God used a punctuation mark to speak to me recently. I’m certain of it. (Disclaimer: This post is about studying different translations of the Bible. I primarily use KJV, NKJV, and ESV.)
I’ve been meditating on various “rejoice” passages for a couple of days. Today, a verse in Philippians 4 took on a different meaning because of the mechanics used in the ESV.
Here’s the passage:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
All other translations have a period at the end of verse five and start verse six with a capital. But the ESV has a semi-colon at the end of verse five, and the first word of verse six is lowercase. To me, these subtle differences have big implications. I had previously processed “The Lord is at hand” in verse five as a warning; that we need to obey the first part of the verse because God is watching, or because Jesus is coming back. But a semi-colon at the end of verse five makes it clearer that verse six is a continuation of the thought. We shouldn’t be anxious about anything BECAUSE the Lord is “near in time or position.” Wow.
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Do you need reassurance that Jesus is willing and able to rescue you from the storms of life? The Bible offers us this kind of hope. Some storms are rougher than others, but God can bring us safely through all of them.
In John 6, Mark 6, and Matthew 14, we learn about Jesus walking to His disciples on the Sea of Galilee during a storm. This story is a great example of how important it is to read all four gospels to get the full picture of events in the Bible and also of the value of study helps.
Until recently, I thought of this story in the context of Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus, but only Matthew mentions that part. Mark and John don’t talk about Peter (and Luke doesn’t include the story at all.) In turn, John and Mark’s accounts have details that aren’t included in Matthew. It was in the book of John that I first learned things that I’d previously missed about the story, then I compared the different accounts to gain more understanding of the event.
Scripture tells us that the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had stayed behind to pray after feeding the 5,000 and after learning of John the Baptist’s death earlier in the day. The Bible says that it was around 3:00 am and they were three or four miles from shore in a terrible windstorm when Jesus showed up. Here’s part of the passage from John:
“Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing. So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” John 6:16-21 (NKJV)
Mark 6:47,48 gives us more information: “Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by.”
There is so much here that I could write an entire Bible study on this story. But here are a few points that jumped out at me from these verses.
The fact that the boat was in the middle of the sea really speaks to me. I never want to stretch to make an application, but I think it’s more than appropriate to say that He will meet us in the middle of our situation. When we feel we’re too far gone to be rescued, He can meet us there. You're not out of His reach. Don’t lose faith.
The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. (Hebrews 4:12) So, when someone says that a movie, book, or sermon "brings the Bible to life," it doesn't mean the Bible needs reviving. At least, it shouldn't. But as fans of the wildly popular television series "The Chosen" attest, retellings of Bible stories can help us understand and relate to those historical events in a new and powerful way.
In Bible story books for children, the thoughts and feelings of Biblical characters are often imagined, and details extraneous to the Biblical account are included to help the reader visualize what the scene might have looked like. Biblical Fiction for adults does the same thing, but often with plotlines and character arcs that go much further into the "what might have happened" realm while staying true to Biblical information and the overall theme of Scripture. My dad, Bobby W. Norman's, first published book, In the Days When Judges Ruled, is a bit of a mix between the two. While you won't find the story of Jael driving a tent peg through Sisera's head in most Bible story books, it is included in his anthology about the judges of Israel, though in a standalone story about Deborah and not a novelized account of the Biblical period.
As a devoted pastor for over forty-five years, my father has spent countless hours studying the Bible. His studies, combined with his love of story and his creative imagination, resulted in TWO books released this year, both Biblical Fiction with some very unique elements, and I was honored to assist him with editing and publication.
Before the time of the judges, the nation of Israel had strayed from her godly heritage and into idolatry, and God had allowed them to be sold into the hands of their enemies as punishment. When the people repented, God sent judges to rescue them from bondage and restore their land. In the Days When Judges Ruled, which released in April 2022, is a retelling of the stories of those sixteen men and one woman, based on the record of Scripture. The unique part of the anthology is the Biblical commentary weaved into the creative writing. The stories of the judges reveal life-changing lessons for us today.
My dad's second book, The Generations of Adam, released in October 2022, and the imagination involved in the telling of the creation account is spectacular. The book takes us from the beginning of the world and Adam's fall, all the way to Adam's being redeemed from sin by the resurrected Messiah, with many thought-provoking scenes along the way. Have you ever wondered if Adam might have had a special pet in the Garden of Eden? What if it was a pet dinosaur? How perplexing it must have been when Adam and Eve realized their child had a belly button and they did not. What if Adam kept a diary of the first human experience? Told in a narrative style, this Biblical Fiction work also has a good bit of sound Biblical commentary interspersed. The first and last chapters of the book are my favorite, and the powerful message of the Gospel is brought full circle.
My dad has always been the most enthusiastic supporter of my writing career, and I am so proud he's now realized his dream of being a published author. There is much more on the way from him. Follow Bobby W. Norman on Amazon to learn more.
Maybe a better question is, "Why not memorize them?" In an age where we can look up most anything in seconds, memorization of lists and facts has become a lost skill. But scholars suggest that memorizing information increases the brain's capacity to learn*, and when we memorize something, it becomes part of us.
Memorizing the Books isn't as important as actually reading and studying the Bible, but it is a way to affirm our commitment to making the Bible an important part of our lives. Knowing the names of the Books in order is useful for locating Scriptures easily. Many people are able to recite song lyrics, sporting event schedules, and network television lineups with little effort. What if we invested some of that same brain power in the list of sixty-six Books that make up the Holy Bible?
My nine-year-old son recently recited the thirty-nine Books of the Old Testament in front of our congregation (full disclosure: there was a monetary reward involved,) and he's working on learning the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. I learned them all when I was a child, too, but I'm having to re-learn part of the list now, and the refresher course is fun. Especially since he and I are working on memorizing them together.
What about you? Does this sound like a challenge you'd like to try? A quick internet search for "how to memorize the Books of the Bible" provides an enormous list of articles, blogs, and videos that could be helpful. If you're a visual person, a colorful poster is a great tool. (I love the one I bought for my Sunday School class, but it's no longer available.) Maybe try this free printable from www.1plus1plus1equals1.com. Or, if you memorize best through music, search the web for "Books of the Bible song." There are even videos that instruct how to pronounce the names of the Books.
Memorizing the Books of the Bible doesn't have to be accomplished in one day. If you set a goal of learning eleven names per week, you'll be able to recite them all in six weeks! Just set a goal that's right for you and stick to it. Make it a family project or challenge a friend to learn them with you.
I love having a worldwide web of data at my fingertips (and a Table of Contents in the front of my Bible,} but the internet can never replace the power of the human brain. If you haven't memorized the list of Books in order, give it a try. Why not?
*Source: Psychology Today, William Klemm, Ph.D., senior professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University.
When we jump to a conclusion, we often land in a misunderstanding. Such was the case for some of the children of Israel, as documented in the book of Joshua.
After the journey in the wilderness for forty years, before the people crossed over Jordan and into the Promised Land, three groups of them—the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh—asked Moses to let them remain on the East side of Jordan and possess that land instead (Numbers 32.) Moses granted the request on the condition that soldiers from those groups would first help the other tribes conquer Canaan—an effort that would take “a long time” (Joshua 11:18.) When the wars were finally ended and all the tribes had received their inheritance in the Promised Land, the men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, crossed back over Jordan to join their families. That’s when the misunderstanding occurred.
Joshua 22 tells us that the East-of-Jordaners built a great altar on their side of the river, and when the people on the West heard about it, they assumed it was a pagan altar. So, the West-of-Jordaners “gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them” (Joshua 22:12.)
Fortunately, Israel didn’t go immediately into battle. The tribes first sent ambassadors to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh and confronted them about their supposed wrongdoing. ‘How could you rebel against the Lord this way?’ they said.
On one hand, the people on the West had good reason to be concerned. They’d seen firsthand that God doesn’t deal lightly with rebellion. If there was any chance their brothers on the other side of the river had fallen into idolatry, it could have resulted in destruction for all of Israel, and they had been commanded to remove idol worship from among them at all costs (as we all should.) But their assumptions about the East-of-Jordaners’ intentions were wrong. The purpose of the altar is explained in Joshua 22:27: “But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the LORD before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the LORD.” They wanted a symbol of their shared faith, a reminder to future generations that, though separated by the river, they were still part of God’s chosen people. So, they called the altar Ed, meaning witness. May we always be mindful of our witness to those around us. May we aim to leave a road map for future generations, to lead them in the right path.
Israel accepted their brothers’ explanation, but can you imagine how it felt to be accused? It must have been hurtful, especially after the tribes of Gad and Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh had spent years fighting alongside the rest of Israel to take the land of Canaan that God had promised. They were family; they were on the same team.
I know a little of that kind of hurt. I once tried to help someone, but my intentions were grossly misinterpreted, and even though I tried to explain, the person wasn’t willing to hear or accept my heart on the matter. How much dissension we could resolve in the body of Christ if people were willing to listen to one another.
Believers should be careful to avoid sin and unafraid to call it out, when necessary, but we should always give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt. Maybe there’s a good reason the other party said what they said or did what they did. Maybe the point of contention is all a big misunderstanding. Just because someone doesn’t do things the way we do doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Talking things out may be all that’s needed to bring resolution.
The story of the altar called Ed on the East side of the Jordan River should be a reminder to us all: Be wary of sin, but don’t jump to conclusions.
My ten-year-old is a cheeky one. She recently overheard me on the phone, telling my mother that my husband had taken two of our kids to the store while I stayed home with "the other two."
"What--we don't have names anymore?" my daughter quipped.
She shot me a pretend look of indignance, and I chuckled, which was her goal. But her joke immediately reminded me of something I'd recently studied, about three characters from the Bible whom some refer to as "the three Hebrew children.”
Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego are often referred to in this generic way, in story books and songs, as if the young men who refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzer's golden statue in the book of Daniel didn't each have a name. But the interesting thing is, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego aren't even their real names. Those are only their slave names.
Daniel 1:6,7 tells us, "Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego".
From a transcribed sermon from the late Rev. Chuck Smith, I learned that Hananiah means "Beloved of the Lord", but his Babylonian captors changed his name to Shadrack, meaning "Illumined by the sun god." Mishael means "Who is as God?", but it was changed to Meshack, meaning "Who is like Shak?" Shak was a false Babylonian deity. Azariah means "the Lord is my help." They changed it to Abednedgo, which means "the servant of Nego", another false god of the region. (Along the same lines, Daniel means "God is judge" while Belteshazzar means "Baal's prince.")
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had beautiful names that spoke of the goodness of God, but they were given names that meant much the opposite. Their new names paid tribute to idols. What a heavy weight that must have been for "the three Hebrew children" who served the true God! But, even though history remembers them mostly by these slave names, their stories prove that they never forgot who they really where.
When these three young men were threatened with death but still refused to bow, it was because they knew that no one else can take the place of God (Mishael), and that they could be brave in the face of danger because God was their help (Azariah). They trusted that God loved them (Hananiah). Their slave names did not define them. They remembered who they were in God.
Like the Babylonian captors, our enemy assigns labels in an attempt to break us. The world calls us things far removed from the truth, and people spin words to cause discord and tear us down. If you claim to be a patriot, they'll say you're a nationalist. If you stand up as pro-life, they'll call you anti-choice. If you love someone but don't agree with all their choices, they'll declare that you're a bigot. If you're a traditionalist, they'll call you old-fashioned. If you're a Creationist, they'll call you anti-science. If you're in love with Jesus, they'll call you an extremist. But the world's labels don't define us; we don't have to accept them. If you're a child of God, that's the only title that matters.
Some of the names people should reject might be related to their circumstances, rather than their beliefs. Minority doesn't mean victim. Adopted doesn't translate to damaged. Broken doesn't mean worthless. Hurting doesn't mean hopeless. Don't buy what the devil is selling. He may try to give you a name, but it doesn't mean that's who you are.
Since the days of the early church, followers of Jesus have born the name. Acts 11:26 says, "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." That's who we are. We're Christians, followers of Christ. When the world calls you something you're not, don't let it get you down. Keep following. Keep trusting. Remember who you are.
The television had been off for two days. Behavior issues called for drastic measures. But when the two youngest woke me up before daylight on a Saturday, I gave in. I was too tired to engage and keep them quiet enough to not wake the rest of the house. Not without the help of a little electronic intervention. Still, I set a standard. I would choose the program, and it had to at least be educational. The kids, just happy to have television back, didn't complain.
I started the show then shuffled to the kitchen to drop frozen waffles in the toaster. While they cooked, I stumbled around like a zombie, picking up random things that had been strewn about the night before. The boys were happily watching the PBS cartoon. I heard the teacher character tell the students how a microscope works. "Magnify means to makes things bigger," she said. Instantly, God cleared the sleepy fog from my brain and began to grow an idea in my spirit. "Magnify means to make things bigger."
Magnify in Scripture means to praise. Psalm 35:3 says, "O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." But how might the common definition also apply? How can we magnify the Lord to make Him bigger? (The Greek word for magnify comes from the root megas, where we get the word mega.)
God is already all-powerful, so there is nothing bigger than Him in that sense. But we need to continually make Him bigger in our lives, of greater importance. We need to give him a bigger space to operate through us, by eliminating worldly distractions. We need to use spiritual eyes to see Him as bigger. It doesn't take a microscope. It takes removing the blinders of the flesh to see Him for what He is.
Let's look at three uses of the word magnify in Scripture that describe different ways in which God is magnified.
Psalm 69:30 says, "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving." Being thankful makes God bigger in our lives. When we stop to recognize every good thing as a gift from him, we see him as greater--not some distant force, but an up-close-and-personal sovereign who is worthy of worship. He is literally all-encompassing, acting on our behalf in every facet of our lives.
Another well-known usage of the word comes from Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke 1:46 (KJV) says, "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord." Mary said this in response to Elisabeth's proclamation in verse 45 (NKJV): "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” We can magnify God by trusting Him and believing in His promises. Take Him at His word. Even when you can't see the end from the beginning, and even when the road set before you is difficult--as surely it was for Mary--believe He will fulfill His promise to be faithful.
In another New Testament reference, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on a group of Gentiles, the Bible says, "For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God..." (Acts 10:46 KJV.) Yes, they were praising God, but they made God bigger in their lives by exercising spiritual gifts. They put His greatness on display by operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It's interesting how all this study started with a line in a children's show, on a Saturday morning when I didn't want to be awake yet. It makes me wonder if the break we had from television for a couple of days helped prepare me to hear God better. Maybe my mind and spirit had a bigger space for Him to work. However it happened, I'm grateful for the message. I need God to be bigger in my life. I want to magnify Him through thankfulness, faith, and spiritual gifts.
Maybe a microscope isn't the best metaphor. Sometimes what I need is to view God like a word on a screen, with the web browser zoomed to 1,000%, and everything else pushed out of view except Him. (That's as high as the zoom will go; I tried.) That's what we all need sometimes. May God be made bigger in our lives today.
"O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." (Psalm 35:3 KJV)
You open the mailbox and there's a card addressed to you. Someone's throwing the party of the century, and you're invited to attend! Whether you can make it or not, an invitation has been extended, and the sender deserves a response.
Jesus has extended many different kinds of invitations. Some of them even believers ignore. What will you do with your invitations? Respond affirmatively; say no thank you; or, ignore them?
Let's look at just a few of the things He invites us to "come" and do, from the examples of Scripture:
Jesus invites us to come and be saved, rest and be satisfied in Him, fellowship with Him, and inherit eternal life. What is your response? Please be polite. Don't ignore the invitations.
This devotion was adapted from notes for "Come Unto Me", a sermon by my father, Bobby W. Norman. He preached this great sermon at Central Full Gospel Church in State Road, NC on 9/16/18. I have consolidated and condensed several points from the message.
What is the essence of a person?
The dictionary defines "essence" as "the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is" and "the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person".
In the book of Matthew, we find a familiar story that describes the essence of Jesus:
And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. Matthew 9:20-22
A significant part of Jesus' essence is His power. His miracles help us identify Him as God. Certainly, the healing virtue didn't come from the garment. Jesus didn't wear a magical cloak, neither do I believe that his power was actually transferred to the fabric. I believe if the woman had reached out and come up ten feet short of touching the hem of his garment, she still would have been made whole. Because what she grabbed wasn't just the hem of His garment, it was the "Him" of his garment. Her faith wasn’t in the clothes. It was in who Jesus’ was, His identity as God in flesh. And her faith resulted in a miracle.
This story displays not only Jesus' power, but two other traits that describe his essence: He is omniscient and compassionate. People pressed in from all sides, yet He knew who had reached out in faith. He picked her out of the mob. And He had compassion on her, encouraging her to "be of good comfort". He reassured her that her faith had worked.
We may be reaching for His garment, for something that we need from Him, but we first need to grab hold of who Jesus really is. Meditate on his essence. Trust in his power, rely on his omniscience, and rest in his compassion.
There are some big promises in the Word of God, and sometimes I think we miss them. Maybe we just get so caught up trying to fill our scripture quota that we miss the truth of what God is saying to us. But I found a really big promise this week, wrapped up in two itty-bitty words: All things. Through His word, I want to look at how God has promised us EVERYTHING (all things) we will ever need.
One of my favorite verses has always been Romans 8:28, which assures us that “all things” work together for good to those who love God. But my study on our sufficiency in God came from 2 Peter 1:3. Here we find that God has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” through the knowledge of Jesus. He has given us all things! That’s a big thought! When we know Jesus, we are fully equipped with everything we need, not only to live, but to live godly lives.
The promise of total sufficiency through God began in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 9:3 says, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” This is an example of God not holding any good thing back. He provided completely.
This idea of abundance in Christ has nothing to do with a “prosperity gospel”. That’s a very narrow way to look at the blessings of God. The Bible says, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;"(1 Timothy 6:17) What does “all things” mean? What exactly do we have? I believe it means literally everything. We have access to everything we could possibly need or want, according to His will. The sky is the limit...if God wills it. And if He doesn’t will it, I don’t want it!
Another of my favorite passages is this beautiful sermon from the Apostle Paul found in Acts 17: "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:24 – 28)
He made everything, he owns everything, and he gives everything to us as his children. Bottom line—when you have Jesus, you have everything.
Check out these other applicable “all things” verses: Psalm 8:6; Philippians 4:13; Matthew 19:26; Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 3:21
What do they mean to you? I'd love for you to share in the comments!
About the Blog
Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!
Click below to sign up for my email newsletter, which includes links to my latest blog posts. Thank you!