Monday, October 27, 2008

Excellent Free Bible Software

Probably ten years ago some friends of mine from the local university told me about E-Sword. Since then, I have been using this free study software that minimally comes with King James Version, and Strong's Greek and Hebrew definitions.

But more than that, one can add on all sorts of modules to enhance E-Sword. I have downloaded commentaries like Barnes, Clarke, Gill; additional versions like ASV, NASB (this cost $20 to activate), ESV, GNB, the Message, the Septuagint, the Bible in Spanish, YLT, etc. I have added Thayer's Lexicon, an in-depth Hebrew Lexicon, Webster's 1828 dictionary, different Bible encyclopedias, a cross-referencing module called Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Additionally, I have added volumes like The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Schaff's History of the Church, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Finney's Systematic Theology, Eddersheim's Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, and works from Josephus. Finally, there are different map modules you can add on as well.

Also, you can create your own study notes, do exhaustive and comprehensive word/phrase searches, and even search by Strong's numbers.

Let me know if you've tried this software, and if it is a help to you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paying too Much for an Office Suite?

If you are tired of paying for Microsoft Office updates (or even Corel Office) you need to check out this free, open source office suite: It includes word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, database, and drawing.

I first heard about OpenOffice four years ago while the project still had some bugs. But since then the software has come a long way. Recently, I have preferred its presentation software to Corel's Presentations and I even use it when I teach. Open Office can save/load multiple file types such as Word, Word Perfect and their corresponding office software components.

Over the past year our family has experimented with it on our Mac, too. Yesterday I downloaded the 3.0 for Mac which now does not need to run X11. It appears to be a much better package than previous versions.

If you have tried this software, please leave a comment below sharing your experience.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where is Your Faith?

Adapted from the message given at Titusville Branch on October 12, 2008.

In Luke 18:8, Jesus finishes his parable about the unjust judge with a seemingly disconnected question: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" For some reason Jesus is so concerned about us having faith. Faith is needed for being made righteous before God (Romans 3). Faith is needed for pleasing God (Hebrews 11).

SnakeWhen Eve was being deceived by the serpent, his line of questioning was meant to cause doubt about God. To cause unbelief. "God is holding out on you, God is not good, he can’t be trusted, you’ve got to get what’s yours." Notice there wasn't really a change in the amount of faith that Eve had. Instead, the faith she had was redirected -- towards herself. She now believed that she was the only one able to obtain for herself what she thought she needed. This was a shifting of faith.

Also, when God's word speaks of justifying faith, it is talking of faith toward God (1 Thess. 1:8, Heb. 6:1). Jesus, in confronting the disciples during the storm says, "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:25). We always have faith. And faith always has an object. Faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in money, faith in doctors, etc. "God has given to each a measure of faith" (Romans 12).

Increase our Faith!
This sounds like a noble request that the disciples asked of Jesus in Luke 17. But Jesus' response may have been more a rebuke than a teaching. He said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed..." It seems that what Jesus was saying to them was, "You don't need an increase in faith, you need to redirect it. If your faith in me was the size of a mustard seed, there would be nothing impossible for you." Remember when he said, "Nothing shall be impossible for him who believes"? Again, the implied object of this belief is in Jesus and what he has said.

The True Nature of Unbelief
Recently I was struck with an unpleasant revelation about unbelief: "Unbelief assaults the character of God." In Eve's temptation, Satan was attacking the character of God. And unbelief in us does the same thing. It says to God, "You are not who you say you are." Some of us are so distracted by our failures, weaknesses, and inabilities that this unbelief in ourselves puts up a roadblock in the road of faith toward God. Our inabilities weigh more heavily in the scales than his ability. Whatever happened the the profession, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me"?

"Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God" (Heb. 3:12). Again, unbelief's cross-hairs are aimed at the character of God. Unbelief denies who he says he is, and what he says he will do. Unbelief causes distance between us and God, because our position with God is relational. Salvation isn’t merely a spiritual state, but a relational state. Faith is necessary in any healthy relationship. It seems like this is why faith would so please God; why Abraham would believe God, and God would reckon this simple faith as righteousness.

Is your belief in God greater than your belief in yourself? Is your belief in God greater than your unbelief in yourself?

Please leave your feedback by posting a comment below.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Steps Toward Deception

How do people become deceived?

I was a little surprised earlier this year, while listening to Winkie Pratney's 21CR (21st Century Reformation) podcast, when he said that deception doesn't begin with believing a lie. In fact, according to his teaching on the "I Wills" of Satan in Isaiah 14, he said that intellectual deception was the fourth phase of this process.

So what does Pratney say is the process toward deception? Here is a summary list (you can get the complete notes of the 21CR Seminar here):

  1. Independent Spirit
  2. Selfish Choices
  3. Searing Your Conscience
  4. Intellectual Deception

My dad used to ask this question: "Do you want something bad enough, you'll deceive yourself to get it?"

Please feel free to share your thoughts on deception by posting a comment below.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Free Photo & Imaging Software

I've been using a great free image and photo editing program for more than a year called Paint.Net. I like it better than my version of Corel Photo Paint. The downside is it only runs on Windows.

For Mac users wanting a quality free (open source) paint program, try Gimp. Gimp runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. I only run it on my Mac, but on Windows I use Paint.Net simply because it has a more user-friendly interface. Both Paint.Net and Gimp offer more features than the editing software that typically come with digital cameras or printers.

So if you want to broaden your image/photo editing options without paying a hefty price, give one of these a try.

If you've used any free or open source paint programs, please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Beat Yourself Up

This post is a summary of the message shared at Titusville Branch on October 5, 2008.

Many Christians do not agree with a once common practice in the church: self-flagellation. Throughout Christian history there have been ascetics who promoted severe self-discipline and denial of many sensory pleasures. The term “mortification of the flesh” came from scriptures like, “...those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, cf. Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5). This idea and these scriptures were used as a basis for things like self-whipping, extreme fasting, wearing hairshirts, etc.

From the Past to the Present
The following comes from Wikipedia’s article on “mortification of the flesh”:

  • Dominic Loricatus is said to have performed 'One Hundred Years Penance' by chanting 20 psalters accompanied by 300,000 lashes over six days.
  • Francis of Assisi, is said to have asked pardon to his body for the severe self-afflicted penances he has done: vigils, fasts, frequent flagellations and the use of a hairshirt.
  • Catherine of Siena wore sackcloth and scourged herself three times daily in imitation of Dominic.
  • At the latter half of the twentieth century, JosemarĂ­a Escrivá practiced self-flagellation and used the cilice, a modern-day version of the hairshirt.
  • Pio of Pietrelcina, wrote in one of his letters: “Let us now consider what we must do to ensure that the Holy Spirit may dwell in our souls. It can all be summed up in mortification of the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, and in guarding against a selfish spirit... The mortification must be constant and steady, not intermittent, and it must last for one's whole life. Moreover, the perfect Christian must not be satisfied with a kind of mortification which merely appears to be severe. He must make sure that it hurts.”
  • Pope John XXIII wrote: “But the faithful must also be encouraged to do outward acts of penance, both to keep their bodies under the strict control of reason and faith, and to make amends for their own and other people's sins... St. Augustine issued the same insistent warning: ‘It is not enough for a man to change his ways for the better and to give up the practice of evil, unless by painful penance, sorrowing humility, the sacrifice of a contrite heart and the giving of alms he makes amends to God for all that he has done wrong.’ ...But besides bearing in a Christian spirit the inescapable annoyances and sufferings of this life, the faithful ought also take the initiative in doing voluntary acts of penance and offering them to God.... Since, therefore, Christ has suffered in the flesh, ‘it is only fitting’ that we be ‘armed with the same intent.’ It is right, too, to seek example and inspiration from the great saints of the Church. Pure as they were, they inflicted such mortifications upon themselves as to leave us almost aghast with admiration. And as we contemplate their saintly heroism, shall not we be moved by God's grace to impose on ourselves some voluntary sufferings and deprivations, we whose consciences are perhaps weighed down by so heavy a burden of guilt?"
Back in 1990 my wife and I visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Leading up to this large church is a two-mile walkway called ‘Calzada de Guadalupe.’ Every year penitent people crawl on their knees the entire length to plead for mercy and miracles.

No Value Against the Flesh
It is true that Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” However, Paul writes in Colossians 2:23 that these types of activities have “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” They only have the appearance, the facade, of wisdom. They come from self-made religion. And they have no value against fleshly indulgence.

True, we are not to live according to the flesh, we are to deny ourselves, and we are not to indulge fleshly desires. However, Romans 8:13 makes it clear one way we are to put to death the deeds of the body. Paul says here that “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Denying ourselves isn’t something we do for the purpose of “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body.” It is more a matter of obedience – obedience to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit may lead us to fast or to deny ourselves some pleasure. But asceticism only has the “appearance of wisdom in self-made religion” and has “no value against fleshly indulgence.”

Few People Practice this Today
I have never met any Christian that actually practices any type of strict asceticism or mortification of the flesh. Many baulk at such a thought. What I find interesting, however, is that there are many of us who practice a type of internal self-flagellation.

Sometimes we cannot get over ourselves when we fail, when we sin, when we make a mistake. We often have to brutally beat ourselves mentally before we can accept the Father’s forgiveness. We berate ourselves with verbal thoughts like: “You idiot. You’re such a loser. You’re such a failure.” And we can’t walk through the corridor of Christ’s mercy until a substantial time of self-flagellation has passed.

This, too, has no value against the flesh. This type of response doesn’t enable us to overcome.

Not only is this a type of false humility, this strips faith from us. Lack of faith hinders God’s work in our lives. Lack of faith displeases Him (Hebrews 10:38, 11:6). And lack of faith prohibits righteous living. Romans 3 says that faith is the very thing needed to be made right with God. Faith, not a self-whipping.

Do we place more confidence in beating ourselves, or in the atoning work of Jesus? Can he justify us without the help of our self-flagellation? I would submit that he cannot justify us when we beat ourselves up because we are placing our confidence in ourselves, in the flesh, rather than in his sacrifice for us.

How Long Does it Take to be Right with God?
How much time does it take to become right again with God when we’ve sinned? How long does it take to trust Jesus for his available mercy and forgiveness? Does it take hours or days of self-punishment? Or do we really have faith in Christ’s work? We can be right with God a split second after failing, if we only believe (see 1 John 1:9-2:2). Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Paul says that he did not have “a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9). How long does it take to believe?

Faith to Overcome
It takes more faith to get up and go on, than to beat ourselves up for how we have failed. (It takes more humility, too.) And faith is the only thing that enables us to overcome.

“... my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
Hebrews 10:38-39

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Great Free Internet Filtering Software

Over the past six years my kids have been using the computers and the internet for a substantial part of their school work. As a result I've done a little research on internet filters. Last year I came across a great free internet filter for home use.

I have used K9 Web Protection from Blue Coat for months now. With it I can customize which categories and sites are or are not available for my home computers. I can block key words, set time restrictions for internet use, and log web site activity. The latest beta version can also block tunneling sites (sites that run underneath the radar of many internet filters).

Here are some helpful links:
K9 Web Protection Home Page
Get K9 Now Page

If you use any filtering software, please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A 'Tail' of Two Dogs

Have you ever heard any variation of the illustration below?

Imagine you have two dogs living inside you. The name of one is Flesh and the name of the other is Spirit. These dogs keep getting into fights with each other. Which dog is gonna win? The strongest one, of course: the one that’s been fed right, exercised, and taken care of. Well, then, which dog are you taking the best care of? Do you “feed” your spirit with Scripture, prayer, preaching, uplifting music? Or are you feeding your flesh with inappropriate TV shows, movies, foul language and jokes (saying them OR listening to them), music that has questionable lyrics?
Okay, this illustration may have some good points. But I see some inherent flaws. This story seems to leave the following impression: “so as long as I feed Spirit more, then it’s okay. I can still feed Flesh, but if I do more ‘Spirit’ things, it will be stronger than Flesh.”

Paul says, however, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.” He also says “that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh.” It sounds like we are supposed to kill one of the dogs.

Paul is a Hard One to Follow
Why is this story so popular? I believe it comes from a misunderstanding of something Paul wrote. In fact, Peter talks about how some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand, which some people actually distort (see 2 Peter 3:16,17). This distortion may be unintentional. But it may exist because we have a tendency to interpret scripture through personal experience.

Many people have taught that Paul experienced the same ‘dog fight’ described above because of his words in Romans 7:14-25. He says things like:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (v. 18)
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (v. 20)
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (vs. 22,23)
So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (v.25)
Seems like that explains itself, right?

There's More to the Story
Well, actually, Paul didn’t stop there at the end of chapter 7. In fact Paul didn’t divide up his writings into chapters and verses. Chapter 8 continues his thought.

One other important distinction here is the change in tenses that Paul uses. The verses leading up to verse 14 are past tense. Then in Romans 8:2, he switches back to the past tense. Romans 7:14 to Romans 8:1 are an illustration that Paul is using to make his point which he brings to a crescendo in Romans 8:2-4.

If we stop at the end of chapter 7, we would be left with the impression that there are two laws, the law of sin and death and the law of God. We would be left with the impression that the Christian is to left serving the law of God with his mind, and the law of sin with his flesh or body. But Romans 8:2 says unequivocally that this is not the case.

Why is There No Condemnation?
The reason there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus is because God introduced a NEW law. Paul concludes that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” This law of the Spirit is the new law. Paul goes on to say that “the requirement of the law of God” can be “fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” We don’t hear Christians talk like that today.

If we are not fulfilling the requirement of the law of God, it’s not because of two dogs fighting inside us. It’s because we haven’t killed one of the dogs.

Jesus Agrees with Paul
Jesus actually affirmed that two dogs cannot live inside us when he said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24a).

If we are having major struggles with the flesh, perhaps it because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has NOT set us free from the law of sin and death. Remember these other words of Jesus, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

With the weight of other scriptures against it, I am led to the conclusion that the story of two dogs (named Flesh and Spirit) is actually a tall tale.

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Modern Day Parable

The four CH-47 helicopters arrived through smoke and fire at the embassy in the capital of this foreign nation. Their mission? To rescue people trapped inside by insurgents’ gunfire and grenades. There were 87 people in the embassy, hanging on for dear life, hoping their own military would arrive before the nationals broke in.

The dissidents had already been pushed back by several AH-64 Apaches that flew by minutes earlier. Now troops were descending from the helicopters to the rooftop of the embassy. They entered the building, hurrying to the rooms where people were gathered.

Fifteen minutes later, the helicopters were lifting their quarry away to flight altitude. Twenty-five minutes later, the nationals broke into the embassy and torched it to the ground. Forty minutes after that, the helicopters landed at their military base nearby, celebrating what they considered a successful mission.

In the next hour, the nations around the globe grumbled at this superpower’s actions. In fact, the UN Secretary-General issued a statement denouncing the mission.

Nobody was condoning the terrorists who attacked the embassy, however. What the world found appalling was that the special forces had rescued less than half of the people in the building. Why, with four Chinooks, each with more than a 30 passenger capacity, did they only rescue 42 people? The nationals had been temporarily pushed back, so the soldiers had plenty of time to save all who were trapped inside.

This was no great rescue. The military had no right to celebrate. Forty-five people had died needlessly that day. And this superpower could have saved them without much effort. But for some strange reason it didn’t.

What is the purpose of this story?

For some, this parable could have begun with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like...”

According to some traditions, God, the superpower of the universe, is said to demonstrate his glorious mercy by choosing a select group of people to be saved, while leaving countless billions to face the judgment of the lake of fire. Additionally, no one is able to respond favorably to God's grace without him giving them the gift of faith and repentance.

If this view is an accurate portrayal of scripture, then (to me, anyway) it begs a very important question. Why doesn't the infinitely powerful and the infinitely merciful God change everyone's heart and save everyone?

Finally, some theological views might add another element to this parable: that the superpower planned the assault on its own embassy, in order to show how great of a superpower it really was.

Hmmm... I just can't see how this view demonstrates a loving, merciful and just God as the Bible declares him to be.

"...but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight," declares the LORD (Jer 9:24).

Please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

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