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Crossing Cultures in Scripture: An Interview with Marvin J. Newell

Marvin J. NewellFrom Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is replete with narratives of God’s people crossing cultures in pursuit of God’s mission. What are the lessons for today to be learned from these stories?

Bible Gateway interviewed Marvin J. Newell (@marvnewell) about his book, Crossing Cultures in Scripture: Biblical Principles for Mission Practice (InterVarsity Press, 2017).

Briefly explain what human culture is.

Marvin J. Newell: Since Crossing Cultures in Scripture is focused on the topic of culture and humans crossing cultures, I deal with the essence of human culture right at the start. In the first chapter I define culture as “the distinctive beliefs, values, and customs of a particular group of people that determine how they think, feel, and behave.” Three components are coupled together: beliefs/think, values/feel, and customs/behave. These are the basic elements of every culture found anywhere in the world.

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What cultures do readers encounter in the Bible?

Marvin J. Newell: It’s amazing how many cultures are found throughout the Bible. Stop and think for a moment of some of the cultures that we encounter in Scripture: Hebrew, Chaldean, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Hittite, Mesopotamian, Syrian, Assyrian, Philistine, Canaanite, Moabite, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman to name most of them. Here’s the amazing part: God worked in and through his servants crossing through these cultures to bring his grand story of redemption to us.

You say God included culture in the Garden of Eden. How so? And how is culture deteriorating from that high point?

Marvin J. Newell: Genesis 1:26-27 is key to understanding how humans are cultural beings. We’re made in the image and likeness of God. From the phrases, “let us make…in our image… after our likeness,” these three phrases are striking because of their reference to a divine plurality by the repeated use of the personal plural pronouns us and our. The creation of man is of such importance that Moses portrays God as conferring in his plurality about his final and crowning creative act.

In his plurality God had to have relationship, and with relationship exudes the phenomenon of culture. Also, the double modifying phrase, “in our image…after our likeness,” signifies that he did so act. These two phrases aim to assert with emphasis that man is closely patterned after his Maker. The first word image, has the root meaning, “to carve,” or “cut from.” The second word, likeness, refers to “similarity.” These two conjoining phrases are used, among other things, to show that a God who himself possesses culture, created mankind with it as well.

In contrast, animals don’t possess culture. They have “traits,” “characteristics,” and “instincts,” but not culture. Their missing elements, referencing our definition, are beliefs and values.

To answer the second part of your question: as a result of this divine act, it can be inferred that in their perfect, pre-fallen state, Adam and Eve lived their lives in a harmonious, unadulterated culture—its highest form. Since their minds were permeated with truth, they had perfect beliefs. Since their pattern for living was modeled after God’s, they practiced perfect values. And since they knew no evil, they exhibited perfect customs.

Theirs was an unimaginably rich, full, and satisfying culture at its very finest. It was absolutely perfect! No humans who’ve lived since—because of the subsequent fall into sin (Genesis 3)—have experienced the high degree of cultural perfection that Adam and Eve lived and practiced. The zenith of cultural perfection was theirs.

How was the Tower of Babel the beginning of cultural diversity?

Marvin J. Newell: The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) is central to understanding how cultural diversity came about.

The account tells us that, because of their blatant disobedience, God placed a judgment on the oneness of humanity at that time by breaking them into, and then scattering them in, linguistic affinities. This has a direct correlation to the multiplicity of cultures. It naturally followed that once humans separated themselves from one another into distinct groups occupying distinct regions, that over time they developed distinct cultures. That’s because language is the audible expression of emotions, concepts, and thoughts of the mind. Over time these audio expressions manifest themselves in distinctive beliefs, values, and customs—the very components that make up culture.

A community affirms those beliefs, values, and customs by corporately living them out and transferring them to the next generation. A cultural identity develops. It can therefore be deduced that plurality of culture followed plurality of language directly after the Babel event. Multiculturalism emerged after the dispersion of peoples throughout the world.

What are some cultural lessons you’ve gleaned from prominent Old Testament characters and stories?

Marvin J. Newell: In Crossing Cultures in Scripture I deal with 16 Old Testament major crosscultural encounters. There are rich lessons of us today about crossing into other cultures.

From the story of Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16 & 21) we learn about honor-shame dynamics, something we’re blind to here in the West.

From the encounter of Abraham with the Hittites (Genesis 23), when he negotiated a burial place for Sarah, we learn about the importance of social credit and how to successfully negotiate crossculturally.

From David’s encounter with Uriah (a Hittite), the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), we learn about the dynamics of power-distance, something that again many times we in the West miss.

The encounter of the Queen of Sheba with King Solomon is a wonderful example of the progressive stages a foreigner experiences as a guest in host culture. And there are many, many more.

How did Jesus model crosscultural outreach?

Marvin J. Newell: I’m glad you brought up Jesus in this discussion, for Jesus is a prime example of how to effectively deal with those of other cultures. His encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:1-43) is a good example. Principles extracted from this model of Jesus taking the gospel crossculturally to the Samaritans are helpful to message bearers today.

Taking initiative, like Jesus did, is the very first and important step of crosscultural outreach. But coupled with initiative must also be a strategy. That strategy may be putting one’s self in the place of vulnerability, like Jesus did, so as to first be served by the very people one goes to serve. This is difficult for those today who feel they have a superior culture, personal status, education, technical expertise, or income level compared to those they go to serve. This attitude must be put aside if one is to identify with the people of the culture that they enter.

After those initial steps are taken, one must engage in the hard work of learning and then working through the worldview of the focused culture. Only after mastering its dominant beliefs, values, and customs, as Jesus demonstrated with the Samaritans, does one earn the right to speak into it and bring people to an understanding of the gospel. Once achieved, transformation of the heart can be realized.

What are Jesus’ “Marks of Crosscultural Success”?

Marvin J. Newell: The evening prior to his crucifixion, Jesus took time to reflect upon what he had accomplished during his three years of public ministry. In what is commonly called the “high priestly prayer” (John 17), he rehearsed to the Father in a candid report the essence of what he had accomplished as a crosscultural message bearer. Briefly, here are “marks” that come from that prayer:

v. 6“I have manifested your name to the people…” This statement speaks of incarnating himself among mankind. He had presented himself well. He didn’t stick out like some kind of misfit. He fit right in with the beliefs, values, and customs of the people. This related to Jesus’ winsome and impeccable interpersonal/relational skills.

v. 8“I have given them the words that you gave me…” This statement speaks of declaring. He proclaimed well, or correctly, the very words that the Father wanted people to hear though him. This related to Jesus’ teaching ministry skills.

v. 12“I have guarded them and not one of them is lost…” This statement speaks of protecting. He cared well, guarding so that no true follower became lost, especially to other competing beliefs. This related to Jesus’ protective ministry, or skills.

v. 18“I have sent them into the world.” This statement speaks of commissioning. He effectively “passed the baton” on to his followers. Jesus may be speaking prophetically of the Great Commission statements he still needed to give his disciples following his resurrection. But that obviously needed inclusion in his report at this time, before the events of his suffering took place. This related to the transitioning part of his ministry, or skills.

v. 22“The glory that you have given me I have given them…” This statement speaks of authorizing; he empowered his followers well. This related to Jesus’ willingness and ability to empower others, his empowering skills.

v. 26“I have made known to them your name…” This statement speaks of revealing. He transmitted understanding about the Father well. This related to Jesus’ communication ministry, or skills.

What do you want readers of Crossing Cultures in Scripture to put into practice in their Christian faith?

Marvin J. Newell: To start with Scripture when it comes to engaging other cultures. The Bible should be the first and final authority for all that we believe and practice, and this includes what it has to say about the phenomenon known as human culture. The Bible itself is a textbook on cultural understanding. Granted, there’s a place for the social sciences in understanding cultural dynamics. But these disciplines are imperfect, and should never take precedent over the teaching of Scripture on any subject, including how to encounter those of other cultures.

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

Marvin J. Newell: I have the Bible Gateway App on my iPad® and find it one of the most convenient ways of accessing the Bible and related study tools. I particularly like using the audio feature to listen to the Bible when driving.

Bio: Dr. Marvin J. Newell (DMiss, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior vice president of Missio Nexus, a network of evangelical mission agencies, churches, and training centers in North America. Previously he served as a missionary in Papua, Indonesia, a mission administrator, a professor of missions, and director of a missions association. He’s the author of Crossing Cultures in Scripture: Biblical Principles for Mission Practice, A Martyr’s Grace, Crossing Cultures in Scripture, and The Broad Road, Commissioned: What Jesus Wants You to Know as You Go, and Expect Great Things: Mission Quotes that Inform and Inspire. He’s also adjunct professor at Moody Theological Seminary and Western Seminary, and sits on the board of five different mission organizations. Marv and his wife Peggy have been involved in missions for 40 years.

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InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Focuses Students on Bible Study

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA website

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA is an interdenominational ministry to students and faculty on US college and university campuses, working with more than 41,000 core students and faculty on campuses nationwide.

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Bible study is one of InterVarsity’s key activities. It conducts investigative Bible studies with non-Christians called GIGs (Groups Investigating God) where two or more people have a discussion flowing from a passage of Scripture. Its purpose is to discover more about Jesus from the Bible. It’s a time for friends to be together, ask questions, and talk honestly about their lives. A GIG is focused on God. It’s intended to help people learn more about Jesus from the eyewitness reports in the Bible. In a GIG, God speaks for himself through his Word.

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[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Jesus Bible Infographic: There Is No BC]

To meet the challenge of reaching every campus, InterVarsity has a record number of staff serving a record number of colleges, with 1,341 staff ministering on 687 campuses. The number of people coming to faith through InterVarsity’s campus ministry is at its highest in InterVarsity’s 76-year history—up 12% from one year ago and up 130% from 10 years ago.

Tom Lin, president of InterVarsity, wants the organization to reach more campuses by pursuing new partnerships. “How can we best partner in reaching the approximately 2,600 campuses currently unreached by any major campus ministry?” Lin asks. “Could we empower more churches and other ministries to work alongside us to reach the campus?”
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Since 1946, InterVarsity has held the Urbana conference, where thousands of students gather every three years to learn of Christian ministry opportunities around the world. The next Urbana is scheduled for December 27-31, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Bible News Roundup – Week of August 27, 2017

[Return daily during the coming week for updates]

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500 Years After Reformation, Many Protestants Closer to Catholics than Martin Luther
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Authority Of Scripture: An Interview with Matthew Barrett
See the Reformation Studies section in the Bible Gateway Store

Bible Kept Pastor Alive in North Korean Prison Camp
The Toronto Sun
Read the Bible on Bible Gateway

Bible Reading Marathon at Cannonsburgh Village in Tennessee
WGNS Radio
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Scripture Says Reading the Bible in Public is Important

Iowa Religious Leaders, Local Businesses Participate in Bible Reading Marathon
Globe Gazette

1860 Bible in Cathedral Church Of St. James, Toronto, Bears Royal Signatures of Diana and Family
The Toronto Star

100-Year-Old Japanese Bible Returned to US Senator’s Family
Hawaii News Now

Homecoming for War Hero’s Bible

Slavic Churches Bring Traveling Bible Exhibit to Spokane
The Spokesman-Review

Benton Schools to Become First in Arkansas to Display ‘In God We Trust’

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Readers Turn to the Bible to Understand the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Solar eclipseOn Monday, August 21, the sun went dark for a few remarkable minutes—and people around the world looked to the Bible to find out what it might mean.

Given the rarity and spectacular nature of total solar eclipses, it’s no surprise that people throughout history have wondered if eclipses held theological significance—and so it seems quite appropriate that people turned to the Bible for an explanation, as they did two years ago during a much-discussed lunar eclipse.

In the days leading up to the August 21 eclipse, Bible Gateway searches for the term “eclipse” spiked by over 4000%, while searches for “moon” jumped up 3500% over the normal search volume. Searches for related terms like “sun” also saw a notable increase. Thousands also took our quiz about the sun and moon in the Bible.

On the day of the solar eclipse, the top four keyword searches on Bible Gateway were:

  1. sun
  2. eclipse
  3. love
  4. moon

Notice a theme? Three of those terms are definitely new to the list of top keyword searches! (To see what the top Bible search terms look like on a more typical day, see our in-depth review of popular keyword searches on Bible Gateway.)

What Does the Bible Say About the Eclipse?

Sun stands stillYou might be surprised to learn that, despite the vaguely “biblical” and apocalyptic aura that surrounds eclipses in popular culture, the Bible does not directly mention solar eclipses, nor are eclipses tied to any specific biblical prophecies or predictions; the term “eclipse” does not occur at all in most English Bibles.

The sun and moon, however, are mentioned many times throughout Scripture—sometimes in mundane contexts, but occasionally as part of a miraculous intervention by God. Perhaps the most memorable such moment of solar manipulation by God (apart from the sun’s creation as recounted in Genesis 1) can be found in Joshua 10, when God caused the sun to stand still in the sky to ensure Israel’s victory in an important battle.

I said above that the Bible doesn’t directly mention solar eclipses, and that’s true. But there are numerous references throughout the Bible to the sun “darkening,” often in a miraculous or apocalyptic context. These references don’t detail a scientific, cosmological means for this darkening, nor is it always clear if this darkening (which is often applied to other stars and the moon as well as the sun) is an actual cosmological event or if it’s a theological assertion. But it’s not unreasonable to wonder if some of these instances might be referring to an eclipse.

When the Bible describes the unexpected and miraculous darkening of the sun, it’s always packed with theological significance. Perhaps the most famous such darkening is described in Exodus 10 as the “plague of darkness” inflicted on the Egyptians to convince them to release their Israelite slaves:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

As the story doesn’t specify how the darkness came about, Bible readers and scholars have advanced many different theories about the nature of this darkness: a massive sandstorm, an eclipse, etc. But as is always the case when God asserts his control over the sun, the Bible directs our attention not to the mechanism of the miracle, but to its theological message: that God is sovereign over all Creation. Not even the sun, worshipped as a god by many ancient nations, falls outside God’s control. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains what this darkened sun meant to the ancient Israelites and their Egyptian captors:

From the perspective of the Egyptians, the absence of sunlight had profound meaning. They believed that the regular circling of the sun-god in the sky meant his blessing on Egypt. Any interruption in that cycle spelled disaster. Thus, this text seems to be targeting the sun-god, probably the most venerated deity in Egypt.

Throughout Egyptian history, the sun was worshiped as a manifestation of various deities, such as Atum, Re, Amun and Amun-Re. Pharaoh was also associated with the sun. Despite this ambiguity, the narrative of Exodus is once again claiming utter powerlessness for the king and the gods of Egypt. Moreover, darkness frequently turns up in Biblical texts as a symbol of judgment (Isa 8:22; Joel 2:2; Zep 1:15). Here, the Egyptian life force has been extinguished. For them, at this juncture in the narrative, the favor (or, at least, efficacy) of their gods has vanished. The wrath of the Hebrew deity has reached its most intense stage yet. Creation has been undone. Chaos has returned.

Another famous occurence of a darkened sun can be found in Mark’s account of the crucifixion (“At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon”). Was this a heavily overcast sky? A miraculous eclipse? A reference to symbolic, spiritual darkness during Jesus’ final hours on the cross? The gospel writer simply doesn’t say, nor is this a focal point of his account.

A Bible search for “eclipse” won’t turn up much, but searching for terms like “sun” and “dark” together show many references to a darkening sun, often in a prophetic context. Some of these references evoke the possibility of an eclipse, but many are hard to explain in modern astronomical terms, suggesting that these are spiritual points being made, not scientific ones.

These are difficult and fascinating verses that richly reward close study; if you’ve not yet put Bible Gateway’s commentaries and other study tools to use yet, these verses are a great place to start digging beneath the surface!

The Sacrament of Happy: An Interview with Lisa Harper

Lisa HarperIs happiness a gift from God? Is there a spiritual difference between joy and happiness? What does the Bible say about being happy and whether God is happy?

Bible Gateway interviewed Lisa Harper (@lisadharper) about her book, The Sacrament of Happy: What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World (B&H Books, 2017).

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Tell us about the title of this book and why you refer to happiness as a sacrament.

Lisa Harper: The general definition of sacrament is “a visible sign of inward grace.” In communities of faith, it most often refers to holy communion or the Eucharist. In the broadest understanding, however, a sacrament is a gift bestowed by God and in that case, “happiness” is absolutely a sacrament—a visible, sometimes even audible—sign of inward grace!

What are misconceptions many Christians have about happiness?

Lisa Harper: 1) That happiness is a far less “spiritual” emotion than joy, so it’s best to jettison happiness like a set of arm floaties once you begin swimming in the deep waters of intimacy with God. 2) That happiness is based on our circumstances—on “happenstance”—instead of a relationship with Jesus. 3) That happiness means the absence of sadness.

Does God exhibit the trait of being happy?

Lisa Harper: When I first started searching the Scriptures in an attempt to answer the question “Is God happy?” with theological surety, I was stunned by what I found and wondered how in the world I’d waded through these passages for decades and completely missed the gleaming gold lying just beneath the surface. For instance, in the English Standard Version Bible, 1 Timothy 1:11 reads like this: “…in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (emphasis mine).

The word gospel in the original Greek text is euangelion, which literally translated means good news (The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, #2098), and the word blessed is the most common scriptural translation of the Greek word makarios, which also means happy or fortunate. Therefore, it would be just as accurate to translate 1 Timothy 1:11 like this: …in accordance with the good news of the glory of the happy God with which I have been entrusted.

In his marvelous classic, The Pleasures of God, pastor and theologian John Piper expounds on apostle Paul’s use of “happy” in this pastoral letter: “It was inconceivable to the apostle Paul that God could be denied infinite joy and still be all-glorious. To be infinitely glorious was to be infinitely happy. He used the phrase, ‘the glory of the happy God,’ because it is a glorious thing for God to be as happy as he is. God’s glory consists much in the fact that he is happy beyond our wildest imagination” (p. 26).

Is joy the more spiritual attribute a Christian should have or is there no difference between joy and happiness?

Lisa Harper: When I first began wrestling with the idea that happy and joy are closely related, I felt like I was being naughty—like running with biblical scissors or playing with scriptural matches. I mean, holy or faithful are mainstays of church vernacular and perennial worship lyric favorites, so they’re obviously on the approved behavior list for believers. And pious actually sounds spiritual—like some advanced state of Christlikeness only possible with lots of straining and grimacing, akin to a master yoga pose (but without all the Eastern mysticism or questionable workout attire, of course). But the fact that happy made God’s list of laudable behavior sounds almost too good to be true.

Thankfully, it’s not.

A deep and thorough perusal of the original Hebrew and Greek texts of Holy Scripture reveals that joy and happiness are actually more like fraternal twins than distant cousins. However, because I’d heard joy lauded in church while growing up and happy derided (joy was taught to be based on what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and/or the philosophy Jesus-Others-Yourself while happy was generally disparaged as being based on our circumstances; what happens to us), I was initially shocked to discover there are actually 37 references to happy in the Old Testament and 48 in the New Testament. Plus, there are more than 2,700 passages where terms related to happy—gladness, merriment, pleasure, celebration, cheer, laughter, delight, jubilation, and feasting—are used! In fact, Psalms—the book smack-dab in the middle of the Bible and comprised of 150 Old Testament songs—literally begins with the word happy:

How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted by flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1–3 (CSB), emphasis mine)

And the Sermon on the Mount—arguably Jesus’ most beloved message—could accurately be titled, “How to Be Happy” since it technically begins with the word happy as well:

Happy the poor in spirit—because theirs is the reign of the heavens. Happy the mourning—because they shall be comforted. Happy the meek—because they shall inherit the land. Happy those hungering and thirsting for righteousness—because they shall be filled. Happy the kind—because they shall find kindness. Happy the clean in heart—because they shall see God. Happy the peacemakers—because they shall be called Sons of God. Happy those persecuted for righteousness’ sake—because theirs is the reign of the heavens. Happy are ye whenever they may reproach you, and may persecute, and may say any evil thing against you falsely for my sake—rejoice ye and be glad, because your reward [is] great in the heavens, for thus did they persecute the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3–12 (YLT), emphasis mine)

Therefore, while with most translations we hear this read from begin with the term blessed—which admittedly has a more old-school, shiny wooden pew ring to it—beginning Psalm 1 with the term happy is every bit as theologically sound. Because the English transliteration of the Hebrew word in the original text of Psalm 1 is asre or Asher which can be translated either happy or blessed. In the same vein, the Beatitudes typically begin with the English word blessed, but the original Greek word blessed is translated from is makarios, which can also be translated happy or fortunate.

What does happiness look like in your own life?

Lisa Harper: It looks like a sipping sweet tea in a rocking chair on a wide front porch…under a tin roof during a Spring rainstorm…while your dog is napping at your feet and making crazy circles with one hind leg because she’s chasing bunnies in her sleep. It’s the feeling of contentment, fulfillment, and delight all rolled into one. It’s the state of being we’re blessed to enjoy and called to inhabit as God’s covenant people.

Why is it so important that we understand that happiness is a gift of God we need to enjoy?

Lisa Harper: God chose us. The King of all kings, who is perfectly content, fulfilled, and self-sustainably happy in his Trinitarian sufficiency, chooses to include us in his glorious joy.

He leaned down from glory not because he needs us but because he wants to be with us.

He picked us to be part of his good pleasure because he loves us unconditionally. We can’t earn his acceptance and affection; we can’t undermine it; and nothing—no hardship, heartbreak or even death—can separate us from it. And when believers cling to that truth—to the firm belief that God is good and God does good and God loves us no matter what our current circumstances are—it not only keeps us in perfect peace, it has the power to dispel hopelessness in the world around us.

But when we wrongfully refuse or marginalize God’s glorious gift of true happiness, we emasculate the gospel. Theologian and pastor Randy Alcorn puts it like this: “The modern evangelical antipathy to happiness backfires when it portrays Christianity as being against what people long for most.”

What is #sowhappy and what are ways you recommend to practice it?

Lisa Harper: It’s been three years since I brought Missy home from Haiti, but a portion of our hearts will always be in that country. Given the fact that we’re called to share the living hope of Jesus Christ whenever we go, I’ve been looking for tangible ways to sow hope back into my daughter’s homeland. And since the key practices of biblical happiness are to be God and others focused, we found the perfect opportunity! We started a project called “The Happy Grove,” whereby we’re investing a portion of the proceeds from The Sacrament of Happy to build and sustain a very large community garden in Neply, Haiti (Missy’s home village) that will help eradicate the debilitating malnutrition many there suffer from. For every “Happy” book ordered before June 30, 2017, B&H Publishing Group, in conjunction with MyLIFESpeaks, donated money to “The Happy Grove,” so simply by buying a paperback people literally helped sustain a life. If that doesn’t make you a little happy, you might want to get your pulse checked!

If happy is a good gift for all of God’s children, then let’s #sowhappy together.

What’s a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Lisa Harper: Whatever passage I’m reading at the moment usually becomes my current favorite but one of my perennial favorites is Song of Songs 4:9, which is in the Old Testament, right smack dab in the middle of the wedding scene between Solomon (the third king of Israel) and his bride, Shulamith (whom theologians concur was THE love of his colorful, polygamist life). It’s where he affectionately proclaims, “With one glance of your eyes, you captured my heart!”

In light of the fact that Scripture is Christological (Luke 24), most theologians assert that in this context Solomon is a human metaphor for Jesus—our divine bridegroom—and his leading lady is a metaphor for the bride of Christ—those of us who’ve put our faith in Jesus. So the symbolism is the King of all kings smiling at us saying, “One glance, baby. Just one glance is all it took for you to capture my heart!”

It depicts our perfect Creator Redeemer condescending to wholly and unconditionally LOVE a messy, human bride. It proves that God didn’t just send Jesus into the world to deliver us from our sin but that he also sent Jesus to redeem us because he delights in us! He’s SO not a faraway punitive king; he’s instead the up-close, accessible Lover of our soul!

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

Lisa Harper: I love the Bible Gateway App and use it often!

Bio: Lisa Harper is a master storyteller with a masters of Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary. She’s lauded as an engaging, hilarious communicator as well as an authentic and substantive Bible teacher. She’s been in vocational ministry for 30 years and has written 15 books and Bible study curricula, including The Sacrament of Happy, The Very Good Gospel, Relentless Love, and Believing Jesus. She says her greatest accomplishment by far is that of becoming Missy’s (her adopted daughter from Haiti) mama! They live on a hilly farmette south of Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy eating copious amounts of chips, queso, and guacamole. And then diving in the pool immediately afterwards instead of dutifully waiting the recommended 30 minutes.

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Walking with God Through Bankruptcy to Restoration

Erin OdomBy Erin Odom

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.
JOEL 2:25 (ESV)

The attorney’s office was smack in the middle of the small town that housed my childhood church, the town where I had hidden in shame while applying for food stamps. Will and I dropped the girls off at my parents’ house and drove to meet with the attorney. Would he remember me from when I was a child? Would he recognize me as Bob and Becky’s daughter?

As I climbed the creaking steps in the old brick building, I prayed for peace and hoped my face wouldn’t redden when the secretary ushered us into the office. The attorney smiled as we entered, shook our hands, and told us to take seats in front of his desk. He settled in his leather armchair and asked why we had come.

“We own a house in another state that we’ve been unable to sell,” I began. “Will is a teacher at the high school, and we don’t make enough money to cover all of our expenses, much less the house in Mississippi. We’ve drained our savings, and now the bank is proceeding with foreclosure. Someone suggested I declare bankruptcy to protect my assets.”

The only “assets” we owned at this point were some silver platters, our china, and my engagement ring.

“Did you bring all of your debt notes with you?” the attorney asked.

We were puzzled. “What debt notes?” Will asked. “We have our mortgage statement. That is the only debt we have.”

The attorney look surprised. “This is it?” he asked incredulously. “This is the entirety of your debt? Your house note?”

It seemed like no small sum to us, but we assured him we had no more debt. We hadn’t used credit cards since we were married; we had no student loans and no medical bills. We simply had an overwhelming mortgage and no hope of paying it off.

“This is very rare that you have no other debt,” the attorney mused. “Well, you definitely don’t have a spending problem. But it does sound like you have an income problem. Declaring bankruptcy is nothing to consider lightly, but it will protect you from being sued after the bank repossesses the house. Especially with the mortgage being in Erin’s name only, you need the protection.”

“We do have a few assets,” I began. “We have some silver platters, china . . .” I looked down at my fingers. “And my ring. Oh! And we just finished purchasing my parents’ old minivan. It’s officially in our name now. Should we try selling all that?”

The attorney shook his head. “That won’t put a dent in this house note. And at your income level, you won’t be able to pay this off for decades.”

He then did something completely unexpected. He pulled out a Bible and opened to Deuteronomy 15. The passage chronicles God’s command to the Israelites to cancel debts at the end of every seven years. The attorney went on to explain that many people believed the Founding Fathers of the United States had based bankruptcy law on this passage of Scripture. The men who founded our country made a way for those who were crippled by debt to be set free, he explained, just as God arranged for the Israelites to be freed of the debts they couldn’t pay.

I had been a Christian for more than two decades, but I had never contemplated this Scripture. I had no prior knowledge of bankruptcy or the cancellation of debts. Could God use even this humbling moment as further affirmation of His love for us, regardless of our mistakes? In the end, we filed the bankruptcy papers, and by July of that year, we had a court date. We left the girls with my parents and drove to the courthouse an hour away. I was eight months pregnant. My sister had loaned me a dress to wear for Randy and Marilyn’s youngest daughter’s wedding a month prior, and now I wore the same navy blue sleeveless dress with silver sequins to bankruptcy court. I ironed an oxford shirt and suit pants for Will the night before, and he completed his outfit with a tie. We wanted to look presentable and dignified, even though we felt anything but.

We parked our minivan on the street in front of the courthouse. Would anyone notice us? I hoped not. We entered the old brick building and rode a musty elevator to the floor that housed the courtroom. We waited in the hallway on what looked like an old church pew. Someone finally opened the door, and we walked in with others who were there to declare bankruptcy. Technically, I was the one declaring bankruptcy since Will’s name wasn’t on the loan. I vacillated between relief that he was at my side and bitterness that even though we had made these financial choices together, I was the one paying for every single mistake. It was my credit that would be ruined. Here I was again—the model daughter, the overachieving student—with my pride toppling like a stack of Jenga blocks.

I crossed and uncrossed my legs as we waited. I held my belly. Our third daughter kicked and squirmed and reminded me of her presence as we awaited our fate. Would the judge free us from this burden? Either way, I felt ashamed. It wasn’t right to declare bankruptcy. Just like it hadn’t been right to use government aid. Good Christian girls don’t succumb to such lowly desperate measures, I had told myself. But in that moment, we had no other choice.

As we waited, we listened to story after story of boats and vacation homes and credit card bills and all kinds of debt that other defendants were asking the judge to forgive. And, in almost every instant, he forgave them with a strike of his gavel. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, he called my name.

Will and I rose. I waddled toward the front of the room, clearly due to give birth any day. Our attorney met us at the judge’s desk. “Take a seat,” the judge ordered. “And what debts do you seek forgiven?”

Our attorney took out a green khaki folder and pulled out some paperwork, with our house note front and center.

“Hmmmm,” pondered the judge, as he glanced over the papers and examined the note more intently. “And what else?”

“This is it,” our attorney responded. “It’s just the mortgage.”

“Very well,” the judge swung the gavel onto his block.

It was finished.

Forgiven and Free

Will and I shook hands with our attorney, thanked him, and walked out of the courtroom. An unexpected sentiment filled me as soon as we hit the elevator: relief. On the ride home, I tried explaining the emotions welling inside of me to Will.

“Honey,” I said, “I didn’t realize how heavy this burden had weighed on me until just now. I feel light. I feel free.” Moments before I had been weighed down with the millstone of the home we couldn’t sell. Now the worst-case scenario of homeownership had happened to us, but I was overwhelmed with an inexplicable peace that we were going to be OK. Cars and trucks whizzed by as we drove down Interstate 77, but I was in another world. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I realized the heaviness that had lifted was no comparison to the weight of the debts of our sins that Jesus had paid for on the cross.

Matthew 11:28–30 became a reality for me that day: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“Thank you, Jesus,” I whispered. “Thank you, Lord.”

Should You Declare Bankruptcy?

Our story is one of forgiveness, redemption, and grace. But would I declare bankruptcy all over again if I had the choice? The answer is difficult. I believe bankruptcy should be a last-ditch effort to salvage one’s finances. We were living on a low income with no relief in sight. Without the protection of bankruptcy, I would’ve personally had to live with the threat of lawsuits from the bank hanging over my head. We had no other debts, but the mortgage was an extremely weighty one.

“The problem with bankruptcy is that it is the government who is saying that you are off the hook with your bills,” wrote blogger Bob Lotich in a post titled “Bankruptcy and the Bible.” “In most cases the businesses that you owe money to probably would still like to collect payment. It is actually doing a great disservice to the companies that you owe money to. Essentially, the borrower/buyer made a promise to pay, but is allowed (via bankruptcy) to break the agreement.”

In his post, Bob quotes Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously” and Ecclesiastes 5:5, “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.”

Although my credit score is now much better, the bankruptcy is still on my record. As much as I combatted anger toward Will because he would make it through that trial without the mark of bankruptcy on his name as well, it was a grace in disguise. We didn’t plan it, but because his credit remained intact, we were able to purchase a home one year after I declared bankruptcy. This would have been impossible if the home loan on the house in Mississippi had been in both of our names. Still, if I were to apply for a job or loan today, potential employees and creditors would see this embarrassing part of my past. Did declaring bankruptcy lift a burden for me? Yes. Would I do it again if I had any other way out? No. I still believe bankruptcy should be avoided at all costs and only used as a last resort.

He Restores

Living on a low income and the humility of surviving on government aid, losing our home, and declaring bankruptcy built our faith like never before. It’s easy to trust God when you feel like your needs are met; it’s a different story when you have to trust Him to meet every single need. During this time we clung to the promise of His restoration, and to the promise that He would use our story—as difficult as it was to live—to somehow impact others and turn their hearts toward Him.

You, too, dear reader, can embrace the hope of rising above your circumstances, even when they are as bleak as ours were. You can pick up the pieces of humbling times and see fruit in the aftermath—relationships restored, burdens lifted, and a heart of positivity that blooms and grows.


More Than Just Making ItTaken from More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom. Click here to learn more about this title.

When you’re trapped in a cycle of financial frustration, and you feel like you’ve tried everything only to end up with more month than money yet again, More Than Just Making It is your promise and pathway to thriving again.

Take it from someone who’s been there. Erin Odom grew up in the private schools and neatly manicured lawns of Upper Middle Class America, but was thrown into low-income living during the economic crash. She was a stay-at-home-mom, her husband was supporting the family on a teacher’s salary, and despite the fact that they had no debt to their name, they were scrambling to make ends meet. Suddenly Erin found herself standing in line for food stamps, turning down play dates because she couldn’t afford the gas, and ultimately walking into bankruptcy court in the eighth month of her third pregnancy.

More Than Just Making It tells the story of their breaking point, as well as the triumph of their comeback. It took hard work, creativity, and faith in God’s provision to reset their bank account as well as their hearts, but ultimately they found a new way to thrive and freedom from financial anxiety. You can do the same. Learn how Erin and her family saved enough money to put $30,000 down on a home, buy a minivan in cash, and begin sending their daughter to private Christian school. More Than Just Making It will encourage you to rise above your circumstances, empower you with money-saving tips, and reimagine the good life as God designed it outside the myth of the American Dream.

Erin Odom is the founder of The Humbled Homemaker, a blog dedicated to grace-filled living and designed to equip and encourage mothers in the trenches. Her Southern charm and wealth of inspirational, practical content has drawn an audience of millions over the years. Erin and her husband, Will, live in the South, where they raise their four children. Follow Erin at

The Problem of God: An Interview with Mark Clark

Mark ClarkWhat conclusions about the Bible and God would you draw if you were raised in an atheistic home, struggled through your parents’ divorce, encountered health problems, and were by nature thoroughly skeptical?

Bible Gateway interviewed Mark Clark (@markaclark) about his disarmingly winsome book, The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity (Zondervan, 2017).

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What’s the meaning of the title?

Mark Clark: The title is taken from an A.W. Tozer quote (which opens the book), that the problem of God (that he exists, and how we should respond to him) is the deepest and most profound question we must face and deal with as human beings.

The word “problem,” of course, has a double meaning: the first layer being like a math problem—an equation or challenge that needs a solution; the second being that, from a skeptic’s perspective, there are a litany of actual issues and problems that a person must deal with and defend if they’re going to believe in God. And those issues are what the book is about (defending belief of God scientifically, philosophically, historically, psychologically, and practically).

Briefly recount your journey from atheism to skepticism to Christian faith.

Mark Clark: I grew up in a very atheistic home. We had no Bible, no church, no prayer, and God was not part of our life at all. I’ve always been a very rational person, only believing in something if there was enough reason and evidence to believe it. So when I was presented with Christianity in high school—after being a teenager who did drugs, stole from every store and parent I could, partied, and did everything else a teenage kid without Jesus does—I needed to make sure it was based, not on hopeful thinking, but on data, reason, and history.

I started to explore Christianity to see if there were logical and rational reasons to believe, not only in God, but in the Christian faith in particular. Through that journey, I discovered—to my surprise—that Christianity was the truest and most hopeful idea in the marketplace of ideas. That it was more rational to believe in God than not to. That the Bible is the most respected piece of literature of the ancient world. That Christianity points toward answers for evil and suffering, Hell, and why there’s only one way to God. That it’s not anti-sex at all, and that the dark history of the church (burning witches, persecuting scientists, etc.,) was not actually true in the way I previously had assumed.

Why did you write this book?

Mark Clark: First, to equip Christians to be able to defend and present ideas to their skeptical friends and family about why they’re Christians in the first place; and, second, to be settled in their hearts and minds about these ten massive issues—which, if we’re honest, we all continue to wonder about and struggle with as Christians. And, third, to try to convince the most skeptical people among us that Christianity is legitimate and worth exploring.

You’ve organized the book into ten chapters that each focus on a specific argument against Christianity. Unpack your chapter titled “The Problem of the Bible.”

Mark Clark: Many skeptics refuse to believe in God because they say that the Bible is full of errors, is mythology/legend, was made up by people trying to invent a religion, is just ancient mumbo-jumbo, oppressive, etc. My chapter on “The Problem of the Bible” shows why many scholars see the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, not only as not those things, but instead as the most trusted documents in antiquity, in the context of both secular and religious writings. Over and over again, generations who reject the Bible because of claims of archeological contradictions, etc., are proven wrong when more digging is done and discoveries are made. Of all the claims the Bible makes, there’s not one claim that’s ever been proven straight up wrong, which is saying a ton. This chapter explores why the Bible can be trusted, and it explores so-called contradictions and mistakes in the Bible, showing that they’re anything but.

How is suffering a proof that God exists?

Mark Clark: Obviously, it’s not a definitive proof that he exists, but it’s a hint that he does, in that when a skeptic claims there’s too much ‘evil’ or ‘suffering’ in the world for God to exist, he’s in that moment claiming a category called ‘suffering’ or ‘evil.’ If the skeptic’s worldview were true and there were no absolute, transcendent person who gave us a moral law or a sense of right and wrong, then that category of ‘suffering’ or ‘evil’ wouldn’t exist. To say the world is filled with suffering is to compare it to something one thinks is the right way. But where would we get this better way of being idea to compare life to if God didn’t exist? It couldn’t come from nature, because if our brains were programmed simply through evolutionary development, we would never conclude that killing weak babies was wrong or that oppressing weaker people groups is wrong. Those things would be the most natural events to us. But for some reason, because of something beyond nature, we come to different conclusions. The fact that shootings and cancer and genocides bother us at all points to a moral Law Giver who transcends our natural order.

What’s the problem of hypocrisy you write about?

Mark Clark: That the church is filled with hypocrites, hate, bigotry, and judgmental people; that throughout history people in the church have killed and tortured people, gone to war, and persecuted people—which is in direct defiance of what Jesus seemed to be about. That the church in our present time is filled with people who claim to be Christians but who live and think exactly like the world. They say one thing but live totally different lives: sexually, politically, practically, philosophically, morally, etc. In The Problem of God, I admit that this problem is sometimes true; I explore in detail why that is; and I suggest a way through this challenge for both the Christian and the skeptic.

Why do you say a belief in Christianity is “not all that comforting because it’s a belief with consequences”?

Mark Clark: Because Christianity isn’t just about believing some doctrinal ideas in a separate sphere from real life, and it’s not the ‘easy way’ as some see it. It has a cost to it. If you’re going to follow Jesus there will be sacrifices of time, money, ideas; stuff one thinks they want to do because it gives short term benefit, etc. Ask a high school student, or a business person trying to play it straight, whether following Jesus is the easy way.

What’s a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Mark Clark: Romans 3:21-29, because it’s just so rich with gospel theology and the story of the Bible.

John 4 as Jesus talks about the result of a life with him being that we become satisfied in a way the world can never satisfy us. I think that message is one of the most important things our world can hear.

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

Mark Clark: I think it’s amazing. I use it often. Beyond any ideas I write about, or any arguments that we Christians create to help convince people, the Bible is still the most powerful thing to confront skepticism and to convince us that Christianity is true. I say this as someone who had exactly that happen. I spent two years just reading the Bible by myself before ever going to a church, and I experienced God in that act in a personal and powerful way. To have an app like yours that brings what Augustine called “the face of God for now” to the world: there’s no better gift. Thank you for all you guys do.

Bio: Mark Clark is the founding pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada. Starting in 2010 out of a school gym, it is now one of the fastest growing multi-site churches in North America. Mark combines frank and challenging biblical preaching with real-world applications and apologetics to speak to Christians and skeptics, confronting questions, doubts, and assumptions about Christianity.

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The King James Study Bible, Full Color Edition Features Scholarship of Conservative Scholars

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Now including Full-Color Maps, Charts, and Photos to Provide a Visual Bible Study Experience

Thomas Nelson (@NelsonBibles) announces the release of The King James Study Bible, Full Color Edition (Thomas Nelson, 2017), the only Bible featuring extensive commentary, doctrinal notes, archaeological insights, and time-tested study aids developed exclusively for the King James Version.

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Now available with stunning full-color designs, Holy Land images, classic works of art, charts, and maps, The King James Study Bible, Full Color Edition (@ThomasNelsonKJV) guides readers through the vivid beauty and authority of God’s Word as they grow in their biblical knowledge.

The King James Study Bible, Full Color Edition (website) is the only one in the market with content that was specifically created—by scholars at Liberty University—for the time-honored King James Version Bible text,” says Daniel Marrs, Associate Publisher for Thomas Nelson Bibles. “Because no other KJV Bible offers more to students of the Holy Bible, we’ve sold more than 2.4 million copies over the last 25 years. We’re so pleased now to release this Bible in a beautiful, full-color edition.”

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, KJV, NKJV, and NIV Bibles Get Typeface Makeover]

The King James Study Bible, Full Color Edition is available in cloth over board, bonded leather, imitation leather, and genuine leather bindings.

Click to enlarge this Infographic based on The King James Study Bible, Full Color Edition

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About Thomas Nelson
Thomas Nelson (@ThomasNelson) is a world leading publisher and provider of Christian content and has been providing readers with quality inspirational product for more than 200 years. As part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the publishing group provides multiple formats of award-winning Bibles, books, gift books, cookbooks, curriculum and digital content, with distribution of its products in more than 100 countries. Thomas Nelson, is headquartered in Nashville, TN. For additional information visit

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Bible News Roundup – Week of August 20, 2017

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Silent and Solo: How Americans Pray
Barna Group

New Zealand Study: Lack of Self-Discipline, Distraction, and Busyness Are Top Barriers to Reading the Bible
NZ Catholic

Bible Exhibit on Display in Georgia Southern University’s Henderson Library
The George-Anne
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, A Collection of Bible Museums & Exhibits

The Art of the Bible at Edinburgh
The British Library
Read the Bible Gateway Blog, The Saint John’s Bible: A Work of Art

August 24: On This Day in 1456 the Gutenberg Bible was Bound and Completed
Writers Almanac

Pasco Inmates Get Tablet Access For Education, Mental Health
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First Ever Latin Commentary on the Bible—Lost for 1,500 Years—Found and Translated into English
International Business Times
Read the Vulgate Bible translation on Bible Gateway

God Or the Divine is Referenced in Every US State Constitution
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Reading the Bible with America’s Founding Fathers: An Interview with Daniel Dreisbach
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, American History’s Entwined Relationship with the Bible: An Interview with Angela Kamrath

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Upgrade Your Life by Downsizing It: An Interview with Erin Loechner

Erin LoechnerHow should you focus on the few things that truly matter? How can you upgrade your life by downsizing it? How can such steep climbs as a husband’s brain tumor, bankruptcy, family loss, and public criticism be handled by God’s grace?

Bible Gateway interviewed Erin Loechner (@erinloechner) about her book, Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path (Zondervan, 2016).

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What message are you communicating in the title?

Erin Loechner: Chasing Slow is a book about middles. There’s no arrival point, no tidy destination in which I claim to have figured out what it means to live a slower, wiser, more grace-filled life. It’s simply one woman’s journey on a quest to try a new way of being; a flinging of old patterns and a clinging to new lessons. There’s a line in the book that states, “Chasing slow is still a chase,” because in truth, we sometimes trick ourselves into pursuing the slow life just as quickly and gracelessly as we once pursued the fast one. Perhaps acceptance of our current pace—both the ones we can control and the ones we cannot—is a more worthy goal.

You open yourself up right away in the book with writing “I married a man with an expiration date.” Describe how, through your husband’s brain tumor and other turmoil, you found the strength to surrender to God’s grace.

Erin Loechner: I don’t know that we ever fully find the strength to surrender it all, but it’s certainly what I’m working toward. You know, you just go through life with a false sense of security. We all do. We assume that if we pay our taxes and brake for bunnies, God will bless us. We’ll be “good” people, with “good” outcomes and in God’s good graces. Ken’s tumor taught us both very early on that we’re not meant to control this life—we’re meant to surrender to it. The circumstances we’re given aren’t always the ones we’d choose, and we can either approach them with downcast eyes and angry hearts, or we can try a different way—one of acceptance, of joy, of delight in the days we’re given still. It’s surprisingly hard, yet surprisingly simple.

What are three ways to find God in the everyday rhythms of life?

Erin Loechner: Prayer, meditation, and worship. God has made himself ever-available to us; the veil has been torn. Are we living as if this is true, as if Someone so majestic and awe-inspiring is so very accessible? I find prayer, meditation, and worship to be the most consistent ways to invite God into my own everyday rhythm, whether my day is grounded by a particular verse, parable, or my own heart’s prayer. I find that by simply paying attention to the world God’s given us is one of today’s most rebellious acts—turning our eyes toward both beauty and pain; walking toward it all day after day after day.

What is a “quiet and constant faith” and how can someone find it?

Erin Loechner: I think of a quiet and constant faith as a house built on rock. We don’t find it; we build it. We choose love and truth and grace. We serve our neighbors, we care for the poor and the orphaned; the widows. We abide. We obey. We work, collaborating with the one who gives us strength and humility both, and in these small (great) acts of ordinary holiness, we inevitably witness the many ways our faith has sheltered us from a slew of storms.

How does the Bible help you in “chasing slow” in your life?

Erin Loechner: The Bible is a profound source of wisdom for me. It’s so difficult to indulge in the trials of our everyday when you receive a smack of perspective on the daily.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Erin Loechner: Proverbs 16:9—We make our own plans, but the Lord decides where we will go.

I find comfort in the idea that our plans must be held loosely in order to find ourselves obedient to a new (greater) direction.

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

Erin Loechner: I use the Bible Gateway App and site often when traveling and find it to be such a helpful resource for cross-referencing translations and themes in a larger context.

Bio: Author of Chasing Slow and founder of Design for Mankind, Erin Loechner has been blogging and speaking for more than a decade. Her heartfelt writing and design work has been showcased in The New York Times, Lucky, Parenting, Dwell, Marie Claire, Elle Decor, Huffington Post, and a two-season web special, garnering over one million fans worldwide. She has spoken for and appeared in renowned international events for clients such as Walt Disney World, IKEA, Martha Stewart and Home Depot. Now nestled in a Midwestern town, Erin, her husband, and two kids strive for less in most areas except three: joy, grace, and goat cheese.

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