Friday, October 15, 2021

The Radiant Virtues Bible - Interacting with the Word through art and journaling

The Bible is a book not just to read but to interact with. Some might seek out cross references. Others may look for archaeological insights. Some might research cultural implications. Some may even explore the original languages. Some may want to artistically interact with the Word, and if that’s you then
The Radiant Virtues Bible may be just for you. Saying that, I must say this is not a coloring book, but an invitation to spiritual interaction and introspection through art and journaling.

The Radiant Virtues Bible, which contains the full text of the popular NIV translation, guides the reader through a 52-week journey of the Bible with well-written and thought-provoking devotionals all 52 of which come with a coloring page related to that week’s reading. The devotionals are centered on the three virtues of 1 Corinthians 13 – Faith, Hope, and Love. These virtues are also emphasized throughout the text with passages highlighted the color that corresponds to each virtue.  In addition, there are beautiful Scripture graphics scattered throughout along with margins on each page for your notes and reflections. Included in the back of the Bible are detachable, artistic cards. Additional reading plans are provided as well as a Table of Weights and Measures (this Bible has no maps, concordance, or study notes other than the basic NIV textual notes).

If you, or someone you know, has an artistic inclination, then this Bible could provide an outlet for regular Bible reading that is not available in any other Bible that I have seen. I love that it includes the entire Biblical text allowing the reader to explore the context and overarching message of the most popular and oft-quoted verses in Scripture which can often be misinterpreted devoid of the Biblical context. A real value I see in this Bible is the opportunity it provides for the reader to return months or even years later to relive their journey and even to add to it with new insights into the Word.

Download a sample here.

I have received The Radiant Virtues Bible for free as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid, #BibleGatewayPartner, with the agreement that I would submit this review. The Radiant Virtues Bible can be purchased through various online stores including the FaithGateway Store.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

See. Feel. Act.

Jesus was a master teacher, and one of his most often employed teaching techniques was telling stories. These short stories utilize people, objects, and situations that we are all familiar with – things like farming, working, weddings, buildings – and then uses them to make a spiritual application. These stories are often called parables and some of them are so powerful that they are familiar even to people who have never read the Bible. Everyone has heard of the lost sheep, the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the pearl of great price.  All of these familiar phrases have their origin in one of these stories of Jesus. They are really quite remarkable and if you haven’t read them you need to!  

I recently taught on one of these parables, the Good Samaritan. It’s a story of man traveling a treacherous road and is robbed, stripped of his clothing, and left for dead on the side of the road. Three people pass by, but only one stops to offer aid. The first two are known to be religious people, a priest and a Levite, who certainly know what they should do but, for reasons Jesus never reveals, they pass by on the other side. The third man is a Samaritan, a race of people not regarded as especially pious and, for the most part, despised by those who were (or thought they were). This is the man who stops and cares for the victim. He is the one who is good. To the original Jewish audience, the fact that the hero of the story is a Samaritan would have been utterly shocking, for Samaritans and Jews were notorious enemies. The point of the story is that the command to love our neighbor extends to everyone in need, not just to people we like or agree with.

The parable is quite simple. It destroys any boundaries we create that deem some people worthy of our love and others unworthy. We all know that we should love everyone. So why don’t we?

As I contemplated this story I noticed that there was a critical disconnect in the priest and the Levite that wasn’t present in the Samaritan. As Jesus tells the story he notes that all three saw the same thing – a man on the side of the road obviously in need, but only the Samaritan felt compassion.  And there was the critical difference. The priest and the Levite saw but didn’t feel. The Samaritan saw and felt.

Seeing people in need is not that difficult. Everyday we find ourselves walking alongside people who are hurting – at work, at school, at the store, at church. There are literally dozens of people that we encounter weekly who need something that we can help with. So why don’t we help more often, if at all?

Perhaps there is the same disconnect in our lives as well – we see but don’t feel. Either we have become so callous to pain that we no longer are moved to compassion or maybe we turn our heads so quickly and pick up our pace that we easily dismiss the hurting people around us. In any case, I think we need to work on our ability and willingness to be compassionate. For only when the Samaritan sees and feels does he act.

And isn’t that what real love is? Seeing, feeling, and acting. May God help us stop and offer help to those wounded and hurting on the treacherous road of life. Chances are, you’ll come by one today.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Stethoscope Theology

I recently attended a “White Coat Ceremony” for first year medical students. During the ceremony the incoming first year students receive a white coat symbolic of the beginning of their journey into the medical profession. Before the white coats were distributed the Dean of the college introduced the ceremony with a talk listing the merits of that particular medical school and, more importantly, the merits of the call to the medical field.

In that talk he referenced another ceremony earlier in the month where the students receive their first stethoscopes. He said the stethoscope was one of the doctor’s most valued tools as it allowed them to hear what was happening inside the body. In hearing what was going on inside the body the doctor would be better prepared to diagnose and treat the patient. He urged that that same attentive hearing would be employed in all interactions with patients. He urged them to be good listeners and in doing so truly hear their patients. A good doctor hears what others don’t.

I couldn’t help but think that this advice was not only relevant to doctors but to all of us who truly want to serve others. If we truly want to love others we must be good listeners. Only then will we be able to understand and respond appropriately.

James, the brother of Jesus, in his New Testament letter writes, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19, NIV) James seems to think that being a good Christian involves being a good listener. In fact, listening is as important, if not more important, than speaking. That’s not always how we approach relationships.

How often do we start a conversation determined to give someone a piece of our mind? How often do we go on and on expressing our opinion and our point of view while never allowing someone else to express theirs? How often do we enter a conversation already having drawn a conclusion about what someone thinks without giving them a chance to voice their thoughts? How often are we just the opposite of what James is teaching? How often are we quick to speak and slow to listen?

Perhaps many arguments could be avoided if only we took out our stethoscopes and carefully listened to others rather than pulling out our bullhorn to let them know what we think. Perhaps we would be able to better respond to others if we take the time to carefully listen to them. Maybe we don’t know people because we don’t listen. Maybe we misdiagnose because we fail to hear what is really going on inside a person, deep inside them.

So, if you want to really help people, be a good listener. Do the work to hear what may not be obvious. Only when you hear a person’s heartbeat can you really love.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Eyes Wide Open

It’s happened to me more times than I care to admit. My wife will ask me to get something out of the pantry or refrigerator and, after a quick check, I’ll report that the item she wants is not there.
  Then she looks and there it is, right where she said it would be. Right there staring me in the face. I shake my head and wonder how I could have missed it. Maybe I give up too easily.

Have you ever driven a route you’ve driven a million times and one day you spot something that you’ve never seen before? You ask a friend if that’s new and they tell you it’s been there forever. You wonder how have you not noticed it before?

There are things all around us that for some reason or another we simply do not notice. For the most part these things may be insignificant, but what if we are missing out on some really beautiful things in life because we just don’t notice?

There’s a wonderful story in the Bible that may help us.* The prophet Elisha is advising the King of Israel during a military skirmish and things look bleak. The enemy’s army far outnumbers the Jewish troops leaving the people in despair when Elisha offers a simple prayer – “Lord, open our eyes that we may see.” At that moment a spiritual army is revealed. Elisha’s servant sees things that previously he was blinded to, and his attitude transforms from hopelessness to hopefulness. It’s amazing how open eyes can do that.

Seems like it’s easy to see the negative all around us. Seems like it’s easy to see the irritating qualities of other people. Seems like it’s easy to see all our own faults. No wonder we fall into despair. Maybe we need to say Elisha’s prayer. 

Lord, open my eyes to see the beauty of those I live life with – my family, my friends, my co-workers.

Lord, open my eyes to the simple beauty of life – the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze, the colors of the summer, the glory of the star-studded sky.

Lord, open my eyes to the beauty of myself – my sight, my taste, my hearing, my senses, my beating heart, my expanding and contracting lungs, my laughter, your image reflected in my love and compassion. Help me see in the mirror the marvelous creation you have crafted in me.

Lord, open my eyes to see you - your endless, immeasurable, immense love.

Lord, open my eyes to hope - to the reality and certainty of your plan for mankind.

There are beautiful things all around us that we just don’t see. Our lives are cluttered with pain, hurt, and doubt that blind us to beauty, but don’t give up too easily. I know it’s there, closer than you think. Maybe staring you right in the face.

Look a little closer and say the prayer, “Lord, open my eyes that I may see.”

*Read the story for yourself in 2 Kings 6:8-23





Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Spellcheck Fail

I’m a terrible typist. I’m old enough to have taken typing class in high school when that kind of thing was taught, but I never thought that I would need to be proficient on a keyboard; so I bowed out. Typing was not in my future. But here I am on a keyboard just about every workday hunting and pecking my way to letters, articles, and sermons. After even the shortest of documents I’m left staring at a screen filled with red-squiggled underlined words. And then I click on spellcheck – the savior of the keyboarding- deficient like me. Magically it corrects all my misspellings. That is for all but one word.

I nearly always mistype the word “the”.  I transpose the “h” and the “e” and almost without exception type “teh.” The problem is that somewhere down the line I told my computer that the correct spelling of “the” was indeed “teh”. I must have clicked the wrong option in my spellcheck menu and now the computer thinks “teh” is a legitimate word – even though it isn’t. So, there’s no red-squiggled line underneath “teh”. Spellcheck doesn’t find the error. I have had to go back and search my document for this misspelling and, even worse, have sent out many a document with the incorrect spelling. I told my computer “teh” was the correct spelling and the computer only does what I tell it to.

Yet, saying “teh” is correct doesn’t make it so. No matter how many times I say that “teh” is a real word that doesn’t make it a real word. It’s incorrect in spite of what I say or what my computer thinks. Some things are like that. Some things are right or wrong despite what we say or what we think.

Could what is true for words be true for other things, like morals and ethics? Could it be that we overlook incorrect behavior because we’ve been told it’s not incorrect? Are some things wrong even though someone, or for that matter everyone, says it’s right? Bringing it closer to home, are there things in my life, your life, that we regard as correct that are really wrong? Have we been misinformed? Have we convinced ourselves falsely? Has our spellcheck been messed with?

Bottom line – are things right or wrong because we say so or are things right or wrong because they are right or wrong? The answer to that makes a big difference.

There’s a book in the Old Testament portion of the Bible known as Judges. It tells stories of the tumultuous relationship between the Israelites and God. Often times God’s people find themselves in trouble and then God sends political or military heroes, aka judges, to rescue them. But most importantly, these judges would bring the people back in line with God’s expectations.  When the people do what is right, things go well. When they do what is wrong, things go poorly. One of their biggest problems was judging what was right and what was wrong.

The book ends with this somber assessment of that period of Jewish history which gets to the root of the problem: “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” They failed to realize that right is right and wrong is wrong and their thoughts or opinions don’t change that truth. They messed up their spellcheck and their souls no longer recognized evil from good.

That’s a dangerous place to be. But it happens.

It was always embarrassing when I sent out an email or a document with “teh” instead of “the”.  Confusing good and evil is much worse than being embarrassed.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Solar Powered

The other day I was sitting on my back porch. On my porch is a bird bath with a small solar-powered fountain. The fountain only works when the sun is directly on it and, since that day was a clear day, the fountain was operating at full steam.  As I was sitting enjoying the day a brief passing cloud blocked the direct sunlight and the fountain came to a halt. No light, no power.

The apostle John records in his gospel several “I am” statements of Jesus – I am the bread of life; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth, and the life; and so on.  One of those “I am” statements is, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John would later write three letters to Christians that are included in our New Testament. He borrows that “light” imagery of Jesus and encourages believers to “walk in the light."

There are several nuances to this “light” imagery. Light gives direction as it illuminates our path. Light represents righteous living as opposed to the unrighteousness of darkness.  Light relieves fear when darkness creates it.  Perhaps another nuance is that light gives energy; light empowers us.

It’s not uncommon for me at times to feel spiritually lethargic. Sometimes I’m just not as loving as I should be. Sometimes I’m more susceptible to temptation. Sometimes I just don’t feel the joy of salvation like I should feel. Sometimes I’m not as patient, not as kind, not as selfless. And the list goes on. Sometimes the fountain is just not operating at full steam. Maybe sometimes you feel the same way.

Could it be that our experience is like my solar-powered fountain? Clouds of doubt. Clouds of despair. Clouds of fear. Clouds of sin. Clouds of isolation. These clouds obscure the “light of the world” and all of a sudden we are sputtering instead of bubbling.  No light, no power.

That may be why John is so concerned that we walk in the light. He knows that we will only live into the life God has created us for when we are bathed in light. The light of God’s love. The light of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The light of God’s word. The light of Christian community. The light of Jesus himself. All these sources of light empower us and energize us to bubble over with things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Because where there is light there is power.

We’re just like my fountain. We too are solar-powered.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Esau Syndrome

There have been some really bad deals made throughout history. In 1976 Ronald Wayne sold his shares of an upstart computer company for $800. That upstart was Apple Computer. In 1803 the French sold the Louisiana territory to the United States for 4 cents an acre. In 1867 Russia sold Alaska to the United States for 2 cents an acre. In 1919 the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. All bad deals.

A biblical bad deal that rivals these is in Genesis 25. Esau sold his birthright, a priceless blessing and inheritance from his father, to his twin brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. Esau had been out hunting and came back famished when he came across his brother’s freshly prepared bowl of stew and made a deal that would haunt him and his ancestors for years to come.  

As foolish and impetuous as these bad deals may sound, it’s not beyond us to make a bad deal every now and then. We’re offended by an off-handed comment and let off some steam in uncontrollable anger and end up damaging or destroying a friendship. Bad deal. We feel neglected by our spouse, so we flirt with a co-worker and it feels so good to be affirmed. In the process we put our marriage vow in jeopardy. Bad deal. We feel underpaid at work so we help ourselves to a little of the profits. Bad deal. We feel overwhelmed at work or at home and turn to alcohol, drugs, or uncontrolled spending because we deserve it. We end up addicted or financially ruined. Bad deal. We seem like we can never get ahead so we stop by the casino and blow our check that was meant to pay rent and buy groceries.  Bad deals, all of them.

Why do we do this? When we are under some form of pressure we tend to fail to consider the long-term consequences of our actions as we seek instant relief. Granted, we get some temporary respite but in the long run we end up in a much darker and desperate place than where we started.

The Bible knows all too well that we are all vulnerable to trading for immediate pleasure while sacrificing something of enduring value. Esau is the poster child for this kind of hasty decision making. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews uses him as an example of what not to do - Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. (Hebrews 12:16–17, The Message).

It’s not too hard to fall into the Esau Syndrome.

So be careful, especially when you’re under pressure. Be thoughtful before you make significant decisions. Hold your tongue and think through your words before you let them fly. Remember that life is a marathon and not a sprint. Practice denying self and resist the appeal of immediate gratification.

Don’t fall into the Esau syndrome!