Saturday, February 26, 2011

Personal Meditation Wide Margin


Wide-margin Bibles have a vast number of uses and provide and encourage a means of responding to God's word as we should. We should be not just hearers of the word but doers. Our response to God's word should be obedience. When it comes to words, specifically vocabulary, there are a few kinds of knowledge. Primarily there is recognition. You find a word familiar, you recognize its appearance or sound. A higher level of knowledge of a word is understanding the actual meaning, the denotation or dictionary definition of that word. You understand the theoretical definition of the word. An even higher level of recognition is understanding the connotation or flavor of the word in actual use. But the highest level of understanding, and the real test of understanding a word and verifying a word as part of your vocabulary is real, actual use of that word in writing and conversation. Only after you have used the word, can it truly be counted as part of your understanding in spite of an unapplied knowledge of the word's meaning.

In the same way, we gain knowledge of the Word of God by our relationship with it: by hearing, understanding, believing and obeying. At least two of those actions are conscious responses and all of them require interaction. By first hearing or reading the Word we gain recognition. By meditation and the revelation of the Holy Spirit we gain understanding of the Word and through hearing and confession we gain and exercise our belief in the Word, which is followed by our obedience of the Word. Within that meditation and revelation process, comes study, application and conscious response from our heart, soul, mind and spirit. This response is given outlet through confession with our mouth or with writing, or even within a mental or spiritual dialogue.

A wide margin Bible encourages this response by providing space for notes: for a written response from the heart, mind and spirit. This response is documented and digested in close proximity to the text, which, in ideal circumstances, helps keep our meditation on the text while not overpowering it with our own internalizing of the text.



While this may sound highly intellectual, it is often a highly spiritual process, and though the intellect must be engaged at some level, it is far preferrable to have the heart and spirit highly engaged as we react to the Anointing teaching us through the Word. Personal study notes on interpretation probably are the most common uses of wide margin Bibles, and I use my own everyday ESV wide-margin for taking notes on interpretation, paraphrasing and general notes on understanding the meaning and application of the text. However, I am blessed to be the recipient of multiple wide margin Bibles through gifts (both Christmas and my Birthday were times of being blessed with wide margin Bibles) and I have the opportunity to vary the use of my wide-margins and use different approaches with different editions.

I received a beautiful Calfskin Notetaker's Bible from Local Church Publishers , which I'm using as a personal meditation and journaling Bible. You can find an excellent review of this phenomenal edition at Studies in Scripture, let me simply say I would highly recommend the edition, it may be the finest KJV I've ever handled, it may be the finest wide margin I've ever handled. Rather than taking straightforward notes on interpretation and reading through specific books, I'm using this KJV to document moments when I was specifically impacted by a verse or passage or when I God directly spoke to me through the Word, whether in rebuke or encouragement.


The notes are my personal and often intimate responses to the voice of the LORD in scripture. I write them as prayers to God and engage the scripture as dialogue spoken directly to me. They include confession of sin, confession of faith, supplication and petition, thanksgiving and praise. In addition I added a practice of a dear friend and mentor who dates the each note so that in years to come each revelation has a tag to show God's faithfulness and my own maturing process over time. These notes create an Ebenezer that documents the promise and voice of the Holy Spirit.


Judges 3 1Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; 2Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof; 3Namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath. 4And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
O Lord, I thank you for my weaknesses & frailties. Though I've entered the promised land & the life of Jesus,  you have left enemies in this world & in my flesh to teach me war. Spiritual warfare draws me to you in humility & holds me close to you for strength. O Lord I thank you for my mental & emotional weakness--It leads me to You. 1-25-11


I often tell people that my relationship with God is a product of my weakness. God reached out to me and saved me from mental illness, deep sin and spiritual oppression. He healed me completely, supernaturally and without question. I have found a difference, however, between mental and emotional illness and weakness. God heals disease, but often the weakness and sensitivity that we strive against, God leaves us with in order to keep us as dependant children. In the same way that we must rely on God for a daily walk in holiness, we must rely on Him for a daily walk in spiritual, emotional and mental health. God leaves some of us with greater weaknesses in these areas than others, but in all these things I can feel the Master's hand, and I find my own strength decreasing as I make room for God's strength in my life. I am weak, but He is strong.


The fantastic amount of space will afford detailed prayers over every verse and a highly personal and timely response to scripture. Often these notes will be highly subjective in their application and highly "spiritualizing" in their interpretation, but these are not interpretative notes, but applicative notes. These are notes about how the Holy Spirit applied scripture to my heart at a specific point in time. In many ways this is journaling my experience with scripture. I do not take notes in this Bible everyday, but wait for moments when a scripture becomes a poignant part of my transformation experience and walk with Jesus. My hope is that this Bible will last a lifetime and will  hold a lifetime of experiences with the Holy Spirit and the living Word.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review: Fire Bible Global Study Edition


The Fire Bible: Global Study Edition is a new edition of Hendrickson and Life publishers Fire Bible, aimed at filling the need for study Bibles in foreign countries around the world featuring the 1984 NIV text. The original Fire Bible was an edition derived from the Full Life and Life in the Spirit Study Bibles aimed specifically at students and those with less theological background. The Full Life Study Bible was originally published in 1992 and featured extensive study notes written Donald C. Stamps a missionary to Brazil ordained by the Assemblies of God. These notes were later edited and extended for a wider audience and republished as the Life in the Spirit Study Bible. This  Bible was then republished as the Fire Bible with the intention of fulfilling Donald Stamps's first ambition which was to provide an accessible study Bible for international pastors and lay workers in countries which had little access to study materials, and specifically pentecostal materials. The notes in the Life in the Spirit Study Bible were altered once more to exclude cultural bias or references, present information in a way that was accessible to those from any context, and reword the text to be easily translatable (the general content of the notes and articles is identical). This became the Fire Bible: Global Study Edition, perhaps the first Bible intentional directed to be used in a specifically international context.
The Fire Bible comes from a strong, undiluted pentecostal perspective, and perhaps even more specifically, Assemblies of God. The Bible's study notes have a strong focus on the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit; they are highly Armenian and also present a highly dispensational eschatology (premillenial, pretribulation). This is fascinating first because Pentecostalism has traditionally shied away from a highly developed or directly expressed systematic theology and secondly because this Bible is designed to aid international churches and mission efforts. Some may balk at the idea of a Pentecostal Study Bible being distributed en masse throughout the evangelized world, but statistics identify about 1/4 of the world's Christians as pentecostal, making Pentecostalism the leader in world Christian theology outside of Roman Catholicism. The Global Study Edition is not "global" in its approach to a balanced presentation of theological perspectives; it has a strong Pentecostal bias. But it was obviously not created to be a balanced presentation of multiple theological interpretations. It was created to present an accesible, but thorough, mainstream Pentecostal interpretation of scripture and this review will evaluate the edition on that basis.



BINDING


The Global Study Edition is built like a chubby hardback book. Make no mistake, it is chubby at 2 and 1/2 inches thick. I enjoy a thick spine and I also like the fact that this Bible is evenly proportioned, it is a nice, fat rectangle, with 8.5 x 6.6 dimensions. The binding seems like a hybrid of both sewn and glued, which would be sensible considering the size of the text block. While I like the size and shape of the Bible, these friendly dimensions come at a price. The wealth of information that's inside this Bible is not easily packaged, the insides seem like what could have happened if Crossway had chosen to stuff the contents of the ESV Study Bible in a similar size volume instead of the massive size they currently publish (although the new personal size ESV Study Bible looks like what may be a design miracle). What the Global Study Edition achieves on the outside comes at the cost of the inside.

The paper is thin, lightweight and highly transparent. It contains perhaps the worst ghosting I have ever seen. With paper this thin, it makes me wonder at the thickness of the spine. This Bible is full of information, and pushes 3000 pages. The binding holds all of this information in a decent size and shape, but does so with some obvious compromises.



LAYOUT

Global Study Edition features extensive notes and articles and the text of both the scripture and the notes is printed in a clear sans serif 8/9 font, with the study note headings at a bold 10/11 font. This creates readability, but also means that the information has to be squeezed onto the page. The layout barely avoids the cluttered look with a full center column reference system, comprehensive study notes and theme finder symbols. There are few margins to speak of and the text definitely curls deep into the inside gutter, which means reading the inside column of scripture difficult at times. Despite the obvious flaws, this is not a bad layout. Primarily because of the wealth of information presented on every page. The ESV study Bible managed to squeeze the information in by presenting a minor amount of scripture on each page and minimizing the font of the study notes. Here the study notes are very readable and while the bold headings inside the notes should be smaller, this layout lends itself more to a reference work than a reading Bible. The bold headings and large font for the notes make finding themes and subjects within the reference and study material easy. While I wouldn't discount this as an everyday Bible, the wealth of study notes and materials do draw away from the readability of the main text, especially when reading the prose sections of the Bible. This layout creates an unusual readability for the notes at the cost of some of the readability of the scripture (which is black letter text). You can see a PDF of the layout here.



NOTES

The notes and articles in this Bible are extensive, comprehensive and cover just about every major topic of the Bible and some minor (as critics of the articles on wine are quick to point out) as they touch on a large percentage of the Bible's text. The Global Study Edition has been compared to an entire Pentecostal Library and it does probably contain the most thorough examination of the Bible and theology from a pentecostal perspective of any resource available. In addition to comprehensive study notes and large articles on doctrine and history, the Bible contains in-text maps and charts. The wealth of information is comparable to the ESV Study Bible and though the notes were written by a missionary and not a PhD in theology, they are often grounded in scholarship (which is occasionally cited) and presented in passionate, muscular prose. The notes are mostly interpretational rather than informational, but they often inform as they interpret. Though they present a holistically Pentecostal perspective, they can be valuable to non-Pentecostals as well, because of the focus on pnuematology, the study of the Holy Spirit, a highly neglected focus in the mainstream evangelical church. 



The Bible also features lengthy book introductions with ruled space for note-taking, and Themefinders, a topical chain reference system which tracks twelve themes through the text. The features at the end of the Bible include a Bible reading plan, a large topical Scripture Index, a 162 page concordance that features proper names and packs three columns of 5/6 point text per page and 16 color maps with an index. All of these tools are highly useful and would be a welcome addition to any Bible, there are few study tools that are left out!


The massive concordance:


These may not be the prettiest maps available, but they are functional:


The feel of the notes themselves is actually quite impressive. In spite of what has been stressed earlier that the notes are not neutral the editors include a well conceived Preface which is well worth reading and which would be a welcome introduction to all Study Bibles:

Notes, articles, book introductions, and other helps are presented by Bible scholars of our time who honor God's word as our ultimate authority. In the words of General Editor Donald C. Stamps, ... "the major purpose of this study Bible is to lead you, the reader, to an abiding faith in the holy scriptures" The words of the editors do not rise to the same level as the blessed, inspired Word of God. For this reason and because of cultural differences, all readers may not completely agree with some of the editorial opinions expressed. The editors do continually lead us to learn from the Word itself. "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness adn examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11). It is the believer's responsibility to learn for himself what God's Word is saying to him.
With this statement in mind and heart, one can trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth with the aid of the study helps or in spite of them. The strong position of the notes should be emphasized, but the passion behind them is evident. The notes are far from stuffy and this is the only study Bible I know of which was primarily created by missionaries for missionaries.

The note on Zechariah 4:6 states:

4:6 NOT BY MIGHT NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT. Though this message was spoken to Zerubbabel, it applies to all God's people (cf. 2Ti 3:16). Military might, political power or human strength cannot accomplish God's work; we can only accomplish his purposes if we are enabled by the Holy Spirit (cf. Jdg 6:34; Isa 31:3). Jesus started his earthly ministry in the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:1, 18), and the church was empowered to begin its mission when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to fill his followers at Pentecost (Ac 1:8, 2:4; see article on BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT, p. 1988). Only as the Spirit continues to guide and empower our lives will we accomplish God's plans for us. This is why Jesus continues to baptize his followers in the Holy Spirit (see Lk 3:16 note).
While many may shy away from a clear exaltation of the Holy Spirit's continuing ministry, the Fire Bible makes our dependancy on the Spirit for personal holiness, and empowered ministry clear as it does its position on the baptism of the Holy Spirit (although it does not support its position on the baptism of the Holy Spirit in this note, it supports it at other places with arguments developed through scripture and with an examination of the Greek).

The note on Galatians 2:20 states:

2:20 I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST. Paul describes his relationship to Christ in terms of a deeply personal attachment to and reliance on his Lord. Those who have true faith in Christ should consider themselves to be united with him in such a way that they relate to and identify with Jesus in both his death and his resurrection. (1) In a sense, all Christians have been crucified with Christ on the cross. Their old sinful, rebellious way of life was put to death with Jesus as he took their sin on himself and paid its full penalty through his own death (see 2Co 5:21, note). In addition, Christians have been freed from the law's requirements of having to rely on imperfect sacrifices as a way to receive forgiveness and maintain a relationship with God. Christ's perfect and sinless life provided the complete sacrifice for sins once and for all (cf. 1Pe 3:18). Those who accept the forgiveness provided by that sacrifice receive a new life (2Co 5:17) by faith in Christ (v. 19), which allows them to fulfill God's highest purpose for their lives. Because of spiritual salvation and a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, sin no longer has control over them (see Ro 6:11, note; cf. Ro 6:4, 8, 14; Gal 5:24; 6:14; Col 2:12, 20).
(2) We who have been crucified with Christ now live with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Ro 8:11). This means that Christ and his strength live within us through the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13-14). Jesus has become the source and focus of our lives; he is the center of our thoughts, words and actions (Jn 15:1-6; Eph 3:17). Our primary aim is to fulfill his purposes and honor him in all we do.
(3) Our opportunity to relate to and share in Christ's death and resurrection is a gracious gift of God, and it becomes activated through faith in Christ. That faith is not just an intellectual belief, but an active trust that surrenders the leadership of one's life to the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (cf. Jn 3:16; see article on FAITH AND GRACE, p. 2100). Living by faith in Christ is also referred to as living by the Spirit (3:3; 5:25; cf. Ro 8:9-11).
 This is the beautiful gospel presented clearly, soundly and with passion. It gives a doctrinal overview and a number of supporting verses and it does so in simple, accessible language. This is the daily gospel for those who have received the new birth. Of particular interest, however, is the final comparison between "living by faith" and "living by the Spirit." While I have not meditated the comparison, I am somewhat surprised to find them identified as identical, though they are undoubtedly complementary. There are many who claim to live by at least a saving faith in Christ who rarely acknowledge the Spirit. Living within faith in Christ does not seem identical to living by the leading of the Spirit; however, further investigation is merited.


The Fire Bible: Global Study Edition is a comprehensive resource filled with study aids and helps, making it an important study tool. The difficulty in containing all of its information creates a congested layout that is very usable for reference but a little busy for simple reading. The notes and aids themselves present valuable Biblical and doctrinal interpretation and information through a Pentecostal lens, and they do so with passion and missionary zeal. Few outside of the Assemblies of God will agree with every point of the Fire Bible's theology, but the wealth of information within this Study Bible has the ability to enrich the study of all mainstream evangelicals. The Global Study Edition is intended to reach a global audience and aid the work of international Christians and the evangelism of the world. The profits of the Fire Bible are invested in producing Fire Bibles for overseas missions and the edition has its own Bible Society which invests in providing for mission endeavors around the world. Few would find this their everyday carrying Bible, but it is an admirable project and a useful resource.

You can read more about the history of the Fire Bible here or by reading the full account of its creation.

My thanks to Hendrickson Publishers for providing this free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review, only an honest review.

  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Morning Family Prayer

Psalm 5:3 and a number of other verses in scripture establish a pattern of morning prayer among the lives of those devoted to seeking God. In my own life I have sought to develop habits of morning prayer, but as I become busier with mission work and I spend longer nights in an irregular schedule I find it harder and harder to keep a consistent practice of disciplined morning prayer. In spite of my own lack of discipline (for I confess that this is what it must be), the constant has been morning family prayer with the two American Baptist missionaries who are my close mentors, friends and landlords. Because of the husband's international travel, the couple created a consistent morning prayer devotion and discipline that centers around Celtic liturgy, meditation on the scripture and daily petition to the Father. No matter where they are in the world, they can practice the same prayer together whether together or apart. During my time with them, I have found their invitation into their morning prayer practice an invaluable blessing.

The prayer is structured by Celtic Daily Prayer, developed from readings from prayers published by the Northumbria Community in Celtic Daily Prayer. They altered the prayer briefly as they found their own hearts gripped by the words. Praying liturgy that's based on the Bible often means praying the Word of God, and I find myself convicted often as I recite words that belonged to the mouth and pen of David and the disciples in moments of zeal and passion. I often quote them in the weariness of the morning and the apathy of fuzzy-headedness, but my heart responds to the fire and zeal that the should pour out of my heart regardless of the physical circumstances. I want the ability to say without hypocrisy that regardless of the circumstances I live to experience the heart, and the beauty, and the glory of God.


In the name of the Father,
and of the son
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One thing I have asked of the Lord.
This is what I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord forever,
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

Do you seek the heart of God with all your heart?
Amen. Lord have mercy.
Do you seek the soul of God with all your soul?
Amen. Lord have mercy.
Do you seek the mind of God with all your mind?
Amen. Lord have mercy.
Do you seek the strength of God with all your strength?
Amen. Christ have mercy.

The scripture readings use a small portion of the Old and New Testament, which is followed by reading devotional material, for 2010 we read Sieze the Day with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and we are currently reading Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs.

As the opening liturgy is recited I find myself disturbed every time I call or respond to the question "Do you seek the heart of God with all your heart?" Many mornings I can only say the words because I know the response includes "Lord, have mercy." Am I really seeking the heart of God with all my heart? Am I seeking God's heart, His feelings, His burdens, His concerns, His yearnings for this lost and dying world, His love, with all of my heart. Am I seeking His heart with all of my time? with all of my strength? Is it the focus of my emotions? Am I, like Jeremiah, caught in a vortex of Holy emotion, torn by the affections of a Holy God? Lord, have mercy.

I yearn to be a man who seeks the heart of God with his whole heart. I want to chase God down. I want to be a man who is always after God's heart. I want to be absorbed in the passionate love of God and like Jesus, channel the compassion of God with a ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit. Every morning my heart leaps, sometimes in excitement and sometimes in terror, at the prospect of seeking God's heart with all of my heart. In all of my life, I cannot think of ever being more convicted by a question. That question alone keeps me from rattling off the liturgy on automatic pilot. It humbles me. It frightens me. And when we come to the Word of God, I find myself searching for God's heart within the words.

We read from a NRSV XL, their favorite translation in a large print easy reading format, which is helpful for bleary-eyed mornings.

The short scripture readings precede prayer and often our prayers are influenced by stories of Jephthah, Jesus and Paul as the narratives of the faith stir our hearts to prayer.


Opening the word prayerfully means opening our hearts and minds to God, His will and His Holy Spirit. I am convinced that there is no better way to wake up.


The scripture is followed by the history of the Church as told through the Christan martyrs whose blood was part of the spread of the gospel throughout the ages to our generation. Much of church history is told in the simple stories of the martyrs and the Voice of the Martyrs 2007 update of Foxe's Book of Martyrs tells the stories of the martyrs from the stoning of Stephen to the modern day persecution of the church in the 10/40 window. These stories fan the flame of zeal for Christ as we realize that truly those who overcome are those who do not love their lives even to the death. Can I live today with a love that's willing to die? Can I live as a martyr waiting to leave his life behind finally and totally? Will my day be worthy of the blood that brought the message of the savior's blood to me? In the words of Leonard Ravenhill, "Is what you're living for worth Christ dying for?" The stories of the martyrs humble and convict even as they inspire and stir. May the Lord make us like them. May the Lord make us like Jesus.

Our morning prayer is concluded with the reminder and the promise and blessing of peace.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you.
Wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Bible Storytelling: The Gutter by Craig Gross

Valentine's day may be a highly commercial holiday, but it has its origin in the life and death of a Christian martyr, and God's romantic love for His bride should be the standard for all romantic love. Craig Gross, founder of XXX Church, a ministry that evangelizes porn conventions and hard to reach places known as "the gutter" wrote an inspiring book on radical, love inspired evangelism. I don't always agree with his theology, and I don't always agree with his application (witnessing at porn conventions would certainly vex my soul and may violate God's standards of holiness, but God judges callings and Gross's ministry bears fruit), but his book above all things reminds us of God's love for the lost, the ugly, the down and out. The book is out of print now, but it contains a heart touching retelling of the story of Hosea and though its lengthy, I include a portion of this Bible storytelling here as a reminder of God's redeeming love. It is well worth the read and I don't hesitate to recommend the book to you. It will touch your heart for the lost and remind you that the kingdom of heaven is made of zeroes, less than nothings, screw-ups: gutter people.

* * *
It's the story of a man of God, a God-chaser named Jose. Jose married his first love, and they soon had a child together. But as time passsed, this newlywed wife became restless. The honeymoon was over; now their marriage had moved into more of a routine and was no longer blossoming with newness. The day-in/day-out sacrifice of mothering children was taking its toll, and her mind began to escape back into her past.

See, before she'd married Jose, she'd spent time in a sexual gutter. And now that gutter was looking pretty good. Jose knew about her past, but he loved her in spite of it, and he loved her still when she began to slip back into her old behavior. She began to seek fulfillment in the illicit and fleeting affection of an adulterous bed.

Soon she had another baby, and then another, neither of which were fathered by Jose. But the extra children didn't stop her--her wanderings in the night became more frequent. Each night after tucking her children into bed, she would slip out the back door and into the gutter, ready to sell herself to the highest bidder.

Jose was essentially alone, left to be a father to children that weren't biologically his, but he lovingly took up the task. In the mornings, he prepared them for the day, and many times as the boys finished breakfast, their mother would stumble through the door, exhausted from a night of hedonistic seduction. Soon she quit coming home altogether.

As a husband, I can't imagine this. How could he allow her unfaithfulness to continue? How could he allow her to peruse the streets, a lustful lion looking seeking prey? If it'd been me, I would have put my foot down and taken control. Wouldn't you? Her prostitution and need for illicit gain only led her into slavery; she could not escape from the shackles of selfishness that kept her in the gutter. The chains of compromise gripped her so tightly she no longer considered the value of a husband and loving children.

She walked the streets each night to the marketplace to prostitute herself, to climb onto the auctioning block so men could bid for her affection. Jose sought God and saw her behavior as an invitation to the gutter, so, confused but obedient, Jose responded to God's call and made his way to the Red Light District. He didn't know what he was going to do there or what to expect, and when he finally arrived, what he saw crushed him. Imagine the pain and the embarrassment he must have felt, seeing these men bid for his wife.

The man of God stood side by side with men of the world as they groped and placed bids for his beloved. And then he did a strange thing.

He placed a bid.

I know. It doesn't make sense. Why would he bid to purchase what already belonged to him--especially with the way she'd treated him and their children? To the gutter-blinded mind, it makes absolutely no sense, but from God's perspective, looking into the gutter, it's just what was called for.

As the men beside him sought a one-night stand, Jose sought his bride's faithful hand. "Ministry" in this environment would confuse the religious. This is not the type of outreach they teach in Bible college.

[. . . .]

Jose stood nearly defeated and outbid. Wanting to finalize the transaction, he placed one last bid--all he had with him--fifteen dollars. The religious voices were dry from yelling. Raspy, ear-piercing, hate-filled voices filled the marketplace with judgment. The surrounding onlookers had to be shocked that a godly man was bidding on a whore. Of course, they didn't know it was his bride.

Prematurely aged by the gutter, the once-attractive young lady of earlier years had become worn and faded. But Jose wasn't bidding on her looks; he was bidding on her position. And he won. He bought his own wife at the auction of whores--for fifteen bucks. He sacrificed his pride and his money to bring her home--not as a slave, not as a prostitute, but as his wife, the lady of the house.

Jose's story can be repeated many times over. It applies to the Christian and the non-Christian, to the Jew and the Muslim ... to you and me. But while Jose's act was truly an example of the deepest kind of unconditional love, it was nothing new, God's always been involved with take His love to the gutter, to the point of sending Jesus to the gutter of a garbage dump in order to create a bridge for mankind to get back to God.

- Craig Gross, The Gutter pp. (64-67)

* * *

There is much more to this amazing story, both in the book of Hosea and in Gross's book The Gutter. Read it. May God's amazing, romantic, redeeming love rekindle your love for Him this Feb. 14th.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: Lockman Side Column NASB in Black Calfskin


The Lockman Foundation is the original publisher of the NASB and Amplified Bible and has been producing beautiful editions since the 1970's, many of their editions have become classic for Bible aficionados and to some degree, it's a shame that more of their stunning and well priced editions aren't more dominant. Lockman's NASB Side-Column Reference Bible was a pioneer in presenting a single column format with black letter text, and though the edition has changed over the years, it remains a dream come true for Bible fanatics.


BINDING

The black calfskin cover on the SCR pleases both the eyes and the sense of touch; its thickness rivals the Cambridge Goatskin editions and its softness surpasses them. The calfskin features a subtle grain and a low gloss finish which creates a classy simplicity. While previous editions featured a rounded spine, this edition's flat spine is minimal but handsome and includes slight bulges wrapping around the top and bottom of the spine for increased protection and flexibility. There is little to not love here; the texture, softness and thickness of the leather may be superior to goatskin, but will probably depend on individual preference. For those who prefer a subtle grain and more matte finish, this edition's cover will match or surpass the very highest goatskin editions.

The size of the edition is nearly ideal to my taste. The 6 x 9 x 1 3/4 dimensions put it on the large end of the spectrum and it may be a little too long to be perfectly proportioned, but its weight and size is evenly distributed without a single dimension seeming out of proportion.

The Smyth sewn binding combined with the soft calfskin results in the most flexible spine I have ever handled. It is nothing short of impressive.


It's capable of having both far edges of the spine touching when you fold the Bible from any position.

Yoga is a breeze.


The result is a Bible that will lie flat at most positions. The size of the text block is the only thing that prohibits the Bible from opening flat at Genesis One.  This Bible is expertly bound, exceptionally flexible and a pleasure to touch. While I have no experience with how durable the binding is, the quality out of the box suggests this Bible is well made and will endure the rigors of consistent use for years and years to come.

I have read complaints by owners regarding the current quality of the paper in this edition; however, I personally found any shortcomings to be minor. While there is an amount of bleed through or "ghosting," in my eyes it is not distracting or highly noticeable. The strength of the paper also seems decent, especially considering its thinness. All in all the paper does leave some to be desired, but its opacity and strength, while not ideal, should not be a major problem for most users.



LAYOUT

The Side Column Reference layout is probably the primary draw of this Bible. It's black letter text sprawls across a 3 3/4 inch column, supplemented by a very readable side column of over 95,000 cross references that takes up a little over an inch of space. The font is highly readable and while I've seen it quoted at 11 pt it seems more like a 9/10 pt. Lockman Foundation advertises this edition with "wide margins" or "wider margins," though this is absolutely not a full wide margin Bible. The outside margins are about 3/4 inch and the top and bottom margins are 1/2 inch, which does allow note taking, but not the extensive note taking that can be done in a Cambridge wide margin. Lockman publishes an identical edition to this one with wider margins and 6.5 x 9.25 dimensions which would be the full wide margin equivalent of this edition.



The single column verse per line layout is very readable and clean. The layout successfully combines readability with easy access to the verse numbers and references. It might be preferable to place the reference column on the inside margin, allowing the white space to be directly beside the text, but references can be difficult to read for some an placing them on the outside greatly improves their visibility. As a whole this is a clean, clear format, which should greatly please single column format fans and provide adequate space for minor note takers.


FEATURES


This edition features nine well rendered and highly informative maps. While they do not have the aesthetic appeal of the Cambridge maps, they contain a wealth of information and include a number of tools to aid study and to enable tracking events across the maps. These maps are intended to be used and supplement study and it's nice to see a publisher doing more with maps rather than less.

The Bible also features an 82 page three column concordance which includes proper names, another highly functional tool which should greatly aid study.


In a somewhat strange decision, the book introductions are collected at the back of the Bible. The introductions are short paragraphs, rather than comprehensive introductions and probably won't greatly add to scholarly study. My suspicion is that moving these to a section in the back probably means that they will rarely be read, and it seems that they should have either been placed at the beginning of their respective books or left out completely.


The Bible also features a nice presentation page, family trees, births, deaths and occasions to remember, which are nice additions for those who like to keep family records or simply plan to make this a lifetime Bible.


The edition comes in a lovely velvet holder which should provide some protection from the elements and is an elegant alternative to wrapping a premium leather Bible in a lower quality Bible case.


In conclusion this is an excellent edition with negligible shortcomings. The quality, craftsmanship and overall excellence in design is combined with a reasonable price and this edition should be high on anyone's list when considering an NASB. The layout combines readability with elegant study tools and the binding provides a simple, well-crafted and tactilely pleasing book. I would not hesitate to recommend this edition or its larger wide margin brother to anyone searching for the perfect NASB.

My thanks to the Lockman Foundation for providing this free review copy. I was not required to give a positive review, 
only an honest review.




Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Using Bible Maps

(Maps from the Cambridge NLT Pitt Minion)
Bible maps are a staple for most editions and can be the decision breaker when purchasing a new Bible; however, most of us probably don't make the best use of them. A study Bible without maps seems hopelessly incomplete, yet for most they are the most pristine part of the book. As a child I have memories of sitting in church tirelessly scanning the pages of my Bible maps, childishly indifferent to the pastor's sermons. Now I find myself fully attentive to the pastor's sermon, but unprofitably indifferent to my Bible maps. 
Maps from the NET (above) and the HCSB Minister's Bible (Below)


In spite of improvements in the creation and presentation of Biblical data and Bible charts and maps, many of us still do not look at our maps more than a few times per year (although my readers tend to know their way around the maps section of the Bible better than most). It often seems to interrupt the flow of reading to put your finger in the Bible and flip to the back to find the location of a city or region. Some publishers have sought solutions to this by adding maps to study Bible notes or placing maps between the testaments; however, the use of the maps will depend on basic discipline.  

(An embedded map from the ESV Study Bible (above) and from a Lockman NASB (below).

 For most people, using the maps will take a patient conscious effort. It will take a determination to not rush through the text or read with an accomplishment mindset (look! I finished the book already!). I once heard it said that the book of Acts can't be understood without studying your Bible maps. For my next reading of the book of Acts (if you're using the Horner Reading Plan you'll be reading it every month) I will be looking up every single place name in my Bible maps. I'll be using my Cambridge Wide Margin which includes a map index, making it easy to find all those hard to pronounce places.


I'll be the first to admit that I've largely neglected my Bible maps, but they are included for a reason and their relevancy may be underestimated. I want to understand the terrain, the determination and the journey of the early church and its spirit-spread mission of delivering the Gospel. Comment below if you'll join me in my journey through Acts with your Bible maps.