Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: KJV TakeNote Bible

The KJV TakeNote Bible (also available in a chocolate brown NKJV), a new wide-margin journaling Bible from Thomas Nelson, takes the grand old King James version and places it into a widely accessible journaling format for note taker's and Bible lover's. Though Crossway's 2006 journaling Bible wasn't the first on the scene (see Tyndale's out of print Notemaker's Bible) it made a splash in the Bible publishing world that took wide-margins further into the mainstream and introduced a format that appealed to avid note maker's but didn't intimidate the occasional scribbler. Thomas Nelson applied the philosophy behind the user friendly wide margin format and added a few improvements to make their TakeNote editions, which maximize current trends and advancements in Bible publishing.  

The most immediately noticeable feature of the Bible is its incredibly soft and flexible imitation leather cover. This is by far the best imitation leather cover I've handled. It's both softer and more flexible than Crossway's TruTone and features a handsome pebble grain finish. I was surprised by the suppleness, which easily performs the yoga position and allows the Bible to bend easily. It's actually more supple than  some of the goatskin Bibles I've handled, and while this may not be a must for every reader it's a great benefit when you have an edition that's 7.5 inches wide and certainly challenges most of the journaling Bibles out there, which tend to be hardbacks.

The cover features a magnetic flap which serves as a protective enclosure for the page edges (which are not gilt) and seems both efficient and durable. Another added feature is an elastic pen holder. The pen holder will probably divide consumers, who will either find it a handy and much needed place for their special Bible pen or a tacky nuisance, ruining any chance the Bible has at class. I tend to be of the first persuasion, primarily because I'm always out of sorts when I misplace my special Pigma Micron Bible pen which is color coded to each individual Bible, but also secondarily because this edition is not meant to be a high class competitor with goatskin editions. It's an edition that majors on functionality, and that should be the first concern for any Bible lover.

The edition handles the contortions well; only time will tell if the glued binding holds up to the strain of being folded over in such a manner. The layout manages to stay clean and uncluttered without a cramped or minimalist look, but this results in a Bible over 15 inches wide when laid open which may make the flexibility necessary for those who choose to curl the cover behind the back.

Any wide-margin Bible layout includes a number of compromises and the balance is rarely perfect for everyone. In this case, Nelson has achieved great success in producing a readable layout with suitably wide margins for thorough, though perhaps not extensive, note taking. The font size is one feature that most find lacking in these editions and the TakeNote edition runs parallel with its relative editions with about a 7.5 font. What the TakeNote version adds is a comprehensive center column reference system that features alternate and literal translations for certain words, as well as textual and language notes. This center column reference makes this the only reference journaling Bible I know of and explains the square shaped and size of the Bible (8.125in x 7.5in). The note-taking margin is a little over 2 inches, but the lines only extend about 1.5 inches. My preference is margins without lines, which frees me to create arrows, pointers diagrams etc. However, writing evenly is a concern for some. As a whole the layout is a success, there are no jarringly neglected features and it contains the content in an orderly fashion without clutter. Many would argue that a single column setting with side references would be ideal, but the traditional column setting is still a must for many, and it's achieved here as gracefully as possible.

One characteristic I'm not a fan of is the thinness of the spine. I appreciate a thick volume and have never been pleased with thinline or ultraslim editions. The quality of the paper and optimizing the layout should far outweigh any concern for a thin spine. A thicker spine fills up the palm and is only suitable for a book as large as the Bible. This edition probably has the same thickness of an ultraslim edition and this unfortunately means  thinner paper with less opacity which is greatly detrimental to any Bible you're using for note taking. Compromises between construction and layout must be made, but I would love to see publishers opt for a thicker spine, allowing heavier paper, larger print and larger margins.

This Bible features red letter text, which is an appropriately dark shade of crimson. In addition to the cross references, the edition offers a fair sized concordance which includes proper names (a rare treat these days) and a good set of Bible maps.At the back there is also a cardboard pocket designed for holding, notes etc. and would probably end up holding bulletins and offering money for most people. Modeled after Moleskine design this feature is an apt edition, considering most people tend to tuck bulletins, church announcements, missionary cards, prayer lists etc. into their Bible in various places.

The KJV TakeNote Bible is a welcome addition to user friendly, feature-packed wide margin Bibles designed for the mainstream. Thomas Nelson has included a number of improvements in  the design and has surrounded a well handled layout with useful study tools, practical features and a beautiful, high quality imitation leather. Only time and use will test the durability and endurance of the construction, but the design evidences careful and creative thought. While I might prefer a thicker spine, heavier paper, larger print and a smyth sewn binding rather than glued, this is a welcome edition with many strengths, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to KJV lovers and note taker's alike.

 My thanks to Thomas Nelson who provided a free review copy. I was not required to give a positive review only an honest review.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Biblical Meditation: The Intellect and the Mystical

Meditation has a number of definitions and connotations. Among them, two dominant atmospheres surrounding the word meditation seem to be an emphasis on an overly intellectual pondering of thoughts and ideas or a spooky and somewhat mystical introversion. Neither of these seem Biblical, but both of these connotations may exist in lesser degrees within the Biblical definition of meditation. Psalm 1:2 in the amplified can sound quite academic,  "But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he habitually meditates (ponders and studies) by day and by night." On the other side Psalm 77:6  "I call to remembrance my song in the night; with my heart I meditate and my spirit searches diligently:" sounds distinctly emotional and mystic when you consider the psalmist's searching spirit. In the midst of these two atmospheres there is something of a controversy, the bookworms and academics own the more intellectual meditation because it comes easily and is comfortable for them, while the more emotional and spiritual aspect of meditation may seem intimidating. Conversely, the more spiritualizing and emotion centered may find the intellectual aspect of meditation boring or out of their reach. A balanced approach would be to keep a firm focus on the Word of God, without over analyzing, and the presence of God, without over internalizing. The truth, however, is that meditation is a practice that involves the heart as well as the head and the soul as well as the spirit. God's Word penetrates the whole of man and we should respond to that Word with the whole of our being. 

One of the most controversial figures in Church History is Jeanne Guyon or Madame Guyon, an ancient Christian mystic whose life was filled with persecution because of her beliefs and her methods of "practicing the presence of God," which have been labeled "quietism." She is as controversial today as she was in her own lifetime, and while I do not wish to take part in that controversy I find her writings of great worth. A number of classic Christian leaders similarly found her works inspiring and worth citing again and again: A.W. Tozer, Watchman Nee and Leonard Ravenhill to name a few. While Guyon's works remain somewhat fringe, her writings on meditation are unequaled in their description of the internal pursuit of God in His residence of the believer's own heart. Her intense and contagious love of Jesus Christ is evident throughout her writings as is her love of the Bible. One of her legacies is a number of commentaries on the scriptures. That said, I will not vouch for every word she has written or for her specific methods of seeking intimacy with God, and I will concede that her writings could lead astray the immature believer. That said, I find her writing extremely valuable. Last November The Voice of the Martyrs received numerous criticisms for featuring her in their monthly newsletter as an example of persecuted faith in church history. They responded responsibly and thoroughly and I highly recommend their article here. Their response is a succinct apologetic for Guyon's writings, and I wholeheartedly agree with their statements. However, unlike VOM, I am willing to bring her specific teaching on meditation to the fore as I find it beneficial to my own education on Biblical meditation and its practice. 

There are two ways of introducing some important practical or speculative truth, always preferring the practical, and proceeding thus: whatever truth you have chosen, read only a small portion of it, endeavoring to taste and digest it, to extract the essence and substance of it, and proceed no farther while any savor or relish remains in the passage. Then take up your book again, and proceed as before, seldom reading more than half a page at a time.
It is not the quantity that is read but the manner of reading that yields us profit. Those who read fast, reap no more advantage than a bee would by only skimming over the surface of the flower, instead of waiting to penetrate into it and extract its sweets. Much reading is rather for scholastic subjects than divine truths; to receive profit from spiritual books, we must read as I have described. And I am certain that if that method were pursued we should become gradually habituated to pray by our reading, and more fully disposed for its exercise.
When by an act of lively faith, you are placed in the presence of God, read some truth wherein there is substance; pause gently thereon, not to employ reason, but merely to fix the mind observing that the principal exercise should ever be the presence of God, and that the subject, therefore, should rather serve to stay the mind than exercise it in reasoning.
Then let a lively faith in God, immediately present in our inmost souls, produce an eager sinking into ourselves, restraining all our senses from wandering abroad. this serves to extricate us in the first instance from numerous distraints, to remove us far from external objects, and to bring us nigh to God, who is only to be found in our inmost center, which is the Holy of Holies wherein He dwells. He has even promised to come and make His abode with him that does His will (John 14:23). St. Augustine blames himself for the time he lost in not having sought God from the first in this manner. 
When we are thus fully entered into ourselves, and warmly penetrated throughout with a lively sense of the Divine presence, when the senses are all recollected and withdrawn from the circumference to the center and the soul is sweetly and silently employed on the truths we have read, not in reasoning, but in feeding thereon and animating the will by affection rather than fatiguing the understanding by study; when, I say, the affections are in this state, (Which however difficult it may appear at first, is , as I shall hereafter show, easily attainable,) we must allow them sweetly to repose, and, as it were, swallow what they have tasted.
 -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ 

Guyon's approach is clearly intensely introspective, but not because of a need to gaze within the carnal nature, but within the believer's heart where Christ sits on the throne. The application of truth here is not an intellectually rigorous one, but does require a firm mental patience and concentration. It focuses on applying truth in such a way that brings revelation of Christ and His truth by encountering the presence of God. This is a vital part of Biblical meditation because the Word changes us beneath the surface. The mere act of reading does not change us. We are changed by what we see, by what is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit's ministry to our inward man. Focusing on encountering God in the text through meditation brings revelation, and when we experience God we are changed into His image. 

 Experiencing The Depths Of Jesus Christ Nelson's Royal Classics

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scripture by Heart

When was the last time you memorized passages from Scripture? It might have been when you were in eighth grade, preparing for confirmation. Or maybe earlier still, in Sunday school, when you learned the 23rd Psalm. Can't remember when it was? Never mind. It will probably come to you.
Within living memory, as the saying goes, evangelicals unselfconsciously learned Scripture by heart. The value of this practice was taken for granted. Certainly there was a wide range, from back-row pew-sitters who could call on a few salient passages, to silver-tongued preachers who could cite Leviticus and Luke with equal authority. But if, for instance, as a child in the 1950s, you regularly attended Wednesday evening prayer meetings, where the voices of laypeople predominated, you heard Scripture quoted (and misquoted) from memory. And if you listened in, during the Sunday meal after church, when grown-ups who took their faith seriously were discussing—maybe arguing about—theological nuances, perhaps inspired by the morning sermon, you heard Scripture quoted from memory.
This quote is lifted from an article on Bible memorization by John Wilson. Wilson's passion was ignited by reading the book Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God's Word by Joshua Choonmin Kang.

Read the Christianity Today article here. Thanks to Greg Gordon, moderator of for bringing this article to attention on the SI forums.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bible Storytelling: The Prophet's Story

"A modern myth is that we outgrow stories. When someone asks us to explain who we are, we tell a story. Furthermore, we interpret our personal stories as part of a larger plot. Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? What’s the point? Is there a God and if so can we know him? Why is there evil in the world?
...The Christian answers these big questions by rehearsing the story of the triune God in creation, the fall of the creatures he made in his own image, the promise of a redeemer through Israel, and the fulfillment of all types and shadows in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ.
The Apostles’ and Nicene creeds are not just a list of key doctrines; they are a confession in the form of a story, our shared testimony to the most significant facts of reality." 

Koinonia  posted this quote earlier this month, and while I do not desire in any way to poach their post, I thought it was an invaluable insight and introduction into storying or presenting the gospel or Biblical truth through a story. In light of the quote above I have included a video storytelling presentation of the gospel (much in the style of the previous Dan Stever's videos) created for Muslim ministry. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bible Reading Plan Generator

Bible Reading Plan Generator logo

I'm sure this post comes a little late considering that the new year has already started and many are already committed to reading plans, but this resource is just too good to pass up. This nifty piece of software will actually create a custom Bible Reading Plan in just about any way that you want. That's right, you can finally make that one week rush through the prophets you've always dreamed about, or that three month meditation on the works of John, or maybe even a one month blitz through the Old Testament. This software has a large list of abbreviations which it uses to break down the Biblical books by genre or several other categories such as the Pentateuch or Post and Pre-Historical etc. You simply plug in what group of books you desire and the amount of time you want to spend on the plan. Below is the generation of a 30 day plan for the Prophets. 

The book abbreviations and predefined book lists are available in a concise help window and it allowes you to mix and match any number of groups and books as you like. Maybe you want to compare the Pentateuch with Hebrews every month: now you can in an orderly fashion.

The generator outputs the readings in small, one day intervals formatted in a basic text window which you can copy and paste into Microsoft Word and print for your convenience. This may be somewhat nerdy, but I have had a lot of fun mixing and matching plans. You can download the Bible Reading Plan Generator absolutely free here.

The generator does have some limits. It doesn't have the versatility to create a plan as complex as Dr. Horner's. It orders the readings by book according to how they are listed in the input window. If you want to alternate books from day to day or books within a day's reading, you will have to alter the results manually. Overall this is a fun and practical resource that will certainly come in handy for the Bible lover and can be integrated into a number of projects. Thanks to Levi from the Bible Design Blog Facebook page for the recommendation.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review: Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible

Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible is a well-articulated assertion of the doctrine of sola scriptura or scripture alone, one of the pillars of the Reformation. The book contains a compilation of scholarly but accessible essays by a number of well-respected scholars and spiritual leaders from the reformed church and tradition. Their firm stance on the sufficiency of scripture exalts the Word of God distinctly against church tradition. While the book does introduce the doctrine of sola scriptura fairly and clearly, the largest portion of the book is dedicated to apologetics defending the doctrine of sola scriptura against Roman Catholic apologetics and attacking the Roman Catholic Church's exaltation of tradition above scripture. This emphasis provides illumination on the debate between Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars and on the foundational importance of believing in the sufficiency, in-errancy and authority of Scripture. The book functions primarily as an apologetic assertion and defense of sola scriptura and secondarily as a call to the Protestant church to return to the Word of God.

Sola Scriptura intends to be a clarion call to the church as well as an eloquent and sound defense of the doctrine that "Scripture alone is our authority" (p.1) and jointly that "all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible with enough clarity that the ordinary believer can find them there and understand" (p. 2). This intention is both needed and noble; however, the majority of the book is dedicated to combating Roman Catholic doctrines and defenses of tradition to which most Protestants are either indifferent or ignorant. While the writing is clear, succinct and interesting, most readers will enter into a debate which they are not directly invested in, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. That said, the arguments set down guide the reader through the early church, the formation of the canon and the reformation, revealing the truth of the sufficiency of scripture in a way that is relevant (though perhaps incidentally) to the Christian who is not directly involved in the debate. A lesser portion of the book is dedicated to a defense of sola scriptura against liberalism and subjective revelation, and a still lesser portion instructs in the application of sola scriptura. This makes the book a welcome introduction to a classical doctrine and the debate surrounding it; however, a specific investigation of how Protestants set aside sola scriptura would have been more penetrating and perhaps more relevant to the casual reader.

My own reaction to the book was somewhat mixed. I found the apologetics between the two sides interesting , but my intention in reading the book was for more of a direct exaltation of scripture and its application, not an introduction to what has become a centuries old debate between the Protestant and Catholic Church. Furthermore, at least two of the authors directly state that any subjective revelation or personal hearing of God's voice or leading is a denial of the sufficiency of scripture. I absolutely disagree with this position, and I found the arguments dedicated to this subject somewhat illogical and inconsistent with the book's own definition of what sola scriptura is and is not. Dr. Sproul goes so far as to say that anyone who believes they have heard or felt the leading of God is attempting to add to the canon (the logical extrapolation is that they are consequently putting themselves under a curse) (p. 55-56). For the sake of this review I will note my objections and table them. I received this book as a review copy from Reformation Trust, and I knew the authors of the book were both highly Reformed in their theology and strong cessationists. I greatly value many of the doctrines of the Reformed church, but I am not a cessationist, and I believe that the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the character of our relationship with God and our perception of His voice is not and should not be different than what is described in the book of Acts. My only possible objections to the doctrine of sola scriptura would be an acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit's office of applying the Word to the believer's life generally, specifically and personally.

The book's final essay "The Transforming Power of Scripture" by Joel R. Beeke and Ray B. Lanning is the longest essay in the collection and without a doubt is the best. Its pure exaltation of the scripture and dynamic description of applying the Word's transforming power is a must read. The entire book is worth this one chapter. It just may be the finest succinct description of how to apply the word to both the individual and the congregation that I have ever read. While the previous chapters of the book are an important introduction, description and defense of sola scriptura, this final essay is the vital application. It functions the way I wish the entire book would have: as a spiritual spark to set the believer's heart aflame. I will cherish this essay and return to it for years to come; it alone is a more convincing defense of sola scriptura than all the rest of the scholarship, logic and debate combined. Not because the apologetics are not useful or brilliantly argued, but because they are meat for the mind rather than a flame for the heart and the spirit.

In conclusion, this book is a valuable introduction for any student of the Word, especially to those engaged  in Reformed theology or Roman Catholic debate. At its worst, the book focuses on combating a Roman Catholic audience. At its best the book challenges and engages the reader to cast their heart, soul, mind and strength into the Word of God, and this is transforming.

My thanks to Reformation Trust for providing this free electronic review copy. I was not required to give a positive review, but an honest review that was "serious, substantive and fair." In exchange for this review, I will receive a hard copy of the book.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Poll: Did You Start a New Bible Reading Plan This Year?

A new poll is up and running! Look to your left underneath the archive and vote! Did you start a new Bible reading plan this year? Are you using your old plan? Do you use reading plans at all? Did you decide to go off the chain and off the plan this year? Give me your votes. Comment and give me your thoughts and opinions on reading plans, starting the new year etc. I would love to hear what plan you're using post links in your comments below.

As for me, Yes I did start a new Bible Reading Plan this year. I'm reading this plan in my ESV Wide Margin. I'm reading Dr. Grant Horner's plan in the NLT, in addition to my Jeremiah studies etc. Pray that God would give me supernatural discipline.

New Logo (again)

I know I created a new logo for the blog just a few months ago, but I was never quite satisfied and feedback was mixed. I grew unsatisfied and felt it didn't look as clean and professional as it should. All in all, it was a little complex, vague and busy, though I liked the concept and wished it would have worked better. 

The new logo is simpler, cleaner and hopefully more clear. The attempt was to present the relation between the Bible and the Holy Spirit and the fire they set in our hearts. 

Love it? Hate it? Let me know what you think. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Small Concordance Study: Hope In Hebrews

For those of us who do not have a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, word studies and concordance studies may be the mainstay method for Bible study. If I want to understand the way the concept of "Passion" is used through the Bible, I don't have the knowledge or resources (yet!) to do a comparison of the Greek and Hebrew words and how they change in context or are altered by prefixes, suffixes etc. unless I go to Strong's, Vine's and a number of other reference books which I must confess are not in my library (yet!). One of the most basic ways to begin grasping a concept, word or image through scripture is to trace its English use and identify how it's used in different contexts. Comparing and contrasting the use of an individual word through the Old and New Testament using only a concordance and the Bible may seem limited in this age of information, but it is still my most commonly used form of study, and it has many strengths.

Though I hope to do more in-depth studies later that take advantage of Greek and Hebrew resources. I'm still learning, and I'm sure that many of my readers have a better knowledge of these things than I do. My hope is that God's grace will reveal to us what our human resources fail to discover, and that He will honor our desire for truth as we pursue Him and study the Word to the best of our ability.   

A concordance or word search using an online concordance such as Biblegateway has the benefit of not straying from the text itself in order to find understanding or answers. While I rejoice in the knowledge and teaching that is available from so many anointed teachers and scholars, it can be a temptation to read far more books about the Bible than the Bible itself, and to sacrifice a direct interaction with God's word for a quicker interaction with someone else's text. Many times Jesus himself wants to be our teacher Matthew 11:29 and wants to make our education a moment of special intimacy between His heart and ours. Though I have no intention of forsaking the teaching of Godly men and women, I do want to make sure I keep a firm balance in my reading that allows the Holy Spirit control over how I learn. A concordance study keeps me in full contact with the Bible text without any major outside sources, allowing me the opportunity to read every single verse the Bible contains with a certain word or phrase.

Concordance studies can be daunting as well though. The word "Hope" is found 165 times in the ESV Bible (this is actually less than I expected). Many times I enjoy reading every single verse in context; however, its often better to break the study up into different categories in order to allow the maximum attention to the word. 

While reading through Hebrews in our ministry's Bible meditation session ("Fresh Encounters" which should get a post at some point), I was struck by the use of the word "Hope" in Hebrews 6:19. Instead of a look at all 165 verses in the ESV, I decided to focus a concordance study on the specific use of the word "Hope" in the book of Hebrews. This came down to seven verses which I could lay out and study and pray through in a more thorough way. In addition, focusing on a single book allows the word study to draw out how a concept works within the context of a single letter, by a certain author. This can draw out different understandings. The use of the word "Sacrifice" in Romans will probably be different than the use of the word "Sacrifice" in Hebrews because the focus, audience and source are different. This highlights the multiple facets of concepts in scripture and isolates unique ways these words and concepts are used.

By pasting the seven Biblegateway results into a Microsoft Word document, I can print out the verses and proceed with highlighting and notes on a separate sheet of paper, using my own Bible for context and references. The proximity of the verses allows me to compare the writer's use in specific verses and sentences easily without needing to look up the references and flip back and forth to reread the verses.

I highlighted sections that were of specific interest and took notes on the verses much the way I do in my wide margin Bible, attempting to trace the logic of the statements and arguments.

Hebrews 3:6
but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

Christ is over us as God's house if we own that identity through active hope. We are God's house IF we believe. 

Hebrews 6:19
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,

Hope leads to spiritual intimacy. It is hope that penetrates the external barriers and brings us into the secret place with God. That hope is Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 7:19
(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

We draw near to God, into the secret place, into intimacy through hope, because of hope, in hope. This hope is founded in grace not law.

Hebrews 11:1
 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith completes hope. Faith seals intimacy and substantiates what hope has initiated.

These notes trace the connection between hope and intimacy with God. Hope, prayerful expectation and anticipation bring us close to God. They enable us to draw near. If Christ is functioning as our hope, we can have a spiritual excitement and confidence in the promises of God and follow Christ through the veil into the secret place with the Almighty. The Levitical priesthood entered into the holy of holies because of their hope in the law's covering. They placed their hope in washings and sacrifices, but that hope could only sustain one visit per year for the high priest. Our living hope is Christ who lives beyond the veil and has penetrated all barriers for us. Our hope in Him, in the cleansing of His blood, in the regeneration available to us through His resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, draws us near to God. We step closer and closer to Him as we find greater hope in the love that's revealed to us and the sufficiency of grace.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Poll Results: How Often Do You Use Your Bible Maps

This months poll results reveal some startling trends! Most notably, a sharp decrease in votes from last month, though I suppose that makes sense in light of the brief hiatus at the end of the year. It seems as if there is a well proportioned spread of votes with 6% of people hardly aware of their Bible maps. The majority of 32% hardly ever use their maps while 25% do sneak a peek at them a few times a year. 12% look at them monthly and a whopping 22% look at their maps on a weekly basis. This confirms my suspicion that my readers tend to be diligent students. For those of you who haven't taken a look in quite a while, go look up Derbe! More about maps is coming soon and another poll will be up next week. Comment and let me know your ideas for a new poll or to comment on the results. I have much more to write about Bible maps, but I'll save it for a larger post.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Conviction for Bible Meditation

This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe and do according to all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall deal wisely and have good success. -Joshua 1:8 (Amplified)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD,and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2

Meditation on God's attributes and his Word is a topic that has repeatedly confronted me in my reading during the last few months. While my personality has been described as melancholic or introspective, I find myself lacking in deliberate acts of meditation. I tend to be a fast but thorough reader and though I do take time to stay inside sentences, paragraphs and verses, much of my reading tends to be at a brisk, steady pace.

The question that alerts me is does my reading of the scripture cause me to meditate and praise the perfection of God and his Word? I am often challenged. I am often led to prayer. But still more often I depart far too quickly from the Bible and its life-changing words. The growth of the population and the growth of the internet have created a wealth of teaching and resources for the earnest student of the scriptures and the disciple of Jesus, so much so that we may find ourselves spending too much time with teaching and not enough time with the Teacher. The Holy Spirit does not dictate, He leads. Jesus does not lecture; He walks with us in the way, opening the scriptures for us. As a child of God and a part of the body of Christ, I have access to the mind of Christ, to the actual thoughts of God as communicated by the Holy Spirit and the Bible. Am I interacting with those thoughts? Am I allowing this Holy thought process, this spiritual communication that bleeds into the mental realm transform my mind as Paul writes in Romans 12:2? My heart's desire is to give my mind and the chaotic vortex of human thought which filters and struggles to contain and communicate the desires of both the flesh and the spirit to my Lord and Savior.

J.I. Packer's foundational book Knowing God delivers an incredibly lucid introduction to meditation and defines the practice in high, but non-mystical language and terms. His words inspired this post and hopefully the Holy Spirit continues to inspire me to pursue a deeper immersion in the Word of God.

Meditating on the Truth
How are we to do this? How can we turn our knowledge about God into Knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.
We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation? Well may we ask, for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice.
Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.
Its purpose is to clear one's mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one's mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself about God and oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God's power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God's greatness and glory and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us--"comfort" us, in the old, strong, Bible sense of the word--as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ. 
-J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible

The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible is a new resource published by Thomas Nelson in the NKJV, featuring study notes drawn from Max Lucado's many bestselling books. Lucado's long popularity and the range of topics covered in his writing results in a body of work which is well suited to the creation of a devotional Bible or study text. Lucado's writings are considered highly inspirational and it is doubtful that he would be accused of intellectualism or even advanced scholarship, making this a study Bible that focuses on material that reaches the heart rather than textual or interpretative information. I have actually never read a book by Max Lucado, though I have read a few articles etc., and though Lucado has a reputation for a soft message in stauncher circles, this Bible showcases the breadth of his work and subject matter, though also clearly displays a counseling, comforting, inspirational perspective.

The Bible's binding is reasonably attractive with a solid hardcover and a size that's comparable to a hardback book. It also features a two color layout which I'm somewhat ambivalent about, although it does help divide the content. Unfortunately one of the first things I noticed about this Bible is the poor quality of the paper, which is thin and fragile. Regular use would probably produce a large amount of wrinkles and perhaps a few tears. In addition, the "ghosting" or bleed through in this Bible is the worst I have ever seen. I rarely notice or care about ghosting, but it is quite noticeable in this Bible. The publisher should have opted for a thicker paper and a thicker spine, especially considering the two color format. Because this Bible has little room for margin notes, the paper would not usually be a major concern, but with paper this thin, damage to the pages seems inevitable.

The page layout of the Bible is greatly successful though somewhat inconsistent. The text is given a wide central column with the "Life Lessons" or inspirational notes falling to the edge of the margin. When the notes are longer the layout falls back on a more traditional study Bible organization with the notes falling beneath the Bible text. This layout allows the text to fall into a very readable single column (black letter) with an 8/9 font while the notes fall on the side in a sans serif 6/7 font. This layout is highly advantageous to the Bible's readability, but it's only possible because of the nature of the "Life Lessons" which tend to be short notes focusing on large portions of scripture.

One of the biggest factors in my evaluation of a study Bible is the nature and comprehensiveness of the notes. The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible falls into an odd category because its material is highly inspirational or devotional and designed to draw the reader into meditation, worship or devotion rather than textual revelation or interpretation. Therefore the notes also tend to be shorter and cover main sections of text rather than detailing information and interpretation of difficult or more obscure passages. Usually the Bible contains about one note per two full pages of text, and some pages contain no notes at all, making this Bible hit or miss as a reference or study tool. The notes are not nearly comprehensive enough to make it a ready resource, but it will function well as a regular reading Bible with additional content for study and contemplation.

The following "Life Lesson" comes from Joshua 1:1-2:24 and I felt was pertinent to the theme of this blog:

SITUATION: The story of Joshua begins after the death of Moses. God appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan river into the land of Canaan. 
OBSERVATION: The Lord instructed Joshua to remember what was written in the Book of the Law. Wisdom and success came from obeying its commands. 
INSPIRATION: We go to the Word of God for comfort, and when we do, the words pierce like a surgeon's scalpel, both cutting and healing. The Word of God cuts to the very place where thoughts and attitudes come together, at the junction of soul and spirit, providing a healing that can be obtained in no other way on earth.
The Bible was provided for us as a vehicle to carry us so that we might be able to see Jesus Christ.
If you want to grow in the Word of God, become a person with a chisel and quarry the Word -- look, explore, seek. Let the Word become your Word, and you will grow. 
I challenge you to rediscover the Bible in your own life . . . to regain the same hunger and enthusiasm you felt when you first heard the name of Jesus! (From The Inspirational Bible, "Bible") 
APPLICATION: Knowing Studying, and meditating on the Word of God is critical if you are to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are not spending regular time in the Bible, ask yourself what changes you can make to your schedule to make that time a priority.
EXPLORATION: Importance of the Scriptures--Psalm 119:1-8; John 10:35; Acts 18:24; Romans 15:4; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23-25

In addition to the "Life Lessons" the Bible is interspersed with pages on study topics which continue through the Bible, such as the anger of God which has a page in Romans 1. These studies are short expositions of the theme followed by response and application questions. Supplementing the notes and these devotional studies are "Christ Through the Bible" articles, "New Life in Christ" articles, two indexes of verses on "He Did This Just for You" and "Spiritual Growth," 30 One Page Studies on basic topics for new believers, and a 30 day reading plan designed to give an overview of the New Testament. The front of the Bible also includes an inspiring (though not entirely informative) essay on how to study the Bible, a topical Devotional Index, and a Two Year Devotional Reading Plan, all valuable and somewhat rare resources for personal study and devotion. Oddly enough this Bible does not include either maps or a concordance, two features which are staples for any study Bible.

The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible definitely falls short as a study Bible. Its resources are too limited and its scope is insufficient to fill the task of a reference or study tool. However, its content makes it an ideal devotional Bible, and the study resources, indexes etc. are excellent tools for daily aid and inspiration in walking with Jesus in prayer, worship and devotion. Many of the resources in this edition would be fine additions to any Bible and the notes and studies would greatly aid new believers and provide encouragement to seasoned saints. While the quality of the paper, the absence of maps or a concordance and the sparseness of the notes detract from this edition and specifically in its use as a study Bible, the excellence of the content and the nature of the helps make it well suited to daily reading, meditation and devotion.

More resources from Max Lucado and Thomas Nelson on the Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible

Look Inside for yourself.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson who provided this free review copy. I was not required to give a positive review. I have given an honest review.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Bible Disciplines in the New Year

I must thank all of you as readers for your patience with the lack of posts at the end of 2010. Holiday madness set in with outreaches and many other commitments that swept away the days. I'm blessed to be returning from a greatly needed rest and refocus. I hope to enter the new year with many interesting projects, and as always I have great plans for future posts. My prayer has always been that this site would not be merely a hobby or an outlet for me but a genuine aid and inspiration to the body of Christ. In the midst of a whirlwind urban mission, my responsibilities and commitments to the pressing needs of the body here in Hamtramck may overwhelm the blog from time to time, but I hope my hiatuses will be short and I know that God will honor my desire to be faithful to his primary calling for this moment which is to share the gospel with all the corners of the globe that are represented in my city.

I hope you are blessed and refreshed in the new year and ready to approach the Bible with a fresh zeal and sense of adventure, perhaps even open to a few new study projects and a lot more revelation from the Holy Spirit. If you need a new reading plan for the new year surf back to the Reading Plans I've posted in the past or check out Zondervan's Reading Plan page. The change in the calendar can be an opportunity for a change of heart and mind, habits and disciplines. I'm trusting God for a greater knowledge of Jesus Christ in the future and greater strength in my personal walk and in ministry. Greater glory is yet to be seen in our God.