The Power of Less

The USDA today released a shocking recommendation on how to lose weight: eat less. Stop the presses. Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? I wonder how many millions or billions of dollars of research went into that hidden jewel of knowledge that only our government could have discovered?

In somewhat related news, this week Brea and I are fasting from television. We started Sunday and won’t watch anything until the Super Bowl.
We’ve both been watching way too much TV recently, which has been distracting us from spending time reading, studying the Bible, and doing other non-TV type things. We want to spend less time on unimportant things to devote more time to what’s really important.

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Sometimes Scripture Messes With My Head

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.

Logos 4 Mac Official Release Coming October 1

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!

YouVersion & Logos Bible Apps (Favorite iPhone Apps)

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 is the product of one of the most innovative churches in the world, 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.


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.

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.

Four Ways to Be More Consistent in Your Bible Reading

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]

Proof That God Has a Sense of Humor

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?

It Was Not the Season for Figs – Mark 11:13

Fig TreeDo you ever read something and a short phrase jumps out at you and just gnaws away at your brain? That happens to me a lot. Today as I was doing my daily Bible reading it happened again. I was reading in Mark and  the statement “It was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13) captured my attention and wouldn’t let go, so I did some digging.

The context of the verse is that Jesus came to the fig tree looking for fruit but found none. It’s a symbolic judgment against the religious leaders of the day, in that they have the appearance of goodness but are lacking in what really matters. Mark points out that the fig tree had leaves but no fruit.

Typically this type of thing is easy for me to just take at face value, but the phrase “not the season for figs” really bothered me. Why would Jesus curse a tree if it was just doing what it was supposed to be doing, as in it wasn’t yet time for fruit to be there? Was Jesus being unreasonable?

Through a little bit of digging in some of my commentaries and resources I’ve come to this conclusion: When Jesus is present it’s time for action. The Jews of that day were not ready for Jesus and opposed his ministry. In the verses and chapter that follows this encounter with the fig tree, the religious leaders of the day are shown as being in conflict with Jesus. The fig tree is symbolic of them. They appear to righteous, but aren’t producing. They weren’t ready for the savior of the world to come. They wanted Jesus to act on their terms, but Jesus requires everyone to follow his plan.

All in all, Mark 11:13 probably isn’t the most controversial verse in the Bible, but for some reason I had to check it out deeper. This is why I love the Bible. Almost every time I read it God shows something new to me.

What’s a verse that’s bothered you lately?

Fig tree image courtesy of flickr user BigBlackBox

Finding God in Unexpected Places

What’s your theology of how God communicates to people? Do you believe that he only speaks to a select few? Do you believe that he has ceased speaking since we have the total sum of his thoughts in the Holy Bible? Do you believe he only communicates to people who love him?

I hadn’t really thought a whole lot about this. I’ve read a few books about finding truth in pop culture and movies, but didn’t really think about whether or not God actually speaks to people who don’t claim him as their God. I’ve been of the mindset that all truth, if it is indeed true, is God’s truth. If it’s true it will somehow point back to God.

Today, as I was doing my Bible reading, God made it clear to me that he speaks to people who don’t claim him as their God. Check out Genesis 31:24-30:

God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” … Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? … It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?”

I find that there are three things in this passage interesting. First, God spoke to Laban, who was not one of his chosen people. He was a heathen who worshipped foreign gods. Second, he obeyed God. Even though Laban didn’t recognize God’s authority, he refers to him as “Your God”, he obeyed his instructions and didn’t harm Jacob. And third, he didn’t change his lifestyle after this encounter with God. Notice at the end he talks about the idols as “my gods”. Just because God speaks to someone and they listen to his instructions doesn’t mean that they are going to change their life and follow him.

So, what does this mean for us today? We probably need to realize that those of us who are Christians don’t hold a monopoly over God’s communication with the world. God is the King over ALL creation and may choose to speak directly to people without asking us about it first. Especially considering how our culture has become very interested in spiritual matters, this is no doubt true today. Another thing to keep in mind is that people may have had an encounter with God, but that by no means guarantees that they will give their lives to him. Also, remember to evaluate EVERYTHING by the authority of Scripture. When God speaks he does not contradict himself.