Heroes Of Christmas – The Magi



Wise men still seek Him, the little Christmas saying goes. The problem is, the term wisemen is misleading. The Bible does record an event involving visitors from the East who came to worship the new king born in Judea.

These visitors were not kings, necessarily. And they weren’t men known for their great wisdom. There also were an undisclosed number of them. Some scholars project from other historical records that a caravan traveling some distance could have included as many as three hundred people.

But that’s conjecture. What we know for fact is that these visitors were magi—astrologers, soothsayers. Kinda close to wizards. OK, that’s the fantasy writer’s spin on things. Sticking with what we know of the word used in Scripture, magi refers “to the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.” (Strongs Bible Dictionary accessed through the Blue Letter Bible)

We know they came from somewhere in the East, so some scholars have suggested the possibility that they may have been familiar with Jewish prophecy because of Daniel’s influence upon the Babylonian wisemen. Except, they didn’t know the prophecy about were the new king was to be born.

Just like the shepherds, the magi are subject to much speculation that has hardened into legend that’s difficult to dislodge. Too bad, because what the Bible reveals to us is pretty impressive.

As a result of their study of the heavens, the magi knew something, but they didn’t know everything. They knew a king had been born in the land of Judea, but they didn’t get the parentage right or the place of birth right or the kind of king he proved to be, right.

Still, based on what they knew, they went. In other words, they acted. That’s more than we can say for the chief priests and scribes who knew where the Messiah would be born, knew that these magi had seen his star indicating his birth, and still didn’t go to worship him. Even though they were the religious leaders of the day, they played it safe while these men from afar, not only made the dangerous journey, but were willing to ask for directions. OK, that’s a little humor there. But not far afield.

These magi were also humble. I mean, they came all that way to worship a toddler. Jesus could have still been an infant, but given that Herod later killed all the boys two years old and younger who had been born in that region, and that he did so because of the information he learned from the magi about their journey, it’s likely that Jesus was a year old maybe a year and a half or even two years old. Regardless of His age, these men who came such a long way, knelt to give him homage.

Then, too, the magi were pretty generous. They brought expensive gifts to give to the new king. As it happened, the items proved to be symbolic, but it’s unlikely they selected them because they thought a baby would need gold or a rich perfume used for the temple incense or an embalming spice. The thing that’s notable here is that these gifts had to cost the magi something. They were not ordinary and they were not inexpensive. Maybe the magi were rich, but even so, they weren’t hoarding their wealth.

There are a few other things we can conclude about the magi, but one more I’d like to highlight. They were not above listening to God. They didn’t mind changing their plans or changing their directions, so when they received a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod and report the whereabouts of the Messiah, they listened. And again they acted. Did they argue about it? Did they all have the same dream so they knew the warning had to be true? The Bible doesn’t tell us these details.

But it tells us enough to know the magi who came to honor Christ were men we can respect and admire, certainly for their willingness to act on the knowledge they had, for their humility, for their generosity, for their obedience to God’s message.

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Published in: on December 21, 2017 at 5:18 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Christmas Story As Told In The Bible – A Quiz



In a recent post, my friend via blog, InsanityBytes said the following:

I really enjoy challenging our thinking, questioning what we think we know. As the saying goes, “don’t believe everything you think.” It’s pretty incredible how an urban legend can become fact and just a few short years later, everybody who’s anybody just knows it’s the truth and that’s how it’s always been.

Scripture is really a wonderful gift to have because one can go back and have a look at what we think we know. Wait, did God really say? Too bad Eve didn’t have a bible handy….

So with Christmas. IB points out in her post that Mary riding on a donkey as she and Joseph made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem is pure legend. I hadn’t thought about that one before, but she’s right. So what else about the Christmas story has come to us through Christmas carols or greeting cards or children’s storybooks instead of through Scripture?

I’ve posted this quiz before so those of you who have been around for a while may remember it. I should do a new one and add Mary riding on the donkey. But here’s a repeat of the one I’ve got now, complete with intro and directions.

We know all about the first Christmas, right? I mean we hear about the details in Christmas carols and programs and sermons, see them depicted on cards and church bulletins and manger scenes. But do we know the Biblical version? Here’s a fun little quiz to find out. (Feel free to print it out and pass it along if you’re interested). Answers at the bottom.

Directions: based on what the Bible says, decide if the following statements are true or false. (Hint: for the sake of this quiz, if the Bible is silent on the matter, it should be considered false).

1. Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream.

2. Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth.

3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph’s place of residence.

4. The innkeeper told Joseph there was no room in the inn

5. Jesus was born on a cold winter’s night.

6. The stable was a wooden structure.

7. There were kings from the east who visited Jesus after he was born.

8. There were three of these visitors.

9. These visitors followed a star from the East to Jerusalem in search of the Christ child.

10. The star which the visitors saw was an especially bright star.

11. The visitors arrived on camels.

12. Herod told the visitors to go to Bethlehem.

13. These visitors came to Jesus and saw Him in the manger where he had been placed after birth.

14. These visitors were joined by shepherds who came to worship Jesus.

15. The shepherds also saw the star which had guided the other visitors.

16. A host of angels appeared to the shepherds and sang praises to God.

17. In a dream God warned Mary that Jesus’s life was in danger.

18. Mary and Joseph took Jesus back to Nazareth to escape the danger.

19. Mary remained a virgin and never had any other children.

20. God can do the impossible, which makes belief in the Christmas miracles possible.

Answers alert!

– – –

Answers:
1. true – though His birth was also predicted to Mary
2. true – see Matthew 1:24-25
3. false – they were from Nazareth and only went to Bethlehem because it was required by the government
4. false – the innkeeper doesn’t make an appearance in the Biblical account
5. false – the Bible doesn’t say what kind of a night it was
6. false – the Bible doesn’t describe the stable
7. false – the eastern visitors were magi or wisemen specializing in such studies as astrology
8. false – the Bible doesn’t specify how many magi there were—only that they presented three types of gifts
9. false – they saw a star in the East and went to Jerusalem where they would expect to find a king; they then followed the star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem
10. false – the Bible never refers to the star as bright
11. false – the Bible doesn’t mention camels
12. true – after learning from the scribes where Messiah was to be born, Herod told the magi
13. false – the magi came to a house.
14. false – the magi didn’t arrive the night Jesus was born; the shepherds who were already in Judea went immediately after they heard the birth announcement
15. false – the Bible doesn’t mention that the shepherds saw the star
16. false – Scripture doesn’t say these angels sang
17. false – God warned Joseph, not Mary
18. false – they went to Egypt, not Nazareth
19. false – Mary had a number of other children, among them James who wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name.
20. true – Gabriel stated this to Mary when she asked how she being a virgin could give birth to a son (Luke 1:37)

Questions? Read Matthew 1:18-2:15; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20. Or feel free to ask them here.

Published in: on December 18, 2017 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Life-Changing, Life-Long Gift


It’s Christmas time! Well, almost. Here in the US, after our Thanksgiving Day, it seems most people turn their attention to Christmas. Music, decorations, and of course, gifts.

Interestingly, the best gift I ever received wasn’t really a gift—not in the sense of someone buying me something special and wrapping it in holiday paper or topping it with a bow. I didn’t receive it on December 25 either. In fact, it isn’t even something you receive. It’s something you do.

I imagine some people might be thinking of various giving activities that would be appropriate at Christmas time. Ways to help the needy, the less fortunate. Ways to bring Christmas to those in convalescent hospitals, to families of prisoners, to prisoners themselves.

These are all wonderful things, and they might well be life-changing to some degree, but the gift I received, or didn’t receive, wasn’t anything like that.

Rather, as I may have mentioned in this space before, I had a principal early in my teaching career at our Christian school, tell the entire staff that we ought to be spending time in the Bible every day since we were teaching the Bible.

Sure, yeah, of course. We all had Bible as our first subject of the day, and why wouldn’t we want to familiarize ourselves with the material we were teaching? It made perfect sense to me.

I also had a teacher friend who became a model for me. Some years earlier she had started the practice of reading through the Bible every year. By the time I discovered this, she’d been through the Bible, like ten times.

Wow! That seemed so . . . formidable, but also desirable. So I started out. I wish I could say it was easy sailing, but it wasn’t. I had starts and stops, frustration, even some boredom where I had to bring my wandering mind back from all the other things on my plate. I had guilt and questions about my motives, but slowly, bit by bit, I had the roots of a habit–a life-long, life-changing habit.

Now, all these years later, I can’t think of one other thing that has made a greater difference in my life. God’s Word simply has revolutionized the way I view the world.

I don’t know that my principal realized what a great gift he was giving. After all, the reasoning behind his statement to us was utilitarian–you can’t teach what you don’t know. But there’s a greater truth there–you can’t live what you don’t know, either. And you also can’t love Who you don’t know.

Simply put, the Bible shows me God.

Day in and day out, I see how God interacted with people in history–how He formed them, loved them, warned them, redeemed them. And oh yes, I see that all those recorded relationships are meant to inform me about my own relationship with God.

No greater gift.

I was reminded of this some years ago as I was driving home from church. Joni Earkson Tada had a short radio spot that aired on Sunday here in the LA area, and that week she talked about how she and her husband had been reading through the Bible in a year. She challenged her listeners to do the same.

How cool, I thought. Someday someone else is going to look back and say, Joni changed their life because she gave them the greatest, most life-changing gift of all.

The gift, of course, isn’t really the challenge. The gift is the doing. And the continuing to do.

My friend who had read the Bible at least ten times? She’s still at it. She’ll change things up once in a while to keep looking at the text anew. Sometimes she’ll read back to front or in a different version from her norm. But she’s there, day in and day out, meeting with God in the pages of His book.

How could spending that much time with God NOT change a person? What a great gift!

Apart from some minor editing, this article first appeared here in November 2012.

Published in: on November 27, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Judging The Bible



The Bible is an ancient text, a piece of history, before it is a religious document, and it should be studied on that level. The thing is, there are particular “rules” that historians have come up with in order to judge the authenticity and accuracy of an ancient document.

Here are a few:

1) Compare to contemporary writing
2) Determine the date of writing by looking at internal issues

a. Does the writer say when he wrote it
b. Common sense (if there’s a malapropism, for instance)
c. Technical skills (handwriting, for example)

3) Give weight to older documents.

the closer to an event a source is the better. By dating a source we can judge how reliable it is based on whether the person could have been an eye-witness, or talked to an eye-witness, or whether they are receiving stories passed down through a generation or something they read about etc. (“How do Historians determine the accuracy or reliability of a source?”)

4) Archaeology, geography, other records mentioned in the text
5) Read for bias
6) Study author’s goal
7) Comparison of extant copies

Needless to say, the Bible has been put through rigorous examination. Each of the above, and more, have been analyzed. Time and time again, the Bible holds up and even surprises.

Take the archaeology, for example. For years historians had no evidence outside the Bible that a place called Nazareth existed or that a people called the Hittites ever lived. But in the 1920s translation of a number of hieroglyphics gave confirming evidence that Hittites did in fact trade with Egypt and other known nations. Nazareth was “discovered” in 1962 when a reference to the town was uncovered on a marble fragment. Excavation of Nazareth itself took place in the late 1900s, on into this century.

What I find to be surprising is that any number of atheists claim the Bible is nothing but myth or a conspiracy to make people believe something that isn’t true, and yet they have never studied it. Oh, sure, some say they’ve read it; some even claim to know it better than Christians do. But when push comes to shove, it’s obvious they have not put the Bible through the rigorous examination that Bible scholars have.

I guess that’s why I admire men like Josh McDowell and Lee Strobble who once were atheists themselves and who set out to disprove the Bible. Admittedly, McDowell says he went into his analysis with bias. He didn’t believe it was true. Yet, after his study, he reached the opposite conclusion.

He and other Bible scholars give some compelling statements about the reason they have to believe the Bible to be true. Along with the text in this link are a number of short videos that I find fascinating. They say what I believe, what I’ve found in my own meager research, far better than I can.

The point is, anyone who wants to disparage the Bible has to address what these scholars say, or they are only speaking from their own bias.

One other point, I think anyone listening to McDowell will realize he came to faith through his reason. Faith is not blind and it has nothing to do with wishful thinking.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 6:17 pm  Comments (16)  
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The Bible And Nothing But The Bible


“Sola Scriptura” is one of the five statements that more or less define Protestantism and which came out of the Reformation in agreement with the 95 Theses that Martin Luther produced five hundred years ago.

Despite this basic doctrine, the Bible has come under attack from any number of sources. First there are those who believe Church tradition and papal authority should be considered as just as important. Others believe a later revelation has added to the Bible. Then there are those who think only parts of the Bible matter, such as the words of Jesus. Others think there are some concepts that are good, but others that are outdated. Still others question its authenticity and others its accuracy. Pretty much, if you can find an excuse for not believing the Bible or parts of it, someone has turned it into a rallying cry for those who oppose Christ.

Oppose Christ?

Yes. The point is, the Bible from start to finish, is His story. Even in the Old Testament Christ is the central figure in one way or another.

Some critics claim that the Bible is nothing more than a jumbled collection of human writings. They completely miss the cohesion that proclaims the gospel throughout.

The proclamation of the gospel is at the heart of the Bible. “Sola Scriptura” does not mean that the Bible is the only source of truth. Certainly we can learn facts about our world from a physical science text. We can turn to a grammar book to learn about the construction of language. We can learn about our past by studying a history book.

On the other hand, should the Bible say something about any of those topics, it is accurate. How could it not be? It’s revelation from God. He knows our history better than we do. He’s not going to get the facts wrong.

But the Bible, though containing history and science and literature, is much more than a book about those temporal things. The Bible gives the information a person needs spiritually. In other words, the Bible is the “go to” book when it comes to spiritual matters.

The oft overlooked fact about the Reformation, and particularly Sola Scriptura, is that, as Luther intended, the Roman Catholic Church did experience a reformation, in part. In other words, the Bible is now valued in the Catholic confession in ways it was not prior to Luther’s departure from the papal teaching about indulgences.

So here’s the bottom line all these five hundred years later. Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is sufficient for salvation; it gives us all we need to know regarding the spiritual life. Also it’s reliable. And it’s authoritative; there is no other higher voice that can or will supersede the Bible.

Third, it is determinative. In other words, how someone responds to the spiritual truth contained in Scripture, determines his eternal destiny.

I find it significant that one attack on the Bible comes from the philosophy that the spiritual, since it can’t be proven by science, simply doesn’t exist. That belief relegates the Bible as useless. Who cares what an ancient book has to say about a spiritual life you don’t believe exists?

Of course, the problem is, people who hold this belief ask for physical proof of the spiritual. They don’t seem to understand that spiritual life is a different animal. They’re basically saying that a tree does not exist because it doesn’t have the properties of a sheep.

The thing is, the Bible explains why some people turn their backs on the Bible:

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14, ESV)

How can a person go from folly to spiritual discernment? By wanting to and by asking God for the ability. Of course, those who reject God are kind of stuck. Those who don’t even think they have a spiritual life are in a cul-de-sac of their own making.

The Bible has all the answers a person needs for spiritual life and godliness. It’s reliable, sufficient, authoritative, determinative and requires only that a person read it and believe it.

Published in: on October 23, 2017 at 6:10 pm  Comments (14)  
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Belief And What We Put Our Faith In – A Reprise


skydivingI believe that skydiving is safe. However, you aren’t going to see me getting into a plane with one of those flimsy parachute contraptions strapped to my back! 😉

Clearly, belief is not the same as putting our trust in that thing we say we believe. For example, see what James said to Christians: “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (Jas. 2:19)

Believing and trusting are not the same thing. That’s a good principle to keep in mind when we look at extra-Biblical encounters with God. Yes, extra-Biblical.

God makes Himself known first in His creation.

Some time ago, I passed this liquid amber tree in full autumn colors (yes, here in SoCal, we do have the occasional tree that turns into gold and red and yellow and brown). As I slowed to admire the beauty, a woman walked by, never looking up, apparently oblivious to the glory swaying over her head. How sad, I thought, that God is so present and people can completely miss Him.

Because of His great love, of course, God went farther than simply showing Himself through creation; He revealed Himself through prophets, His law, His word, and His Son.

But that’s not all. He also revealed Himself through dreams and visions and angel visitations. The Bible records any number of these, and we’re especially reminded of them at Christmas time. Angels appeared to shepherds, wisemen discovered the birth of the King of Judea by studying the stars, Mary learned she would become pregnant from an angel, Joseph too, and then he had a dream warning him to take his family and escape to Egypt.

There’s more. The wisemen were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The Holy Spirit revealed to a man named Simeon that he would not see death until he beheld the Messiah–which he did when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple on the eighth day. More amazing, the Holy Spirit also communicated something to Jesus’s cousin John, while he was still in the womb, and as a not-yet-born baby, he “leaped” when Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth, his mother who was carrying him.

So, yes, God reveals Himself in many ways. Some believe He no longer does so, but I find this position a stretch that doesn’t fit either Scripture or reports from various parts of the world today. From any number of sources, I’ve heard recently of people coming to Christ as a direct result of a dream or vision.

And yet . . .

I think a look at the Apostle Paul’s life in regard to visions might be instructive. Certainly he had an extra-biblical encounter with the living Christ. It’s why he made an about-face and stopped persecuting Christians to become one himself.

He also had a vision of what he referred to as the third heaven, though he left open the possibility that he’d actually been transported there bodily (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). But here’s the thing. Paul did not formulate his theology based on his vision.

His encounter with the living Christ was consistent with Scripture. Apparently his vision of the third heaven was just something for him—not something extra that informed Christians what to believe or do.

In fact, in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul was clear that visions were not a sound basis for deviating from Scripture.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind (2:18 – emphasis mine).

Paul believed in visions. He had them. And yet here he is saying that things not consistent with Scripture—self-abasement and the worship of angels—were not to become part of the practice of the Church simply because someone had a vision that said those applications should be included. Visions weren’t enough in and of themselves to become the basis of doctrine.

That approach to extra-Biblical information is a good rule of thumb, I think, and a means of escaping much false teaching.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in December 2012.

The Certainty Of The Bible – Reprise


chicken-3-1392636-mWhich came first, the chicken or the egg?

It’s a conundrum to many people, but for those of us who believe the Bible, not so much. God created the animals, including birds, so clearly the chicken came first.

In truth, belief in the Bible is a similar chicken-or-egg puzzle for many people. How do you know the Bible is true? Short answer: God’s fingerprints are all over it. But how do you recognize God’s fingerprints? The Bible gives us a portrait of Him.

So which comes first, belief in God or belief in the Bible?

I’d say, both. Scripture is important throughout . . . well, Scripture. For example, Philip explained to an Ethiopian the Scripture he was reading, and the man consequently believed in Jesus; in His teaching ministry, Jesus Himself elaborated on the Law of Moses; Paul and Peter quoted frequently from Old Testament prophets; and so on. Scripture values Scripture.

But there was a time before people had Scripture, and God still made Himself known, so faith in God must not be tied exclusively to faith in the Bible. In fact the book of Romans explains that God first made Himself known in what He created.

In addition Scripture records any number of direct encounters God or one of His angels had with various people. Sometimes He appeared in a dream such as He did to Jacob. Sometimes He talked directly to an individual as He did with Adam and Abraham and Samuel. At other times He appeared in the form of a man as He did to Gideon or Jacob–which may have been an angel as His messenger or Jesus before His coming to earth in the form of a baby.

Then there are the indirect messages God gave people through prophets–men who spoke His message at His prompting. People like Hosea and Jonah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

But here’s the thing: we know about these encounters today through the Bible. So how do you have faith in God’s ability to make Himself known apart from the Bible except by believing that the Bible record is true?

There seems to be a sort of synergistic relationship with believing God and believing the Bible. One leads to the other and the other leads back to the starting point. The Bible reveals God and God validates the Bible. Or God points to His word and His word points back to Him.

The idea that God points to His word might seem doubtful, but it’s actually Biblical. 😉 Jesus explained to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come and guide them, and us, into all truth (John 16:13). In fact, He said,

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me (John 15:26).

The Holy Spirit, then, is our source of truth, and as it happens, it was the Holy Spirit who breathed His truth into Scripture through the agency of humans.

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

In turn, Scripture tells us about the Holy Spirit and all His work.

Seems very eggish and chickenish, doesn’t it. Except, remember, there really is an easy answer to the question that appears, on the surface, to be a puzzle. So, too, with this matter about believing the Bible.

The first step is to ask, can we know about God apart from the Bible? The answer, which the Bible verifies, but which countless humans down through the ages have discovered apart from the Bible, is yes. When we look at the vastness of space–and more so now that we can look into deep space using advanced technology–or the beauty of a sunset or the majesty of purple mountains or the thunderous power of the surf or the intricacy of a butterfly or the astounding birth of a baby or . . . pretty much anything in the natural world, we recognize we are part of all that exists, not the maker of it. There is something beyond us.

Today a popular position is to say that “something” is nature itself. This position has many problems. But here’s the thing. Having recognized that there is something beyond us, we then see God saying He has chosen to disclose Himself to us.

We ought not to be shocked if some people respond by saying, Really? I mean, it is a rather fantastic claim. An Other, a Greater, wants to stop by for a chat? Wants to introduce Himself and become friends? It’s . . . incredible.

So we can say, NOT POSSIBLE, meaning that we have determined we know what is and isn’t possible in a universe we did not create and do not fully comprehend; or we can say, the One who is Other and Greater is also Incredible.

What then can’t He do? If He chooses to disclose Himself in a written record, who am I to say, no, He didn’t.

This post originally appeared here in October 2013.

Published in: on October 3, 2017 at 5:58 pm  Comments (4)  
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Sex And The Bible – A Reprise


Samson004I’m not sure where the idea has come from that Christians are prudish as opposed to moral. I don’t see the two meaning the same thing, and neither does the New Oxford American Dictionary. But what about the Bible? Is it prudish?

Not quite. No sooner does the writer of Genesis recount the creation of Adam and Eve but he reports, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Some people unfamiliar with the Bible have the strange idea that the first sin had to do with sex. I think that myth is reflective of a sex-crazed society, because it has nothing to do with reality.

Sex was part of creation which God declared to be good. In addition, His first command, even before “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Translated, that means, Have sex with your wife and have kids.

After Man sinned and God removed humans from the garden, sex remained as much a part of the historical record as any other human activity. In Genesis 4, for example, the Bible notes that Lamech took two wives—presumably the first to have bigamist relationships.

After the flood, when Noah and his family landed on dry land, the Bible notes that Ham, his youngest son, “saw the nakedness of his father” while Noah, drunk from wine, was passed out. Something happened, clearly, because when Ham’s brothers learned what he’d done, they “covered the nakedness of their father.” Noah awoke and “knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

Not a clear picture of what kinky thing happened in this family, but the event is not omitted either. Neither are the homosexual desires of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to rape Lot and the two angels who had come to take him out of the city.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from revealing Sarah’s attempt to “help God out” with the son He’d promised Abraham by giving her husband Hagar, her servant, as a mistress, since she herself was beyond child-bearing years.

Then there’s Jacob and the trickery of Laban which put Leah in the wedding tent the night Jacob thought he was having sex with Rachel. A week later, after completing his sexual obligation to his first wife, he then married the woman he loved. But throughout the years, Jacob’s sex life is about as open as . . . oh, say, David’s.

First, though he loved Rachel, he continued to sleep with Leah, as evidenced by the four sons she birthed. Rachel, on the other hand, was barren, and demanded Jacob give her sons. He responded by saying, Am I God who has closed your womb? Notice, he didn’t say, OK, I’ll move back in with you. Apparently, Rachel’s barrenness was not due to a lack of sex between her and her husband.

Rachel’s jealousy led her to give Jacob her servant as a mistress. He didn’t object and had two sons by that woman. Leah didn’t want Rachel to get ahead of her, so she gave Jacob her servant as mistress. In the course of time she delivered two sons as well.

But Jacob still loved Rachel and apparently was now living with her exclusively. Except one day Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes one of her sons had found in the field. Leah ended up agreeing . . . if she could sleep with Jacob that night.

And Leah once more got pregnant. And again. And again.

But at some point Jacob went back to Rachel because God opened her womb, and she gave birth to a son named Joseph.

Joseph—this would be the boy whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he fended off the advances of his master’s wife and landed in jail because of it. Let me be clear. This was not some mild flirtation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph day after day and said, Lie with me.

Then there’s Joseph’s brother Judah, whose daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her (he thought she was a prostitute—so much more upright!)—and had twins by him.

Should I go on to the gang rape and murder Judges records or the mass kidnapping of women the Israelite leaders engineered so the men of Benjamin would have wives. Then there are Samson’s exploits with various women and David’s adultery.

I’m sorry. If someone thinks Christians are prudish it’s because a) they don’t know what’s in the Bible; or b) they’re talking about professing Christians who don’t read the Bible and are formulating their attitudes about sex from some other place.

Because, yes, many of the examples I mentioned above are not what we’d call ideal examples of a sexual relationship. But that’s part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about sex or any other topic. Jesus Himself had some clear instruction about lust, and He didn’t shy away from telling the Samaritan woman precisely what her marital status was (You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t your husband).

He didn’t camp on her sexual failings, however. He didn’t tell her to marry the man she was living with and then come back to see Him. But He also didn’t hesitate to tell the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should sin no more.

Prudish? The Bible is not prudish. People who read the Bible will see the good, the beautiful, the disturbing, the vile within its pages. A Christian who pays attention to what God says about sex through the lives and decrees and admonitions in Scripture can hardly have a prudish attitude toward sex.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex, but it also never presents sex as mankind’s problem. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in May 2014.

Published in: on September 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Did God Really Say … ?


Adam_and_Eve019Long ago, when Humankind lived in harmony with God, nature, each other, and themselves, Satan approached Eve with a simple question: Did God really say you shouldn’t eat from every tree in the garden?

It was a question that opened up a discussion in which Satan essentially called God a liar. What’s worse, Eve bought it. Maybe not the lying part, but she may have thought Adam got it wrong–after all, she hadn’t been created yet when God told Adam to stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Or perhaps she thought they were misinterpreting God’s intentions. Surely, a good God wouldn’t want to withhold something so pleasing to the eye, so able to impart wisdom.

From the moment Eve ate, men and women have been dealing with this question: did God really say …

Did God really say Abraham would be the father of nations? Did God really say David was to be King? Did God really say the people of Israel should not worship idols? Did God really say Jesus is His Son?

On and on the questions go. Today they present as a challenge to the Bible. Has God really inspired the Bible? Surly the Old Testament is little more than a collection of myths and was never meant to be a presentation of historical fact or supernatural revelation. After all, would a loving God really command genocide?

The pattern is the same as the one Satan used with Eve: We know God is X, so we can conclude that He would never do Y, no matter what He said (or you thought He said), no matter what the prophets said, no matter what the Bible said.

There is, of course, the Adamic answer to Satan’s question: Yes, God said so, but I don’t care.

King Saul responded that way: Yes, David is ordained by God to take the throne, but I don’t care. I’m still going to try to kill him.

Saul was pitting himself against God, not David. He wasn’t confused about what Samuel had said when he delivered the message that God had rejected Saul and would replace him with a king after His own heart. He quickly spotted David as the one God blessed at every turn. Instead of repenting or even stepping down, Saul fought to the bitter end to retain his throne, no matter what God said.

People today respond in the same way. Yes, I understand that God has said Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but I choose to find my own way, my own truth, and to rule my own life.

Deceived like Eve or rebellious like Adam, our response depends on what we do with the question, Has God said … ? Of course we could simply trust God to be true, believe what He says, and do as He asks. Now there’s a novel idea. 😉

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in January 2013.

Published in: on July 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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My Least Favorite Book of the Bible


I don’t like admitting I have a least favorite book of the Bible. I mean, all Scripture is profitable, given for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, so I feel like I shouldn’t have dis-favorites.

It’s OK, I guess, to have favorites. People have life verses, for instance, and particular passages they turn to in times of great need. But somehow, admitting there’s a book I don’t like very much just seems wrong. But it’s a fact.

What makes this worse is that a good number of people I “met” in my first online writing community, Faith in Fiction, declared this book their favorite. Yikes! I thought, how can this be?

I thought the same thing again recently as I plowed thro read a portion of Ecclesiastes. Yep, Solomon’s angst-filled, nihilistic, existential treatise is my least favorite book.

And why shouldn’t it be? After all, like the violent, anarchic, everyone-did-what-was-right-in-his-own-eyes book of Judges, Ecclesiastes shows life without God in control—until the very end. (With maybe a glimpse or two of Him along the way).

Somehow, Ecclesiastes seems worse to me than Judges. After all, I know Solomon. Of course, some people don’t think he was the writer, and honestly, I’d feel better if I believed that. Then the wrong decisions and fallacious thinking would belong to someone other than David’s son. God’s chosen ruler. His beloved. The wisest man who ever lived.

How, I keep wondering, could a wise man, beloved by God, come to some of the conclusions Solomon came up with in Ecclesiastes? Things like, wisdom and foolishness don’t really matter because we all die. Or, there is one fate for the righteous and the wicked. Or, whatever you decide to do, do it with all your might because there’s nothing after you die. (Ironic that the first half of 9:10 is often quoted as a verse to inspire industry when it’s actually the beginning of a statement of existential fatalism).

In the end, I guess I can be glad for Ecclesiastes because it helps me understand how people without God may think. But Solomon? With all his advantages? I mean, he met with God, had an “ask Me for anything” moment, and was rewarded four-fold for answering selflessly.

His destiny was set. His father had been collecting the materials he would need for his life’s work—building God’s temple. Solomon didn’t ever have to figure out what his purpose was. In addition, he had admirers, success, influence, wealth.

And from it all, he concluded life was all vanity.

Poor guy. First he relied on himself, not God when he made decisions: “I said to myself, “Come now . . . (Ecc 2:1a)

Then he went through a wisdom phase in which he tried to make sense of life from the standpoint of wisdom. He reasoned out what was generally true about the wise and what was generally true about the foolish. The conclusion he came up with? They both die in the end, no matter what.

He also went through a pleasure phase during which he enjoyed all the pleasures a man could want: sex, wine, all the foods that pleased his palate. But again, the end of this phase met with the same nihilistic conclusion: after all the merriment, we die.

His third phase was a work phase: build, and they will come, or something similar. He poured himself into doing, building, acquiring. And as his desire for more and still more faded, he concluded, all this labor is for nothing because when I die, whoever inherits may or may not take care of what I’ve build.

Yikes! I really don’t like Ecclesiastes. I want to shake Solomon and say, Don’t you realize you’re studying life without factoring God into the equation? He changes everything!

And of course, Solomon came to that realization in the end:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc 12:13-14)

Well, I suppose that statement puts Solomon ahead of a good number of professing Christians today who deny that God will in fact bring every act to judgment. I just wish it hadn’t taken him twelve chapters (thankfully, short ones) to get there. 😕

But I also wish he had seen the joy of the LORD in the legitimate pleasure God give us to enjoy; that he would have offered his work as a sacrifice to God; that he had seen his wisdom as a means by which he could glorify his Creator.

There are hard, important lessons in Ecclesiastes, as there are in all books of the Bible. I just don’t look forward to climbing into the bleak outlook on life that Solomon had when he wrote the book. All the same, I’m not going to stop reading it.

Not everything we eat can be chocolate or cake, and not everything that nourishes our soul can be happily-ever-after. Sometimes it’s good to look at what life is like “under the sun,” without God’s counsel and guidance.

Honestly, it makes me happily run back to a passage like the end of Romans 8—“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Now that’s the kind of passage I’d put on a list of favorites.

A portion of this post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in Mar. 2010.