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10 Bible Verses that Celebrate God’s Creation

Many peoples and communities around the world will be celebrating Earth Day this weekend, including churches and other religious gatherings. Those who follow Jesus Christ have a unique opportunity during such an observance to point people to Scripture—to show how the Bible is imbued not only with celebrations of God’s creation, but also with creation’s celebration of its Creator.

Earth Eastern Hemisphere.jpg

In theological terms, you may have heard the phrase ‘general revelation’ or ‘natural revelation,’ which is, in short, knowledge gleaned about God by our observations of the natural world—his expressions of love, creation, power, beauty. Though a secular holiday, on Earth Day Christ-followers are called to remember that we’re care-takers of that which God has given us. We’re called to remember that we should treat the Earth—soil, water, and life—like the gift it is. And then, yes, to realize that it’s possible to misuse this gift and to take it for granted as we’re so apt to do even with the unparalleled treasure of God’s freely-given salvation.

So, far from being purely political, Earth Day is a reminder that the least we could do is open our eyes, learn something about God, and see how his creations point to his Word and vice-versa. Every aspect of life can draw us into the Word. Jesus speaks to us through Scripture and creation.

Here are 10 verses you might read and contemplate throughout the weekend that sing the Creator’s praises in relation to his creation.

1. John 1:3

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. — John 1:3 (KJV)

2. Isaiah 42:5

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:Isaiah 42:5 (NIV)

3. Psalm 96:11-12

Let heaven celebrate! Let the earth rejoice!
    Let the sea and everything in it roar!
    Let the countryside and everything in it celebrate!
    Then all the trees of the forest too
        will shout out joyfully — Psalm 96:11-12 (CEB)

4. Job 12:7-10

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
    and the breath of all mankind.
Job 12:7-10 (ESV)

5. Romans 1:20

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. — Romans 1:20 (NLT)

6. Psalm 95:4-5

In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.
Psalm 95:4-5 (NKJV)

7. Hebrews 11:3

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:3 (NIV)

8. Isaiah 24:4-6

The earth dries up and withers,
    the world languishes and withers;
    the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
    and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled,
    and few people are left.
Isaiah 24:4-6 (NRSV)

9. Ezekiel 34:2-3

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. Ezekiel 34:2-3 (NIV)

10. Psalm 104:24-25

Lord, how manifold are your works!
    In wisdom have you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
    which teems with creatures innumerable,
    living things both small and great.
Psalm 104:24-25 (ESV)

Two Scriptures I Rely On When Life Hurts—A Reflection from Jack Deere

Jack DeereEditor’s Note: Jack Deere’s new memoir Even in Our Darkness is on sale for only $2.99 (eBook edition) from April 20 – 21, 2018. The book tells Jack’s story of finding friendship with God in the midst of pain, grief, and loss.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Finding Friendship with God in the Midst of Pain, Grief, and Loss: An Interview with Jack Deere]

By Jack Deere Buy your copy of Even in Our Darkness ebook in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

Two Scriptures that I rely on daily are Lamentations 3:22-23 and 3:33. The NIV translates Lam. 3:33 as, “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” This translation can be a little confusing. It’s like saying that a father never willingly disciplines his child. But the verse before says that God does grieve us (3:32). The Hebrew text of Lam. 3:33 actually says, “For he [the Lord] does not afflict or grieve the children of men from his heart.” Though God sometimes hurts me, the hurting is not the desire of his heart. The hurt turns out to be necessary for my heart, though I don’t usually see the necessity of the affliction until the affliction has become a memory with no sting in it.

So here’s how this verse helps me. All of this present, painful roller coaster ride that I talk about in Even in Our Darkness comes from God. No doubt about that. It’s not an accident from some part of the universe that he leaves free to run on its own. But instead of thinking of him being mad at me, I think of him being a little proud of me, maybe. At least I have the opportunity to make him proud. And that’s why good fathers consistently discipline their sons, not to have sons they can love (good fathers already love their sons), but to have sons they can be proud of.

Lam. 3:22-23 says that God’s expressions of his unfailing love and compassion are new each day. So now, I wake up looking for new displays of God’s compassion and unfailing love. Although each day comes with its own troubles, if I look for the new, daily mercies I find that the mercies overrule the trouble. I’ve never been so peaceful or able to laugh in a storm as I am today.

One of the good things about riding this roller coaster is that my eyes have learned to see the new mercies of each day. And seeing mercy so frequently makes me more grateful than I ever remember being.

Even in Our Darkness: A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway. The ebook edition is on sale for only $2.99 from April 20 – 21, 2018.

Bio: Jack Deere, is a writer and lecturer who speaks throughout the world. Formerly he was an assistant professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary for more than ten years, until he was fired in 1987 for reversing his stance on the gifts of the Holy Spirit—he had come to believe that gifts such as healing and prophecy are accessible today. This experience became the basis of his bestselling books, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit and Surprised by the Voice of God. Deere then spent four years with John Wimber at the Vineyard Christian fellowship in Anaheim California, and went on to pastor other churches. Jack and his wife Leesa currently live in St. Louis. They are the parents of Stephen, Alese, and the late Scott Deere.

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The Old Testament Is Dying: An Interview with Brent A. Strawn

Brent A. StrawnThe Old Testament constitutes the majority of the Christian Bible and provides much of the language of Christian faith. Are churches and Christians dangerously neglecting it?

Bible Gateway interviewed Brent A. Strawn (@brentstrawn) about his book, The Old Testament Is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment (Baker Academic, 2017).

How is the Old Testament like a language?

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Brent A. Strawn: My book employs a linguistic analogy that sees the Old Testament as a language or very much like one. By this analogy I mean the Old Testament (but the New Testament as well, and the Bible as a whole) can be used as a kind of grammar through which we perceive, understand, and negotiate the world, just as we do with our native tongues. “What is that over there that we just saw?” Or, “What was it that we just experienced?” We respond to such questions, and many others like them—every other question in fact!—by means of language. The Old Testament is analogically like a language in this sort of way: it, too, can be used as a way to understand and evaluate reality or lived experience.

Of course the same could be said for almost every human artifact we can think of, especially in artistic modes: a movie, for instance, or a poem, song, or novel. All of these come with implicit “grammars”: each in its own way, whether comprehensive or not, is a way of understanding and interpreting the world, and it commends that understanding and interpretation to us as readers or receivers.

Now if the Old Testament is (like) a language, a couple of other things follow. One is that it can be learned and spoken well, even fluently, and, as a result, thrive; or it can be spoken poorly, haltingly, and eventually die. Each of those options (and others in between) are possible parts of any language’s life-cycle.

How do languages die?

Brent A. Strawn: Most simply, languages die when their last speaker dies. The most telling datum that a language is endangered and facing extinction is when only the elderly speak it because that indicates there are no younger people using the language—particularly people of child-rearing age who might actively pass on the language to their children. Children are crucial for the survival of any language since they have remarkable capacities for language acquisition.

In the process of linguistic decline one can trace a serial deterioration of the language from the older, fluent generation, to the subsequent generation that knows only some of the language (probably only in passive modes once they’re adults), to a third generation (and beyond) who know almost nothing. After that, the language is extinct.

This process of deterioration is what linguists call repidginization because the language that survives following the death of the fully fluent generation is increasingly simplified and reduced, lacking complexity and nuance, and thus looks more and more like a pidgin language.

A word about pidgin languages is in order since it helps explain this concept of repidginization. Pidgin languages are contact languages created to facilitate communication between two language groups. A pidgin language is a massively simplified amalgam of the two distinct languages of the groups who need to communicate with each other. A pidgin can be thought of as the offspring of the two groups—the linguistic child of those original languages, if you will—but the two parents did not contribute equal DNA. One group is always stronger somehow (more money, more guns, both!) and so contributes more DNA (grammar, vocabulary, etc.) to the pidgin.

In any event, a pidgin language is a fantastically reduced thing; pidgins suffer in every aspect of language: grammar, syntax, lexicon. So, for example, Russenorsk, a now-extinct pidgin that was spoken by Russian and Norwegian traders, comprised only 300 words and had only one preposition (which had to do the work of both “in” and “out,” for instance). The famous Russian novelist, Dostoevsky, could not have written his novels in Russenorsk. That pidgin just couldn’t have done the job.

So, once again, as languages move toward death, they repidiginize, which means they reduce to ever more simplistic and reduced versions of themselves. In this process, they end up losing—slowly but surely (and in some cases, drastically)—almost the entirety of the grammar, syntax, and lexicon of their original form.

Why do you say the Old Testament is dying?

Brent A. Strawn: For several reasons. The Old Testament Is Dying outlines at least seven topics that I explore in detail. Some of these are empirical or semi-empirical studies, others are more anecdotal. The seven are split into different chapters in my book.

In chapter 2, titled “Initial Testing,” I put the patient that is the Old Testament through four tests: the US Religious Knowledge survey, a study of a series of best sermon collections in the 20th century, the place of the Psalms in mainline hymnody, and the use of Old Testament in the Revised Common Lectionary. In each instance the Old Testament is shown to be very, very sick. It underperforms or is underutilized or is neglected, if not censored.

Next, in chapters 4-6, I discuss the Old Testament’s morbidity in larger, more public arenas and discourses: the New Atheism, Old and New forms of Marcionism, and in the prosperity gospel, especially as exemplified in the writings of Joel Osteen.

I discuss all of these seven topics in considerable detail in the book, but, for me, proof of the Old Testament’s decline is found in the facts that:

  1. many Christians know very little of it
  2. many Christians “mispronounce” the few parts they do know (the Old Testament is all mean, for instance, or all happy) and
  3. many Christians can’t carry on a coherent conversation in the language of Scripture.

The last point could be contrasted, I suspect, with how many Christians would have no problem discussing their favorite episode of a TV show they recently binged, or the names of their favorite sports stars or football coaches, and so on and so forth. But ask them to identify their favorite chapter in Jonah or Ruth—or Matthew or 1 Peter—and I suspect you’d get the oddest of looks (and responses!).

What did you learn from the results of the US Religious Knowledge Survey?

Brent A. Strawn: The main takeaway from this survey is that atheists and agnostics along with Mormons and Jews outperform every demographic of Christian surveyed, whether white, African American, or Hispanic; Catholic, mainline, or evangelical. There were seven Bible questions in the survey and five of them were multiple choice. They were not particularly difficult in my opinion, but I’m a Bible professor! In any event, as but one example of the disappointing results this study revealed, only 66% of the Christians surveyed could correctly identify the first book of the Bible as Genesis.

There are no doubt problems with the survey—and we can’t tell, since the survey was the first of its kind, if religious knowledge is up or down overall—but what it does tell us is that Christian groups lag behind the other groups surveyed. I used this study as the first of my four initial tests to get a baseline and also because it’s a truly empirical study. Needless to say, the results were profoundly demoralizing, revealing real gaps in basic religious knowledge and, probably, a correlate failure in various religious education designed to impart such knowledge.

What are some Old Testament lessons, passages, stories, etc., that you believe Christians should know to be “fluent in Old Testament”?

Brent A. Strawn: I think fluency ultimately involves functional, if not comprehensive, mastery and so can’t be reduced to just “some” parts of the language—or in this case, just some parts of the Bible. Of course even fluent speakers of a language are capable of learning new things: new words, new verbal forms, new metaphors and images, and, analogically, the same would hold true for Scripture. In any event, I believe fluency is a lifetime project and this is especially true for the oldest and most difficult of human languages.

Certainly Scripture and the life of Christian faith qualify as an old and difficult language! I think, therefore, that fluency will take a long time, but its goal is mastery. For that reason I don’t want to list a few biblical stories here and there. Even so, the literature on language acquisition does indicate that we build upon small units as we move our way to larger and more complex stages of grammar. That means people need to know basics, for sure—the Bible “hits,” as it were—but eventually they must move on to greater and greater nuance, especially as they age, develop, and mature in the faith. Otherwise, they’re stuck in a case of arrested development: 50-year old Christians, for example, with a fifth grade faith. As Paul said, there’s a time to put childish things behind us!

You say the problem is how the Old Testament is present, read, and preached from in churches (as in sermons, hymnody, and the lectionary). What do you mean?

Brent A. Strawn: There’s a difference in mind between if-present and how-present. If-present asks: is the Old Testament present at all in sermons, song, and Scripture reading? That’s one important thing. And of course I argue that the Old Testament must be present in all of those places and far more than it has been of late (and for a long time).

But there’s also the question of how the Old Testament is present in these things. If the Old Testament is just a foil for a New Testament passage, for example, or if the Old Testament example is only preached so as to beat up on Israel or if the Old Testament is read but not really engaged or plumbed for its depth, then the Old Testament is present but not in a healthy way.

As I say early on in The Old Testament Is Dying, my diagnosis is that, for many Christians, the Old Testament has ceased to function in healthy ways as authoritative, canonical Scripture in their lives. Cheap and shallow instances of how-present will not do, therefore, even if the if-present is there. What we need are the best, most substantive and thoughtful uses of the Old Testament in formative moments of Christian faith and practice. So, yes, the Old Testament must be present, but how it is present is equally crucial.

Why is it vital that the Old Testament “language” be reclaimed by Christians?

Brent A. Strawn: As one of the epigraphs of my book I use a quotation from an old German theologian, Wilhelm Vischer. It goes like this: Tell me what you would strike from the Old Testament and I’ll tell you what defect there is in your Christian knowledge. I really believe that. It’s thus vital to reclaim the Old Testament or else our Christian knowledge will be forever flawed.

Furthermore, if the Old Testament dies, the New Testament isn’t far behind, even if it takes a little bit longer for that to happen. All of the problems that face the survival of the Old Testament, that is, also pertain to the New Testament. According to the Anglican divine, John Donne, “the two testaments grow one Bible.” What that means is that the Old and New Testaments are in this together—for better and for worse.

Briefly explain how you apply pidginization and creolization to your book’s message.

Brent A. Strawn: As I mentioned in an earlier question, pidiginization is the process that produces a reduced contact language. In The Old Testament Is Dying, the examples I discuss from New Atheism and the heresy known as Marcionism (which is still with us) are examples of that. In both cases, a more dominant language has impinged on a weaker one (in this case Scripture) and reduced it to a shadow of itself. Now it must be pointed out that Marcionism and the New Atheists get some things right about the Bible—that’s to be expected in a pidgin language which retains some of its weaker parent’s “genes”—but they fail miserably when it comes to understanding the entire, rich, and complex (!) language of Scripture. By definition a pidgin is not a rich, complex language but quite the opposite. It’s also crucial to point out that only those who have a better grasp on the whole are able to respond to the threats posed by the reductionistic languages found in Marcionism and the New Atheism.

Creolization is a different, but related phenomenon. Creolization is the linguistic process in which some pidgins survive and grow up to become new, thriving languages. The key word, though, is “new.” Creoles are languages that have a pidgin as their immediate ancestor, but pidgins are too reduced to function as real languages for lots of people for very long. More grammar is needed, more vocabulary, and so forth. Creoles are languages that are rounded out—created, in no small way—by people who had a pidgin as their first language. The rounding out that happens in a creole is entirely regular: no irregular verbs please! The linguistic expansion that takes place in creolization makes a creole vastly different from its pidgin forebear (which, in turn, was also very different from its original parents). A creole is thus at least two (large) steps removed from the two languages that started the whole process.

In my book, I argue that creolization applies to the prosperity gospel and preachers like Joel Osteen. In my judgment, this movement has grown up on a pidgin: a greatly reduced language that treats the Bible as if it’s primarily about me and my health, wealth, and related types of flourishing—excepting all other evidence to the contrary (for example, that the life of faith frequently involves suffering, for instance, or sadness, grief, sorrow, even depression; compare Psalm 88). That fantastically reductionistic view of the Bible has then been creolized into a fully regular language.

“Name it, claim it,” is a perfect instance of such creolization. In so many prosperity thinkers’ opinions we have the power to say things that will, in effect, cause God to do something in return (or not as the case may be!). But that’s to make the free almighty God of Scripture into nothing more than a lapdog that comes whenever we call. That’s a gross misrepresentation (a creolization, really) of the Bible. How do I know that? Because I’ve read the Psalms and Job and Ecclesiastes—and also the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering in the garden and on the cross.

Who was Marcion, how is his heresy resurfacing, and how should it be refuted?

Brent A. Strawn: Marcion was a heretic of the second century. He was the first, perhaps, to say the Old Testament was dying, but in his judgment it deserved to die. He wanted to put it out of its misery. So he eliminated the Old Testament from his “Bible,” but, in so doing, he had to throw out a good bit of the New Testament as well. (As I said, the destinies of the two testaments are inextricably linked!)

The early heresiologists like Tertullian and Irenaeus responded to Marcion. They knew the entire language of Scripture better, in my judgment—they were more fluent, in the analogy—and thus were able to expose the deep and profound errors that Marcion’s pidginized mini-New Testament manifested. So, once again, in the case of Marcion, Vischer’s point is well made: if you strike something from the Old Testament, there will be a cost to your Christian knowledge. Marcion’s heresy was not just that he didn’t like the Old Testament. In no small measure it was precisely because he disliked the Old Testament that he ended up misunderstanding God, creation, and Jesus Christ. No small things those!

I don’t think Marcionism has ever fully died out. It rears its ugly head every time someone contrasts “the God of the Old Testament” with God (or Jesus) in the New Testament, or anytime someone characterizes the Old Testament as mean and wrathful and the New Testament as positive and merciful. Such characterizations are actually caricatures; or, using my linguistic analogy, they are cases of pidginization. As if the Old Testament didn’t abound in God’s goodness, mercy, and steadfast love! Or as if the New Testament didn’t know the sting of divine judgment and wrath!

Marcionism has negative consequences in a whole host of ways, therefore. In the 20 century its most gruesome manifestation was in the way German Christians saw fit to support the Nazis and their “final solution” which saw the murder of millions of Jews in the holocaust. Doris Bergen has shown that the Nazis were able to play on widespread biblical illiteracy among many German Christians and how they systematically outlawed preaching on the Old Testament, reading from the Old Testament, and, finally, singing songs based on the Old Testament. When these things are gone (and they correspond to three of my four initial tests I conduct in chapter 2 of my book), Christians no longer have a working ability in the language of the Old Testament. And without that, they can be easily seduced into thinking that anti-Semitism (or other iterations of racism) might be right. But a full working knowledge of the language of Scripture can prevent us from such horrific pidiginization-unto-death, a death that may not be simply a matter of human language but of human life, and of the worst, most inhuman kind.

What are your recommendations for saving the Old Testament as a language?

Brent A. Strawn: I have four or five in the book, but the most important is the first on the list: we need far more Old Testament than we’ve been getting. We need regular and extensive use of the Old Testament at and in formative moments in Christian practice and education including (no surprise) in sermons, songs, and Scripture reading—in both public worship and private devotion.

This is not particularly novel or insightful, I realize. It’s, instead, entirely commonsensical. This is how people learn languages and practice them: by using them all the time. A snippet of some random passage followed by a 15-45 minute reflection on God-only-knows-what (often not the snippet!) once a week on a Sunday morning is insufficient to fund a Christian life—a Christian life that will make much difference at any rate.

A further rider to this most important recommendation is to make our use of Scripture memorable. If we remember Scripture, it’ll function like a language through which we can perceive, understand, and negotiate the world. If not, we’ll remember something else: a song or movie or comment from our favorite political pundit. So we need to memorize more Scripture and also get it in our brains and on our tongues in other ways—by songs, for instance, that set Scripture to music. We need a lot more Christian music that is Scripture, in my opinion, and far less Christian music that is not Scripture.

A final point that I’ve already mentioned and that I discuss at many points in The Old Testament Is Dying is that children are crucial.

We learn languages initially and learn them best when we’re young. One can learn the language of faith at any age, to be sure, but if my linguistic analogy has any explanatory power, it suggests that there are ideal windows of opportunity for such learning and for some people it may be too late to expect much fluency, whether due to age, ability, or interest.

Whatever the case, whatever our age, languages are first learned, and fluency gained, via language immersion in a linguistic community; typically a family with primary caregivers. The church can function as such a community with various individuals, not just the ministerial staff and not just one’s own biological parents, serving as linguistic caregivers. But we mustn’t neglect the importance of the family proper—not just the church family or family of God.

I recall one of my professors, one of the world’s authorities on the Psalms, saying he first learned the Psalms at his mother’s knee (quite literally). Or one can read in Stanley Hauerwas’ memoir that he believes he’s a Christian because his mother read the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1.

These are two examples among countless others but they receive further, empirical support from the work of Christian Smith and others on the national study of youth and religion in America, as well as from the Religious Knowledge Survey where one of the indicators for scoring higher was if one discussed religion on a regular basis with family. Less soccer and softball practice, especially on Sunday, and more Scripture, is in order. Unless, that is, the parents’ primary goal is to raise up athletes who will be able to hold their own at the company picnic festivities when they get to middle-age.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Brent A. Strawn: This is an impossible question for a Bible professor! I can give you my top five books of the Old Testament easily enough:

  • Exodus (the fundamental salvific act in all of Scripture)
  • Deuteronomy (the preeminent articulation of covenant and law)
  • Psalms (irreplaceable in the life of faith)
  • Amos (key to understanding the wrath and judgment of God) and
  • Ecclesiastes (proof that the life of faith is truly capacious and includes a remarkable range of doubt, even crabbiness).

I can also give you some texts that I deem particularly important, especially to my own thinking about and theology of Scripture:

One would be Jacob’s wrestling at the Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-32), which indicates to me that we will not always come away from our encounters with God unscathed. Indeed, proof of walking with God might be in the limp we have or the scars we bear thereafter.

Another important text for me is Eli’s remark to Samuel after hearing the bad news about the future of his family: “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him” (1 Samuel 3:18). That expresses a certain resignation, perhaps, but also recognition of who God is, especially vis-à-vis who we are, which also holds true for another of my other favorite texts, Ecclesiastes 5:2b, which reads, “God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few.”

As a fourth and final text (I could go on all day!), how about Job 2:10b: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” That text shows me that I’m not dealing with a lapdog or Santa Claus but with something—Someone!—far more important and far more dangerous than that.

Again, I could go on and on with this question and add some “nicer” texts, but one of the signal contributions of the Old Testament to Christian Scripture in my judgment is precisely the honesty it reflects, and these four texts capture some of the brutal honesty that the biblical authors convey to us and model for us with regard to the realities and difficulties of the life of faith.

Bio: The Rev. Dr. Brent A. Strawn (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is chair, Hebrew Bible Course of Study (PhD), Laney Graduate School; director, Doctor of Ministry (DMin) Program, Candler School of Theology; professor of Old Testament at the Candler School of Theology, Graduate Division of Religion, and Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia; and senior fellow, Center for the Study of Law and Religion. He has authored or coedited numerous volumes, including The Old Testament Is Dying, The World around the Old Testament, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law , and From Whom No Secrets Are Hid. Strawn also serves as coeditor of the Old Testament Theology series and is on the editorial board of Catholic Biblical Quarterly and Journal of Biblical Literature.

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How to Live The Bible — The Ten Commandments and Our Relationship with God


This is the twenty-third lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.

Just released: A Book of Prayers for Kids by Mel Lawrenz (a perfect Easter gift for the kids you know and love).

You shall have no other gods before me.” This is how the Ten Commandments begin. We may not always realize what a radical notion that is. In most periods of history people groups around the world assume there are multiple deities. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made it clear that he is the only God. The absoluteness of God keeps us focused and gives definition to our lives. We gladly submit to the one true God who is perfect and complete in righteousness, truth, and beauty. If there are many gods then there is no God at all.
How To Live the Bible Ten Commandments Tablets illustration
The second commandment logically follows from the first. God’s people must not make any images to which they will bow down or worship. Physical idols were widely used in the ancient world, either as representations of deities or even as objects of devotion themselves. Whether fashioned from wood, stone, silver, or gold, idols are still never more than the products of human hands.

The prophet Isaiah would later satirize the ridiculousness of idolatry by describing a man who cuts down a tree and with one part makes a fire to warm himself or to bake some bread, and with another part carves an idol to worship (Isa. 44:9-20). Jeremiah mocks idols by saying their creators need to nail them down so they will not fall over (Jer. 10).

Idolatry today, of course, is substituting anything or anyone for God. If our highest affections, allegiances, and aspirations are directed toward a house, a business, a spouse, a career, or a bank account, then we are worshiping a God-substitute. In so doing we cut ourselves off from the greatest Reality of all. Our lives will be diminished; our values limited; our character incomplete.

The third commandment prohibits the misuse of the name of the Lord God. This is not exactly about vulgar or coarse language, but about speech invoking God. Ancient cultures emphasized the power of the spoken word, especially when making commitments or “swearing” in the name of someone with high authority. Today someone may say, “I swear to God…” before making a declaration. It is to invoke the authority of the Lord in order to strengthen a point. Given that there are hardly any circumstances whereby we ought to do that, we might conclude that we should not swear anything in the holy name of the Lord. To misuse God’s name is to dishonor God.

The fourth commandment is about remembering the Sabbath by keeping it holy. In the Old Testament refraining from any kind of work on the seventh day was both a prescription for holy and healthy living, and a sign of being the covenant people. Sabbath has significance because God rested after the act of creation (Ex. 20:11), and because God delivered his people from bondage in Egypt (Deut. 5:15). The Hebrew word shabbat means to cease. Life is to have a rhythm of the typical work we do, whether we get a paycheck for it or not, and then ceasing in order to do something different. That includes rest, and opportunities to invest in relationships, and to contemplate and worship God.

Some Christian traditions hold that the commandment about remembering the Sabbath requires us to have a specific day of the week where we refrain from work and engage in worship. These so-called Sabbatarian traditions may take the first day of the week, Sunday, to be the Christian Sabbath. A few groups take a strict view of observing the seventh day of the week, Saturday, as Sabbath.

Still other Christian traditions hold an interpretation that says we are not required to carry over Old Testament laws of religious observance, even this one in the Ten Commandments. So it is not wrong for businesses to stay open on Sundays or for a Christian to mow the lawn on a Sunday afternoon. Going to a worship service on a day of the week other than Sunday is not wrong, and hospital workers who work every other weekend are not violating the Sabbath.

If we take the view that Sabbath observance in ancient Hebrew culture (literally, from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday) does not carry over in the Christian life, we can still carry through on the principles of Sabbath. The ancient pattern teaches us that work and rest must be rhythms of life, and that a regular pattern of corporate worship is essential to spiritual growth. These are not minor concerns. In modern societies where the frenetic pace of life invites people to turn their lives into a blur of anxious activity or an electronically induced alienation and numbness, we need the principle of Sabbath to break us out of the busyness and deliver us to places of peace before the Lord.

[to be continued]


Available now: Knowing Him: Devotional Readings About the Cross and Resurrection by Mel Lawrenz. Get it now.


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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

Taming Your Child’s Tongue: An Interview with Ginger Hubbard

Ginger HubbardAre you ever embarrassed or shocked by what comes out of your child’s mouth? Do you raise your voice, threaten, and coerce, but find yourself frustrated because nothing seems to work? Is there a simple, Bible-based plan that shows parents how to help their kids tame their tongues and walk in the transforming power of Christ?

Bible Gateway interviewed Ginger Hubbard about her book, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That!: Biblical Wisdom for Taming Your Child’s Tongue (Thomas Nelson, 2018).

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You write that “Why do they continue to act like that?” is the wrong question to ask of misbehaving and rude-talking children. What do you mean?

Ginger Hubbard: I was once the mom who was consistently taken aback when her kids spoke foolishly, whether it was in the form of whining, lying, or talking back. With an expression of shock, I would ask, “Why do you act like that?” After a closer look at the Word of God, I realized I was asking the wrong question.

Jesus explained, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34). In other words, there’s merit to the old saying, “What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.” Our sin doesn’t begin with our mouths; it begins with our hearts. The sin that shows up in our words comes from inside of us, and it starts sooner than we might think. King David proclaimed, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). When parents truly grasp the origin of sin and the total depravity of man, we no longer question why our children sin.

I slowly learned to quit asking, “Why does my child sin?” and began to ask myself, “When my child sins, how might I point him to the fact that he’s a sinner in need of a savior? How might I help him understand and live in the power of the gospel?”

What are elements of ineffective discipline that parents should avoid?

Ginger Hubbard: When children speak offensively, often parents respond in one of two ways: we either ignore the child, hoping he’ll outgrow it, or we administer some sort of consequence, hoping to put the fear of God in him. Both methods are ineffective, because they fail to train and instruct. There are occasions when ignoring may seem more convenient for us. After all, it does take time to “start children off on the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). Yet, to ignore a child who’s in need of correction and guidance is to selfishly place our own interests above the interests and well-being of the child.

On the other end of things, consequences for wrong behavior have their place, but they’re not a substitute for training and instructing (Ephesians 6:4). Administering consequences without following through with righteous training only teaches them one thing: there are consequences for sin. While that’s an important lesson, an even greater lesson is to understand the higher calling of living in ways that are pleasing to God and bring him the glory he deserves.

Our purpose in disciplining our children is not merely to teach them to avoid consequences, but to train and instruct them to honor God with their lives: that being “the way they should go.”

What should be the purpose of parents disciplining their child?

Ginger Hubbard: The purpose of disciplining children is not to merely achieve outward obedience, but inward change. Many parents have developed the philosophy that if they can get their children to act right, they’re raising them the right way. Yet, there’s far more to parenting than getting children to act right. We have to get them to think right, and to be motivated out of a love for God rather than a fear of punishment.

By moving past the idea that discipline is about rigid rule-setting or behavior management, we can set aside ineffective practices such as scolding, ignoring the offense, or merely administering punishment. Instead, we start to see that our children’s outbursts are prime opportunities for the ultimate goal of all parenting: to guide them to the redemptive work of Jesus and his transformational power.

What is your three-step plan you describe in your book?

Ginger Hubbard:
Step 1: Getting to the Heart of Behavior
A wise parent will learn to move beyond the words of her child by addressing the issues of the heart. After all, if the heart is reached, the behavior will take care of itself. We’re told by Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, that drawing out matters of the heart is no easy task. He states, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). Jesus set the ultimate example for how to probe the heart of another in order to draw out what lies within. When dealing with sinners, Jesus did not shake his finger at their faces and tell them what they were doing wrong. Instead, he would ask thought-provoking questions in such a way that the person to whom he was talking had to take his focus off of the circumstances around him and onto the sin in his own heart. Heart-probing questions cause children to evaluate themselves, which helps them recognize their need for Christ.

Step 2: Reproving Your Child Biblically
In Matthew 18:15 God commands that we reprove those who are caught in sin. A biblical reproof exposes wrong by shedding light where there’s darkness. Fortunately, God has faithfully provided us with all that we need to speak wisdom and truth into the hearts of our children (2 Timothy 3:16). We need not look any further than the infallible Word of God. Once we’ve determined the issue of the heart that drives the outward behavior, we can then address the offense in accordance with Scripture.

Step 3: Training Your Child in Righteousness
It’s never enough to tell kids what not to do; we must teach them what to do. In the book of Ephesians we’re told to “put off the old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of [our] minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Teaching children to “put off” wrong behavior comes naturally for parents, mainly because we find wrong behavior unpleasant, but the key to successful parenting is found in training them in righteousness. It’s equally important, if not more important, that we teach our kids what to put on when we tell them what to put off. This is what training them to walk in the righteousness of Christ is all about.

Each chapter of the book focuses on one particular way children transgress in what they say or how they say it. List the various tongue-related offenses you address and select one to explain how parents should respond to it.

Ginger Hubbard:

  • Whining
  • Lying
  • Tattling
  • Defying
  • Manipulating
  • Interrupting
  • Complaining
  • Blame-Shifting
  • Teasing
  • Aggravating
  • Bragging
  • Arguing
  • Yelling
  • Gossiping
  • Bickering

Let’s look at whining. Children who use demanding forms of communication to express their wants and needs are in bondage to their emotions and lack of self-control. An enslaving addiction to whining does not make for a happy child (or parent). Some may assume the Bible does not address whining or how to handle it, but if we look past the outward behavior and seek to address the heart issue, we understand that whining is an issue of self-control. And God has a lot to say about self-control. He compares a person who lacks self-control with a city whose walls are broken down (Proverbs 25:28), and he deems self-control so important that he lists it as a priority virtue (Galatians 5:22-23).

Step One – Ask Heart-Probing Questions
Asking your child heart-probing questions helps her to evaluate her own heart and take ownership for the sin that’s there. You might ask, “Sweetheart, are you communicating with a self-controlled voice?” Granted, she may not answer. However, even if she doesn’t, you’ve still helped her to evaluate her heart and consider her own lack of self-control. She’ll ponder the answer, even if she refuses to verbalize it. If she shrugs her shoulders instead of answering, avoid a power struggle by gently speaking the truth on her behalf: “No, you were not communicating with self-control.”

Step Two – Reprove Your Child for Whining
It’s important to speak calmly so as to model the self-control you desire your child to learn. You might simply say, “Honey, God wants you to have self-control, even with your voice (Titus 2:12). Because you need to learn to speak the right way, I will not discuss this while you’re whining.” Explain to her that not only does God command her to have self-control, but that when she asks him, he’ll empower her to live in accordance with his command. You might say, “Sweetie, did you know God will help you to speak with self-control if you ask him?”

Step Three – Train Your Child to Speak with Self-Control
As a consequence for whining, have your child wait three minutes before communicating with you again. Be sure to explain that it’s love that motivates you to train her. You might say, “Sweetheart, I love you too much to allow you to speak foolishly. Because I want to help you learn to speak with self-control, I’m going to set the timer for three minutes” (you could use a kitchen timer or stop watch). Then explain, “When the buzzer goes off, you may come back and communicate the right way.” It may be necessary to demonstrate the correct way to speak to help your child along. By requiring her to communicate the right way, you’re correcting her for wrong, but, even more important, you’re training her in what is right.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Ginger Hubbard: As a homeschooling mom, it was such a privilege and blessing to be with my children all the time, but there were days when I’d grow weary in trying to be consistent in training them, especially when dealing with some of the same discipline issues over and over. I found the inspiration I needed to keep on keeping on from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” That was my life verse for parenting.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Ginger Hubbard: There’s not a heart big enough to cut and paste into this answer. I use Bible Gateway regularly as a quick reference go-to for locating passages of Scripture. It’s the primary tool I use for writing and preparing for speaking events.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Ginger Hubbard: Parents, be encouraged. God promises that just like when we labor in a garden, we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Through the prompting and power of Jesus, let us keep on sowing the seeds of righteousness. And I can think of no garden as worthy of seed planting than the fertile soil of our children’s hearts. To God be the glory.

I Can’t Believe You Just Said That! is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

Bio: Ginger Hubbard is a sought-after speaker, an award-winning writer, and the bestselling author of I Can’t Believe You Just Said That!, Don’t Make Me Count to Three!, and Wise Words for Moms. She has spoken at hundreds of parenting conferences, mom’s events, and homeschool conventions across the country. She is a veteran homeschooling mother of two adult children and stepmom to two much-adored stepsons. She and her husband Ronnie reside in Opelika, Alabama. To connect with Ginger, visit her website at

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Never Stop Believin’

Jonathan Cain By Jonathan Cain

Editor’s note: Taken from Jonathan Caine’s new memoir, Don’t Stop Believin’, this post captures Jonathan’s reflections about former lead singer and co-song writer Steve Perry, with whom he wrote many of Journey’s iconic hits.

There are two ways to look back on the canvas of your life. You can let the dark mistakes and misfortunes cover the bright moments and miracles, or you can let the colors emerge and brilliantly cover the old. I try to do the latter, especially when it pertains to those to whom I’ve been closest. Steve Perry is one such person.

There are many “what ifs” and “should’ve beens” when one looks back on the days in Journey when we waited for word from our lead singer, but there are also the songs we had created. There have always been the songs. Pieces of us put into melodies and threaded together by expressions of love and longing and hurt. So many of these musical pieces have stood the test of time.

When Steve Perry needed a break from Journey after Raised on Radio, there was unfinished business between him and me, just as there had been between John Waite and me. Bad English spelled the end with Waite, as Trial by Fire did with Steve Perry. At least in some ways.

We wrote “When I Think of You” about the passing of Steve’s mother, and I couldn’t help but think of my father as we worked on it. I can focus on the fact that even though it’s one of my favorite ballads, it was never performed live with Steve. Yet I choose to reflect on the majesty of the song, how it put some hope into the world, as did many of our other tunes. I witnessed this hope firsthand when I performed “When I Think of You” at a funeral for a friend from church. As I sang it, I thought of Steve’s wonderful mother.

One of the last songs we wrote for the new album was the title song “Trial by Fire.” Perry said he wanted to write a song about the “jars of clay” passage in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 4:6–7: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

In so many ways, that was Steve Perry’s life story right there. It’s his “Where have you been, Steve?” song. I think he had finally come to realize how blessed he truly was, and it wasn’t because of his precious mother. He had sung all those songs to her, yet ultimately it was somebody else who wanted his attention and thanks.

This all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

I understood what Steve Perry was talking about, especially since I had come to realize I had spent my life making music for my father—and he was no longer here.

What about me, Jon?

God was telling us something. It wasn’t about our amazing talents or how hard we worked. It was how much Steve and I were blessed, and how Journey had been blessed for many years. Those songs we wrote truly were treasures in jars of clay.

Steve finally got this. It took me a little while before I did too.

While I was wondering what was going on in Steve’s mind when he refused to move, I think God was wondering the same thing about me.

Being in the studio once again with Steve Perry, at work to reclaim our magic, I already knew some important facts about life.

You have to be prepared. You have to keep going down the road ready to jump when your time comes. That’s what I had done my whole career, from moving to Hollywood to deciding to write songs to listening and studying and pondering and trying this and that and wondering what sound or song might work.

After Steve Perry called with the idea of getting Journey back together, I jumped because I was ready. We were excited to see the songs come effortlessly. It was what we loved to do. Every single song we created was like the ones before—written with the desire to create a classic.

As we talked, Steve said something quite profound, something he said often: “Timeless music takes time.”

We both took our craft very seriously. We considered the songs we had written with Neal Schon to be timeless. We never worried about the critics. We wrote to the hearts of those in our audiences who sang our songs with us night after night.

It’s one thing to write hits. But what would it be like to write one that could last for years and even decades?

All I knew was that good songs had to have certain qualities. They needed to go somewhere and take the listeners on a voyage. They had to have a sense of hope, even in seemingly hopeless situations. That’s why the world loves them.

Steve Perry could take a good song and take people along on a trip. He could take a melody and make it soar. This was the beauty and magic of Journey—to take a tune that meant something to people and make it majestic.

Timeless music does indeed take time.

It’s like a father who plants seeds in his children and then waits, watching them take root and then grow. A father waits and hopes, and he never stops believin’.


Don't Stop Believin'Taken from Don’t Stop Believin’: The Man, the Band, and the Song That Inspired Generations by Jonathan Cain. Click here to lean more about this title.

From One of the Greatest Bands in History Comes a Reminder to Never Give Up Hope. In this long-awaited memoir, complete with color photographs, songwriter and keyboardist Jonathan Cain takes us on an odyssey from center stage with Journey when all America was listening to songs like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Faithfully,” and “Open Arms,” to his hope and faith today. He tells of the thrilling moments when the music came together and offers an inside look at why Steve Perry left and the extraordinary story of their gifted new vocalist, Arnel Pineda.

When Jonathan Cain and the iconic band Journey were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cain could say he had finally arrived. But Cain’s journey wasn’t always easy – and his true arrival in life had more to do with faith than fame.

As a child, Cain survived a horrific school fire that killed nearly 100 of his classmates. His experience formed a resilience that would carry him through both tragedy and success. Moving from Chicago to Sunset Boulevard, Cain never let go of his dreams, eventually getting his big break with Journey – and writing the songs that would become the soundtrack of a generation.

Don’t Stop Believin’ is an epic story of one man’s dream that takes you from playing old-country songs at an Italian Deli in Chicago and his experiences with a warm, encouraging father who died too soon, to suddenly writing mega-bestselling songs with some of the most talented musicians and performers ever to take the stage of some of the world’s largest arenas. The song “Don’t Stop Believin'” is the most downloaded song of all time, and is one that has been covered by major television shows and adopted by a whole new generation.

Through a wonderful retrospective of music that takes us right to the present, Jonathan Cain reminds us of the melodies and lyrics that serve as milestones for our biggest dreams as they call us to never stop believing.

Jonathan Cain is a musician best known as the keyboardist and lyricist for the world-renowned band Journey, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His acclaimed worship album, What God Wants to Hear, is filled with personal songs about his faith journey. Jonathan and his wife, Pastor Paula White, live in Apopka, Florida.

Bible News Roundup – Week of April 15, 2018

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Why We Should Read Lesser-Known Versions of the Bible
Read the New Testament for Everyone by NT Wright on Bible Gateway
Read the JB Phillips New Testament on Bible Gateway
Read the New Matthew Bible on Bible Gateway
Read the Bible in multiple translations on Bible Gateway
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How to Compare Different Bibles Side-by-Side on Bible Gateway

Bibles Dating Back to 13th Century To Go on Show in Norwich, England
Norwich Evening News
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, A Collection of Bible Museums & Exhibits

Bible Society of Namibia Completes Translating the Bible Into Khoekhoegowab After 14 Years
New Era Newspaper

Call to Reintroduce Bible Studies in Namibia Schools Grows Louder
New Era Newspaper

Final Miracle Brings Indigenous New Testament Recording Home to Central Australia
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Bible Society Australia is Launching The Invisible Book Video Contest

Why Australia’s Declining Biblical Literacy Matters
The Conversation
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Quiz: Do You Know These Obscure Facts in the Bible? 

25 Extremes of the Bible

What’s the largest assembled army in the Bible? What’s the longest book in the Old Testament? Or, here’s a really challenging one: What’s the longest word in the Bible?

How well do you know the “extremes” in the Bible? From the Old Testament to the New, this quiz tests your Bible trivia knowledge. All answers were collected with the King James Version in mind, which doesn’t effect most of the questions, but there are a few that are made easier with a good knowledge of that specific version.

The quiz itself, though quite difficult (well, I think it’s difficult), is 10 questions long. But, it comes to you as part of Bible Gateway’s celebration of its 25th Anniversary. At the end of the quiz, you can choose to sign up to receive the free and complete list of 25 Bible trivia extremes. It includes verse references, because context is always important, even with facts that you’re just using to impress your friends.

Take the quiz below to see how you do—and challenge your friends and followers to beat your score!



Mental Health and the Church: An Interview with Stephen Grcevich, MD

Stephen Grcevich, MDWhat barriers do churches encounter when they try to welcome and include families of children, teens, and adults with common mental health conditions or trauma? How should churches structure ministry for those diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, attachment issues, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and other difficulties?

Bible Gateway interviewed Stephen Grcevich, MD (@drgrcevich) about his book, Mental Health and the Church: Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders and Other Common Mental Health Conditions (Zondervan, 2018).

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Why did you need to write the book?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: Too many families I encounter through my work struggle to enter into the typical activities that take place at church. There’s been no broadly accepted ministry model for churches to follow if they want to be intentional about including children and adults with mental illness at church.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How to Achieve Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: An Interview with Peter Scazzero]

Why should churches care about mental health inclusion ministry?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: Persons with mental illness by far and away represent the largest segment of the disabled population, not just in the USA but throughout the world. More than 50 million Americans experience at least one mental health disorder on any given day.

Our attitudes toward persons with mental illness have negatively impacted the perception of the church among outsiders. According to one survey from LifeWay Research, 55% of USA adults who don’t regularly attend church believe that persons with mental illness aren’t welcome at church.

In the book, you suggest that the culture of the church contributes to mental health-related disability. How is that possible?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: Three ways in which mental illness differs from what we typically consider the focus of disability ministry at church is that it tends to be episodic, hidden, and situation-specific. People with common mental conditions may be very successful in a number of areas in life, but struggle greatly to meet certain cultural expectations at church. Examples include persons with social anxiety or persons with conditions associated with sensory processing differences.

Why is church participation often so difficult for individuals and families affected by mental illness?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: The inclusion model we present in Mental Health and the Church is grounded in the recognition of seven common barriers to church participation for persons with mental illness. These barriers include:

  • Stigma
  • Anxiety
  • Executive functioning
  • Sensory processing
  • Social communication
  • Social isolation
  • Past experiences of church

Why is mental illness so stigmatized in the church?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: The Nouthetic counseling movement emerged in the church during the 1960s and ’70s as a reaction to psychological theories and approaches to mental illness that appeared in many ways to be in conflict with traditional understandings of Scripture, especially behaviorism and the moral relativism that runs throughout Rational Emotive therapy. According to the Nouthetic view, as articulated by Jay Adams, mental illness in the absence of a clear organic cause is a manifestation of personal sin. That view still holds significant influence in many of our churches.

What are unique challenges of attending church for someone with an anxiety disorder?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: People with anxiety are “hard-wired” to overestimate the level of risk in new situations. They often fear acting in a manner that will result in embarrassment or humiliation when subject to the scrutiny of others. Consider some of the different ways that might play out at church:

  • Someone visiting a new church for the first time
  • Joining a small group where transparency and self-disclosure are expected
  • Someone with agoraphobia who can’t find an open seat near an exit
  • Someone with contamination fears associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when the congregation is encouraged to greet one another with handshakes and hugs.

What do you mean by executive functioning and how is it an impediment to church attendance?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: Executive functions are cognitive abilities involved in modulating other abilities and behaviors. Our capacity for self-control, our ability to apply what we learn at church in real life situations, the ability to self-regulate our emotions, to set priorities, to manage time, and to learn from our mistakes all depend upon our executive functioning capacity. The Bible clearly associates many of these attributes with spiritual maturity. Executive functioning capacity is diminished in the presence of a wide variety of mental health conditions.

Parents of kids with executive functioning weaknesses are often judged at church. A parent from my practice once said, “People in the church think they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”

What can churches do to help?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: The inclusion model we put forth in the book suggests seven broad inclusion strategies, easily remembered by the acronym “TEACHER:”

  • T: Assemble an inclusion TEAM
  • E: Create welcoming physical ENVIRONMENTS for ministry
  • A: Focus on the ACTIVITIES most critical for spiritual growth
  • C: Develop a mental health COMMUNICATION strategy
  • H: Offer practical HELPS to families both inside and outside of the church
  • E: Offer EDUCATION and support to families affected by mental illness
  • R: Give RESPONSIBILITY for the ministry to the people of your church

Why can’t people with mental illness be served by existing disability or special needs ministries?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: People with mental illness are reluctant to self-identify. They’ll flee any ministry that might draw attention to their differences. What they want most is to be treated like everyone else.

There are two important principles of an effective mental health ministry strategy:

  • It’s a mindset, not a program
  • A well-designed ministry strategy will benefit everyone in the church, not just individuals and families with mental illness.

What should people do if they feel called to launch such a ministry at their churches?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: First, approach your church’s senior pastor or senior leadership to gain their support. If they say no, consider the ways you can develop a personal ministry to individuals with mental illness within your sphere of influence, using the strategies shared in Mental Health and the Church.

What does Key Ministry do and how are you prepared to help churches through this process?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: Key Ministry (@KeyMinistry) helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. We’ve created several resources specifically for churches looking to implement a mental health ministry initiative:

How does the Bible speak directly to the topic of mental health?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: Many of the figures who played major roles in advancing God’s purposes throughout history as described in Scripture wrestled with thoughts and emotions we might associate with mental illness from a 21st century perspective.

Consider the prophet Elijah: fearful and exhausted, praying in the wilderness for God to take his life (1 Kings 19:3-5).

Or the many places throughout the Psalms in which David describes, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair, accompanied by signs and symptoms frequently associated with depression (Psalm 6, Psalm 13, Psalm 38).

Or Jeremiah, the “weeping” prophet (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Or the Apostle Paul, who arrived at the point where he despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:4-8).

I find it remarkable that so many of people who were used by God throughout Scripture to perform great works experienced periods of intense distress and adversity while serving God that would likely be indicative of mental illness today.

What biblical principles are foundational for properly relating to people with mental health issues?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: I think the story relayed in the book of Job is a wonderful illustration of important biblical principles around caring for others impacted by mental illness. In addition to the incredible relational and material losses and physical suffering Job experienced, we get a detailed picture of his overwhelming mental anguish in chapter 30.

One key principle we recognize in Job is that personal righteousness doesn’t offer protection from suffering, including the suffering associated with mental illness. A second principle is that we may never understand in this lifetime God’s purposes in allowing ourselves to experience a particular type of suffering. Job never found out from God why he had to endure all he endured. The story also illustrates the importance of reflecting the true nature and character of God as we support others experiencing mental illness.

Many well-meaning Christians have unintentionally caused great pain and driven people away from the comfort and support of the church through their insistence that mental illness is necessarily the result of a lack of faith or a failure to recognize or repent of some personal sin. Scripture is clear that mental illness is sometimes a result of personal sin: King Saul, Nebuchadnezzar, and the episode involving King David in Psalm 38 serve as examples. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly presumptuous of us to assume we can discern God’s purposes in someone else’s distress. We need to be very careful before concluding that someone’s mental state is indicative of a spiritual problem as opposed to a medical condition or disorder involving the brain.

One additional principle consistently on display throughout Scripture is that godly men and women turned to God for comfort during times of mental anguish or distress. Is it possible that God allows us to experience such distress because our discomfort serves as an impetus for drawing us into a closer relationship with him?

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: Only one? I’m going to pick two for the purpose of this conversation. Let’s start with John 9:1-3: As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Jesus challenged the common understandings of disability throughout his earthly ministry. On any given day, in excess of 50 million children and adults in the USA experience symptoms of one or more mental health conditions. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if the church became more intentional about welcoming and including them for the purpose of sharing the gospel with them and making them disciples? What if their mental health disability brings them to a place where they might use their gifts and talents to honor God and fulfill his purposes?

The other Scripture passage is Mark 2:1-12, describing the actions of the four friends of a man with paralysis who cut a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching out of their determination to get their friend into Jesus’ presence. What are we willing to do to get our friends and loved ones impacted by disability into the presence of Jesus—persons with physical, intellectual, developmental, emotional or behavioral conditions that make it difficult for them to experience Jesus through the ministries of a local church?

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Stephen Grcevich, MD: I’ve found Bible Gateway to be an indispensable resource for my writing and personal study. I struggle to memorize Scripture by chapter and verse, but remember specific themes or key words in the context of larger passages. The ability to quickly locate a larger passage of Scripture or a specific verse quickly through Bible Gateway’s search function in multiple translations is very valuable. People with a broad range of common mental health conditions, including ADHD, depression, anxiety and other mood disorders may struggle more than others with specific memory tasks and functions. The availability of a resource like the Bible Gateway App helps them to more fully participate in Bible studies and other Christian education activities.

Mental Health and the Church is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

Bio: Dr. Stephen Grcevich (MD, Northeast Ohio Medical University) serves as the founder and president of Key Ministry. He is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who combines over 25 years of knowledge gained through clinical practice and teaching with extensive research experience evaluating medications prescribed to children and teens for ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Grcevich has been a presenter at over 35 national and international medical conferences and is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

In his role as president of Key Ministry, Steve serves the primary vision caster and spokesperson for Key and plays an important role in Key’s efforts to develop collaborations with church leaders, professionals and organizations both within and outside the disability ministry movement. He is responsible for strategy and oversees the implementation of Key’s ministry plan. He regularly blogs at Church4EveryChild and frequently speaks at national and international ministry conferences on mental health and spiritual development. He is the author of Mental Health and the Church.

Steve and his wife Denise live in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. They have two daughters – Leah is married, lives in Alabama and is in the process of applying to medical school, and Mira attends Belmont University and is majoring in psychology. Steve’s work serves as a distraction from the abysmal performance of Cleveland’s professional sports teams.

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How to Live The Bible — What Are the Ten Commandments?


This is the twenty-second lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.

Just released: A Book of Prayers for Kids by Mel Lawrenz (a perfect Easter gift for the kids you know and love).

“Do you believe in the value of the Ten Commandments?”


“Do you follow the Ten Commandments?”

“Well… I try my best.”

“How many of the Ten Commandments can you name?”

(Blank stare.)

That is a conversation that might unfold almost anywhere.
How To Live the Bible Mt. Sinai illustration

There are few statements of life principle that have the historic influence of the Ten Commandments. Some churches have children memorize them, they come up all the time in literature, and they are sculpted on the north and south friezes of the pediment of the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, and in other official buildings.

Some would say that, if you want a moral foundation for all of life, you need look no further than the Ten Commandments.

What exactly are the Ten Commandments? And what significance do they have today?

They appear both in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, described as direct words from God to the people through their leader Moses. In Hebrew they are called the ten words (Hebrew: aseret ha-d’varîm). Later generations described them as commandments because they clearly were a summary of God’s order for life.

But context is everything when we try to understand a biblical text. The Ten Commandments are not merely ten laws dropped into history. They are not a list of top priorities. They certainly are not a formula for manufacturing personal righteousness.

These “ten words” were the central divine voice at a turning point in the life of God’s people. Several months after Moses led the tribe of the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, they were encamped at the site of Mount Sinai in a desolate wilderness. There God met them. There God spoke to the people through Moses. And there, at Mount Sinai, God established a covenant with his people. It was almost like the initiation of a marriage. Solemn words of commitment were expressed. The “Book of the Covenant” was given. The “blood of the covenant,” coming from animals sacrificed, signaling a most serious commitment, was sprinkled on the altar and the people. In the midst of a complex and awe-inspiring exchange between God and human beings, these ten words became a landmark expression of covenant life with God.

Exodus 20:1-17 says:

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

(A minor point: there is some disagreement as to how to divide up this passage into ten commands, which is why the numbering of them differs between Jewish, Lutheran, Catholic, and other Protestant traditions.)

Let’s begin with some basic observations.

First, this revelation begins with the character and the saving acts of God. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.” These are not ten abstract laws, or rules of behavior like we find in the Code of Hammurabi or the writings of Confucius. They are expressions of the moral character of God. They are about devotion, respect, integrity, and generosity.

Second, we should not let the formula “you shall not” make us think of the Ten Commandments as negative, limiting regulations. “You shall not” marks boundaries which keep us on the side of life, safety, and prosperity. On the other side of a “no” is an enlivening “yes.”

Third, the “ten words” are all about covenant relationships: humanity with God, and people with each other. The Ten Commandments define a lifestyle of harmonious relationships. They describe the good life, and the safe life.

[to be continued]


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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.