who was passing around a slip of paper to several of her friends seated near her. I walked closer and saw she was looking at a letter someone had placed in the box they had packed. A picture of a girl in a softball uniform named Maddie was stapled to the letter.

A lady on our team named Lliana from Orange County, California, walked over and took the letter. She began to translate the letter to the young girl. She read a few short details from the life of the one who had packed her box. About half way through the letter, the girl's face changed.

When the translator finished, the girl quickly but carefully folded the letter and put it in the corner of her box. It was as if she had decided that the letter was hers now, too precious to give to someone else. 

I plan to include letters in all the shoeboxes we pack at our house from now on.

Q: What did you see at the small church? 
A: We went to the Assambleas de Dios del Peru in Manchay this afternoon. This church is situated in the Pachacamac District of Lima. It never rains in this part of Peru. The land is rocky and dusty. The dust clings to your body. It seems you can even see dust in the air.

It stood out from the beautiful new, $300,000 Mormon church next door.  This Assemblies of God church is little more than a shed with an improvised roof of tin scraps and loose boards. But don't let the humble appearance fool you; this church is the vangard of the Lord's army in this depressed area of Lima.

You could feel the power as the assistant pastor stood in front of the crowd of 60 or so children and plainly and clearly explained the gospel. He used a demonstration with clean and dirty water to show what Christ did for us on the cross. He puts chemicals into the water that make it appear filthy, like our sin does to us in God’s sight. He placed other chemicals from a red bottle into the water and identified them as the “blood of Christ.” The water cleared up almost instantly. He showed that all of the sin in our lives is made clean and clear for us by Christ when we trust Him.

I wanted to talk briefly to the Senior Pastor, I had a gift for him. I am a member of the local camp of the Gideons, and they had sent several personal copies of Spanish New Testaments with me to give away. I knew they had to go to this embattled pastor.

He had little time to talk because he was doing his job: seeing to the children God had placed under his spiritual care. He was very grateful for the New Testaments, and he hugged my neck in response. Shoebox gifts, some basic supplies, Christian literature and Bibles were delivered to the front lines of an intense spiritual conflict. May God deliver the Holy Spirit’s power to the members of that church in response to our prayers.  It is humbling to see the face of God reflected so clearly in a little child's smile. It is awesome to see God's concerns etched across the furrowed brow of a pastor’s face.

Q: Was there anything else you remember?
A: There was this one boy who received a Mag-lite Flashlight in his shoebox.  He looked at it funny, and then set it aside.  I don’t think he quite knew what to do with it.  I am engineer by education, so I like to tinker with stuff.  I made my way over to him, introduced myself, and helped him open the plastic packaging.  There were batteries in the package, so I showed him how to put in the batteries and then turned the flashlight on by twisting the top.  He was excited to see the light.  I took the flashlight apart for him, showed him the extra blub inside the handle, and then showed him how to put it back together.  We must have played with that light for half an hour.  He smiled and smiled.

It is wonderful to be a part of the things that happened in Peru that year.  I had been blessed to make a difference in some children’s lives. Operation Christmas Child (OCC) sent 200,000 boxes to Peru in 2008, and I was glad to play a small part in that effort.  But I also know that there are over 8.7 million children under the age of 15 in Peru. OCC only distributed boxes to 2.2% of these children. There is so much more to do. 

Q: What can people do to help?
A: Pack a shoebox.  I know of one 7-year-old girl who got the help of some people at her church and packed 41 boxes last year.  I know of one couple who pack about 80 to 100 each year.  Every box has a story, and every box counts.  If you can afford to pack just one box, that could make an eternal difference in the life of a child. 

Some of our older volunteers who can’t get out to pack boxes give money each year to help with the shipping and handling of these boxes.  That is a valuable way to help.

You can also be a leader at your church or club to promote OCC.  Promotional materials are available at www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.  There are several large churches in the listening area that pack hundreds of boxes each year just because a member of that church decided to encourage others in the congregation to pack boxes.

You can also volunteer your time at a Collection Center or Relay Center where the boxes are packed for shipping and loaded into semi-tractor trailers.  The packing boxes weight up to 45 pounds, so several strong men are needed at each center each afternoon and the last day of collection week.  I know of one man who volunteers his forklift and his time to help.  

There are also year round positions in media relations, church relations, community relations, collections center coordinators and other important functions of the ministry.  I know of one woman who took a week of vacation from her work to help as a Collection Center Co-coordinator.

Volunteers make our ministry work, and our volunteers are the greatest.  One member of the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association called OCC volunteers the best organized volunteer force in all of Christendom.  I think he was right.

Q: When is National Collection Week again?
A: National Collection Week is November 14-21, and you can find more information at https://www.samaritanspurse.org/occ. 

Q: If National Collection Week has passed. How can people still get involved?
A: The best way to get involved after collection week is by packing a shoebox gift at samaritanspurse.org/occ. It’s call Build a Box Online.  This is a fun and convenient way to bless a child. You can select items to go inside a shoebox, upload a photo and write a letter to the child who will receive it, all on line.


A Prayer for the USA and Its Upcoming Election

Almighty and Most-merciful God,

You have given us the United States of America as our heritage.  Make us always remember your generosity toward us.  Bless us with honest industry, sound learning, and an honorable way of life.

We come from many nations with many different languages.  Make us a people united under a culture that honors you above all else.  When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, in troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail.
Bless the courts and the magistrates in our land.  Give them wisdom and understanding, that they may perceive the truth and administer the law impartially as instruments of your divine will. 

Grant that we as a nation would turn to you from our many sins, especially the scourge of abortion, that your glory might be displayed for those in other nations to see.  Let our sexuality no longer be a source of sin.  Let the rest of the world glorify your name because of what they see in our marriages and in our chaste, single brothers and sisters.

Under your law we live, great God, and by your will we govern ourselves.  Help us as good citizens to respect neighbors whose views differ from ours, so that without partisan anger, we may work out issues that divide us, and elect candidates to serve the common welfare.  Save us from violence in our behavior and arrogance in our views. 

Grant us divine wisdom and care as we choose the candidates that we believe to be the best.    Let our elections be free of voter fraud from any and all who would perpetuate that injustice.  Guide voters with your invisible hand of providence to choose great leaders for our nation in this time of horrible war and true national crisis. 

In your sight nations rise and fall, and pass through times of peril.  Now when our land is troubled, be near to judge and save.  May leaders hold to your wisdom as expressed in The Bible; may they search your will and see it clearly.  Help them remember that they are called to serve the people as lovers of truth and justice.    

Give us a strong regard for our history, and help us to not lose sight of the many things that our nation has done right in the past.  Grant that we would hold up the form of government that has served us so well for so long.  Do not let this great experiment in representative democracy change into something that would not honor you.  Protect us from misuse of political power by any side.

O God, grant that The Holy Spirit may so move in every human heart, that the barriers which divide us may crumble, the suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease.  Grant that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace.  Protect us from the fears and anxieties we are so prone to in this election season.   

Be with your servants who make art and music that we may express the joys we have in Christ and the laments we cry from living in this sinful world.  Grant us a strong Christian culture.  Let the heart of this nation sing praise to your name once again.
Defend our freedoms, especially our freedom of religion.  Let all citizens live out their faith or lack thereof in public life without fear of persecution for the beliefs they hold. 

Let Christian believers go forward without fear of poverty, derision, or even death in order to glorify your great name in our culture and under those laws which are just in your sight.  Strengthen those who may stand firm in the faith in the face of unjust laws.  Encourage the fainthearted, and help those who fail to try again in your mighty spiritual power.  Restrain the attacks of Satan and his demons against our country that our light may shine as a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. 

Answer our prayers according to what is best for us, in the name of Jesus Christ who is both Lord of this world and our Savior, Amen. 

(Adapted from prayers in The Book of Common Worship of the PCUSA.)


Andy Stanley: The Bible Told Me So

Andy Stanley has inspired the rearranging of many electrons across internet pathways in the last few days.  He said some truly troubling things in a sermon designed to encourage young people to remain in or return to the Christian faith, a noble and necessary effort.  He stated that the Christian Faith was not based on what the Bible says, but on the fact that Christ was raised from the dead.  He flatly stated that the Bible does not have to be completely true in all that it says in order for Christianity to be accepted.  According to Stanley, the Christian faith is based primarily on the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles and Disciples and their interaction with Jesus Christ. 

In an effort to be charitable, Stanley is trying to reach skeptics on the basis of the historical reliability of the New Testament writings.  He points out that these documents are based on very carefully recorded eyewitness testimony, and they are basically reliable accounts of historical events like Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  All of this is true, but Stanley stops too quickly in his argument. 

Stanley follows a basic argument that I have been exposed to ever since I first read Josh McDowell, J. Gresham Machen, and R. C. Sproul.  The linear argument goes like this:

1.       The Bible is good history.  (Stanley is right with us here.)
2.       We can trust what the Bible says about Jesus because it is based on eyewitness testimony. These eyewitnesses were willing to die for their faith. (Stanley stays with us.)
3.       Jesus claimed to be God. He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Thomas said, “My Lord and my God,” and Jesus did not correct him (John 20:26-31).  (Stanley hangs on.)
4.       Jesus worked miracles and proved Himself to be God.  (Stanley is still there.)
5.       Jesus affirmed the truth of God’s Word. He said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He said, in prayer to God, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).  Christ affirmed the truthfulness of the Old Testament.  (Stanley does not mention this.)
6.       Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to help the apostles remember and truthfully relate the events in the Bible (John 16:13-15).  Christ affirmed the truth of the New Testament.  (Stanley doesn’t bring this up either.)
7.       We have a Bible we can believe to be completely true based on Christ’s authority and teaching.  We can trust what the Bible says. It gives us God’s truth and equips us for faith and service (2 Tim. 3:15-17).  (Here’s where Stanley ‘gets off the bus’ on this trip.)
To be repetitive, the conclusion that the Bible is true in all it says comes from the authority and teachings of Jesus Himself.  We can’t ‘wiggle out’ of that.  We can’t ‘side step’ it.  We can’t ignore it.  If what Stanley affirms to be true is in fact true, and we take a close look at the implications of those affirmations, then we have a Bible which is true in all it says by the force of logic.

But what of the skeptic who would embrace the core facts that Christianity is based on without accepting a Bible that contains no error?  I admit the theoretical possibility of a person being a Christian who does not accept the Bible to be true in all it says in the original manuscripts, to fail to do so would excludeC. S. Lewis from The Kingdom of God.  However, the greatest gathering of reformed theologians ever to get together said in The Westminster Confession of Faith:
By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.  (WCF 14.2)

Believing the Bible to be true in all it says certainly is a reasonable and logical conviction, one that should be embraced by all.  To fail to do so is problematic, and may indicate a heart not yet converted to Christ. 

We should pray for Stanley, but we must be both charitable and firm in our reactions.  He is on dangerous ground.

[It is beyond the scope of this post to address all of the issues Stanley brings up in the sermon.  Please see the posts under the search label “The Argument from Scripture” at the right for the answers to many of them.]

Addendum (10/4/2016):

Andy Stanley has issued some clarifying statements here as of 9/30/16.  In his follow up article, he affirms inerrancy (the idea that the Bible is true in everything it teaches).  That is great.  He even talks about his interaction with Dr. Norman L. Geisler, a champion of inerrancy whose work has been of great benefit to me.  Stanley affirms 5, 6, and 7 above.

But the follow up article is still troubling.  He goes into great detail about the reasons he communicated the way he did in the original sermon.  He wants to reach those whose faith in the inerrancy of the Bible has been shaken or lost.  Again, this is a noble effort.

The problem is that he runs the risk of being a bit disingenuous.  If the Bible is true in all it says, and that logically flows from the first four items that Stanley affirms above (1-4), then we are hiding something from the unbeliever we are trying to reach with Stanley’s approach.  We are hiding the fact that the affirmation of the first four items logically necessitates that Bible is true in all it says.  We are doing that in order to reach an unbeliever with the gospel.

If I was persuaded of the truth of The Christian Faith by this approach, then I would feel like I had experienced a ‘bait and switch’ when I found out the rest of the story.


To My Classmates

“(Thirty) years now, Where’d they go.
(Thirty) years … I don’t know.
I sit and I wonder sometimes, where they’ve gone.”
-          With apologies to Bob Seger’s song “Like a Rock”

I write this the night I attended my thirty-year class reunion.  It was good to see so many of my friends; to hear of their joys and pains; and to know they care about me after so long.

Many spoke of the good things that have transpired after thirty years: marriages that have lasted, educations that have paid off, businesses bought and sold, the pride of military service, the honor in completing ‘a good day’s work’ for year after year, and the overwhelming joys of children and grand-children.  But, O, the bad things: the aches and pains of growing older, divorce, the rigors of military service for ourselves and our children;  friends, parents, and family separated by death; cancer and illness, car wrecks, and the overwhelming sorrow felt for wayward or sick children.  A few of these things I have experienced myself.

The pain can be overwhelming at times, it can all seem so meaningless; the suffering we experience because others sin against us and, oftentimes even worse, the shame we experience because we know our sins have made others suffer.  Well did the writer of The Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes say of life “under the sun” that it is “Vanity of vanities…vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

But my outlook is brightened, and anyone else’s can be too.  You see, I am a Christian.  I am a Christian for many reasons, many of which are written about on this blog

One of them is that I know Christianity to be true.  Christianity explains the world I find myself in better than any other way of seeing things that I have found, and I have searched many different views in the books I have read and the conversations I have had.   Christianity is true, and, as Steve Brown says, “Once you’ve seen truth, you can’t un-see it.”

But there is another reason I am a Christian.  All of this “vanity and vexation of spirit,” all of these “toils after the wind,” have meaning when you are a Christian.  “In all things God works for the good ofthose who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  He turns pain and suffering into something meaningful, something that has a purpose because it is a part of his plan.

Even sinners like us, forgiven because of what Christ did on the cross, are perfectly loved and accepted by God.  That same writer of Ecclesiastes wrote of this when he said, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” 

My high school friends should have the best.  I want them to know that God truly does love them, and that he offers a wonderful plan for their lives. 

We can see who Jesus is and trust what he did to pay the penalty for our sins.  We can turn to Jesus from, not just our sins, but from trying to do better or to do more so that God will accept us. 

We turn for our efforts because we know that the good things we do are from impure motives, and, besides, how could what we do now possibly make up for what we have done in the past?  If we do what is good now, aren’t we just doing what we should have done anyway?  How can what was required earn extra favor to make up for what we have done before? 

When we know and do these things, often called faith and repentance, we can rest assured that God loves and accepts us.  That is my desire for my classmates.  I pray that God will grant me my desire.


On the National Day of Prayer

Almighty and ever-living God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for your church and the United States of America.  Forgive us of our many and grievous sins that this prayer might be heard.  Thank you that we can be forgiven because of what Jesus Christ did in his perfect life in this world and in his sacrificial death on the cross.

By your word you created all we see and know.  By your word, you made us in your image.  By your word, Christ is raised from the tomb, death is overcome, and we are given new life by the power of your Spirit.  Help us to boldly proclaim this good news, rejoicing always in your powerful presence.  Let us go forward without fear of poverty, derision, or even death in order to glorify your great name.

Thank you for life, health, food, and opportunity.  Thank you for work to do and for strength to do that work.  Thank you for our homes, our families, our churches, and our friends.

For our country, grant our President and all leaders at the local, state, and national levels wisdom and courage to govern according to your moral law as described in the Bible.  Grant wisdom for our judges.  Protect our freedoms, especially our freedom of religion, and give us the courage to use those freedoms for the advance of your kingdom. 

Let our police protect us with strength and justice; and guard their lives as they fulfill their duties. Give firefighters and all other public servants safety and strength.

For our military we ask safety and success as they defend our country.  We pray that our enemies would turn to you as the salvation of their souls so that peace might reign. 

Grant that we as a nation would turn to you from our many sins, especially the scourge of abortion, that your glory might be displayed for the entire world to see.  Let our sexuality no longer be a source of sinful departure from your perfect will for us.  Let the rest of the world glorify your name because of what they see in our marriages and in our chaste, single brothers and sisters.

For all Christians who are enduring persecution for their faith in this world; especially those who are being persecuted by ISIS; grant health, safety, dignity, and; if necessary; strength to endure to the very end.  Give them a vision of your glory to sustain them in the midst of the suffering to which you have called them.  Grant their persecutors true faith and genuine repentance or, if not, intervene in your justice on behalf of your people, so that their suffering might end.

Strengthen those who stand firm in the faith, encourage the fainthearted, and help those who fall to rise and try again.  Restrain the attacks of Satan and his demons that we might triumph in this world for the glory of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Loving God, you want us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing except losing you, and to lay all our cares on you, knowing that you care for us. Protect us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that nothing in this mortal life may cause us to doubt your great love that Christ has bought for us.   

Be with your servants who make art and music, that with joy we on earth may glimpse great beauty.  Let the heart of this nation sing praise to your name once again as it has in the past.

Give us an accurate and healthy regard for our history, and help us to be thankful for the many things that our nation has done right.  Let us hold up the form of government that has served us so well for so long.  Do not let this grand form of government, this great experiment in representative democracy, perish from this earth.  Do not let it change into something that our founding fathers would not recognize.

Heal those who are sick in body or mind, and give skill and compassion to all who care for them.  Strengthen and preserve all women who are in childbirth, and all young children. 

Come to the help of all who are in danger; protect all who travel by land, air, or water; and show your pity on all prisoners and captives.  Comfort the aged, the bereaved, and the lonely.  Defend and provide for the widowed and the orphaned, the refugee, the homeless, and the unemployed.

Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as is best for us; for we pray these things in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.


The Morally Superior Atheist

I have made much of the argument for Christianity’s truth based on the moral argument.  The basic idea of the moral argument is that atheism has no basing for objective morality; there is no reason for an atheist to be moral given their way of thinking about the world.

This form of argumentation is often miss-characterized by those in the vocal atheist movement.  They say we are accusing them of being amoral, evil people who do not live lives that meet a high standard of right and wrong.  Some web sites ever accuse us of saying atheists eat babies because they are so immoral.  This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the argument. 

In fact, the argument only works if most atheists are outwardly morally outstanding people.  The idea is that a morally superior atheist has no objective basis for the moral life he or she is living.  They are borrowing a set of moral absolutes from another worldview, unusually Christianity itself.  A person only borrows a concept that he or she knows to be true at some level.

The atheist who is a fine, upstanding, and moral person proves by their very life that the atheist view of the world is inadequate.  A better way to see the world is to admit there are moral absolutes established by a loving creator God.  This is the only way to provide and intellectually tenable moral system (For a defense of that position by a professional defender of the Christian faith, see this book.).

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