Book Reviews - ESV Study Bible

No, it's not God's words I'm reviewing here (he he...) it's man's. Amy and I received our new copy of the English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible hot off the presses, and I have never been more excited about a single Bible study tool before! This thing is incredible.

First off, the translation. The ESV is a modern (2001) translation done by some of the best evangelical scholars on the planet today. Those who attend Harvest know that I preach from the ESV every Sunday, and there's good reason. For years pastors seemed forced to choose between the New International Version (NIV) and New American Standard (NAS) translations. There are many others of course, but these two are tops in popularity amongst evangelical pastors. Both are good translations in their own right, but they're very different.
  • The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation, making it much easier to read than the NAS but not as good a study tool since it's English words don't always align with the underlying Greek & Hebrew.
  • The NAS has opposite strengths: as an almost word-for-word translation it is a more technically accurate reflection of the original languages making it a better study tool (and thus my first choice for years) but that left it's English pretty stilted and wooden.

The ESV beautifully bridges the gap between these two translations, accurately reflecting the sense and nuance of the original languages (which suits it perfectly for serious study) while preserving a fluency and readability that makes it ideal for casual reading too. When combined with some of the partner resources, like ESV reverse-interlinear versions for both Greek and Hebrew, I was hooked, and I've been preaching from the ESV ever since.

Then along came the ESV Study Bible, and I'm beyond hooked! This version contains all the helpful tools any good study Bible has like explanatory notes, charts, and diagrams. But they're all fully updated with the latest scholarly and archaeological data, and many are rendered in beautiful color. The cross referencing and Concordance features are excellent from the few I've checked so far. The introductory material before each Testament, each section of books, and each book are exemplary. Click here for a study notes sample: the introduction to Ephesians with very cool charts and color diagrams (warning: 4.5MB link!) But there's still more.

What really caught my attention with this particular study Bible is several collections of articles it contains on a variety of core Christian items. There's a whole series of brief articles on Christian theology and ethics, articles on how to read and interpret the Bible, how the Bible came to be and the reliability of the Bible, information on the original Biblical languages (for non-scholars), articles summarizing other major world religions and pseudo-Christian cults, and even an effective plan to read the Bible in a year (whew!). And the capstone of all this excellent material, which sings most strongly to my heart, is a 3 1/2 page Overview of the Bible which traces God's redemptive plan throughout the pages of Scripture. If every Christian reads and understands that article alone the flow of the entire Bible will come alive! Read the rest of them and you'll have an outstanding grasp of Christian faith, thought, and practice. Click here for a sample article.

The final icing on the cake is that buying a hard copy gets you access to the online version, where all the same articles, maps, diagrams, and study tools are at the click of a mouse, all hyper-linked for easy access (try turning back to Deuteronomy from Philippians... oh wait, you don't need to. Just click!)

All from a single study Bible. I've never seen anything quite as thorough and high quality as this, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.

So go get one.


By the way, I should mention that I have no affiliation with the publisher and receive no benefit from the sale of this study Bible. Other than the benefit of believing God's people are getting their hands on one of the single best resources available for spiritual growth.

So, did YOU know what Solomon's Temple looked like?

Financial Crisis and Christian Living

Last Sunday at Harvest we spent some time praying together as a church regarding how to respond in these financially uncertain times. Our prayer and scripture reading consisted of the following 3 items:
1. Repudiate a faithless partner
Money consistently over-promises, and under-delivers
1 Timothy 6:17
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

Matthew 6:31-33
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Prayer: Father, we declare this morning that you were right when you warned us that money is a faithless partner. We publicly agree with you that money cannot be counted on to provide the hope we have for security in this world. And we acknowledge that your own promise to care for us is the only sure, solid basis we have in which to place our hope for security.

2. Repent of our Affluenza
1 Timothy 6:6-10
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Luke 12:15
Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

Matthew 6:24
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you warned us as your followers that money would exert an influence on our hearts. As your people, we acknowledge that we are not free from its influence, just as you said we wouldn’t be. We admit that it is very difficult not to love the sense of security that wealth provides, and not to seek after wealth with undue zeal and passion. And to the extent that we have done so, we confess that we have highly esteemed an object of lesser beauty, and failed to love you more than money. We repent of these misplaced affections, and ask that you would grant to us, your people, an accurate appraisal of the worth of money and the worth of your character, so that we may see your inherent value, and love you more fully for having evicted this lesser idol from the realm of our affections.

3. Reach out tangibly to those who hurt
1 Timothy 6:18-19
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

1 John 3:17
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray for those in our church and in our community who are struggling or soon will be due to tough economic times – you call yourself Jehovah Jireh, our great provider. God, show yourself to be great by being their provider. Further Lord, we ask you to use us to do it. Having asked for your heart we now ask for your eyes to see the needs around us, and we ask that you would make us your hands and feet by giving graciously and generously to those in need in your name. God, in a time of uncertainly such as this we ask that you would protect your people at Harvest from a hoarding heart that circles the wagons and closes in around what wealth remains. Rather, we ask that you would fill the hearts of those of us who are financially able with generosity and joy at the prospect of meeting needs in the matchless name of Jesus. We ask that you would give us vision beyond our personal circumstances – enough vision to see the incredible opportunity you’ve provided your church to live in light of eternity, and so demonstrate to the world where real security comes from. Be pleased to glorify yourself through us in this way, because it is for the increasing renown of the name of Jesus we ask these things. Amen.

What Communion Isn't

Something's been on my heart for several months now, and I've been looking for the right time to share it with the church. It turns out this coming Sunday is the right time. So what follows is a bit of a "sneak preview" of part of what I'll say Sunday morning for all you Harvest people, and a little window into what our church is discussing for those who aren't attenders. As always, the full message will be available for download from our web archives and is also podcasted at iTunes by searching Harvest Community Church sermon audio.

What's been on my heart is our celebration of Communion, or the Lord's Supper. Not Communion itself, but the way we typically approach it. In evangelical churches like Harvest it is common for Christians to be instructed to examine their own hearts before participating in communion, often followed by a warning that participating while one has sin in his/her life is at best inappropriate, and at worst is somehow a desecration of the cross of Jesus. And so in some cases Christians will even refuse to participate because they know of some deep-seated sin that's got hold of them, and they don't want to profane the cross.

That view is not only wrong, it's a travesty. Let me explain.

The "examine yourself" idea comes from 1 Corinthians 11:28-29, wherein Paul tells the Christians in 1st century Corinth to check their motives before they participate in communion. (BTW, a cool feature on this blog is that if you hover your mouse over a Bible passage like the one in the last sentence, it will automatically pop up without you having to click away from the blog. Try it! It's cool.) But notice why he tells them to examine themselves: in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 Paul describes the problem in Corinth. They treated communion as a potluck feast, not the sacramental symbol of Jesus' death that it was intended to be. Further, they profaned this feast by bringing their own favoritism (already dealt with by Paul in chapter 3) to the table, and gorging themselves with their friends whilst the "un-cool" people didn't even get to eat. This is why Paul tells them to examine their motives.

In other words, this passage isn't a universal call for Christians to "clean up their act" before participating in communion. Communion isn't a call to get clean so we're acceptable to God. In fact, rightly understood it's just the opposite.

In the same passage Paul talks about what communion is when he says in verse 26 "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes." Think about that for a moment: what does it mean to "proclaim the Lord's death"? It means we declare that Jesus' broken body and shed blood are the only way our sins are cleansed. So then, why would we try and clean up our sins before celebrating the death of Jesus, when the cleansing of our sin is exactly what makes the death of Jesus worth celebrating? If we're not careful we may find ourselves not only be guilty of misinterpreting Paul's point in 1 Cor. 11, but we may also be guilty of proclaiming exactly the opposite of the gospel: that we have to get cleaned up before we come to Jesus.

The best person in the world to take communion is the Christian who is wrestling with sin. By participating, that believer is declaring that the sin in question is only conquerable through the cross of Christ - that freedom from bondage to that sin comes only from Jesus. The death of Jesus, and the sacrament that symbolizes it, is a sign to the world that we're utterly dependent on the savior for life. Let us not rob that glory from him by attempting to clean up before we come to him. As if we could.

Now, I do think a period of reflection is appropriate to communion. We should seek to become aware of our sin during the Lord's Supper, but the reason is so that we can bring it to him for forgiving and cleansing - a spiritual reality of which we're reminded as we eat the bread and drink the cup. Christians should make communion itself an act of confession of sin and rejoicing that Christ's death covers it.

But let us be on guard against the subtle idea that we have to clean up our lives before we come to the communion table, or the idea that we shouldn't participate if we still have sin in our lives. The sacrament does just the opposite for us. It reminds us of how our sin is dealt with: once, for all time, by the blood of Jesus on the cross.

"But as it is, [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Hebrews 9:26

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