Why Should We Read Old Testament Law?

Why should we read Old Testament law?  The Law lost its obligation with the old covenant, no longer needed as a nationalistic distinction.  Under the new covenant, we are not obligated to the Law’s demands but instead to a deeper commitment and submission of our whole lives to the control of the Holy Spirit.  So why read Old Testament Law?

Many theologians say that some of the laws are God’s unchanging will and are still in effect today.  The coming of Jesus changes how we worship, but it doesn’t necessarily change the way we should live.  We still sin, but the method God wants us to handle our repentance has changed.  The laws are useful for finding God’s will and living wisely.  The trick is determining which laws apply today and which ones no longer apply.  The Law consists of three parts:
1) Ceremonial laws that enabled believers to maintain a proper relationship with God.  These laws foreshadow Christ and were fulfilled by Christ.  These were not abolished, but rather, completed in the death of Christ, the ultimate and final sacrifice.
2) Judicial/moral laws that determine right from wrong. These are meant for all God’s people in every era, as shown by the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.
3) Civil laws for governing the nation of Israel and separating them from others. These are no longer in effect because of Christ, who brings all nations together. 

For some laws, the category is obvious, while for others, they are debatable. But I don’t think we have to sit around and debate categories, such as whether the forbidding of tattoos was moral or ceremonial.  Let’s focus on the big picture.

Jesus says the whole law is summed up in a single command – to love God and to love your neighbor.  Any of the laws that line up with this summary in our culture today would still apply.  Any laws that are supported in the New Testament, we clearly should submit to their authority.  And laws clearly fulfilled should not be observed.  For example, the book of Hebrews makes it clear that we would violate the Gospel if we continue to practice the ceremonial laws.

Ultimately, the Law IS the content of the gospel.  It foreshadows the coming of the ultimate Gospel in Jesus Christ. The Law and the Gospel are parts of one continuum, not contrasting items.  It is through the cross that we are released from the obligation of the Law, yet also have the power to be enabled and compelled to love God and love our neighbor, the sum of the whole Law in a single command.

So why read Old Testament Law? In summary:
  1. To learn the meaning and significance of the work of Jesus on the cross
  2. For greater understanding of God’s character and how He works in the world
  3. To know how to live wisely and how to love.

All In - Book Review

Do you have just enough of Jesus to be informed, but not quite enough of Him to be transformed?  The gospel costs us nothing, but it demands our everything. Being a Christ follower is not a spectator sport.  Going “all out” is giving it all you got, maximum effort, 100%.  Mark Batterson shows how we die and how we live when we go all out and all in, or completely surrender, our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ in his book All In: You Are One Decision Away from a Totally Different Life.

Mark Batterson shows that when you give yourself to Christ and die to self, you don’t really lose, you gain, and following Christ is an incredible adventure.  With examples from the Bible, historical figures, and in his own life, he illustrates what a life lived for Jesus can look like.

Some great quotes from this book:
·  Consecration is going all in and all out for the All in all.
·  We won’t come alive, in the truest and fullest sense, until we die to self. And we won’t find ourselves until we lose ourselves in the cause of Christ.
·  Mercy is not getting what you deserve – the wrath of God.  Grace is getting what you don’t deserve – the righteousness of Christ.
·  We’re too Christian to enjoy sin and too sinful to enjoy Christ.
·  Soli Deo Gloria – the Rosetta Stone that makes life make sense.
·  In Hebrew, there is no distinction between knowing and doing. Knowing is doing and doing is knowing. If you aren’t doing it, you don’t really know it.

While I am not certain exactly how the book is organized, it is still a great motivational book for change as we lose ourselves for the cause of Christ.  Whether it be a small decision that is consistent over a duration or the push toward a big life-altering decision, this book inspires you to change.  With short pithy sayings interspersed throughout the book, Mark Batterson comes across a bit like your own personal cheerleader, but sometimes, that could be exactly what we need to propel us forward.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Bible Savvy - Review

I grew up going to Sunday School but never understood how all the Bible stories connected together or how the Old Testament was relevant.  I’d get lost in the details or ethical lessons, and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  Then, when I took a hermeneutics class in seminary, the entire Bible came alive when I grasped how the thread of the story of redemption connected every narrative, weaving the entire Bible together into the single story of God’s plan.  James L. Nicodem boils it down and presents the essentials to understanding the big picture in the first book Epic, in the Bible Savvy Series. 

The Bible Savvy Series consists of four small books that describe four things you must know to get the most out of God’s Word:

        1.    Epic - The storyline of the Bible
        2.    Foundation - The reliability of the Bible
        3.    Context -How to understand the Bible
        4.    Walk - How to apply the Bible

In book 2, Foundation, Nicodem shows why we can trust the Bible and know it is God’s Words to us.  He explains how the Bible was put together, the correct meaning of the word “inspiration”, and how the Bible is supernatural.  He points out why it is our authority and not just a place to go for good advice.  He emphasizes how we can learn it by hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, and meditating on it.

Failing to correctly interpret Bible passages results in misunderstanding.  In book 3, Context, Nicodem demonstrates how to look at it like a puzzle, to see the big picture so you know how the pieces should fit.  He details the vantage points to consider – historical, literary, theological, and immediate settings.  By providing some great examples of popular misinterpretations and where we can go wrong, he illustrates how to correctly handle the Word of Truth.

It’s not how much of the Bible you get through that matters, but how much of the Bible gets through you.  We seek not just knowledge, but transformation by applying what we learn so we can conform to the image of Jesus Christ.  Book 4, Walk, is a culmination of the first three books by expressing how we can respond to what we know. The aim of being illuminated by God’s Word is to apply what you learn.   Application is a skill you can acquire, and Nicodem explains the COMA method for Bible reading to develop this discipline, which I am now practicing in my quiet time. 

Each book is a little over 100 pages with discussion questions at the end of each of four chapters.  While the discussion questions could be accomplished individually, they are designed for a small group with icebreaker questions, reviewing-content questions, and application questions that can help group members get to know each other and inspire each other.  A group could meet and go through one book in a month or the entire series in an 18-week session. 

This is a series that every Christ follower should read, whether new or mature in the faith.  I highly recommend all four books.

I was provided a complimentary copy of the series from Moody Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Prayer of Thanks in Difficulty

Thank you that You have me in the place You want me just now…that even if I got here through wrong choices or indifference or even rebellion, yet You knew my mistakes and sins before I ever existed, and You worked them into Your plan to draw me to Yourself, to mold and bless me, and to bless others through me. 

Thank You that, even if I’m here through the ill-will or poor judgment of other people, all is well; for in Your sovereign wisdom You are at work to bring about good results from all those past decisions, those past events beyond my control – good results both for me and for others.

Thank You again that You meant for good the terrible things that happened to Joseph, who was sold into slavery, exiled to a distant country, and later sent to prison on false accusations…and that through all this You had him in the right place at the right time, for highly important reasons. I’m glad, Lord, that You are the same today – well able to work things out for us, to turn evil into good. 

I stand amazed at the complexity and mystery of Your wisdom.  How safe it is for me to trust Your reasons for acting (or not acting) and Your methods of working!

Thank You that I can safely commit my location and situation to You. I can be willing for You to shift me anywhere on life’s checkerboard, or bury me anywhere in life’s garden, gladly yielding myself for You…anywhere and anyway You choose.

Thank You that I can trust You with my future places – ready to go, ready to stay.

So I rest in the fact that You have me in this place for this day, and I praise You that You will faithfully guide me throughout life to just where You want me to be, as I seek to do Your will. 

And most important of all is my place in You. How delighted I am to have you as my dwelling place where I can settle down, feel secure and be content anywhere on earth…You are my blessed home, “where I can enter and be at rest even when all around and above is a sea of trouble.” (Andrew Murray). How my soul delights to hide in the secret of Your presence…to take refuge in the shadow of Your wings, to eat at Your table, to drink my fill of the river of Your delights.    

---from Ruth Meyers’s 31 Days of Praise (pp.78-80).         

Loving the Haters: A Changed Perspective of Hateful Picketers

I cringe when I see the Westboro Baptist picketers with their signs declaring God’s hate.  When I first moved to Topeka, I was appalled that they would call themselves “Baptist” and the negative connotation that was associated with the denomination in our community.  How could someone declare a God who hates people or America or a God who loves 9/11?  It was not an easy to explain these people to my children when we drove past them and their signs around town.

Lauren Drain, a former Westoboro Baptist cult member, tells her personal story of her teen years in her book Banished, and helped me understand.  Here are some of my thoughts after reading her memoir:
1.  The whole Bible is God’s Words to us.  If you take one passage, or pick sets of verses you like the best and ignore the others, what you know about God is skewed.  God’s Word does not contradict itself.  Use Scripture to interpret Scripture.  Read verses in context -  context in a passage, in a chapter, in a book, and in the context of all 66 books.  

2.  People are out there seeking God, trying to find out who He is and how to find their way to Him. I may have crossed paths with Lauren Drain the month she was banished.  She was living on her own for the first time at the same apartment complex where I lived for 30 days, alone, for the first time in my life, as my family was making the move to Topeka, Kansas.  Two lonely people waiting for things to change, one knowing the hate of God, the other knowing the love of God.  My heart aches – what if I had kept my eyes open to the people and needs around me and had the opportunity to reach out to her but was just too self-absorbed?

3.  Why do people join cults or unhealthy ‘churches’? Why is it so easy for the Word of God to be twisted and abused? God created us with a longing and with desires that Satan wants to twist.  Many are seeking a sense of: 
a.    Community and belonging, which can be twisted into a life of segregation and shutting out the outside world increasing the connectedness within.
b.    Power, from self instead of Jesus Christ, which comes from looking down on others to elevate self higher, a result of condemning and shunning others.
c.    Significance – which twists into eliteness, feeling more special in God’s eyes than other people, feeding pride and arrogance.

Things aren’t what they seem.  Lauren Drain’s story helped me see the Westboro Baptist church people differently – each one as an individual in need of understanding of the cross.  I will never look at the picketers the same, and dare I say, maybe even feel I can genuinely pray for them with the love of Christ that their eyes will be open to the ultimate Truth.  

Popular: Boys, Booze, and Jesus - Book Review

Tindell Baldwin opens her heart and shares her experience as a teenager striving for popularity in the book Popular: Boys, Booze, and Jesus.  Now in her mid-twenties, she tells her story with honesty and vulnerability, displaying her passion to reveal God’s healing grace in her life.  She wants to protect teenage girls from the mistakes that come from temporary satisfaction, and for those that have already chosen the “fun” road that leads to emotional pain, she offers  hope from her injuries inflicted on the road of brokenness.  She doesn’t glamorize boys and booze, but doesn’t cloak them in vague terms, either. She wants the reader to know that only in Jesus can we find something lasting and that He wants us to use our gifts for good instead of evil.  Tindell’s story is a little drawn-out and repetitive, but she clearly makes her point.  God’s way is the best way.  I may repeatedly tell my teenagers that, but Tindell puts feet to it and makes it real. 

As a middle age mother, I actually found comfort in Tindell’s words as she recognized God’s intervening grace, love and redemption in her life.  If you are a mother of a teenage girl who is testing the boundaries, this book could give a glimpse into what she may be dealing with and how to respond.  I might recommend reading it before giving it to your daughter so that you can talk about it together.  There are aspects to which we can all relate to and talk about – listening to lies and trading something good for something bad because it appears to be more self-gratifying at the moment.

I had the opportunity to read the book with my 17-year-old daughter Emily (strong-willed, independent and stubborn) and her teenage friend Miranda.  In summary, they thought the author was too hung up on the idea of popularity when there are so many other reasons that girls may choose boys and booze.    Here are their thoughts, one more enthusiastic than the other:

Miranda’s review:  I think the temptations that teens face are more about getting away from feelings and wanting to have fun more than it is about being popular.  Feelings are exaggerated and sometimes they just hurt really bad, and to escape them is a big part of it.  Apart from that, I could really relate to what she had to say – especially about her first love, the heart break, and temptations to have sex.  I wish I had read this book two years ago.

Emily’s review: I don’t like to read often unless it's a book that pulls me in from the start and has an awesome plot. This book was not one of them. The title of the book made me not even want to open it – my mom bribed me. The word “popular” is out of date. The subtitle of the book would have been more intriguing. I don’t know a single teen that has sex, does drugs, and drinks just to be “popular.” We do it because it feels good or maybe relieves pain we are feeling.  This book has a lot of repetitiveness about popularity and I felt like the writer was just trying too hard. The second part of the book did get better. It didn’t repeat as much, it was just slower than the first part of the book.
I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for me and my daughter's honest review. 

From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible - Book Review

Sixty-six books claiming divine inspiration, written over a span of 1500 years…Why do these books constitute the Bible and not others?  How were they determined to be the Word of God? Why do some Bibles have the Apocryphal books and some don’t?  Should we read the Apocrypha?  How are errors or differences between ancient manuscripts handled?  Can they be trusted?  How much can we trust our English translations?  You don’t need to go to seminary to learn this.  Norman Geisler and William Nix provide a comprehensive guide in their book From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible

While both Dr. Geisler and Dr. Nix are seminary professors with extensive academic backgrounds, they do not write as if they are stuck in an ivory tower.  This book answers the above questions and more in an organized, readable format, divided into four parts, or links, that show how the chain of communication from God to us is strong:  inspiration, canonization, transmission, and translation. 

The first half of this book explains what every Christian should know about why we can have confidence in the Bible as the Word of God.  In the first two sections, the authors explain what it means that the Bible is “inspired” and provide the evidences for inspiration.  The second part explains how the Bible was developed and put together.  The authors examine how Jesus viewed the Old Testament, which books he considered Scripture, and how Jesus used those words to show who he is. The logical and practical presentation of evidence that the Bible is the Word of God is persuasive.  But they don’t leave us there; they emphasize why it is important to know this for our faith.

You can go as deep as you want with this book, as each part and chapter progresses from a simple overview to an in-depth treatment.  In Part 3: Transmission, we learn how these words were transmitted over two thousand years and whether or not our 20th-century English Bible is an accurate reproduction of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.  First they introduce why written languages are important, how manuscripts were prepared and preserved, and then if you are interested still, you can dive into details of the original manuscripts and textual criticism.  If some readers find this too detailed, they can skip ahead to the beginning of the next chapter understand the general concepts without getting bogged down in the details, such as manuscript types. 

In Part 4: Translation, the authors cover the history of translation from the Aramaic, Syriac, Greek and Latin languages.  Most readers may be especially interested in the last couple chapters about English translations, particularly from the 16th-century translations such as Tyndale’s, and the King James Bible through current versions, such as The Message.    With the proliferation of Bible translations we have today, the authors warn that we must use discernment with consideration of the background of the translators and their source documents used for translation. Some may present dangerous aberrant teaching, heresies, and doctrinal distortions not just in the study notes but into the translation itself. 

Ultimately, this book is excellent for learning how the words of both the Old and New Testaments were preserved over the centuries, why we can have confidence that these words are the Word of God, and how we know they are inerrant.  It provides a guide for us to continue in selecting English translations that are faithful to the true Word of God.  This book is a valuable addition to my personal library.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Press in exchange for my honest review.   

Runaway Emotions - Book Review

Negative emotions can play a positive role in our lives, and even though they may be uncomfortable or even dark and crippling, they have a strong purpose and can serve as warning bells.  Jeff Schreve shows us how emotional pain is like a smoke alarm warning us when something is out of order in his book Runaway Emotions: Why You Feel the Way You Do and What God Wants You to Do about It.

Jeff Schreve chooses eight dark emotions (embarrassment, loneliness, frustration, worry, anger, guilt, discontentment, depression) and then explains how we must ask ourselves why we are feeling them, what they are warning us of, and how we can turn them around so that God can do something great.  Emotions are like smoke alarms – they can help us do find the real fire so that we can extinguish the flames and get things right on the inside.  Schreve uses men and women of the Bible as examples for each emotion as well as illustrations from his own life.  This book is biblically grounded and sound.

But I didn’t find anything new and enlightening in this book.  I was excited about the potential of the theme, but disappointed in the content.  Schreve addresses emotions in a simplistic and generalized fashion, and while he appropriately applies Biblical truths – God loves you, knows you, has a plan for you, so know who you are in Christ – he just scratches the surface. 

I would recommend this book for new Christians or perhaps for parents or youth leaders who want to dialogue about these emotions with older children or teenagers and guide them to maturity.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review.