Tag Archive | Bible

My Mom and Me and Bibles

Mom and me praying c1954

Mom and me praying at a church program. We were “on stage” while someone sang a song about praying. I was wearing brand new red pajamas.

My mom got me hooked on exploring new translations and paraphrases of the Bible when I was a kid. Although I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s knowing that the King James Version was the real Bible – the one we used in Sunday School and church and the one to memorize Bible verses from – Mom was always searching for new ways to gain a deeper understanding of what the Bible means.

I remember one year she convinced my Uncle Helmer and Uncle Fletcher to chip in so that together they could give my grandma a Schofield Reference Bible for her birthday. It was still the King James Version, but it had lots of study aids. I knew Mom really wanted that Bible for herself, but she couldn’t afford it. Several years later when my grandma died, Mom inherited that Bible. I have it now.

When I was still in grade school I remember my mom beginning to get newer translations of the Bible to read along with the King James. The first two I remember were the J. B. Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament and the Amplified New Testament. They were about as different as could be in terms of everyday language versus precise word-for-word translation. Mom loved reading them both.

Amplified Bible - Phillips NTWhen I was in high school, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades were periodically showing up on TV, and with them came offers to get a free book of the Bible that had just been paraphrased into easy-to-understand English – a series of books that would eventually become The Living Bible (LB). Mom received most of the Living New Testament this way – book by book. She just loved reading the books in the Living Version. She usually was smiling when she read it because the meaning of each paragraph was so easy to understand. In the mid-’70s when I was living in Chicago I remember walking to a religious book store in the Loop during one of my lunch hours to buy Mom a leather-bound Living Bible for Christmas to replace all her separate paperbacks of each book. I inherited that Bible from her.

Moms Living Bible

New English Bible 2In 1961 the New English Version of the Bible was published in England. My mom didn’t get that version, but Dagmar Vasby, a retired missionary nurse originally from Denmark who had become a member of our Methodist Church in Cambridge, frequently read from that version whenever she spoke in church. During my freshman year in college, one day when I was browsing the campus bookstore I came across the cutest little 3” by 5” leather-bound New Testament in the New English Version. I couldn’t resist it. I spent $12 on the first installment of my own library of Bibles. Its tiny size made it easy to fit into my suitcase over the years, and it traveled with me on most of my business trips throughout the ’80s.

After my college years I followed Mom’s preference for The Living Bible. I liked how easy it was to read and understand – just like Mom said. But then some well-meaning friends in a Bible study informed me that The Living Bible wasn’t as accurate as “real” translations. It was just a paraphrase and couldn’t be trusted for accuracy when doing any in-depth study. That embarrassed me enough to make me switch to the New International Version (NIV) – the gold standard for Evangelicals. Unfortunately, that conversation also cooled my enthusiasm for exploring different translations and paraphrases as Mom and I had been doing for years.

Many years later, in 2009 when I was starting to assemble a small library for guests to use at our retreat house, Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, I included three Bibles – The King James Version (KJV), The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the New International Version (NIV). The only criticism I received about our book collection was that we should include more translations of the Bible. I guess that’s just what I wanted to hear. Mim and I made several trips to resale shops and used book stores. Our book case quickly reached the point of overflowing. The top shelf was filled with nothing but Bibles – more than a dozen different translations. The rest of the shelves were filled with inspirational books by our favorite authors.

Bible Stack 3Most importantly, I finally resumed my old habit of exploring different translations and paraphrases. Probably the paraphrase I enjoy reading most, just for fun, is The Message (MSG). It provides fresh images for my mind that help me gain new insights into what a particular passage might mean. Another version I’m enjoying is The New King James Version (NKJV). It tries to retain the poetic language of the original King James Version as closely as it can without sacrificing readability for today’s readers.

The most recent version I picked up and am currently exploring is The New Living Translation (NLT). This version is actually a revision of The Living Bible. Like its predecessor, it’s a very readable Bible.

There are a lot more versions out there. But just as my mom didn’t have the money to buy herself a Scofield Reference Bible, I don’t think I can go and buy every translation I’d like to explore. However, I always scan the religious books section in every resale store I enter. I’ve also learned about websites like www.BibleStudyTools.com where you can look up any verse in almost any version you want to read.

I guess I could be hooked on worse things than exploring different translations of the Bible. After all, the Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (NKJV)

Work hard so God can say to you, “Well done.” Be a good workman, one who does not need to be ashamed when God examines your work. Know what his Word says and means. (LB)

Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (NLT)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (NIV)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. (NRSV)

Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. (MSG)

Mom was right. The Living Bible says it best, especially the last part, “Know what his Word says and means.”

Bible-candle-praying hands


The 4 Best Books I’ve Read Recently

3 books and kindle on desktopI’m sitting with three books and my Kindle on my desk right now. Within the past few weeks I’ve finished reading the three books. The fourth book is on my Kindle. All four books are excellent, and I want to tell you about them. Maybe you’ll want to read them, too.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been so busy writing my own two books that I haven’t taken the time to read much. Now that my second book is at the publisher, I’m starting to catch up on all the books I’ve been wanting to read. Am I ever having a wonderful time!

First, A New Devotional

Let me start with the book that I’m still reading – the book on my Kindle, Designed for Devotion: a 365-Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation by Dianne Neal Matthews. This is one of the books I’m using for daily devotional readings this year. (I’ve read Jesus Calling by Sarah Young for the past four years and decided to try something different this year.) I came upon Matthews’ website when I was building my own author website and I was looking for models to figure out how to structure my website. Her website (http://www.diannenealmatthews.com)   was obviously effective – it got me to download a Kindle version of her devotional book. Here’s the short description of her book from the website:

Designed for Devotion Book CoverThis new devotional combines fascinating historical background information about the Bible with practical application that readers can implement in their lives each day. Dianne guides readers on a journey through the Bible from beginning to end, highlighting major events, characters, stories, and teachings. These meditations will bring you deeper into the Scriptures as you deepen your relationship with God.

As someone who grew up going to Sunday School every Sunday from the time I was three, I knew all the popular Bible stories very well. What I’m missing is a broader understanding of how they all fit together, and also a more adult perspective on what God may be trying to tell us through these stories. Several times over the past forty years I’ve started annual reading plans designed to lead me through reading the whole Bible in a year. I never got much beyond Genesis. There was too much detail to give me the broader picture I was looking for. I think this devotional is exactly what I need.

Today I read the story about Joshua sending spies to scout out Jericho to determine how to defeat the city so that the Israelites could enter the Promised Land. Rahab, a prostitute, protected the spies by hiding them in her house. Rahab had heard rumors that the God the Israelites worshiped was the one and only true God, but she didn’t know all the details. In this devotional the author summarizes the Bible story and then suggests implications for our lives today:

Rahab gives us a marvelous picture of trust. So often we get caught up in what we don’t know or can’t understand. Or we focus on the lack of tangible proof that God is working in our life. God wants us to act on the basis of what he’s already revealed to us…

So far, I’ve read the first two months of the devotional, and I’ve covered the first five books of the Bible and now I’m into Joshua, the sixth book. Obviously, a lot has been left out of this “Cliff’s Notes” retelling of the Bible, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how God relates to people – from Adam and Eve to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and many others. It’s a fascinating progression of stories, and now I’m finally able to grasp some of the progression. This devotional book isn’t a replacement for reading the Bible directly, but it certainly is a valuable complement to it.

The Last 3 Books I’ve Read

Now to the three books I’ve finished reading over the last few weeks. Each of the three books digs into a single issue and approaches the issue with a combination of telling personal stories and searching the Bible for understanding and meaning. In my opinion, all three books deserve a 5-star rating. On Amazon.com, their average ratings ranged from 4.4 to 4.8, which means that the majority of reviewers agree with me!

I’ll briefly describe each book below. If you want more information about any of the books, you can look them up online or browse a local bookstore. You can also email me with any questions you may have, or post them on this blog.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood Book CoverA Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard as when I read this book. But I did more than laugh. I thought about some of the virtues God wants women to possess, based on what the Bible says, what various churches say, and what common sense tells me today. Rachel Held Evans is a young evangelical woman who is a prolific blogger, author, and speaker. For this book, she wanted to dig into the Bible to try to understand how a godly woman should live. After her initial study, she identified twelve topics that she would explore in depth, month by month, as she tried to live out a full year of “Biblical Womanhood.”  She started in October with the theme of gentleness. The primary Biblical reference was I Peter 3:3-4:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (NIV)

Each month she prepared a to-do list to help her live as the Bible instructed. For October, the list was:

  • Cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, even during football games (I Peter 3:3-4)
  • Kick the gossip habit (I Timothy 5:12-13)
  • Take an etiquette lesson (Proverbs 11:22)
  • Practice contemplative prayer (Psalm 131)
  • Make a “swearing jar” for behaviors that mimic the “contentious woman” of Proverbs (Proverbs 21:19; 19:13; 27:15)
  • Do penance on the rooftop for acts of contention (Proverbs 21:9)

The rest of the chapter describes the sometimes hilarious and sometimes insightful predicaments she gets into. The theme for July was Justice. One of the to-do’s for that month was to switch to fair trade coffee and chocolate. She also traveled to Bolivia with World Vision to observe how people in one small village of the world live. Her adventures every month gave me something to seriously think about related to how God wants me to live my life in my world.

PrintTorn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. A few years ago I googled “gay Christian” and ended up learning about the Gay Christian Network (http://www.gaychristian.net). They describe themselves as “a nonprofit ministry serving Christians who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and those who care about them. Besides hosting a website that is supportive of LGBT Christians (and friends) who are trying to reconcile being gay and being Christian, the Gay Christian Network sponsors an annual conference to bring LGBT Christians together for mutual support. Mim and I went to the conference in 2011. We had never been a part of a group of hundreds of LGBT Christians before – worshipping God together, telling our stories, listening to inspiring speakers (including author Philip Yancey), and making new friends. That’s where we met Justin Lee, the founder of this organization and author of Torn.

Torn is Justin’s life story. He grew up in a loving, Southern Baptist family, and was a committed Christian from early childhood. He earned the nickname of “God-boy” because living life the way God intended for him was always in the forefront of his mind. In high school, he reluctantly came to the conclusion that he was gay, through no fault of his own. His personal struggles in dealing with this realization make up the first half of the book. In the rest of the book Justin takes us along on his search to understand what the Bible really says about being gay.

One of the blurbs on the back cover of Torn was written by Rachel Held Evans. This is what she says about his book:

This is the most important book I’ve read in years, and it will be the first I recommend to anyone interested in bridging the divide between the LGBT community and the church. Justin has given us a precious gift with this story. May we receive it with the same courage and faith with which it was delivered.

Andrew You Died Too Soon Book CoverAndrew, You Died Too Soon by Corinne Chilstrom. How would you react if someone who is very close to you committed suicide? How would you grieve? How can you be supportive of others who grieve in this type of situation? Can the Bible give us any comfort? These are some of the questions Corinne Chilstrom deals with in this book. Chilstrom is a Lutheran pastor and a nurse, and her 18-year-old son committed suicide.

Granger Westberg, author of the book Good Grief endorsed Chilstrom’s book with these words:

I was deeply moved as I read this absolutely honest story by a Christian mother who lost her son – by suicide. Grieving parents will find this forthright documentary written by a loving mother in deep grief to be more than just supportive – it glows with spiritual insights. Corinne Chilstrom has opened her heart, mind, and spirit to all people who are struggling with seemingly unendurable grief.

I kept a Kleenex in my hand as I read this book. I had to wipe a lot of tears from my eyes to be able to see the words clearly enough to keep reading. But I learned a little more about God’s promise to never forsake us. I also learned a little about how to be a helpful friend to someone who is grieving the loss of a child or other dear one through the tragedy of suicide. It’s a good book. Another endorsement on the back cover of the book said, “Chilstrom’s book speaks to Christians who want to know what to do in the face of sudden tragedy… This is a book for us as we learn to grieve, for all of us as we learn to live.” (Norma Cook Everist, Wartburg Theological Seminary)

What Should I Read Next?

Biblical womanhood, the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, and suicide – three big topics – and three excellent books. Plus a fascinating daily devotional that attempts to organize all the Bible stories I learned as a kid in Sunday School and put them into perspective. Thank God for books!

I haven’t decided which book to pick up next to read. Any suggestions? What’s the best book you’ve read recently? I really want to know – and I suspect that other readers of this blog would like to know some good recommendations, too.