Archives For Religion

Are you interested in living a safe, comfortable life that looks like the American Dream? If so, don’t read this book.

It’s been a little while since I read a Max Lucado book, but I think Outlive Your Life might go down as one of his greatest works, if not his best. From the very first chapter to the end of the book he consistently looks at stories of the early church in the Book of Acts and how that group of Christians lived lives that were bigger than themselves. They changed the world around them.

Continue Reading…

Photo courtesy of flickr user Rae Whitlock

Looking for an easy way to listen to the Bible for free on your terms? Look no further. If you follow the instructions below you’ll be able to listen to the ESV Bible any time, any place. You can easily stream audio of the ESV to your iPhone, iPad, or other smartphone (as long as it can play MP3s). You can quickly listen to the verse(s) you want from Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer. You’ll be able to listen to a daily Bible Reading Plan with just a click!

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Read on and you’ll be amazed out how quickly and easily you’ll be listening to the Scriptures of your choice.

Listen Anywhere

No matter where you are or from whatever device you’re using (as long as it can play MP3s) you can quickly listen to specific Scriptures using the form below. Try it!

The little search box above should work most of the time, but maybe you’d like search directly from your browser. So, here’s how you can do it from three popular browsers.

Listen Using Google Chrome

One of the most useful features that Google Chrome has built into it is its ability to add custom “search engines” to the address bar. Using this feature you can get to the audio of any passages you want in just a few simple steps.

1. Click the wrench button then click preferences.

2. Click the “Manage” button to the right of default search.

3. Click the + symbol to add a custom search engine.

4. Enter the following info:

  • Name: ESV MP3 (or whatever you prefer)
  • Keyword: esvm (or something else, but keep it short)
  • URL: http://www.esvapi.org/v2/rest/passageQuery?key=IP&output-format=mp3&passage=%s

Once you’ve added the custom search engine you’ll type your keyword, press tab, type your reference(s), and press enter. The next thing you know you’ll be listening the Bible being read to you!

Listen Using Firefox

When I started writing this post I thought adding the ability to search for ESV Audio MP3s in Firefox was going to be really difficult for me to explain. Turns out it’s ridiculously easy (now that I did a LOT of trial and error). All you have to do to add the ESV Audio search is:

  1. Click on the search engine icon next to the search box.
  2. In the drop-down box click Add “ESV Audio”

That’s it. Really. Once you do those two steps (from this page, of course) you’ll have the ESV Audio search added to your Firefox search engines. Now you’ll be able to quickly listen to any Scripture right in your browser. Try it out!

Listen Using Internet Explorer

The process for Internet Explorer is about the same as Firefox. One difference is the drop-down arrow to the right of the search box will change colors to let you know there is a search engine available on the page. I’ll update this post with clearer instructions once I’m booted into Windows.

Listen to a Daily Bible Reading Plan

And as an added bonus you can follow a daily reading plan via audio too.  There are a few nice plans to choose from. Quickly listen to any of the reading (or I guess listening plans) by clicking below:

Whew. This post became a big undertaking. I’d love to get some feedback from you. Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments below. Also, I’ve had a weird issue with my iPhone cutting off the last few verses of the MP3 that I’m listening to. Let me know if you’re having the same problem.
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Please note. The ESV translation is copyright, so the following applies:

The ESV text may be quoted for audio use (audio cassettes, CDs, audio television) up to two hundred fifty (250) verses without express written permission of the publisher providing that the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible nor do the verses quoted account for 50 percent or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted.

So, basically don’t save an MP3 of a whole book or more than 250 verses. If you’re streaming to your iPhone you should be fine.

Yesterday, I wrote about Judges 11 where Jephthah made a vow to God, which ended up with Jephthah “sacrificing” his only child (a daughter) to God. Today I want to expand on a few things.

First, I think it’s really, really important to remember that in this situation God did not ask Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter. In fact, God’s voice in this section is completely silent. Nowhere does the Bible say that God was pleased with the sacrifice. In fact, I know from other Scriptures that God was no doubt was repulsed by it. There are quite a few Scriptures that strictly forbid human sacrifice (Lev. 18:21; 20:2; Deut. 12:31; 18:10; Jer. 19:5;). The reason this prohibition was needed was the other pagan religions surrounding Israel encouraged child sacrifice in order to appease their gods.

Second, Jephthah had the option of not killing his daughter. Take a look at what Leviticus 5:4-6 has to say on this:

If anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin (ESV).

This law makes it completely clear that he could have repented of the sin of making a rash oath to God and there was a means to forgiveness. I get the impression that Jephthah was more interested in his own reputation than doing what would ultimately please the Lord. He made an oath and thought he would appear weak to others if he admitted he was wrong.

Third, I think this passage shows us how terribly wrong things can go when we act out of our own selfish impulses instead of seeking God’s will. When we make rash promises to others we can let them down. When we make life decisions without dedicated times of prayer our lives can be impacted negatively, to say the least.

Overall, I’m both perplexed at this passage and in awe of it at the same time. What makes me respond in awe is that it is included at all in the Bible. The Bible is a raw, uncensored look at humanity in both its purest and most raw forms. We can do terrible things to each other, and yet, somehow, God chooses to love us.

Thank you, Lord, for loving a sinner like me.

When was the last time you read something in the Bible and it really messed with your head? It happened to me really bad on Saturday. What I mean by messed with my head is that I didn’t like what I read. Not even a little. I was reading from Judges 11 about Jephthah and his “Tragic Vow” (that’s an understated heading from the ESV). Here’s a rundown of what happend and the verses that really bugged be.

  • Jephtah’s dad, Gilead, had a wife and other kids, but Jephtah’s mom was a prostitute. Not the greatest start to life.
  • His brothers drove him away from the family to keep him from getting any inheritance. Being an outcast isn’t fun.
  • It’s noted that he was a “mighty warrior” and that Israel turned to him for help against an enemy.
  • He agreed to help them if they put him in charge once he came and destroyed their enemy.

Alright that sets up the part of the chapter that really, really bugged me:

Judges 11:30–39 (ESV)
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them. . . . Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child. . . . [Jephtah] tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth. . . . And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made.

As a father of two young girls this chapter bugs me. In fact, it makes me nauseous. Why in the world would a dad do this to his daughter? Why would God allow this to happen? Why is this even in the Bible?

So I did some digging and some things started to rise to the surface. There are a couple takeaways I learned:

  1. Jephthah’s background was with foreign gods whose religions taught that child sacrifice was one of the only ways to appease them. This no doubt shaped the way he thought of Yahweh God.
  2. The major difference between this episode and Abraham’s near sacrifice is that God initiated the sacrifice, but here Jephthah was in a sense testing God. In fact, throughout this narrative God’s voice is never heard.
  3. Jephthah’s reaction to his daughter was selfish. He was more concerned about his own feelings of loss than his daughter.
  4. His daughter was completely accepting of the “fate” that was dealt to her. There’s no mention of God’s role here.

There’s quite a bit more that I could write about this because I have a lot more thoughts and feelings on the matter, but I want to know what you think. What does this passage teach you about God? About how people put God to a test? About the Bible as a whole?

I’ll share some more thoughts tomorrow, but share your thoughts today in the comments below!

UPDATE: Read more of my thoughts about Jephthah here.

I’ve been a Logos Bible Software user for a long, long time (since the mid-90s), but I’ve just recently jumped into the Mac world last summer. One of the things that was keeping me from making the switch was Logos being Windows only. I knew I could do parallels, Boot Camp, or something similar, but I didn’t like the idea of not having full access to the computer resources to run the software (that’s showing my geek card right there).

But I took the jump last summer to Mac mainly because they announced a Mac version for their software. But the first attempt at the Mac version was a miss. So bad in fact I asked for a refund and they gave it to me. Logos has some of the best customer service I’ve ever dealt with. When they gave me the refund they told me they were working on a new version, which made me happy.

That new version made its appearance unofficially last fall in alpha/beta testing stages. I’ve been using these versions and I can tell you from experience that it’s incredible. They’ve added some incredibly useful tools to make it easier to study your Bible and take your study as deep as you want to go. It’s amazing what you can find out with just a couple mouse clicks.

Well, the official release of Logos 4 Mac is coming October 1 and they’re giving away some really nice prizes to celebrate. If you’re a Mac user and love the Bible you should really consider purchasing a copy of the software. A cool part of the software is that the license lets you use both the Mac and Windows versions of the software in addition to the cool Logos App for the iPhone/iPad.

Check out the info below from Logos.

Logos Bible Software is giving away thousands of dollars of prizes to celebrate the launch of Logos Bible Software 4 Mac on October 1. Prizes include an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPad, an iPod Touch, and more than 100 other prizes!

They’re also having a special limited-time sale on their Mac and PC base packages and upgrades. Check it out!

This is the second post in my series on my favorite iPhone apps. See my other review on Angry Birds.

Since you’re probably going to be feeling guilty about playing Angry Birds on your iPhone WAY TOO MUCH, you might be looking for some spiritual encouragement. The cool thing is that there are two Bible apps that will blow you away: YouVersion and Logos Bible Software.

YouVersion

YouVersion is the product of one of the most innovative churches in the world, LifeChurch.tv based out of Edmond, OK. It is one of the most convenient ways I have ever found to read the Bible. It has 16 different English translations available to read (along with a number of other languages). You can share inspirational verses with your friends through Facebook/Twitter/Email/SMS. You can follow one of many reading plans they have available that will help you stay consistent in your daily Bible reading and set it at the pace you want. And the greatest thing about this app is that it is FREE!!!

Really, if you’re a Christ-follower and you have an iPhone this app is a no-brainer. You need to get it. I’ve been using it for well over a year (started with it on my iPod Touch) and it’s my go to app for reading the Bible every day.

Logos

If you’re wanting to go a little deeper than just reading the Bible and jump into deeper studying then you need to check out Logos. I’ve been using Logos Bible Software on my computers for about 15 years. It’s the best Bibly Study Software available, but you’re going to need to slap down some cash to get started with it. I think I’ve invested close to $2,000 in my digital library.

This past fall, in tandem with their release of version 4 of their software, Logos released their free app for the iPhone. If you haven’t bought the software for your computer you’ll still be able to use it with some Bibles and other resources for free. But if you have purchased Logos, or if you’re planning on buying it soon, then you should get the iPhone app.

One of my favorite features of the app is the ability to do quick studies of Greek/Hebrew words or general topics right from my phone. It only takes a few seconds to do what used to take me a few hours. Seriously. If you’re a student of the Bible it’s awesome how deep you can go without getting bogged down flipping through the pages of a concordance or dictionary.

I love being able to tap and hold on an English word to quickly see the Greek/Hebrew word that it came from. I use this many Sundays when I’m curious about the text our preacher is going through that day (I promise, I’m NOT playing Angry Birds in church). I also like being able to quickly check out a few different commentaries whenever a thought comes to me. I really don’t have any excuses to not getting into the word.

If you’d like to see a more in-depth tutorial on what Logos Bible Software on the iPhone can do check out the video below:

YouVersion and Logos are both available for free in the App Store.
Bible

Those are my two favorite Bible apps for the iPhone. Do you have any other Bible apps you’ve found useful??? Share in the comments.

Almost every night I put my two year old daughter to bed. It’s about an hour long process between bath time, brushing her teeth, reading a book and Bible, prayer time, and singing songs. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of my day, because I know she will be doing these things on her own in the not too distant future. I remind myself that I’ll miss these moments, so I’m trying my best to relish every moment.

Last night God taught me a lesson on prayer through my daughter’s prayer. I usually lead her through a series of things to thank God for. After a few regular items (family, friends, etc.) I prompt her to say thank you for whatever she thinks of. Typically she will look around the room and say thank you for the things she sees. This usually includes her butterfly mobile, toys, and the flowers her aunt painted on the wall.

Usually I just smile and think it’s cute that she’s just praying for what she can see, but last night God really convicted me that I should be truly thankful for every little thing I own. Sadly, I usually take these things for granted and skip on to the “bigger” things in life. But the life and faith of a two year old doesn’t allow the small things to be skipped over. And so I was reminded again of the importance of coming to Jesus with a childlike faith.

Thank you, Emory, for teaching your daddy one way to be more like Jesus.

Image by Josh Kenzer

 

The days of people waking up to their morning coffee and opening up the morning paper are gone. I needed no further proof than when my dad recently cancelled his newspaper subscription, which was a sign to me that you can start writing the obituary for the printed newspaper (but I’m not sure where the obituary will end up when printed newspapers are gone). It’s been looming on the horizon for a long time, but the soaring popularity of Craigslist, cheaper more effective advertising with Google, and the recession that’s been going on over the past few years the death of the print industry has been significantly accelerated.

A recent blog post by Sam Rainer somehow made me see a connection between the print industry and the church. Sam’s post was discussing how some churches run on a much smaller percentage of their budget devoted to staffing than what is average in American churches. I’m not sure the two are related, but it kind of feels like there might be something going on in churches similar to what the newspaper and print industry has experienced over the past decade. Newspapers are dying quickly in our country as they’ve struggled to figure out how to maintain profitability when their traditional revenue sources (classified, ads, subscribers) disappear.

The church doesn’t live on advertising dollars, but it does need to re-think many things in light of how communication has changed. There are many ways for churches to cut back on traditional costs, but they would require a shift in thinking. For example, almost every church has physical offices somewhere on their property. This is what churches have always done, so it seems like it’s needed, right?

Well, in today’s broadband powered Internet age, I’m not convinced that it is. Church telephone numbers can be pointed to cell phones or services like Phonebooth or RingCentral that eliminate the need for a centralized system. Staff meetings can happen completely online through video chat services like Skype or TokBox. Starbucks can be a comfortable place for pastors to meet with church members throughout the week. There are many other ways churches could cut back on their overhead devoted to staffing, too.

The reason I see a connection between the print industry and the church is that in both instances things have become more and more decentralized and information has become more and more readily available. Pastors are no longer the only ones who have access to biblical research tools that previously only usuable by seminary graduates. Videos of sermons from outstanding preachers throughout the world are just a click away. And with the increase in the number of “internet campuses” that churches offer more and more people will be attending church in their pajamas in bed.

There’s a desperate need for churches to continue to refocus and reshape who they are and how they manage their resources. We have the most important message the world needs to hear, so we need to do whatever we can to ensure that we offer that message in as effective and efficient way possible.

Image by just.Luc

Let’s face it. Most of us are not as disciplined in our Bible reading as we should be. We’ve heard over and over to “Read your Bible and pray every day” since as long as we’ve given our lives to Christ, but we still struggle to read God’s Word as often as we should. We know that the Bible is a major part of our spiritual nourishment, but it’s all too common that we realize one day that we can’t remember the last time that we actually read the Bible for ourselves.

I know that feeling all to well. As a minister, you would think that I’ve been a super-human, high-powered, professional holy man since the day I jumped out of my mother’s womb. But the reality is that I’ve struggled to be consistent in this area most of my adult life. I get distracted way too easy. Life makes me tired. And I’ve struggled much more than I’ve done well.

That’s changed a lot over the past couple years. I can honestly say that this year and last I’ve been the most consistent in my daily reading than ever before. In fact, I’ve read the Bible every single day so far in 2010. I’ve learned a few things that have really helped me become consistent, so I thought I’d share those here. Here are a few things that have worked for me and I think they could help you, too.

Find a rhythm that works for you.

There are a few people that I know who get up extremely early in the morning (when Jesus might still be asleep) to spend time in prayer and Bible study. When I hear people talk about this my first reaction is to feel guilty. That seems like the thing that all of us should do if we really love Jesus. But the reality is that early mornings don’t work best for everyone. It may be that you need to start doing that, but what’s most important is to find a rhythm of Bible reading that works best for you.

The majority of the time that I read the Bible is at night right before I go to bed. There are days that I’ll find time in the middle of the morning or afternoon to get in the word, but I tend to read before bed most of the time. If you’re a night owl like me, maybe reading the Bible then is the best time for you.

Make it a priority.

This may be the most important thing I’ve done. It’s easy to come up with a litany of excuses about why we’re not being consistent in our reading, but the most likely reason is that we haven’t seen it as being all that important of a thing to do. Excuses like, “We’ve heard most of the important stories before.” “The Bible hasn’t been available to read for everyone for most of history, so why bother today?” “Life’s so stressful with work and the kids that the last thing I need to do is add another thing to my to do list.”

Whatever the excuse is the reality is that we’re not making it a high priority in our everyday lives. Until that happens any excuse will seem like a good one.

Follow a plan to read the whole Bible.

From what I can tell, there are two ways that are really popular for reading the Bible but aren’t really the best if you’re struggling in being consistent. One is to just open up the Bible randomly to a page and start reading. All of Scripture is inspired, so I’m bound to find something valuable no matter where I start, right? Well, that is true, but if you don’t have a plan in place to read through the whole Bible you’ll probably just skip over some less than fun sections (Leviticus/Numbers for example).

The other way that I hear of people doing is reading straight through from Genesis to Revelation. I’ve never done this and it’s likely that I never will. My wife, Brea, is doing this now and I really admire her for it, but there are a number of other ways to read the Bible that I have found to be easier to to follow than this plan.

The best source for reading plans I have found is from YouVersion. They have over twenty plans to choose from. Not only that, YouVersion can be accessed from your browser or you mobile device (they even have an iPhone app, too). On top of that, you can choose how short or how long you want it take to make it through the plan. Oh, and they also have an option to add accountability partner to help keep you on track! Those are some great options!

If you prefer to read your print bible you can check out some printable plans over at the Blue Letter Bible website.

Give yourself some grace.

Even if you follow my previous tips, you’re likely to miss a day or two (or more) over the course of your reading. If this happens to you realize that this just confirms your need for grace and forgiveness from Christ and learn to give yourself some grace. Satan loves to make people feel guilty, and if you feel guilty about not reading your Bible you’ll be less likely to read your Bible, which is what is making you feel guilty in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.

Those are just a few tips that I’ve got. Do you have any success stories or struggles to share in your Bible reading? Share in the comments!

[image via eye2eye]

In my Bible reading today, I read a verse that I believe proves that God indeed does have a sense of humor. Check out the pic of Exodus 34:1 below.

The part that makes me think God is ribbing Moses here are the words “which you broke.” God seems to be saying, “Ok, Moses. You had your little temper tantrum the other day, remember? I gave you two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on them. You know, the rules that will be the foundation on which all of future civilizations’ laws will be based and you decided to chunk them down on the ground because you were mad. Way to go big guy.” (Don’t quote me on the above quote of God, please. I’m pretty sure those words are not inspired by the Holy Spirit).

What do you think? Does God have a sense of humor or not? What other verses prove it one way or another?