Monday, November 30, 2009

Good news from Central Asia

To kick off our Week of Prayer and December Southern Baptist Missions Offering, here's an encouraging story from the International Mission Board...
“You could be killed for talking about Jesus around here.”

That’s what a Muslim named Bershi* told missionary Luke Jenkins* after Jenkins shared the Gospel with him.

Bershi was an illegal immigrant looking for work when he came to the Central Asian nation where Jenkins serves as a church planter. But his warning didn’t stop Jenkins. He continued to discuss Jesus with Bershi, and as the young man’s interest grew, they began studying the Bible together. Eventually Bershi gave his life to Christ and was baptized.

Since that time Bershi has begun to actively share his faith, and even baptized three others he led to Christ earlier this year. He’s also returned to his own country, a place with severely limited access to the Gospel and very few believers.

Bershi’s baptism is among the more than 506,000 recorded by the IMB (International Mission Board) in 2008 — about one baptism per minute. Southern Baptist missionaries and their partners also reported starting more than 24,650 new churches last year, as well as engaging 93 new people groups with the Gospel for the first time. The total number of overseas churches broke records again, topping 204,000, continuing a steady climb from 111,000 just five years ago.

The numbers are evidence of the powerful way God is using Southern Baptists to complete the Great Commission task.

Praise the Lord! Our church's goal this December is to raise $1500 for global missions. Together with thousands of other SBC churches, we hope to raise a total of $175 million for International Missions. Will you join us in giving for the spread of the gospel and God's glory among the nations?

*Names have been changed for security reasons

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Will the earth end in 2012?

I recently wrote this article which appeared in today's edition of our local paper, the Hi Desert Star...

The new movie “2012” is full of courage, sacrifice, and some great special effects, but could it be more than Hollywood entertainment? Could it be an actual preview of what is to come?

According to some experts, the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end on December 21, 2012. Pretty serious stuff. Could it be true?

Whenever we hear of doomsday theories like this, it’s good to ask, “What does the Bible say?” Now maybe you’re wondering what makes the Bible any more reliable than the Mayan calendar. After all, isn’t the Bible just another book of ancient mythology? Great question. And I have two answers.

First, the Bible is trustworthy because it is God’s own Word. The divine author himself urges us to read and accept it. As it says in Revelation 22:6, “These words are faithful and true.”

Second, the Bible is trustworthy because it has already made hundreds of predictions that have come true. It has never once been wrong. Never.

So again we ask, what does the Bible say about the end of the world? The Bible says that before the world will end, one very important event must occur: the second coming of Jesus Christ. We don’t know if this will happen in 2012 or not. It might happen sooner, or it might happen later. It could literally happen at any time. No one, including the ancient Mayan civilization, knows when Jesus will return. All we know is that his return is certain, and that it will come suddenly, without any warning.

Jesus says, “Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming…Be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matthew 24:42, 44).

Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. How can we be ready? By admitting we’re sinners and trusting that Jesus died and rose again to pay for our sin. As long as we truly know Him as Savior and Lord, we have nothing to fear. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

A movie like “2012” is purely fictional, but it does offer a good reminder. Life is short, and all of us need to prepare for what really is certain – the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Satisfied in Christ

What's the purpose of life? And what's the purpose of the church? The answer to both these questions is the same: to glorify God.

We exist to bring God glory, pleasure, and honor, and to reflect His beauty to others. But how do we bring God the greatest glory? The answer may be surprising to you. We bring God the greatest glory by enjoying Him. By really loving Him more than anything else. John Piper says it this way: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."

Last Sunday, our church studied Psalm 63. It's the heartfelt song of King David, a man after God's own heart, who found his joy and satisfaction in God. We saw three reasons we too can be satisfied in God (who, this side of the cross, finds His fullest expression in Jesus Christ):
  1. Christ Satisfies our Thirst (Ps. 63:1-5). David, writing in a barren Judean wasteland (see picture above), speaks of a deep thirst and craving for God. He longs for God even more than his body cries for water. And his soul is deeply satisfied in God alone (v. 5). Jesus says something very similar to the Samaritan woman in John 3:13-14. Those who believe and drink deeply of Jesus will never thirst again, but will have a well of water springing up to eternal life.
  2. Christ Saves our Life (Ps. 63:6-8). David thinks back on the night before. As he lay on his bed, his mind had been occupied with the goodness of God. God had been David's help (v. 7) in many ways, and David had learned to cling to Him alone (v. 8).
  3. Christ Settles our Account (Ps. 63:9-11). Though his enemies were seeking his utter ruin, David had learned to find refuge in God. He knew that the Lord would one day intervene. What a comfort to know God will one day bring justice upon all His enemies. Vengeance is God's; He will repay. Our responsibility is to treat our enemies with love (Romans 12:14-21).
Based on Psalm 63, here are several discussion starters you could use around the Thanksgiving table or while traveling with family this week:
  • v. 2 - How did you "see God in the sanctuary" this year? What was one of your highlights at church in 2009?
  • v. 3 - God's lovingkindess is described as "better than life" (health, longevity, success). Can you think of someone who has exemplified this attitude in the last year? What can you learn from them?
  • v. 7 - How has God been your help in the last couple months? (Be specific)
  • v. 8 - Is there a time this year when you could really sense God holding you up?
  • v. 9 - Has anyone mistreated you this year? How did it make you feel? (Don't spend too much time dwelling on this, because love covers many sins and does not take account of wrong suffered. 1 Peter 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:5). Have you given this over to God, or are you still seething with anger? How does God want you to treat this person? (Rom. 12:14-21)
Sunday's sermon will be uploaded next week to our podcast site for free download.

Enter to win a free J. C. Ryle commentary set

The J. C. Ryle Quotes blog is holding a drawing for a free set of commentaries by J. C. Ryle. Ryle is one of my favorite pastors and authors from the 19th century. You can enter to win here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do your Christmas shopping and support a pastor

If you like to shop at, you can do four great things at once. You can buy merchandise at great prices; save time and gas; avoid the crowds; and support a pastor (myself) without spending any extra money!

Simply by entering the Amazon website through this link here, 4% of your purchase will be credited to me for future book purchases. (This is the same link as the button embedded at the bottom right corner of my blog home page).

So for example, if you spend $100 at Amazon this year on Christmas gifts, I will get a $4 credit toward a future book. This Affiliates program is active not just at Christmas time, but all year long.

Remember, Amazon sells a lot more than books. They also have DVDs, toys, clothes, CDs, tools, and much more. Happy shopping, and thanks for supporting my library fund!

**I also learned this week about a great website called They're posting many "Black Friday" ads ahead of time so you can see and compare the best online and in-store sales. Definitely worth checking out.**

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thousands of new marine species discovered

On day five of creation, God made all the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky. It says in Genesis 1:21 that the "waters swarmed after their kind." Now, some of those "swarming" sea creatures are being discovered for the very first time. According to the Associated Press,

A report released Sunday recorded 17,650 species living below 656 feet, the point where sunlight ceases. The findings were the latest update on a 10-year census of marine life.

"Parts of the deep sea that we assumed were homogenous are actually quite complex," said Robert S. Carney, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University and a lead researcher on the deep seas.

Thousands of marine species eke out an existence in the ocean's pitch-black depths by feeding on the snowlike decaying matter that cascades down — even sunken whale bones. Oil and methane also are an energy source for the bottom-dwellers, the report said.

The researchers have found about 5,600 new species on top of the 230,000 known.

Some of the newly discovered marine life includes tentacled transparent sea cucumbers and primitive organisms that flap with "Dumbo-like" fins. Man's exploration of the deep sea is revealing some fascinating and funny surprises.
"The deep sea was considered a desert until not so long ago; it's quite amazing to have documented close to 20,000 forms of life in a zone that was thought to be barren," said Jesse Ausubel with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
For more information on this deep sea census, visit the Census of Marine Life website.

Praise God for His magnificent and diverse creation! I believe He takes genuine pleasure in projects like this, where humans seek to subdue and understand the earth where He has placed us.

Related posts:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Free access to 54 volumes of encyclopedias

Move over Wikipedia. There are some other encyclopedias on the internet available for free access too.

1. Encyclopedia Judaica. The Biblical Studies and Technology Tools blog announced today,
I don't seem to have found a link to this on any of the usual sites I frequent, so it perhaps may also be helpful to you to bookmark this link for free access to the complete, 22 volumes worth, $2263 at Amazon set, 2nd edition of 2007, Encyclopedia Judaica. (That's the link to the entrance page for the Jewish Community Association of Austin where you will find the acknowledgment of the sponsor for this online edition and the password needed to access the site.)

While this encyclopedia covers the whole spectrum of Jewish experience up to the present, there is still a ton of biblical stuff readers of this blog may be interested in checking out. Peruse the hundreds of maps, a 44 page "Land of Israel: Geographical Survey," a 6 page article on "Mikveh," 18 pages on "Aramaic," 6 pages on "Jesus" by David Flusser, and information on virtually any location in Israel or the Jewish diaspora (e.g., Capernaum with a diagram of the synagogue or Corinth or Dura-Europos). To see the maps and illustrations in full size, you will want to download the PDF files instead of viewing the HTML page. You can have the page read out loud to you (!), but more helpful are the download and Citation Tools to help you get the bibliographic data you need. This is definitely an outstanding online resource you should have bookmarked.
2. Encylopedia Britannica. If you're not aware, as a "web publisher," many bloggers are eligible for free access to the complete 32-volume Encyclopedia Britannica online. Click here to learn more and apply.

These are both generous offers. The two sets together offer 54 volumes of scholarly material and could prove very helpful for biblical research and sermon prep.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reason to be thankful

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater. 2 Thessalonians 1:3

Paul overflowed with praise to God as he saw the faith and love of his fellow Christians in Thessalonica. Their perseverance brought thankfulness to his heart. I know how he feels, because yesterday, I had a similar feeling when I saw this same kind of faith and love put on display.

A woman in our church recently fell while taking two simple steps from her stove to her sink. In the process, she broke 2 ribs and is in terrible pain. After receiving medical treatment and coming back home, I spoke with her on the phone.

She said, “Pastor, I don’t like the pain, but I thank the Lord. God is good. I know the Lord had a reason, and He knows best. I thank Him for the good and the bad. He permitted it. My faith has never been what it is today.”

This is music to my ears. It brings joy to my heart and strength to my bones. Such praise to God is the highest reward I could ever dream of in this life. It is fitting for me to give thanks to God. With dear Christians in my flock demonstrating such faith and love, I have much reason to be thankful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A snapshot of younger pastors

Al Mohler recently met with a group of young pastors and spoke very positively of his experience.

What characterizes these rising leaders in the church? In particular, what are the marks of young pastors in their 20s and 30s? Mohler shares eight features of this new generation:
  1. They are deeply committed to the Gospel and to the authority of Scripture.

  2. They love the church. They have resisted the temptation to give up on the church or to be satisfied with a parachurch form of ministry.

  3. They are gifted preachers and teachers. They rightly divide the Word of Truth and they make no apology for preaching the Bible.

  4. They are eager evangelists. They are driven by an urgency to see lost people come to know Jesus and become both believers and disciples.

  5. They are complementarians who affirm the biblical roles for men and women in both the church and the home.

  6. They are men of vision. They apply intelligence and discernment to the building up of the church and the cause of the Gospel.

  7. They are men of global reach and Great Commission passion. They long to see the nations exult in Christ.

  8. They are men of joy...They are not interested in complaining about the church. They are planters and fixers. They scratch their heads as they look at many denominational structures and habits, but they have not given up.

I pray all these things are true in my life and would continue to increase.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jerry Rankin on a Great Commission Resurgence

In light of new missions cutbacks, Dr. Rankin made some excellent comments last week to the IMB trustees:
“If you define the Great Commission as anything and everything we do as a denomination, an increase in baptisms, more healthy churches, greater cultural impact on our society, there’s not going to be a lot of change because we will just continue to do anything and everything the best that we can,” Rankin said. “But I am convinced that God has blessed Southern Baptists, He has raised us up in numbers and resources, not to take pride in being a great denomination and how many programs we can implement and how well we can do them but to be His instrument to reach a lost world and fulfill His mission..."

“...We must be very careful of how we speak of other entities in our denomination. I know the leadership of our state conventions, our SBC entities, how conscientious they are, how sincerely dedicated to serving the Lord ... and the wonderful job they are doing. That’s not the issue,” Rankin said. “If we are to have a Great Commission resurgence, we’ve got to be willing to ask, ‘How does it all stack up in relation to reaching the nations and getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth.’
That last statement is so critical. The real question is how it all stacks up to reaching the nations. As SBC entities, state conventions, associations begin to think about radical reform, reallocation, and restructuring, we won't be talking about good programs vs. bad programs. We'll primarily be talking about good programs vs. the best programs.

There will be some very hard decisions in the months and years ahead. We will need to ask, "What are the best and most effective ways to plant and strengthen churches, and to bring the gospel to those who have not yet heard?"

News from the IMB in the last week has been disheartening, but the very fact we are admitting there is a problem and have bold leaders in place who are addressing the issues is reason to be thankful and encouraged.

You can read more of Rankin's comments here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heartbreaking news about missions

Lest we need more proof that the SBC is in trouble and that a major overhaul is going to be necessary, the IMB has released this heartbreaking news:
In a day of unprecedented global missions opportunity and great harvest, Southern Baptists will be forced to draw down their overseas missions force in 2010 by as many as 600 missionaries, IMB (International Mission Board) trustees were told Nov. 10...

...Because economic realities are forcing IMB to retrench its efforts, the organization must deliberately plan to have fewer missionaries — with implications for a lost world that should distress Southern Baptist church members, said Gordon Fort, IMB vice president of global strategy.

“When doors are swinging open all over the world, when our work force is finding great harvest in some of the most difficult places in the world, we are drawing our force down from 5,600 to 5,000. It just shouldn’t be,” Fort told trustees. When Southern Baptists collected $11.1 billion in offering plates in 2008, according to the denomination’s Annual Church Profile, and 2.77 percent “finally arrives to support the vision of reaching a lost world, and when [Southern Baptists] are structuring ourselves in a way that guarantees we will fail in our mission, it just shouldn’t be,” Fort said.
You can read the whole article here.

May God give great wisdom to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and our own California State Convention as we seek God's face and look for more effective ways to cooperate and do missions in the 21st century.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Final Call

Last Sunday, we finished our two-and-a-half year journey through the Gospel of John. It was a bittersweet moment.

Through John's Gospel, I've grown more passionate for my Savior, Jesus Christ. I've grown more confident of His deity. I've grown more amazed at His love for the Father and for me. I've grown more familiar with His ministry and teaching style. I've grown more appreciative of His gift -- the Holy Spirit. I've grown more amazed at His death on the cross. I've grown more convinced of His unique authority and powerful resurrection.

I've grown so attached to this Gospel, but I'm also excited to move on to a new book in the months ahead. I don't know for sure where we're headed yet, but I'm praying about starting 1 Corinthians around the beginning of the new year. I see an urgent need for holiness in the church, and know this letter touches on many of the issues facing Christians today.

As we wrapped up our series in John, we heard Christ give a final call to His disciples, a call which involved two commands:
  1. Follow your Savior at any cost (Jn. 21:18-19). The freedom Peter enjoyed earlier in life would one day be replaced by persecution and death. God had appointed for Peter to glorify Him through martyrdom -- probably "stretching out his hands" in crucifixion.
  2. Fix your eyes on Him alone (Jn. 21:20-25). After hearing this prophecy, Peter became curious of John's fate. Would he too tend Christ's sheep? Would he too be martyred? Jesus' response was a good rebuke to all of us, "What is that to you? You follow Me!"
Questions for thought and discussion:
  • How do I view death? What comfort can I find in John 21:19?
  • What does it mean to "deny ourselves and take up our cross" to follow Jesus? (Mark 8:34)
  • What have I given up to follow Jesus?
  • What do I still need to change in order for Jesus to completely take charge of my life?
  • Do I need to talk to a Christian friend to get help?
  • What is the only right motivation to a life of cross-bearing and self-sacrifice? See John 21:15.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how great is my affection for Christ?
  • How can I kindle that fire to love Him more?
  • Why do you think we're so prone to comparing ourselves to others like Peter did?
  • Who do I typically compare myself to?
  • What thoughts and feelings do I have when I compare myself to others?
  • Am I trying to run other people's lives? Who? Am I responsible for the decisions they make? Why or why not?
  • Am I resentful of God's blessing toward others? What should my response be?
Sunday's sermon has been uploaded to our podcast site and is available for free download.

Big sale on the MacArthur Study Bible

You'll probably never find a better price than this...

The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB, Hardcover

60% off retail

Sale ends at noon on Sunday November 15.

"Designed to transform lives, The MacArthur Study Bible is ideal for personal and small-group study. This landmark study Bible brings together over 35 years of Bible study from popular Bible teacher John MacArthur, and provides extensive study helps to aid readers in understanding and teaching Scripture. This revised edition includes over 20,000 study notes, the full text of the updated New American Standard version, an extensive concordance and an index to key Bible doctrines, multiple time lines, numerous charts, over 50 Bible maps, an outline of Systematic Theology, and more. 2216 pp. Hardcover, with dust jacket." Now through Sunday, it is only $19.99.

I believe this is the best study Bible on the market and one of the first ten books every new Christian should own.

To order one at the discount price, go to the Grace Books International bookstore.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Calvin on suffering

Although God loves us, He allows us suffer. Actually, a better way to put it is this: Because God loves us, He allows us to suffer.

Suffering, though painful, is one of God's gracious ways of pulling us away from our self-love and more towards loving Him. A life of ease just doesn't sanctify us like suffering. Our hearts, as the hymn says, are "prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love." The prickly hedges of suffering help us not to wander far from God's path.

John Calvin says it this way:
[W]e see not how necessary that obedience is, unless we at the same time consider how prone our carnal nature is to shake off the yoke of God whenever it has been treated with some degree of gentleness and indulgence. It just happens to it as with refractory horses, which, if kept idle for a few days at hack and manger, become ungovernable, and no longer recognize the rider, whose command before they implicitly obeyed. And we invariably become what God complains of in the people of Israel—waxing gross and fat, we kick against him who reared and nursed us (Deut. 32:15).

The kindness of God should allure us to ponder and love his goodness; but since such is our malignity, that we are invariably corrupted by his indulgence, it is more than necessary for us to be restrained by discipline from breaking forth into such petulance. Thus, lest we become emboldened by an over-abundance of wealth; lest elated with honour, we grow proud; lest inflated with other advantages of body, or mind, or fortune, we grow insolent, the Lord himself interferes as he sees to be expedient by means of the cross, subduing and curbing the arrogance of our flesh, and that in various ways, as the advantage of each requires. For as we do not all equally labour under the same disease, so we do not all need the same difficult cure.

Hence we see that all are not exercised with the same kind of cross. While the heavenly Physician treats some more gently, in the case of others he employs harsher remedies, his purpose being to provide a cure for all. Still none is left free and untouched, because he knows that all, without a single exception, are diseased. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III, viii, 5. Logos users click here).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Restoring old photos of Israel

In his latest newsletter, Todd Bolen explains the painstaking process of restoring old photos to create the 8-volume American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. It’s a fascinating project that really makes you appreciate the end result. Here’s his full article…

Shortly after producing a collection of modern-day photographs in the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (initially released in January 2000), I began work on a supplementary collection that would peel back the recent layers of time to reveal the sites of the Holy Land before the changes brought by modernization.  The initial fruit of this work was the release of 8 volumes of Historic Views of the Holy Land in November 2004.

About that same time, I learned that the Library of Congress was digitizing the G. Eric and Edith Matson Negatives.  Between 1966 and 1981, Eric Matson and his beneficiary donated this collection to the Library of Congress. But public access was limited and costly until 2004, when the first negatives were scanned and made available online, a huge job in itself!  In browsing through these photographs, I quickly realized two things.  First, these photos would be extremely useful to teachers and researchers of Palestine and the surrounding areas.  Second, the collection could be greatly improved in a number of ways.

The Kazneh (Treasury) at Petra, damaged stereographic image

The first step in the process that culminated in this published collection was downloading all of the online images, which were made available in three sizes. The medium size was 1024 pixels wide.  This is too small if 1) the photo is damaged; 2) the photo is a stereographic image; 3) one wanted to enlarge a particular portion; or 4) one desired to print the image.  The large size was a much higher resolution (e.g., 5200 x 3600 pixels), but these were in tif format, which meant the file sizes were so large that they were impractical for regular use.  At 25-70 MB each in size, these images would take a long time to download and quickly fill up hard drives.  To make this the best collection possible, I downloaded all of the tif files and converted them to jpg format, thus retaining the highest resolution, but at a more manageable file size.

The next step was to identify each image as accurately as possible.  Some of the images would be immediately recognizable to a recent visitor to Israel, but many are difficult to identify even for long-time residents.  To expedite the process, Tony Garland, with helpful advice from staff at the Library of Congress, created a script so that all of the descriptive information for the photos on the Library of Congress website could be accessed in a personal database.  Seth Rodriquez, now finishing his PhD dissertation, went through all of the images and wrote a short, descriptive filename for each one.  Andrei Tsvirinko then copied the names from the database to the jpg image itself.  All of the steps described here are simple enough in themselves, but repeating them 14,000 times requires great perseverance!

The next step in the process was cropping the photos.  Many images are stereographs, that is, nearly identical side-by-side images which, when viewed through a stereoscope, appear as a single, three-dimensional image.  Other photographs had tape marks, water damage, or other blemishes which were best removed by cropping.  At a later stage, some photos were cropped to alter the orientation from vertical to horizontal, thus creating a more compact view for computer use and eliminating extensive stretches of sky or earth (see example below). Other adjustments were required for photos that had been scanned in mirror-image or were uploaded upside-down.

Sidon castle, stereographic image, before cropping

Sidon castle, after cropping and adjustments

At this point, I began sorting the images into categories.  It was necessary to accomplish this step early in the process because of the numerous duplicates and near-duplicates in the collection.  An important contribution, therefore, of this edition over the online collection is its selection of the best images and its logical arrangement of them (either geographically or topically).

City of David, 1900-1920, before and after cropping

Along the way, numerous corrections and refinements were made to the descriptions provided by the photographers of the American Colony and Eric Matson photo services.  Some images were misidentified in the photographers' notes, some were labeled only generally, and some bore names no longer in use today.  In other cases, we were able to correct or improve upon the supplied dates and identify images that were presented in mirror image.

One of the most time-consuming tasks of this project was the removal of blemishes from the images.  Some of the negatives are over 100 years old, and time, transport, and storage have taken their toll on the material.  Since the goal of this project was to provide "teaching quality" images, larger specks and markings were removed, though smaller blemishes may still be visible when magnified. In some cases, the damage was so great that it was impossible to restore the image.  Other adjustments were made to photos for brightness, contrast, and color.

Old City of Jerusalem, before and after restoration (enlarge for detail)

The creation of PowerPoint presentations with the images serves several purposes.  First, unlike jpg files, slides in a PowerPoint file can be arranged in sequential order, and usually I have organized these following a natural tour route.  As many will use these photographs in presentations, having the images already properly sized and placed in PowerPoint makes it quick and easy to copy slides from one presentation to another.

Second, explanatory notes or relevant quotations can be "attached" to the photograph by means of the "speaker's notes" section in PowerPoint (see screenshot).  Many of the photographs in these volumes are now accompanied by quotations from 19th century explorers, travelers, and writers.  (The Jerusalem volume is annotated with original notes by Tom Powers.) Yuliya Molitvenik spent hundreds of hours reading old books and rare journals in search of choice descriptive statements.  These were usually written before the photos were taken (in the early 20th century), but they provide additional insight into the sites and scenes depicted in the photographs.  Sometimes the quotations describe details that precisely match what is in the photo, and other times they may provide a different "picture."  The quotations come from the best available sources of the day, and are valuable in their own right.  

Ultimately, we believe this collection has been improved through editing, organization, corrections, and the addition of supplemental quotations. Its superior resolution, format, and presentation will make it easy to use.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Logos 4 ... one week later

As I mentioned last week, Logos Bible software recently came out with version 4. I felt there were enough features and books added to make it worth the upgrade (especially at the 15% early bird discount), so I went ahead and bought it. A week later, having had some time now to tinker around and prepare a sermon with it, what's my assessment? Overall, I'm very impressed.

Here's a run-down of my first week using Logos 4.

Day 1. When I bought the upgrade, I had the option of receiving it by DVD or by download. Being too impatient for the DVD to be mailed, I started the download. :) But then I discovered just how big this new program was. Logos Gold was 10 gigabytes! I actually ran out of hard drive space and had to delete some programs and move a bunch of stuff around to my alternate hard drives just to make space for this behemoth. Then it took about 10 hours to download on a high speed connection. My computer slogged along all day Monday, and sometime in the middle of the night finally finished downloading and initializing the new software.

Day 2. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I was excited to open and try out my new toy on Tuesday, only to discover something new called "indexing." Logos was crawling through my whole digital library of over 2,000 books, meticulously recording every word so that searches will become faster, much like Google does. It was a slow process but will be worth it in the long run. I played around with the program some, but indexing slowed everything down and searches would of course not perform correctly yet.

Day 3. Finally, Logos 4 was up and running, and I was able to really explore it. Having used Logos for about 7 years now, I recognized many features and welcomed the "face lift," but noticed that several important features were missing. Where were my collections? My topic browser? My keylinks? My custom keyboard shortcuts? They were gone. AWOL. Totally left out of version 4, or so drastically changed that they were hardly recognizable. This left me in a mild state of panic. I began using the help feature and the online forum to get answers, and realized I was going to have to adapt to this program and think of new ways to do old things.

Days 4-7. The more I use the program, the more I'm enjoying it. It's obvious they're still working some bugs out and that all the features won't be available until some time next year, but overall my experience has been very positive. Here are some highlights:
  • Maps, photos, and images. As I expected, this is much improved over previous versions of Logos. I love that images from all my books pop up in the Passage Guide, as well as the new Biblical People, Biblical Places, and Biblical Things tools. I'm also pleased with how easy it is to copy and paste picture into Word and Powerpoint.
  • Adaptive layout. When you open a new resource (i.e. a book or research tool), it now fits right into your existing layout. No need to drag and re-size windows. It's a time-saver that has made Logos more enjoyable to use.
  • Prioritizing. Instead of promoting books for different data types, Logos 4 has one simple prioritization list for all the books in your library. Overall, this is far simpler.
  • Search. Due to the indexing feature, searches are quite fast and accurate. I miss my topic browser from version 3, but I believe as time goes on that the Logos 4 search engine will continue to improve in accuracy and desired results.
  • Other handy tools. The F11 full screen and F8 drawing mode are nice.
  • Copying text. This works much better now. When I paste text into Microsoft Word, it retains the formatting of my document. I copy and paste all the time during sermon prep, so again, this is a real time saver.
Logos 4 is beautiful and seems much more intuitive for new users. For those of us well-acquainted with version 3, it's going to take some adjustment, but I think it will become comfortable very quickly.

With all the bells and whistles, Logos 4 is pretty demanding on my 2006 Dell Laptop. It's running somewhat slower than version 3 did, but I think the new search, layout, etc. features help compensate for this. I'm very thankful for what Logos has done, and am confident this product will aid me in Bible study in the years ahead.

If you're thinking about upgrading or have already done so, here are a few must-read articles:

Finally, if you're curious what features I miss and what I would like them to consider bringing back:

  • Ability to define serial and parallel resource associations
  • Ability to customize keyboard shortcuts
  • Topic browser
  • Turn off visual cue (the little sparkly circle that appears when a new resources is opened)
  • Make it easier to define collections - make it stop jumping back to the top of the menu after adding or removing a resource
  • Close windows tool, where all the open resources were listed and you could choose which windows to close

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Overcoming addiction

I'm hoping in the next year to start a Bible-centered addiction recovery group at our church. And this may be just the resource: Crossroads: A Step-By-Step Guide Away from Addiction: Study Guide by Ed Welch.

Here's a description from the publisher.
Everyone of us is a potential addict. Eventually, every addict finds himself at a crossroads. In a pressure-filled world, the prospect of instant escape can be exhilarating. No matter the object-drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, or sex, just to name a few-addictions lure us. They extend the promise of pleasure. In the end, they deliver emptiness, death, and destruction. What began as an escape from the hassles of life becomes a form of bondage. Addiction is a voluntary slavery. Change doesn't come easily. But change is possible!

No matter how many times you have tried and failed, there really is a way through the addictive fog. There is a guidebook for living, and, contrary to what many think, it is available to anyone, even to those enslaved by an addiction. God is not silent on this issue. His Word offers hope, and that hope is the basis of Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction.

Crossroads was designed as a group study for those struggling with addiction. These ten steps, presented in author Ed Welch's trademark direct, no-nonsense style, provide a biblical and practical framework for change. Welch is a wise and loving partner who walks beside readers on their journey to freedom. Along the way, they will learn to recognize the patterns of addiction, to choose wisdom over foolish desires, and to cling to the hope they have in Jesus, who sets captives free. The path away from addiction has been laid by a God who is full of surprises, who faithfully pursues those enslaved even though they have deliberately avoided him.

They've also created this short video.

Related post:

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tend My Sheep

sheepThis picture was taken when I was a student in Israel. Our class was on field study one day when I noticed a shepherd and his flock, grazing quietly not far from our group. I inched closer and then stood very still to take some pictures. Soon the flock decided to head my way and literally surrounded me. It was a special moment when I got to experience for myself what it’s like be a shepherd. Now, almost ten years later, I’m a shepherd of a different kind, over the precious “people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” (Ps. 95:7)

When Jesus appeared after His resurrection to Peter in Galilee, He taught His disciples about forgiveness and showed what pastoral ministry is all about. Last Sunday, we saw two important lessons from our passage in John 21:15-17:

  1. A Pardon for Peter. Peter, intended by Jesus to be a “rock” in the early church, had committed a tragic sin. Not long after boasting he would go both to prison and to death (Luk. 22:31-33), he denied Christ and swore he didn’t even know Jesus. He had overestimated his own strength and underestimated the power of Satan. But having fallen down, Christ was ready to pick him back up and wash him in the cleansing blood. The three-fold question “Do you love me?” was a three-fold restoration for Peter. Christ had forgiven him, and still intended for him to lead the church.
  2. A Plan for Pastors. Christ’s exhortation in this passage is not the language of fishing, but of shepherding. Jesus informs Peter that he is going to be entrusted with Christ’s sheep, and that he will be responsible for “tending” and “shepherding” them. This is a conversation Peter no doubt never forgot. Years later, Peter would urge the next generation of leaders, “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily…proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3).

Shepherding God’s people is a wonderful privilege, but it’s hard work. It can be very messy, but it’s worth the effort. I shared this quote by Charles Jefferson toward the end of my message on Sunday:

[Shepherding] calls for self-effacement. It is a form of service which eats up a man’s life. It makes a man old before his time. Every good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. If a man is dependent on the applause of the crowd, he ought never to enter the ministry. The finest things a minister does are done out of sight, and never get reported. They are known to himself and one or two others, and to God. His joy is not that his success is being talked about on earth, but that his name is written in heaven. The shepherd in the East had not crowd to admire him. He lived alone with the sheep and the stars. His satisfactions were from within. The messengers of Christ must not expect bands of music to attend them on their way. Theirs is a humble, unpretentious, and oftentime unnoticed labor, but if it builds souls in righteousness it is more lasting than the stars.

Questions for thought and discussion:

  • Is there sin in my past or present that I’m deeply ashamed of and feel is “unforgiveable”?
  • What does this passage teach me about Christ’s forgiveness?
  • Is there someone else who has hurt me deeply that I’m avoiding or trying to get revenge?
  • What does Christ’s example teach about how I should treat this person who has let me down?
  • Who has God called me to shepherd?
  • Read Proverbs 14:4. Is it ever right to stay away from church because of the sin, self-righteousness, conflict, hypocrisy, and “messiness” that sometimes characterize church life?
  • Do I honor, obey, and submit to my leaders as those who keep watch over my soul and will give an account to Christ? Do I follow them in such a way that they can do this with joy and not with grief? (Heb. 13:17)
Sunday's sermon should be uploaded soon to our podcast site for free download.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Logos 4

Yesterday, Logos announced the release of Logos Bible Software Version 4. This is not a software "upgrade" with a few minor tweaks. It's claiming to be an entirely new platform. From their blog:

The leading Bible software products available today (including our own Libronix DLS 3.0) are powerful tools designed 10-20 years ago...

While technology has moved into the mainstream, it hasn't stopped improving. We re-invented Logos Bible Software repeatedly to stay on the cutting edge of technology and user interface. But the edge keeps moving.

Our last product couldn't anticipate the incredible inter-connectedness of today's users, with widespread broadband, wireless, and mobile-phone Internet. Today's leading programming language didn't even exist when we designed the Libronix DLS. Apple and Microsoft have changed processors, operating systems, and more. And, most importantly, the customer base has changed: today's Bible student with a computer isn't a computer hobbyist. We are appliance users who expect power, elegance, and simplicity. We want computers to be like our toasters, TV's, and cars. Turn them on and they just work...

Logos Bible Software 4 is not an upgrade. Logos 4 is Bible software re-imagined. To help you do more and better Bible study.

I already own Logos Gold and have been a happy customer for years. It has helped me immensely with Bible study and sermon preparation. After watching the 5 minute introductory video, I would say Logos 4 has lot of familiar tools like the Welcome Page, Passage Guide, Exegetical Guide, etc. with a more intuitive, user-friendly interface. I hope it will be faster as well.

Not only has the program itself changed, but many new books have been added. You can click here to see a comparison chart of the different base packages available (now nine of them!) and what resources are included. I'm very pleased to see some improvements in the area Maps/Photo/Media. This has always been a weakness of Logos. A few other notable additions to Logos 4 are the Opening Up Commentary (30 vols.), the Holman Reference Collection (13 vols.), the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (included in Scholar's Library or higher), and several more Reverse Interlinear Bibles - a creative tool that helps lay people interact with the original languages.

With nine different base packages, there's something affordable for almost any budget. If you would like to learn about upgrading from your current version of Logos, click here. The website will analyze your system and give you a customized price quote. For a limited time, they are offering a 15% discount to upgrade.

No, I'm not being paid by Logos to say any of this. :) I've just been so pleased with their product over the past 7 years that I never pass up an opportunity to recommend it to others.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book review - Holiness

One of the great aims of the believer is to become “holy as God is holy” (1 Peter 1:16). So while we proclaim a “gospel of grace” (Ac. 20:24) and celebrate freedom in Christ (Gal. 5:1), we realize we were saved for a glorious purpose. We were not rescued from hell simply to bask in sin and lawlessness. We were, as Paul says, “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10).

Yet how do we take tangible steps toward this goal? Holiness can feel so abstract, so unattainable, that I fear many Christians never really take pains to achieve it. Over a century ago, the Lord gave us tremendous help through J.C. Ryle’s classic work Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots.

Interestingly, Ryle begins his book on holiness by discussing sin. “He must dig down very low if he would build high…Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption” (p. 1). From there, Ryle devotes his early chapters to the nature of sanctification and holiness, the fight for holiness, its cost, and the need for growth.

The middle chapters of the book focus on several fascinating character studies. Moses, Lot, Lot’s wife, and the thief on the cross serve as examples and warnings toward holiness.

The latter chapters (12-20) deal with a variety of topics. Ryle discusses Christ’s power, His promise to build the church, and His restoration of Peter, among other things. These chapters are solid expositions, though more loosely tied to the main thesis of the book. Ryle closes with a fitting reminder that Christ is all. “Christ is the mainspring both of doctrinal and practical Christianity…He that follows after holiness will make no progress unless he gives to Christ His rightful place” (p. 300).

I found this book a tremendous blessing. Though written in the late 19th century, Ryle communicates in a style that is both eloquent and earthy; both poetic and practical. Every page was full of encouraging and convicting truth. As I read it slowly, marked its pages, and saturated myself in it, I found it affecting my thoughts and prayer life and giving me a greater hunger and thirst for righteousness.

For Christians just beginning to learn about holiness, I would recommend first reading Jerry Bridges’ book The Pursuit of Holiness. It is much shorter and more contemporary. But Ryle definitely belongs on the Christian bookshelf and is worthy of multiple readings. What a difference it would make if every Christian in our church fed on such edifying material.

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...