Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Most Beautiful Churches in the World

Sacred Spaces. We have been creating them since time began, and need them now more than ever. While I understand that the Church is the people of God (and not the building where they gather), today many of our church buildings resemble event centers and stadiums more than houses of worship. They seem to be built more for utility than as a visible expression of the glory of God. Yet we owe God our best, even in our architecture, and we need beautiful, awe-inspiring churches as well. Here are a few.

Duomo di Milano - Milan (Wikimedia Commons)

Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy. Begun in 1386, this amazing Gothic cathedral took nearly 600 years to complete. It is also the third-largest church building in the world.

Notre-Dame Basilica - Montreal, Canada (GettyImages)

Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal, Canada. Dedicated in 1829, this Gothic Revival style church was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1989. One interesting feature is the stained glass windows, which depict scenes from the religious history of Montreal rather than the traditional Biblical scenes.

St. Peter's Basilica - Vatican City (Wikimedia Commons)

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. Perhaps the most famous church in the world and the most visible representation of the Catholic Church. Construction began in 1506, and the fundraising campaign to complete the project proved (unintentionally) to be a catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. The church sold indulgences to raise money for the construction, Martin Luther objected, and the rest is history.

St. Paul's Cathedral - London (Wikimedia Commons)

St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England. St. Paul's was first consecrated in 1300; that building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The current St. Paul's was begun by the famed architect Sir Christopher Wren in 1669. It's massive dome has dominated London's skyline for centuries.

Washington National Cathedral - Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. The National Cathedral took 83 years to complete; it was only officially finished in 1990. It has been the site of 21 Presidential funerals, and has an interesting modern detail: a sculpture of Darth Vader at the top of the west tower, representing evil.

St. Vitus Cathedral - Prague (Wikimedia Commons)

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic. Located within Prague Castle, the cathedral was constructed over a nearly 600-year period and is the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic. One of the most richly decorated churches in Europe, it also houses the tombs of St Wenceslas and Charles IV.

St. Basil's Cathedral - Moscow (GettyImages)

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow Russia. Located in Red Square, work on this famous church was begun in 1554 by order of Ivan the Terrible, the first Tsar of Russia. The vivid colors that grace the domes today were not added until 200 years after construction was completed.

La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain (Wikimedia Commons)

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain. La Sagrada Familia is one of the world's most amazing churches and one of Barcelona's most famous landmarks. It was designed by famed architect Antoni Gaudi, with construction starting in 1882 and ongoing to this day.

Matthias Church - Budapest (Wikimedia Commons)

Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary. Officially named the Church of Our Lady of Buda, the church takes its more common name from King Matthias, who ruled from 1458-90. In 1541, when the Turks captured Buda, the church became a mosque; it became a church again after the liberation of Budapest from the Turks in 1686. Legend has it that during the bombardment of Budapest by a European alliance, a wall of the church collapsed, revealing a hidden sculpture of the Madonna to the praying Turks. Demoralized, they surrendered the following day.

Notre Dame Cathedral - Paris (Wikimedia Commons)

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris France. No list of beautiful churches would be complete without the iconic Paris landmark. Construction began in 1163 and was completed in 1345. It is both the most popular monument in Paris (beating even the Eiffel Tower with 13 million visitors each year) and a pilgrimage destination for Catholics from around the globe.

Memorial Presbyterian Church - St. Augustine, FL (Wikimedia Commons)

Memorial Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine, FL. Florida’s oldest Presbyterian Church, Memorial Presbyterian was built in 1889 by Henry Flagler as a memorial to his daughter.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Jerusalem (Wikipedia Commons)

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel. Easily  the oldest church on this list, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was first consecrated in 335. It was destroyed in 1009, and rebuilt in 1049. According to tradition, the church contains both the site of Jesus' crucifixion and his empty tomb.

As beautiful and important as these churches are, we must always remember that the buildings are never to be the object of worship themselves:

"However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that?’ asks the Lord." - Acts 7:48-49 (NLT)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The "R" Word

One of my recent posts was a short one about the Apostle Paul’s definition of the gospel (which was also short and to the point). But knowing what the gospel is still doesn’t tell us what we are expected to do about it, so what comes next? What is our response supposed to be? Well, just as the Bible gave us the definition of the gospel, it answers that question as well.

The second chapter of the book of Acts tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead. Peter speaks to a large crowd of Jews from all over the Roman Empire that have gathered in Jerusalem, telling the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (the gospel), and how this proved Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. They responded with the same question we have today, and Peter gave a clear answer:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Acts 2:37-38,41 (New International Version)

Repent and be baptized. These are not ideas that Peter just pulled out of thin air as he was speaking to the people. Both came from Jesus himself, one at the start of his ministry and the other just before he ascended into heaven:

Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” Mark 1:14-15 (New Living Translation)

[Jesus said:] “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.” Matthew 28:19-20 (New Century Version)

Repent and be baptized. Like Paul’s explanation of the gospel this seems pretty straightforward, at least the part about baptism (we have all seen what a baptism looks like, if not in person then at least in movies or on television). Where we get hung up is on the "R" word.

“Repent” sounds like something you would hear from a downtown street preacher, all condemnation and no compassion. But we saw above that Jesus called everyone to repentance, and there is no question about how much he loved us. So what does repentance mean? It does not mean simply being sorry for sins you have committed; often we are sorry not for the sin, but that we got caught. True repentance involves an acknowledgement that we have sinned not just against others but against God, a true change of mind about sin that results in a change in our actions (literally, to go in the opposite direction).

Repentance seems like an old-fashioned, outdated concept in a world were anything and everything goes, but without it salvation is simply not possible. Jesus first called people to repent at the start of his ministry, Peter did the same at Pentecost, and God still calls us to repentance today. The only question left is how you will answer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Fish on Your Car is Hindering the Great Commission

I usually try to refrain from ranting on this site, but tonight is an exception. After yet another long and harrowing drive home, I feel compelled to comment on something fans of Seinfeld will well remember. Consider the following exchange between Elaine and Puddy:

Elaine: David, I’m going to hell! The worst place in the world! With devils and those caves and the ragged clothing! And the heat! My god, the heat! I mean, what do you think about all that?
Puddy: Gonna be rough.
Elaine: Uh, you should be trying to save me!
Puddy: Don’t boss me! This is why you’re going to hell.
Elaine: I am not going to hell and if you think I’m going to hell, you should care that I’m going to hell even though I am not.
Puddy: You stole my Jesus fish, didn’t you?
Elaine: Yeah, that’s right!

Ah, the ubiquitous "Jesus fish." For readers outside of the United States, the Jesus fish is a symbol that many Christians in America like to put on their vehicles, usually on the trunk, bumper, or tailgate. As Wikipedia explains, it "comes from the fish symbol formed by two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish." Early Christians used it as a secret way to identify each other, because the letters in the Greek word for fish (ichthys) form an acrostic for the phrase "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."

In theory, there is nothing at all wrong with placing this symbol on your car or SUV to let people know that you are someone who believes in Jesus. However, the theory falls apart once 99% of us get behind the wheel. Because let's face it: Christian or not, most of us are horrible drivers. When you combine rush-hour traffic, a lack of driving skills, chronic texting while driving, and even full-blown road rage with a known symbol of the Christian faith, you have become the polar opposite of salt and light.

Some of you are certainly wondering what the big deal is. After all, most of the drivers you cut off, scream at, or make inappropriate hand gestures toward will never meet you in person. And that is the problem. They will never know that outside of your car or truck you are a caring, committed, follower of Christ who would give them the shirt off your back. They will only know this: that you are the idiot who ran them into a ditch while putting on mascara with one hand and texting with the other, and that you have a Jesus fish on your car. And more than a few of them will think this:

"If that's how Christians act/drive/represent/etc., then I don't want anything to do with them or their Savior."

Sure, that's a ridiculous overreaction and completely unfair generalization, but guess what? Most people don't need much of reason to avoid us as it is. The last thing we need to do is give people one more excuse to avoid Christ and Christians by combining an ancient symbol of Jesus with a modern inability to drive like a sane person.

I once asked a pastor why he didn't have a fish on his truck; he was a pastor, after all. His response was telling: "Paul, until I learn how to not drive like a lunatic, I'm not putting one of those near my truck. It's bad publicity for Jesus."

So to all my brothers and sisters out there with the Jesus fish on your vehicles, I say this: go right now, this very minute, and pry it off. Don't even read the end of this post first. Just do it. Then repent of your horrific driving, ask for forgiveness, and invite the neighbor down the street out for coffee so you can tell him or her about what Jesus is doing in your life and what He can do in theirs.

Better let the neighbor drive.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

What is Faith?

A well-known Bible passage says that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV). There are passages in the Bible that can be hard to understand, but this one perfectly sums up the essence of what faith is. While the dictionary gives a generic definition such as “belief that is not based on proof” or “belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion,” Hebrews 11:1 distills what faith is into a simple sentence.

This is not to say that faith is simple; it’s not. But having a solid starting point when talking or thinking about such a complex issue is of great benefit. While a secular view of faith might indeed see a definition like “belief not based on proof” as properly describing religious faith, this in fact refers to a blind faith, a shot in the dark, a hope that really has no basis.

When looking at the theological definition of faith, it may be that the New American Bible (Revised Edition) translation of Hebrews 11:1 puts it best: “Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” The NABRE's use of the word “evidence” is important. True faith is always based on evidence of some sort.

For example, the resurrection of Jesus cannot be proven scientifically; the events of the lives of historical persons cannot be put under a microscope or tested in a lab. Yet they can be weighed in light of what is called “legal/historical evidence.” In the case of the resurrection of Christ we have the evidence of an empty tomb (though guarded by Roman soldiers), the changed lives of the disciples after the Resurrection (when they were cowering in fear at the crucifixion), and the fact that the first person to find the tomb empty was a woman.

This last point is often overlooked yet very important, because at that time in Jewish culture a woman could not testify in court and was not considered a reliable witness. If the story had been fabricated by the apostles, they would certainly not have had a woman be the first to reach the empty tomb.

All of these and other things taken together constitute evidence, believable testimony that the resurrection occurred. But as no one living today was at the tomb that day, we cannot fully prove that it happened. The evidence strongly indicates that it did, but there is still a small gap between belief and fact.

The step across that gap is faith, it is being certain of what we have not seen. And one of the most interesting and exciting things about faith is that once you have a little of it, God can take that sliver of faith and build it into something stronger. This happens through prayer, through reading the Bible and seeing the teachings there come true in your own life, and through events and circumstances that the secular world would call mere coincidence.

Some will say that putting faith in anything or anyone is stupid, but the fact is, everyone lives by faith every single day. If you don’t think so, ask yourself the following questions:

How many meals have you eaten in a restaurant without ever watching the cook to be sure he wasn’t poisoning you?

How many times have you ridden in an elevator trusting that a safety inspection was performed in the past decade?

How often do you drive through an intersection every day, believing that the drivers at the cross street will actually stop at the red light?

We all exercise faith in innumerable ways, both great and small. But when it comes to the most important thing in life many are quick to dismiss faith, and this simply should not be. Our faith should be active, constantly tested, constantly explored, constantly measured against evidence. When this happens, the Christian faith is not a stumble in the dark; it is a leap into the Light.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Arguing With a Burning Bush

Because of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments, when people think of Moses the face millions of them see is Charlton Heston’s. But the real Moses was no Hollywood he-man. He was a man with flaws and faults just like us, and if we are open to God’s leading, He can use us in spite of our flaws just as He used Moses.

Most people who have read the book of Exodus (or seen the Heston film) know that Moses had to flee from Egypt because he had murdered an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. So Moses was no sinless poster boy from the very start. His temper plagued him at the end as well; in chapter 20 of the Book of Numbers, while the Israelites are in the desert God tells Moses to speak to a rock at Meribah and water would flow from it. Moses was angry at the people’s complaining and struck the rock instead; for his disobedience God kept him from entering into the Promised Land.

We also know that during the time between these two events, God used Moses in a way Moses could have never imagined. Through Moses God brought the 10 plagues upon Egypt, freed the Israelites from bondage, parted the Red Sea, oversaw the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, gave the Israelites great military victories, and brought them to the brink of the Promised Land.
However, I think the episode of Moses’ life that is the most amazing (and instructive) is his encounter with God at the burning bush. In real life, Moses was not nearly as composed as Charlton Heston when coming face-to-face (so to speak) with God. In fact, Moses did something I’m sure all of us would swear we would never do if God were before us: he argued with God, not just once, but five times. Here are Moses’ five questions or excuses, followed by God’s response, when God told him to go to Pharaoh:

Moses: Who am I that I should go? (Exodus 3:11).
God: I will be with you; when you come out of Egypt, you will serve me on this mountain (Exodus 3:12).

Moses: But what is your name, that I may tell the people who sent me? (Exodus 3:13).
God: I am who I am, Yahweh, the God of your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:14-15).

Moses: How will the people believe that you have sent me? (Exodus 4:1)
God: Responds by turning Moses’ rod into a serpent then back into a rod (Exodus 4:2-4), then He makes Moses’ hand leprous then heals it (Exodus 4:6-7), and finally instructs Moses to turn water from the Nile into blood if the people still do not believe (Exodus 4:9).

Moses: I am not eloquent; I am slow of speech (Exodus 4:10).
God: I, Yahweh, am the one who made your mouth (Exodus 4:11).

Moses: Please send someone else (Exodus 4:13).
God (finally getting angry at the excuses): Your brother Aaron will go with you; you will speak my words to him and he will speak to the people for you (Exodus 4:15-16).

There are several lessons to take from this encounter. The first is that it’s amazing God chose Moses at all, given the flaws he had already exhibited. The second is that God is patient when we think we’re not up to the task or when we don’t immediately grasp His calling. Finally, Moses’ life makes clear that if we will be obedient to God’s call in spite of our fears and shortcomings, some incredible things can happen. We may never part the Red Sea, but we may do equally amazing things, from sharing the Gospel halfway around the world on a mission trip to helping feed the homeless in our own neighborhood to simply showing Christ's love to someone going through a rough time.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Whale of a Tale

While the story of Jonah is one of the best known in the Bible, nearly everyone misses the real point of the story altogether. The ultimate theme of the Book of Jonah has nothing to do with whales; it is a story of God's merciful compassion for all people, not just the Israelites.

Jonah preached during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel (782 753 B.C.). At some point during his ministry, God called him to preach a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Israelites' bitter enemies the Assyrians, so that they would turn from their evil ways and not be destroyed. This would be similar to an American preacher being called to bring a message of repentance to Osama bin Laden or the leader of ISIS, knowing that they would turn from their ways and be spared by God. Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh (the same way many of us would want al-Qaeda or ISIS destroyed), so he ran in the opposite direction, taking a ship to Tarshish.

This is where the whale (the Bible actually calls it a great fish) comes in. God sent a storm to stop Jonah, and after determining that Jonah was the cause of the storm, the crew threw him overboard. The great fish was simply the means God used to keep Jonah from drowning. After three days Jonah had had enough, and cried out to God to forgive him. The fish then spit Jonah out alive onto dry land, and Jonah began the long journey east to Nineveh. For those who don't believe that the whale (or great fish) really swallowed Jonah, take it up with Jesus. He refers to the event as a fact in Matthew 12:38-41 and Luke 11:29-30. If Jesus says it happened, then it's good enough for me.

What happens once Jonah gets to Nineveh is the real lesson of the story. He does as God commanded, calling on the people to repent or be destroyed. To his chagrin, everyone from the king down to the lowliest servants do just that, fasting and praying for God's forgiveness, and God relents from destroying them. Jonah becomes so angry about this that he tells God that he wants to die. God then teaches him, and us, a lesson.

While still hoping that God might change his mind and destroy Nineveh, Jonah goes to the east of the city and sits in the blazing heat. God caused a plant to grow that gave shade to Jonah, and Jonah was very happy. But the next morning, God sent a worm to attack the plant, which immediately withered and died. This made Jonah so angry that he again told God it would be better for him to just die. God simply asks if it is right for him to be angry about the plant, for which Jonah had done no work and which was, after all, only a plant, while having no concern for the people of Nineveh, people just like him whom God had created.

Therefore, the Book of Jonah is not some children's fairy tale about being swallowed by a whale. It is a lesson from God about loving those who are not like us, even our sworn enemies, especially our sworn enemies. Because while he may not condone their deeds, God loves them just as much as he loves us. It wasn't a popular message 2,700 years ago, nor 700 years later when Jesus told us to love our enemies, and it's not particularly popular today. But if we're going to follow God as we should, it is a lesson we must heed.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Three Steps To Improve Your Bible Reading Time

As I wrote in an earlier post, the Bible is both the best-selling book in the world and one of the least-read. This is particularly tragic because the Bible is the one book that has the ability to literally change our lives (see Psalm 119:11, Romans 10:17). I think the main reason many either don’t read it or read it very little is that they have no real plan for getting the most out of their Bible reading time.

There are several key factors when it comes to reading the Bible. One of the most important is using a translation that you are comfortable with. Most will never read the Bible in the original Greek or Hebrew (although that is a worthy endeavor if you are so inclined), so an English translation that is readable for you is critical.

Another consideration is understanding the difference between Bible reading and Bible study. Both are key aspects of the Christian life, but they are not the same thing. Bible reading is exactly that: spending time reading it, much like you would any other book you read purely for enjoyment. Bible study involves the use of lexicons, dictionaries, histories, maps, commentaries, and other tools to more closely examine a particular passage, person, or theme. The problem with not recognizing this difference is that you can spend a great deal of time reading about the Bible without ever actually reading it. As the late, great Johnny Cash once joked, “the Bible sure does shed a lot of light on all those commentaries.”

Therefore, when it comes to actual Bible reading, I believe there are three things you can do that will make your time profitable, and they actually go beyond just reading: reading the Word, hearing the Word, and writing the Word.

1. Read the Word (Luke 4:16). This is the most obvious aspect of Bible reading. It involves simply going somewhere quiet and reading. Some can do this in a crowded Starbucks without being distracted, while others need the silence of an empty house. Either way, commit to a specific period of time and stick to it; fifteen minutes is a good start for most.

Don’t simply flip around reading random verses; you wouldn’t do that with any other book and hope to understand it, and the Bible is no different. Try to always read at least a chapter (in a long book like Genesis) or the whole book (for shorter ones like James or Jonah). This will keep things in context and make understanding easier. Also, if your pastor uses a particular version when preaching and you are comfortable reading it, it can be helpful to use that same translation. This will make the transition from reading during the week to hearing on Sunday easier.

2. Hear the Word (Romans 10:17). It is well-documented that we retain information best if we receive it a number of different formats. Since nearly every Bible version is available on CD, mp3, or streaming online today, hearing the Word is easier now than at any time in our history. Whether you listen at work, home or in the car, hearing the Bible read by someone else is an excellent way to reinforce your reading. Be sure you are using the same translation for listening that you are for reading.

3. Write the Word (Deuteronomy 6:9). This is an exercise that can have many benefits, from reinforcing what you have read and heard to being an act of worship in itself. Simply get a good quality notebook or stationery and copy down the text you are reading longhand. Copying the text will force you to focus on the entire passage rather than simply skimming it and will help it become more firmly planted in your mind and heart. An added benefit is that once you have gone through the entire New Testament or even the entire Bible, you will have a copy of God’s Word in your own handwriting that will be special to you and can be handed down to your children as well.

I believe that this combination of reading, hearing, and writing is not only beneficial but also Biblical (be sure to look up the verses cited for each of the three activities above). Practicing this in conjunction with your normal prayer and study time can greatly enhance your enjoyment and understanding of God’s word. Now stop reading this and go read your Bible. To quote Saint Jerome, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Best-Selling Book We're Not Reading

I thought my first post-welcome post should be a few thoughts on the Bible. Then I realized that I would be insane to think I could even scratch the surface. Fortunately, I am a little insane. But where to start?

I could comment on the recent trend of action-hero Biblical movies that bear no resemblance to the original story: Russell Crowe as a rugged Noah? Christian Bale as a sword-wielding Moses? What's next, Robert Downey Jr. as Jesus in The Savior Strikes Back? The less said about this development, the better.

Or maybe we could wade into the ongoing debate (at least within Evangelical circles) about which translation of the Bible is the "right" one. The danger in that is the risk of the King James Version Only faction coming after me with torches and pitchforks. Contrary to what they might tell you, it is not the version Jesus read, and the last edition of Webster's dictionary that contained all of the words in the KJV came out around 1850. It is an amazing, beautiful version that was written so that the common man could understand 1611. My advice on Bible versions: get the one you will actually read.

Which brings us to the area of Bible discussion I have settled on for this post. If you ask people to name the best-selling book of all time, some will say The DaVinci Code or one of the Harry Potter books, but most will correctly name the Bible as the all-time best seller. The folks at Guinness World Records estimate 5 billion copies have been printed. Yet in spite of these mind-boggling numbers, it is also the least-read book in America today.

Don't get me wrong; most people in America own a Bible, and a large number own more than one. But to borrow the line from a less biblical question, 90% of people don't read the Bible, and the other 10% lie about it. Even many regular churchgoers in the Bible Belt only dust their copy off long enough to carry into Sunday services; they then toss it into the back seat of their SUV until the next week.

We weren't always biblically illiterate; only a generation ago most Americans were at least familiar with the majority of the Bible stories, if not the theology contained in them. That's not true anymore, and if you think I'm exaggerating, consider the following responses to some simple Bible knowledge questions:

In the first book of the Bible, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked, "Am I my brother's son?"

Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients.

Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada.

Samson slew the Philistines with the Axe of the Apostles.

Lot's wife was a pillar of salt during the day, but a ball of fire at night.

Noah's wife was Joan of Ark.

It was a miracle when Jesus rose from the dead and managed to get the tombstone off the entrance.

Keep in mind that these responses came from children ranging from elementary to high school, in Christian schools. How much worse would the average "man on the street" do, since many can't find the Pacific Ocean on a map of the U.S.? But that's another rant for another day.

Before you argue that Biblical literacy is irrelevant, consider this: many of our laws are based on the Bible, and much of the great art and literature of the Western world was inspired by the Bible. Not knowing anything at all about the Bible makes it impossible to really understand references in works from (to name just a few) Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Martin Luther King, even Springsteen (yes Springsteen) since all of these owe the Bible a debt for their content. And that's just looking at it from a practical standpoint.

There is also, clearly and most importantly, the spiritual aspect of Bible reading. I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and is nothing less than God's revelation of himself to us. I like the way The Message version translates 2 Timothy 3:16:

"Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way."

While God has never spoken to me audibly, He has spoken to me through the words of the Bible more times than I can count. And for those who say it's full of me some.

Here's a challenge: try reading the Bible for 15 minutes a day for 30 days. Start with Mark's gospel, then read Acts (not Axe). These will cover the story of Jesus and the early church, and don't have long lists of names no one can pronounce. Try either the New International Version or the New Living Translation as both are extremely readable. At the very least your literary, historical, and cultural literacy will improve considerably; the Bible has wars and romance and treachery and heartbreak and redemption, just like a good novel. Unlike a novel, though, it has so much more than that.

So be warned: once you start reading the Bible, it can be hard to stop. And if you're not careful, it just might change your life.

Monday, August 14, 2017


Welcome to Light in the Darkness. If a Google search of Springsteen's Light of Day or Darkness on the Edge of Town landed you here, feel free to hang around for a while before continuing your musical journey. The subtitle pretty much sums up who the blog is for: seekers, skeptics, and other words, everyone.

It won't take long for the observant reader to figure out what this blog is about (not so subtle hint: Jesus. I debated with myself for a long while before starting it, because Lord knows (pun intended) that there are a ton of similar sites out there. But then again, maybe not so similar. Consider who finally convinced me to do it; not a pastor or mentor, but a magician. An atheist magician no less:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.” - Penn Jillette of the duo Penn & Teller

Like I said, maybe not so similar to other blogs on the subject, since I've mentioned two Springsteen songs and quoted an atheist while only mentioning Jesus once. And that's important if we're going to engage in any kind of real conversation, the kind of conversation we need now more than ever. I'm not some Ivory Tower theological academic and definitely not a fire-and-brimstone prophet, though both of those have their place in this conversation. I am just like you: I have good days and bad days, love my kids while occasionally wanting to strangle them, and still hope that some day I will be a roadie for the E Street Band. To paraphrase Penn above, I do believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that everlasting life is possible by following, really following, Jesus. And since I don't hate you (quite the opposite), I need to tell you about matter how socially awkward things might get.

When you think about it, the real question is why we don't all talk about it more, regardless of what we believe. I have urged total strangers I see in bookstores to read Zafon's novel The Shadow of the Wind for nearly a decade, and will extol the virtues of Bruce Springsteen to anyone who stops long enough to listen. Again to quote Penn, "this is more important than that."

So I hope you'll stop by again, read and ponder, comment and debate, encourage and question, and just generally get involved. It will be quite a journey.