The Topic Google Missed

google-485611_1920Why is it that I can google the anatomy of a seagull and find 1700 diagrams in .00002 seconds but cannot get a single quality article about some biblical passage I’d like to study deeper? I mean, when a few taps on the computer can pull up twelve videos on how to break into my neighbor’s house, why on earth is decent commentary of the Bible lacking?

The other day I came to a particularly mischievous verse in Revelation and tried to look up background information for more insight. To my amazement all that came up were fluffy, cotton candy articles about how God is good (which, while true, doesn’t justify skirting around the topic) or doomsday posts in red ink and dozens of exclamation points to emphasize how the world, if not by this evening, would most certainly be ending by the election.

Where are the theologians? Where are the scholars who know a thing or two about author, date of writing, background into the culture of the Ancient Near East, language, interpretations throughout church history? Why aren’t they so benevolently sharing these insights that enrich our study of Scripture via the world wide web?

Alas, I suppose until that time comes, I’ll just have to rely on the printed page: the commentary.

And, just in case you either haven’t found a good commentary or are wondering about the real value of one, here are a few suggestions.

First, you might want one of these little treasures if you ever find yourself reading the Bible—like 1 Timothy 2:15—and your thoughts fall down this similar trail:

“Um, it just said women are saved through childbearing… Are women just mules? Does God think that of women? Or maybe Paul was a little bit off here? A bit persuaded by the culture of the day? …  If he was though, does that mean the whole Bible is susceptible to error?  And there is no God? And this was all made up?! Okay, calm down, just turn the page and pretend you didn’t see it.”

The three commentaries below are neither written by scholars who believe Jesus was a myth, existing only in our minds to encourage naughty little humanity to behave, nor by those who want to spend thirty pages talking about the meaning of the word “the” in verse one. They are quality commentaries written by educated Christians dedicating their lives to sharing the profound.

*These are examples for Romans, though each commentary has other books of the Bible available*

 

moo

 

 

1. The New International Commentary on the New Testament

Is this book big? Yes. Could you use it to hold up the wheel of a car? Possibly. But it is one of my personal favorites, particularly given the insights of Dr. Moo. If you are looking for something more academic, more ambitious (after all, why is the word “the” there in verse one?), but also with heart, this is a great choice.

 

 

 

 

wright

 

2. The New Testament for Everyone

NT Wright people… former Bishop of Durham and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. A man with a pastoral tongue and incredibly intelligent mind. This is a great series in everyday language. Note that this series does not include the Old Testament.

 

 

 

application bible

 

3. The NIV Application Commentary

This commentary focuses less on technical language and more on application to our Christian life. It’s good for Bible studies and wading in to deeper studies without diving all the way and fearing you’ll get drowned in all the academic talk.

 

 

 

 

So, here’s to learning and living out the walk each day!

Melissa Ferguson

That Time Jesus Got Angry

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While there are some folks out there who really do have the misplaced notion that Jesus’ hobbies were limited to holding stuffed lambs and chatting about peace under dim light in honeyed tones, most do recognize that there were gruesome aspects involved. Things like declaring sin was rather a big deal after all, and He had come to conquer it in a way hard to fathom: the way of nails and cross.

But even with so many of us grasping the fact that Jesus was crucified—after all, just about everyone in the United States at least knows what Easter represents—there is still yet another facet about his life and ministry that gets underplayed: his anger.

Oddly enough, the question popped into my head this week as the sun was setting beyond my steering wheel and I drove to our local ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) meeting:

What did Jesus get angry over?

He didn’t flip out when he talked with adulterous women. He didn’t grab the men by the tunic and shake them for inflating tax prices in order to steal from those poorest for their own gain. No, Jesus was revolutionary for the anti-cultural way he managed to love on those most despised and broken while at the same time boldly stating the truth about the Way.

So, what really got His blood boiling? Because, after all, shouldn’t that be the kind of thing I care about too?

                And it struck me in a new way, in that lovely way that the Bible continues to teach despite the thousands of times you’ve read through that story. The biggest time in Scripture Jesus was positively enraged was after entering the temple and seeing money changers and those selling sacrificial animals. Their jobs weren’t the problem, in fact they were perfectly necessary and legitimate occupations. After all, many Jews didn’t have the luxury of a minivan to toss the goat and doves into when they took the long trek to Jerusalem. So, instead, they’d take their coins and buy the sacrificial animals when they got there. But what was the thorn there that caused to Jesus make a whip out of cords, run around flipping over tables, and scare people out of their minds? And why was this story so important that it’s included not just in Matthew, not just in Mark, but in all four gospels?

One clue is when Jesus exclaimed, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Simply put, Jesus went to the temple and found people exploiting the traveling Jews who needed to exchange money and buy animals. They hiked up the prices to profit from things devoted to God. They turned the holiest and most sacred place on Earth into nothing more than an overpriced coffee shop. They used God for their own profit.

As I turned into my group meeting I wondered, what would that be equivalent to today? And the words practically whispered in my ear: using writing (about God) to magnify myself.

It was a startling and scary thought. For while we as Christians should do whatever we do as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23), it is even more essential to make sure all tasks under the umbrella of teaching are focused wholly on God.

Even James states this, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Taking on the task of teaching about God, whether through such tasks as preaching, leading a Bible study, mentoring a friend, or in my case, writing inspirational fiction, is not something to take lightly. Because while it is unfortunately tempting to focus your Olympic-level beach volleyball skills or business career on yourself, using something that is supposed to be all about glorifying God for yourself is another level. Ten lower levels. Something that could make Jesus chase you around the living room with a whip of cords.

So, all that’s to say, this is something I’ll have to constantly remind myself of as I continue the pursuit of writing for God’s glory. As editors send feedback telling me to post more blogs about myself, as I wait for a contract that will bear my name on the bottom, as one day (Lord willing) I publish that book or two and find myself under the huge temptation to take pride in my work (and alternatively, plunge into depths of despair should my work receive bad reviews, get fourth in that contest, etc.), I must be mindful to stop and ask myself, “Wait. Now who is this all for again?”

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

 

 

 

A Brave Example

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“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

I don’t need to compare to my own puny, cushy lifestyle in order to elevate the history of Eleazar the scribe. His story is powerful enough, and one that—despite my own Dory-like memory—I have found myself recalling time and time again as I consider what it looks like to be brave.

To be brave for God and others.

People knew who this 90-year-old scribe and teacher was. And when a new Syrian ruler came around and demanded that everyone symbolically curse their Jewish faith by eating pig meat, Eleazar bravely walked up to the rack and spit the meat on the ground in front of everyone. Shaking their heads, those men who were commanded to uphold this new law kindly took the old man aside and, because they knew and cared for him, told him that they would give him fake meat and he could simply pretend.

What a temptation. I can just imagine the rationalizations going through my mind: I am important to the people. I won’t really be breaking the law. I must continue my vital work of serving this lost and needy group. Who knows how long this new king will last anyways? With the way things go, he’ll be killed in the next year and we’ll have a whole new set of laws. And if not, perhaps I’ll start a revolt. But they need me alive to do it.

And yet…

Eleazar says, “Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life, for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishments of mortals, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.” (See 2 Maccabees 6:18-31)

And he did die. And it was a painful, terrible flogging.

But the aftermath? Well, his sacrifice did in fact leave a noble example to others who suffered, and not too long after, a revolt was led against Antiochus Epiphanes where thousands were released from the hold of this cruel king.

What a powerful sacrifice for the honor of God and love of others… akin, it seems, to one innocent man who let himself be tortured and nailed to a wooden beam for us.

“There is no greater love than this: to lay down your life for your friends.”

Said Jesus. Before he laid down his life. John 15:13

Heralds Publishing Salvation

trumpeters-921709_1280“We remain on Earth as sowers to scatter good seed; as plowmen to break up the fallow ground; as heralds publishing salvation.”                     — Charles Spurgeon

Heralds publishing salvation.

As I read this devotion from Spurgeon I was stopped by this phrase in particular, and felt in myself that rare spark that told me those words were special and I’d better be listening.

I rewrote the phrase in my journal, letting the words simmer.

Heralds publishing salvation—what a beautiful vocation to have.

Spurgeon was right, and God was gracious in reminding me of just one of His purposes for my life at the moment. You see, when I began writing fiction in a lonely hotel room four years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what the rules of publishing were—how long publishers required the word count to be, what certain topics to avoid or cling to, what genre sold and what didn’t. I just found some inspiration and started typing away.

But in the past year or so, with one book finished and now on that long hopeful track toward publication, I’ve learned a lot. Enough, in fact, to find myself getting bogged down in the details and in need of a God-sized reminder of what I was trying to do in the first place.

And yesterday morning, during devotion time, that reminder came.

So… so what if Christian fiction is having a hard go of it right now? So what if the latest advice is to drop the spiritual talk in order for the manuscript to have a chance at the general market? It may be fine advice and perhaps (Lord desirous) a tactic in future books, but as for this one, I see a unique stamp of God in it just as it is, and that’s something I must hesitate to take White Out to. After all, it’s not every day one gets the chance to be a herald publishing salvation.

Following the leading of the Lord, whatever it may be, is always the wisest plan.

“It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:8

 

Daily Meditation: Psalm 118

Bible in a Year: Ezra 3-5; John 20

 

Bathroom Shelves and Old Books

The car ride to my in-laws was the breaking point this weekend. The babies decided halfway to Knoxville to scream with all they had in their tiny lungs. For an hour. Normally I just deal with it but on Friday I found myself cowered in the passenger seat, head on the glove compartment, hands pressed over my ears. I felt pathetic. There my husband was, one eye on the road and the other on his crazy wife, seeing me fall to pieces over the same amount of stress he manages to deal with so nonchalantly every day. I felt guilty. There I was spiraling into despair when there are such real and devastating issues of sex trafficking and ISIS—to name a mere two of 1,000,000. Finally, I was just so frustrated at myself. Why was I allowing my mood to ruin what was supposed to be a wonderful evening?

Of course, it wasn’t just the stress of crying babies. There were and are a dozen deep-seated issues that I’ve been shoving aside for some time, not realizing as they’ve quietly mounted like piles of snow on a chilly Vermont curbside. But cowering does not solve such problems; allowing my chest to get so tight it’s about to explode doesn’t solve anything. And I knew it. I just (felt I) couldn’t help it.

And of all the places and people and ways for God to speak to me, to comfort me and bring me back to logic and perspective, it came in the bathroom.

In the quaint little guest bathroom–the place I ran to for escape–there are three shelves in the corner, stacked with magazines. And on the bottom shelf, I saw an old copy of My Utmost for His Highest. I plucked it up and the passage spoke to me:

There are certain things we must not pray about—moods, for instances. Moods never go by praying, moods go by kicking. A mood nearly always has its seat in the physical condition, not in the moral. It is a continual effort not to listen to the moods which arise from a physical condition, never submit to them for a second. We have to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and shake ourselves, and we will find that we can do what we said we could not. The curse with most of us is that we won’t.

Just like that, I had the strength to follow through and pray about the things going on in my life. Just like that, God met me and helped me pitch the tar off my heart, freeing me to both enjoy the evening and rationally discuss how to deal with my current issues.

As Oswald says, sometimes it takes a good kick of sturdy words to get back in the game.

 

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative–that is, the Holy Spirit–he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

-John 14:26