Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Memorial to Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards died on this date in 1758, exactly 250 years ago. Both Jonathan and his wife Sarah displayed remarkable trust in God’s goodness in response to this tragic event. See my short article posted on Theosource.

Edwards Gravestone at Princeton Cemetery

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Family Bible Reading

Today our family reached a major milestone in our family Bible reading. We have finished reading through the entire Old Testament. In addition, we are very close, perhaps a month and a half at most, to completing the entire Bible. More on that in just a bit.

Back sometime in 2003 I began reading a chapter from the Psalms each night with the family at the dinner table before we ate. This reading was the beginning of a second time through the Book of Psalms. The first time we used the New American Standard Bible and we read through Psalms and the Book of Proverbs. We started again, this time, with the English Standard Version. My original idea was to get a feel for how these versions read and compare them by reading them out loud to my family.

After we completed Psalms and Proverbs, I decided we ought to read through the book of Genesis. With those three books under our belt, I got the idea that we could read through the entire Bible. So, we continued reading a chapter from the Bible (or a portion of a chapter if the chapters were too long) before dinner each night. I wanted variety and thought it would be really hard to read the Pentateuch straight through or the major and minor prophets, so I tried to bounce around between the Old and New Testament, between long books and short ones. My one confession is that I summarized the content of some chapters rather than reading each name and line of a genealogy or every detail of a very repetitive section (e.g., descriptions of the tabernacle in Exodus 26-31). For the most part, though, we really did read everything.

I did not keep track of how long it took to finish the Book of Psalms or Proverbs, but I kept pretty detailed records for all the other books. There were several single chapter books that only took one night of reading to finish. Other books, of course, were much longer and took more time. Isaiah, for example, took us 79 days to complete, longer than any other book on our record. We finished the OT today by reading the last two chapters of 2 Chronicles (sometimes I would read an extra chapter just to finish off a book). We have only Romans and Revelation left to read from the New Testament and so I anticipate finishing the whole project sometime in May.

Reading extended passages out loud is a great way to discover the literary quality of a translation. Some places the ESV just flows so beautifully and other places it’s a real dog. Part of it, I’m sure, is due to the fact that it is just plain difficult to create fine prose while translating as literally as possible. My one major regret is that I didn’t keep track of those places where the translation stood out as either exceptional or poor. Overall, though, my impression is that the ESV reads very well, better than either the KJV or the NASB.

My guess is that reading the Bible like this has been more profitable for me than my wife and kids. Normally, they did not follow along with their own Bibles. We just didn’t have enough ESV’s to go around. Besides, when we started the kids didn’t know how to read. They were only 1, 3, and 5 at the time. So, they just listened to daddy as he read the passage. I suspect that the reading, therefore, was more meaningful for me than them. I would try to offer an occasional comment and bit of instruction to highlight the point of the passage. I wanted the kids to learn respect for Bible reading and to learn how to pay attention. It’s been four and a half years now through this project. Their comprehension has definitely increased as they grew older.

I’m not sure what we are going to do when we finish in a couple of months. I doubt we will read through the whole Bible again like we’ve been doing. I like the idea of reading the Bible but I might stick to easier sections, maybe work through specific chapters that deal directly with issues that our children or family are struggling with. On the other hand, I’ve been wondering about the Holman Christian Standard Bible…

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

This past Friday (3/7) a member of my adult Sunday School class went home to be with the Lord. Very few outside of our church would probably know much about him but his faithfulness to church and to his Lord was always an encouragement to me.

Jim Gibby was a frail, thin man who looked older than his 58 years would warrant. For the past several years he had to carry around a portable oxygen tank to help him with his breathing. Sometimes in church or in SS you could hear the low hum and regular clicking of the mechanism that fed the oxygen to him. To some, I suppose, it could be distracting but for me it was just a constant reminder of his faithfulness. In a day when so many people let the littlest things keep them from church, Jim’s faithfulness, in spite of his physical hardship, serves as a well-needed rebuke.

In addition to that, Jim got me to do something at church one year that I normally would never have done. Those who know me know that singing is not one of my fortes. I love good music but I cannot produce it save my life. I’m rather self-conscious about it and I can’t wait for heaven where I am fully expecting brand-new glorified vocal cords. At any rate, on Father’s Day our music director often asks all the men of the church to participate in an all-male special music ensemble. I usually decline because, well, that’s just not my gift and I don’t want to embarrass myself up there. I normally get a lot of kidding about not participating but I can be pretty stubborn. So, I was sitting there, watching the men begin to practice, when lo and behold up marches Jim Gibby, oxygen tank and all. Well, I think to myself, if Jim Gibby can get up there and sing, then I suppose I can, too. So, up I went. I’m not sure the group was better for it, but I probably was.

Jim also had a way of handing out compliments. This past year we broke up our one big adult SS class held in the auditorium into several smaller adult classes. Jim came to my class and half way through our first series he said, “you know when I first came to your class I thought it was going to be pretty boring but instead it turned out to be not so bad.” Thanks, Jim, I think.

As our Pastor said in an e-mail to our church family, “Jim is now beholding the glory of the Lord and breathing in celestial air. No more struggle.” I will miss him and our church will miss him.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Benefit of Bible Difficulties

This past week or so I came across the following quote by B. F. Westcott. It comes from a book of his entitled, The Bible in the Church: A Popular Account of the Collection and Reception of the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Churches, published in 1896.

And if it is, as we devoutly believe, the very source and measure of our religious faith, it seems impossible to insist too earnestly on the supreme importance of patience, candor and truthfulness in investigating every problem which it involves. The first steps towards the solution of a difficulty are the recognition of its existence and the determination of its extent. And, unless all past experience is worthless, the difficulties of the Bible are the most fruitful guides to its divine depths. It was said long since that "God was pleased to leave difficulties upon the surface of Scripture, that men might be forced to look below the surface."
In studying and teaching the Bible, I sometimes get frustrated with interpretational difficulties. Why couldn’t everything just be plain and simple? It would make life so much easier.

Yet, I have to agree with Westcott when he says that the difficulties lead us to the great depths of the Scriptures. They force us to compare Scripture with Scripture. They force to seek the Lord for His help in understanding His Word. As we dig for understanding like the treasure that it is, we begin to understand the fear of the Lord and find the great riches of the knowledge of God (Prov 2:3-5).

The good stuff is rarely on the surface. True treasures are reserved for those who dig and the difficulties of the Bible show us where.