Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Re-Issue of “Grief – The Expression of Pain” - April 11, 2017

Re-Issue of “Grief – The Expression of Pain”
(April 11, 2017)
          In the summer of 2012 a deranged individual shot up a movie theater in Aurora, CO and it prompted me to write a weblog on grief and pain.  This week we have seen yet another tragic set of events at a school in California.  My own heart is broken right now after losing my youngest son only 2 short months ago.  I found it amazing to go back and read my own words and, even though I believed every word I wrote 5 years ago, those same words have so much more sharpness and depth than before.
Allen Raynor Weblog: Grief – The Expression of Pain
(July 24, 2012)
          Once again people are left asking why after James Holmes went on a shooting spree at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater early Friday morning.  Heinous acts like these have become all too common in recent years.  The local media in Denver have naturally been comparing this tragedy to the Columbine High School shooting rampage in 1999, which took place in nearby Littleton.
          Many people have been affected directly by this tragedy while others have been affected more indirectly.  I did not know anyone shot or killed personally, but I must admit seeing the pictures of 6 year old Veronica Moser-Sulivan on newscasts has brought tears to my eyes.  As a father, a pastor, and as a human being I cannot help but be touched.  We are all affected in some way.  We are left with seemingly more questions than answers.  How do we make sense of this “senseless” outpouring of evil?
          Grief is a natural process that we have to go through when tragedy strikes our lives.  Sometimes we can see it coming, other times it totally blind-sides us.  H. Norman Wright says of grief, “It has been labeled everything from intense mental anguish to acute sorrow to deep remorse.” (Experiencing Grief)  Ken Gire in his 2001 book The Weathering Grace of God compares grief to the description of the Dust Bowl in John Steinbeck’s great novel, The Grapes of Wrath.  He writes, “Steinbeck’s description of the Dust Bowl is what the weather of the heart is sometimes like for someone who has endured a great loss.  A steady wind blows over you, opposes you, oppresses you.  The wind grows stronger, whisking away what little soil surrounds the few rootlets of spiritual life you have left.”
          There are a lot of unanswered questions right now for a lot of surviving victims and family members of those affected.  Trying to comfort such sorrow is an overwhelming task.  You can look into the tear filled eyes of these people and know that from the very depths of their souls they just want to understand why their loved one was taken away.  In the Old Testament, Job desired desperately to understand why he suffered as he did, but it was not revealed to him.  God basically expected him to rely on faith, but not a blind, uninformed, or an empty sort of faith which is no faith at all.  But instead a faith that called to mind God’s past “faithfulness” to Job.  Ken Gire goes on to pose the questions, ‘“What can I do to grow through this experience?’  And ‘How will my life be stronger now?’  Faith is involved in this process.  On one hand you will ask why and on the other hand say, ‘I will learn to live by faith.’  Faith is many things.  It is not knowing the answer to the why, and being willing to wait for an answer.  Eventually you may say, ‘I really don’t need the answer in order to go on.’  Some say not knowing makes recovery difficult, but could it be that knowing could make it even more difficult?  We hope an explanation will lessen the hurt.  It won’t.  Job asked and asked and asked again, but the silence of God was loud.”
          Consider the prophet Habakkuk who cried out and asked God why, but the silence of God again was loud.  Even though Habakkuk never received an answer from God he did come to a place of acceptance.  In Hab. 3:17-18 we read, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will be joyful in God my Savior.”  That is quite a testimony from one who has gone through so much hurt.  The human spirit is, without question,  resilient.  We are capable of more than we realize we are capable of when in the midst of great pain and distress. 
          Over time we slowly learn to not think about the tragedy or loss quite as much.  It happens so gradually we do not even realize that it is happening.  The great scientist, mathematician, and theologian of the 17th Century, Blaise Pascal, wrote “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” (Pensees)  Indeed mankind has trained himself to not think about the reality which exists all around him all the time.  Mankind has many amusements and occasionally, and with great difficulty and discomfort,  he is brought back to reality of living in the broken world that is described on every page of the Bible in sharp detail.  The good news for those directly affected by the Aurora theater shooting and  all of mankind is that right along with the description of lostness, brokenness, and hopelessness in God’s Word is the truth that God can find what is lost, fix what is broken, and restore hope where once there was none!  That is the Gospel message.  The message of true hope!
In Christ,
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Monday, April 3, 2017

Re-Issue of “The Bible: One Book, Yet Many” - April 3, 2017

Re-Issue of “The Bible: One Book, Yet Many”
(April 3, 2017)
          The following is a weblog I originally sent out in March, 2013.  Recently, in a conversation with my mother-in-law, I was reminded of it and she asked that I send it out again.
Allen Raynor Weblog:  The Bible: One Book, Yet Many
(Mar. 11, 2013)
          Have you noticed that searching for a new Bible is not as simple as it used to be?  Over the course of time selecting a Bible has become complex to say the least!  There is choice of colors, binding styles, print size, etc. Over the past century there has been an explosion of various translations of Scripture, snowballing toward the end of the 20thCentury.  These include The American Standard Version (ASV) 1901, The New American Standard (NAS) 1971, The New International Version (NIV) 1978, The New King James Version (NKJV) 1982, The New Living Translation (NLT) 1986, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 1989, The English Standard Version (ESV) 2001, and The Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSV) 2004.  These are only some of the more prevalent ones.  In fact, there were more than 50 translations published over the past century!   Additionally, over the last few decades there has been something of an explosion of various Bible paraphrases such as The Living Bible (1971) Good News For Modern Man (1976), The Cotton Patch Bible (various sections published throughout the 1960s), and The Message (2002).  There are topical Bibles, chronological Bibles, life application Bibles, interlinear Bibles, etc.  Reader’s Digest came out with a condensed Bible, presumably including what their editors deemed of greatest interest.  Inexpensive paperback New Testaments have been distributed by churches and organizations and Bibles have been placed in hotel rooms all around the world by the Gideon’s.  There are a multitude of children’s Bibles available. You can even purchase recordings of famous voices such as James Earl Jones and Johnny Cash reading The New Testament.  There is The Franklin Electronic Pocket Bible, and you can even have the Bible on your phone by downloading a simple App.
          Reference Bibles, linking Scripture with Scripture in a systematic way, were first popularized by C. I. Scofield and his famous reference system.  Later others such as The Thompson Chain Reference Bible came along.  But, perhaps the most fascinating phenomenon of all is the advent known as “The Study Bible.”  The study Bible certainly made sense when first introduced, although there was some push-back from those who said it was not right to have man’s commentary notes bound together with Scripture.  But over time, those nay-sayers faded away.  Many find study Bibles indispensable as they study God’s Word.  There are a couple of ways to view study Bibles.  1) A person has to ask themselves, does it detract people from deeper study when information is too easily available right there in the center or bottom margin?  2) Have study Bibles turned into a sociological phenomenon to the point where they are detracting from the Bible alone being God’s Word?   As to the second issue, I would say I have 2 concerns.  First of all, I fear profit is driving publishers to publish nearly anything they believe will sell.  In that sense they are profiting from the Bible in a way that is somewhat questionable.  Second, I am concerned that people seem to be imposing themselves upon the Bible to some degree.  What do I mean by this?  Well, consider these available titles: NLT Girls Life Application Study Bible, NLT Guys Life Application Study Bible, The Women’s Study Bible, the The African American Heritage Study Bible, The ESV Global Study Bible, marketed as being for “the globally minded believer,” The Revolve Bible, purposefully meant to look like a fashion magazine marketed to teenage girls, and for gospel music lovers there is The Gaither Homecoming Bible.  Study Bible’s based on age, gender, skin color, political concerns, outside interests, hobbies, etc.?  Is this over the top?  Is there any limit to study Bibles?  Will we one day see the Tea Party member’s study Bible, the barbeque lovers study Bible, the hemorrhoid sufferers study Bible?  It sounds ridiculous, but, while the Bibles themselves are no doubt helpful to many, they also are highly reflective of a man-centered culture which is far more inductive when it comes to God and his Word than deductive, as mankind once was in generations past.  To a large degree our generation has sought to fashion the Bible to our personalities, tastes, and interests in virtually every way we believe we can legitimately do so.  It is not to say, many of the things which are done are necessarily wrong, but it does certainly say something about us.  One piece of telling evidence of this can be seen by walking down the entire aisle at the Family Christian Store devoted to Bible covers.  There are covers made to look like a football, one that looks like a watermelon, one’s that come in either “mossy oak,” or “real tree” camouflage, or are in zebra or cheetah print.  There are many different colors and multiple shades of each color.  There are ones with flowers on them and ones with geometric shapes and designs; and these are just the tip of the iceberg!  Again, this is reflective of our culture mainly in two distinct areas – our wealth and our narcissism.
          Many study Bibles have people’s name attached to them.  Is it right to put a person’s name on the Bible? Are these Bibles drawing more attention to individuals than to Scripture itself?  Such titles include The Matthew Henry Study Bible, The A. W. Tozer Study Bible, The John Maxwell Leadership Bible, The Henry Morris Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible
          Christian Book Distributers (CBD) has a whole catalog of nothing but Bibles.  The 2013 CBD Bible Catalog is 68 pages in length!  Their regular March/April bi-monthly catalog of many products devotes 18 pages to Bibles and Bible accessories.  There are 5 pages of study Bibles, 1 page of NIV Bibles, 1 page of ESV Bibles, 1 page devoted to KJV and NASV Bibles, 1 page devoted to NKJV and HCSV Bibles, 1 page to Bible paraphrases, 3 pages to specialty Bibles, 1 page for Bibles for kids, 1 page entitled “Bibles & New Testaments,” 2 pages of “Bible Bargains,” and 1 page devoted to Bible accessories (Bible covers, highlighters, tabs, etc.).  When added up, there are several hundred choices available just from this one section of one catalog!
          I do believe that what we see is highly market driven.  People have a teenager, for instance, that they desperately want to read God’s Word.  They see a title such as Teen Life Application Study Bible and they purchase the Bible as a gift with the hopes and prayers it will make a difference.  A wife who desperately wishes to see her husband get right with God and get back in church purchases a men’s study Bible for him.  A woman seeking to personally grow closer to God purchases a women’s devotional Bible with the hope that it will fulfill her desires.  Is there anything wrong with these things?  Not necessarily.  If we have pure motives and we actually use these as tools, I see no problems at all.  But there are a couple of comments I would make.  First of all, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”  We have been given an incalculable number of resources in our modern world.  We have translations, commentaries, devotionals, reference works, and so many other things previous generations did not have.  While some of the tools cause me to raise an eyebrow from time to time, by and large the explosion of information available to us is a very good thing.  However, we must be discerning.  Also, there is no substitute for God’s Word itself.  As long as we do not allow things to get out of their proper order, we can greatly benefit from all that we have to great spiritual benefit.
          I would highly recommend to you a few Bibles I have found particularly helpful and enjoyable.  The American Patriots Bible contains many interesting tidbits from American history and shows how the Bible has been valued by key people in our nation’s history.  The Reformation Study Bible has extensive notes concerning key people and events instrumental in the Protestant Reformation.  The Apologetics Study Bible is a great resource to help you discover Biblical answers to the questions often asked by skeptics.  The MacArthur Study Bible (available in NKJV, NASV, and ESV) has been among my favorites for years.  John MacArthur is a trusted scholar and preacher of the Word of God and his insights are fantastic.  Any Bible is meant to be a valuable tool.  If you open its pages and study its content it will change your life.  Theologian Bernard Ramm wrote, “A thousand times over, the death knell of the Bible has been sounded, the funeral procession formed, the inscription cut on the tombstone, and the committal read.  But somehow the corpse never stays put!”  Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit and joints and marrow and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” 
          I like to read the Bible through a couple of times each year alternating the particular study Bible I use, reading the notes as I go along, learning much on each and every page.  I love the words of the late British evangelist Rodney “Gipsy” Smith who said “What makes the difference is not how many times you have been through the Bible, but how many times and how thoroughly the Bible has been through you.”  Take advantage of the great opportunities of our age, totally unknown to previous generations of Christians.
In Christ,
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor