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Archive for May, 2009

Daily Bible reading and prayer

I struggle with this and hope the day comes when I discipline myself to spend at least half an hour daily reading the Bible and another half hour in prayer. I remember at Pensacola Christian College seeing this sign on the door of one our floorleaders:

Have you been with the Holy of Holies today?

It’s very convicting, especially when you consider it’s a criminal offense in much of the world to have a copy of the Bible. There are also thousands of language groups, including the Sabüm of southeastern Asia, who don’t even have a translation of the Bible in their language.

Maybe I should get the Bible on CD.

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I found my Bible!

Online, they have the large-print edition of the New Open Study Bible (King James Version, of course). Yes, having a large-print edition is ostensibly a sign of getting old, even though I’ve worn glasses for 25 years, but I like this version. A lot. Now all I have to do are two things: try to fine either a hard cover or (preferably) a genuine leather cover and then get the funds to buy it.

My prior NOSB was a high school graduation gift from my pastor. It was used a lot over the years and had personal information in it along with autographs from these pastors: Dr. Johnny Pope, Jonathan King of the Roloff Homes, Dr. Phil Shuler, Dr. Gary Coleman (the pastor of Garland, Texas’ Lavon Drive Baptist Church and not to be confused with the child star of Diff’rent Strokes), Richard Martin (the father of my wife’s maid of honor and who currently pastors in Kerrville, Texas), Pastor Tim Stowe of Beeville Baptist Church and the late Dr. Jack Hyles* of Hammond, Ind.’s First Baptist Church. Alas, those are all gone: during a move, the Bible was packed into a box and placed in our basement. The basement flooded, and the Bible was destroyed.

I like this Bible because it has lots of great historical information about Biblical events, and it also contains great maps, outlines and something I personally like: the transliterated original names of the books in Hebrew and Greek.

* Dr. Hyles passed away on February 6, 2001, on my 28th birthday. I obtained his autograph in 1994 while he was preaching at San Antonio’s Liberty Baptist Church. He showed up on stage during the final stanza of the final song before his sermon, preached on regaining one’s first love and even signed a few Bibles afterward. My brother-in-law, Joe, told me it was a rarity since Dr. Hyles often left the church immediately after preaching. Why? I’m guessing he had a busy schedule. Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of Dr. Hyles now, but it was a treat to get his signature. I remember later getting Dr. Pope’s autograph and he did a quick double-take when he saw Dr. Hyles’ name (Dr. Hyles presided over the marriage ceremony of Dr. Pope and his wife).

Seeking the kingdom of God

If there ever was a place in the Bible to park and ponder, it would be Matthew 6.

Here at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about the priorities in life.

Yes, it would be nice to have millions in the bank, a pantry and refrigerator that never seemed bare and a car that never broke down, but that’s life.

When dealing with life’s struggles, Jesus says this in Matthew 6:33 about worrying:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (King James Bible)

In other words, trust in God, go where He leads and He’ll take care of the rest.

Prayers for Farrah Fawcett, Corpus Christi, Texas' Favorite Daughter

Here at My Two Shekels, we’re praying for you, Ms. Fawcett.

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Links to cool Bible sites

The Chinese Bible, both long-form (used in Taiwan and Hong Kong) and short-form (used in the mainland)

Hebrew Old Testament (includes translation)

Greek New Testament (the Textus Receptus)

Russian Bible

German Bible (the Martin Luther translation, courtesy of the University of Michigan)

Spanish Bible (Reina Valera)

Hebrew New Testament

Arabic Bible

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Revisiting Jonah: God wants the whole world to be saved

NOTE: This column was originally published in Saworship.com.

By Richard Zowie

At Pensacola Christian College I met many different people, some so out there they made even me look normal. Despite PCC being conservative in its outlook and somewhat independent Baptist in its theology, many students at PCC came from various denominations. A few students had very odd theological viewpoints.

Here’s one example: I heard of students who believed the blood Jesus shed on the cross was sufficient only to pay for the sins of those who become Christians. In other words, Jesus didn’t die for those who reject Him, only for those who accept Him. Furthermore, God selects whom He will save, gives them irresistible grace while those He chooses not to save have no choice but to reject him (or what I like to call irresistible disgrace).

How do I say this nicely but with the utmost respect…hmm, let’s see…

HOG WASH!

Forgive me for sounding close-minded and dogmatic, but I find this belief to be abhorrent. It would take a separate column to cite scripture (such as the obvious one, John 3:16) showing that God loved the entire world and that Jesus’ death was for everybody—whether or not they accept Him. When God and Jesus collectively decided unfathomable eons ago that Jesus would die for our sins, it wasn’t for a select, elite group of believers. It was for everybody.

Here’s a quick analogy: let’s say a prisoner decides to go on a hunger strike. He tells the warden he won’t eat, and the warden knows this prisoner well enough to conclude he won’t back down. Despite this, the warden still arranges meals for the prisoner. This could be for two reasons. One, the warden hopes the prisoner might somehow change his mind or, two, the warden wants the prisoner to realize his refusal to eat is his choice and not to be blamed on the prison’s denial of food for him—an ostensible violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

With that, wouldn’t it be difficult for God to condemn someone to a Christless eternity when He never gave them the chance or choice to accept Jesus? If Jesus’ blood wasn’t available to the lost, then they couldn’t be justly condemned when not given a proper choice. To me, it is tantamount to writing a software program where the computer will always answer “No” when asked if it wants to become a Christian, and then holding them culpable for their “response”.

What I find especially dangerous about this crazy theological notion is that it makes Christianity seem like a country club religion to outsiders. Why entertain any ideas of taking a path to heaven when it’s only for a select, elite few? Christianity is anything but that and is open for anyone: rich, poor, morally upright, depraved criminals, New Yorkers, New Zealanders, the cultured, the primitive. Absolutely anybody. The song “Whosoever will” doesn’t contain the line “Some restrictions apply” but means what it says—if you want Jesus in your life, He’ll gladly take you.

Previously, I explored the life of Jonah, and I’d like to do so yet again. The Book of Jonah, if indeed an autobiographical work, is perhaps the bravest book in the Bible; it’s a confessional piece written by a disgruntled, possibly prejudiced man. God called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, a cruel nation hated by the Israelites.

We know from the book that Jonah refused and ran, only to be brought back on course by God using a giant fish. Jonah finally preached and the Ninevites, much to his chagrin, repented in stark, collective humility.

Call Jonah the most ungrateful soul winner. His sour attitude is even worse than that of a person who, after winning a $300 million lottery, grouses about how much in taxes they’ll have to pay.

Jonah 4 tells us that this grumpy prophet, whose name in Hebrew translates somewhat ironically as “dove”, became angry with God for sparing the Ninevites. The prophet left Nineveh, ventured out to its eastern realm and sat down under a shelter, vainly hoping he could witness the city’s destruction.

As Jonah watched, God prepared a gourd to provide further shelter for him. Verse six tells us the prophet was “exceeding glad” for the shelter. But then God brought about a worm to “smite” the gourd, causing it to wither away.

Jonah suffered the ultimate pity party. He hoped God would take his life so he didn’t have to witness the sparing of this detested nation. If it wasn’t bad enough God was sparing the destruction of more than 100,000 people, Jonah now felt the scorching sun beating down upon him and taking away the comfort the gourd had provided. When Jonah told God of how angry he was that the gourd had died, here’s what God said to him in verses 10-11:

“Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:

“and should not I spare Nin’eveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

The last two verses represent one of the key themes of Jonah. God essentially said this: “Jonah, how could you possibly get so upset over the destruction of a inanimate plant but yet be so calloused and hope that I would destroy more than 120,000 people? These are people who were so wicked that they had virtually no way anymore to distinguish right from wrong.”

And so we have the vital Gospel message: God cares for the entire world and NOT just for the select few. This is why God lays it on the hearts of some Christians to serve in the mission field, others to give comfort to the homeless and others to visit jails and tell inmates of God’s power. This is also why God lays it on the hearts of Christians to embark on seemingly suicide missions to witness to primitive cannibals or in parts of the world where espousal of Christianity is a capital offense.

Although many will reject Christ’s sacrifice, God wants everybody to someday dwell in His eternal kingdom; Jesus’ blood was shed for everybody. This is a message Jonah learned the hard way, and I hope it’s something that student at college now understands.

If you need prayer or guidance, feel free to email me at mytwoshekels@gmail.com or leave a comment on this blog posting.

Playing Jonah is no fun at all

NOTE: This column originally was published in Saworship.com.

By Richard Zowie

Some of us just insist on learning the hard way. A roommate of mine at college told me about how, after high school, he went against his parents’ wishes and attended a secular university. “Ryan” wanted then to follow the money and become an architect.

He only spent about a month at this university in the northeastern United States. He dealt with liberal professors and roommates who liked to get friendly in the room with members of the opposite sex. Ryan called this brief time of ignoring God’s will and going to this liberal state university “playing Jonah”. He’s now married with children and serving as a pastor in New England.

(This is not to say that no Christians should attend state or liberal colleges, but rather they should follow God’s path for their life).

Jonah, one of the Old Testament’s minor prophets, presents the classic example of what happens when a person decides to directly disobey God. It’s a good book to read for anyone who wishes to do something they know goes abrasively against what God wants for them in their lives. Jonah took a simple command from God and disobeyed it, with startling consequences.

That command was to go to Nineveh and call it to repentance. Both the Bible and history tell us that Nineveh was a wicked city. Specifically, God describes the its wickedness in Jonah 1:2 as having “come up before Me.”

Jonah hated the Ninevites and probably relished the idea of God destroying them. Perhaps the prophet’s rationale was “God will destroy it if they don’t repent. If I don’t go there and preach against their wickedness, they’ll have no way of repenting. Therefore, all I have to do is not go and they’ll be destroyed.”

With that, Jonah forsook going to Nineveh and boarded a ship to Tarshish. Jonah knew he’d been given a command from God, but he chose to ignore it. We do this sometimes, don’t we? We directly disobey God, knowing we’re treading onto dangerous ground. We tell ourselves that we’ll deal with the consequences when they come, unaware that sometimes the consequences can border on much more than we can bear.

But the ship fell into a terrible storm. The ship’s captain warned Jonah that the ship could sink at any moment and that everyone on board would drown. The captain noticed something different about Jonah and consulted him for advice on how to save the ship. On the prophet’s instructions, the crew tossed Jonah overboard. He knew this would save the ship, and he might’ve thought this would be the end to God’s way of getting his attention.

He was wrong.

The Bible tells us in Jonah 1:17 that “—the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

It must’ve been terrifying for Jonah to descend into those gigantic jaws, travel through the fish’s* esophagus and into its stomach. Stomach juices generally contain hydrochloric acid, a very caustic substance that helps to further break down food in the digestion process. The smell in the stomach, needless to say, must’ve given new meaning to the word foul. Jonah had absolutely no access to fresh air, and I can imagine that he suffered some severe headaches. Jonah also had company in the stomach, sharing cramped space with all the other dying and partially-digested fish, plankton or whatever else this whale liked to snack on. Worst of all, as he dealt with the perpetual seasickness for three days and three nights as the whale swam around in the sea, he also had to deal with the uncertainty of total darkness. Most likely, Jonah quickly realized that such an unpleasant experience could’ve been avoided if he’d simply done what God had told him.

Jonah spent a lot of time in that fish’s stomach contemplating his actions and praying to God. Jonah 2 gives us a glimpse at the prayer of Jonah. I can imagine that it was an experience that he didn’t care to ever have to go through again. It obviously was terrible, since Jesus compared it in Matthew 12:40 to the three days and three nights he spent in the grave.

Finally, God spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah out. After God again commanded him to go and speak to the Ninevites, Jonah obeyed. He went on a three-day journey to Nineveh and preached to the Ninevites, telling them that their city would fall unless it repented of its sins. They repented, and Jonah’s reaction is the subject for a future column.

God had to use the ultimate case of seasickness — the stench and seclusion inside a fish’s stomach — to get Jonah’s attention. One older staff member at college spoke in Sunday school once about how God had to take his beautiful young wife to get his attention about serving Him. I also recall a prominent evangelist who was a very successful athlete in high school. This evangelist said that God had to take his legs in a mine explosion in Vietnam to get his attention about living for Him.

If you have gone away from the Lord there is hope! God is not a God of “I told you so” or “if you would’ve just did what I said six months ago.” God wants the best for you, He wants you live the abundant life He called you to live. God will never give up on you, remember God gave up everything for you (His Son Jesus) so we may live. Find godly men and women to gain wisdom from and be blessed.

* The Hebrew word translated “fish” in Jonah is דג,or dag, which means “fish”. (Some might remember the Philistine god, which had a fish tail, was called Dagon). In the King James Version, Jesus talks in Matthew 12:40-41 about how as Jonah was in the belly of the “whale” for 3 days and 3 nights, he (Jesus) must also be buried for 3 days and 3 nights in the earth. The Greek word translated whale, κητος,  or ketos, is somewhat of an ambiguous term that, according to Strong’s Concordance, can mean whale or huge fish. Fish continue to grow as long as they live, evidenced by catfish that become big enough to swallow a human being. In the ancient world (and even in 1611, when the KJV was first published), zoology wasn’t as advanced as it is today, and my understanding is at the time whales were considered to be fish. I think the idea behind the term “whale” is to describe a fish that was so big it was the size of a whale. Who knows, perhaps it was even a whale shark (which, despite the “whale” adjective, is actually a fish).

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