The Beggar at Dawn


How do beggars feel at dawn?  To a person who spends every night outside in the cold, is there any joy in the bright, fresh warmth of a new day?   I inadvertently found out on my last trip to Athens, Greece, and it taught me something about making a difference for God.

I was there for a week of meetings and during breaks I walked around the ancient city.   That’s where I encountered a very desperate homeless man.  His cloths were tattered and he dragged a collection of shopping bags full of scraps.  But what made him hard to miss was he stood in the middle of the sidewalk shouting a stream of consciousness rant to anyone who would listen.  No one did.  I thought, “How awful to be surrounded by people and yet completely alone.”

Early each morning I’d leave my hotel and climb to the top of Mars Hill, the spot in Athens where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous apologetic speech (Acts 17:16-34).  It was so inspiring to have my quiet time and watch the sun rise in such a significant place.

On my last walk back from Mars Hill I passed the ranting beggar again, but this time he was silent.  It was so early the shops weren’t open and the tourists were still in bed.  With no audience the beggar quietly pawed through trash cans looking for food.  That gave me an opportunity to carefully observe him.  What I saw was a tired Greek man about my age searching for his daily bread.

Suddenly I had a strong impression, “Don’t walk away.”  Was it me, or from the Lord?  Before I had time for second thoughts I stopped, turned around and began walking towards the beggar.  He noticed me coming and seemed afraid.  Maybe he’s going to beat me!

To show my good intentions I pulled some coins from my pocket and held them up in front me, like a priest holding out the wafer.  The beggar extended both hands, like a worshipper during communion.  I placed the coins in his palm and he closed his grimy fingers around them.  For a moment, a very brief moment, his ranting persona was gone; we were just two unlikely brothers at the foot of Mars Hill. 

Having administered “the sacrament,” I stepped back and gave him a soft pat on the back.  Perhaps it was the first loving touch he’d experienced in…how long?  He said nothing, but as I turned to leave, his now calm spirit communicated, Thank you, sir.  Thank you.  I realized I had given him something more valuable than a few coins.

I have no illusions that my random act of kindness solved all that man’s problems.  No doubt the next night was as dark and cold as the one before.  But here’s the point: in order to make a difference for God, we must first be willing to stop, turn around and walk in love towards a world in need.  That’s what I learned from the beggar at dawn.

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The Essential Question


Have you ever asked, "What difference am I making with my life?"  Of course you have; we all have on some level.  But if you want a unique way to find an answer, then check out my new book, The Essential Question.  It takes you (or your group or church) on a fast-paced journey through one of the most exciting books of the Bible and builds on the question the Apostle Paul asked, "What shall I do, Lord?"  (Pssst...that's the essential question.) Watch this short video to find out more.

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Top 10 Reasons the Bible is True


I've got a good friend who's probably a lot like you.  He loves the Bible and does his best to read it and live it every day.  There's one problem.  Some of his friends say the Bible isn’t true, and he's not always sure how to respond.   So I've created a list of the best arguments I can find for the credibility of the Bible. Interested?  Okay, here are my Top 10 Reasons the Bible is True. (If I missed any that are important to you, please add them in the comment section below.  I'd love to hear from you.)
  1. Manuscript Evidence.  There are way more copies of the biblical manuscripts, with remarkable consistency between them, than there are for any of the classics like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates.  "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament."  F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
  2. Archaeological Evidence.  Again and again archaeological discoveries have verified the accuracy of the historical and cultural references in the Bible.  The more they dig, the more it confirms the Bible.  “It is important to note that Near Eastern archaeology has demonstrated the historical and geographical reliability of the Bible in many important areas.” E.M. Blaiklock, The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology.
  3. Eyewitness Accounts.  The Bible was written by people who witnessed the events it describes; many were persecuted or martyred but never changed their story.  Would you die for something you knew was untrue? “It is no moderate approbation of Scripture that it has been sealed by the blood of so many witnesses, especially when we reflect that they died to render testimony to the faith …with a firm and constant, yet sober, zeal toward God.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
  4. Corroborating Accounts. There are plenty of references in non-biblical sources to the events described in the Bible. The Jewish historian Josephus, born in 37 AD, “provide(s) indispensable background material for the student of…New Testament history. In them, we meet many figures well known to us from the New Testament. Some of his writings provide direct commentary on New Testament references.”  J.D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary.
  5. Literary Consistency.  The Bible contains 66 books written over 1,500 years by 40 different writers but it tells one "big story" of God's plan of salvation that culminated in Jesus Christ.  You can't even pass a secret around a circle of 12 people and get the same message at the end. “There is indeed a wide variety of human authors and themes (in the Bible). Yet behind these…there lies a single divine author with a single unifying theme.” John R.W. Stott, Understanding the Bible.
  6. Prophetic Consistency.  There are over 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.  “The very dimension of the sheer fulfillment of prophecy of the Old Testament Scriptures should be enough to convince anyone that we are dealing with a supernatural piece of literature….God has himself planted within the scriptures an internal consistency that bears witness that this is his Word.” R.C. Sproul, Now That’s a Good Question.
  7. Expert Scrutiny. The early church had extremely high standards for what books were judged to be authentic and therefore included in the Bible. A book had to have been written by an Apostle or someone in their immediate circle, had to conform to basic Christian faith and had to be in widespread use among many churches. This was a careful process of “the people of God in many different places, coming to recognize what other believers elsewhere found to be true”; these writings were truly God’s word. G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson and R.T. France, The New Bible Commentary.
  8. Leader Acceptance.  A majority of the greatest leaders and thinkers in history have affirmed the truth and impact of the Bible"I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong.” Abraham Lincoln.
  9. Global Influence.  The Bible has had a greater influence on the laws, art, ethics, music and literature of world civilization than any other book in history.  Can you think of one that even comes close?  “Christianity”, as set forth in the Bible “is responsible for a disproportionately large number of the humanitarian advances in the history of civilization—in education, medicine, law, the fine arts, working for human rights and even in the natural sciences….” Craig L. Blomberg, in Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.
  10. Changed Lives.  From St. Augustine to Martin Luther to Joni Eareckson Tada to countless everyday men, women and children, the words of the Bible have transformed lives unmistakably and forever.  “As unnamed masses of Christians down through the ages have shown us, the Bible is the most reliable place to turn for finding the key to a life of love and good works.” T.M. Moore, The Case for the Bible.
I hope this list helps you become more confident about the Bible.  But don’t forget: whenever you have an opportunity to defend God's Word, be sure to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).  No one listens to an angry Bible reader.  (If I missed any reasons that are important to you, please add them in the comment section below.  I'd love to hear from you.)

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Ivory-billed Faith


"What's the big deal?"
I've always wondered why Jesus scolded his followers for their lack of faith. For example, when the disciples cried out in the storm, or when Peter stepped out of the boat.  It wouldn't have encouraged me to hear, "O ye of little faith" at such times. But a few years ago I think I figured out what Jesus was getting at and the odd thing is, to this day no one believes me.

In December 2002, my wife Carol and I were vacationing in Florida and decided to go bird watching in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Honestly, birding is not my thing, but Carol loves it so I went to make her happy. We rented kayaks and slowly paddled through the mangrove swamps. Carol was hoping to add to her lifetime list of species. I was just hoping to avoid "Woody," a big alligator the kayak manager warned us about.

After a long hour, I was lagging behind when I noticed a bird that looked different than the others. I took out my binoculars to get a good look. When I caught up with Carol I described what I had seen. She whipped out her bird book but couldn't identify it, so when we returned our kayaks we went to the office for some help.

The ranger spread out a big chart with all kinds of birds and asked me to point to what I had seen. "That one," I said, tapping the bird I saw. The room got quiet. I looked up wondering if I had offended someone. The ranger said, 'Are you sure that's what you saw?" "Yeah," I responded casually, "that's it." The ranger then informed me I was pointing to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a rare bird that was extinct. As we left, he chuckled and assured me there was no way I could have seen that bird in his swamp.

Then in 2004, there was a reported sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas and it made a big stir in the birding world. But when I heard about it I thought, "What's the big deal? I saw that thing two years ago." Now whenever I'm around Carol's birding friends, I tell them about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. They just roll their eyes.

So what does all this have to do with faith? Simply this: if you don't believe something is possible, you're not likely to see it. And I think that's what Jesus was getting at. Faith is not guaranteeing what God will do. Rather, faith is being certain that "with God all things are possible." That's the kind of childlike faith Jesus wants us to have every day.

The truth is, I'm not experienced enough to know exactly what I saw in the mangrove swamp. But I do know this. That ranger will probably never see the Ivory-billed Woodpecker because, unlike me, he still believes it's impossible.

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Making the Bible Attractive


What would you say is the biggest setback American Christians have experienced in the “culture wars” over past year?  I know what you're thinking, but trust me, it's not that.  I'd like to suggest that the biggest setback is something we Christians have done to ourselves.

Look, I believe the U.S. Supreme Court decision to redefine marriage was a setback.  But an even bigger one is that in our zeal to defend the standards of God’s Word we’ve positioned ourselves as “angry Bible readers” and pushed people even further from the Good News.

So what should we do?  First, as Rod Dreher wrote in an essay for TIME, “We have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation. The fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist.”  But hang on.  Didn’t the Apostle Peter say that centuries ago; we're “aliens and strangers” in this world (1 Peter 2:11 NASB )?  Then second, we have to recognize that being angry and combative about sexual issues hasn’t worked.  It’s been "a communications disaster," as David Brooks wrote in the New York Times.

So what should we do?  What if instead of using all our energy and resources fighting the culture wars we focused our efforts on making a winsome case for the Bible?  My instincts say positive engagement is "a more excellent way."

For a long time I've been convinced the best strategy for bringing biblical values to society is for the church to become passionate about reading and living its own Book.  Then Christians will have the spiritual credibility to offer an attractive alternative to the prevailing secular worldview, a worldview that I believe leaves people hungry for truth.  Maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul said, "In every way…make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (Titus 2:10 NIV).  At least it’s worth a try.  Amen?

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FREE e-Book: The Essential Secret


How do you get “average Christians” to establish and maintain a habit of regular of Bible reading?  That may seem like a rather mundane religious question; aren’t there more important issues for Christian leaders to think about?  Maybe. 

But I’m convinced that correctly answering that simple question is one of the most significant challenges and opportunities for the Western Church today.  

Because the real issue behind the question is not just the renewal of a personal spiritual discipline.  Rather, it’s the renewal of the Church itself.

So what I've done is write an e-book called The Essential Secret, and you are welcome to download it free.  In it I’ve shared seven principles for getting entire churches reading and enjoying God’s Word.  I've discovered that's really possible.  For the past 10 years, Scripture Union has helped over 5,000 churches increase the level of Bible reading among their congregants through a program called The Essential 100 Challenge (E100®). 

I wrote The Essential Secret because I want to share what we’ve learned from our experience with E100®; in essence, I want to give you “our secret sauce.”  My hope is you’ll add some of what we’ve discovered to your ministry so that more of your people will begin reading and enjoying God’s Word.

Here’s a link to the free e-book: The Essential Secret.  Feel free to forward it to your pastor or anyone who might be interested.  Thanks!

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Candy Crush and the Bible


I’m embarrassed to admit this, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Candy Crush.  It's a mobile game that's become a worldwide sensation.  The game has been downloaded 500 million times and played more than 150 billion times.  But the reason I’ve been thinking about it is not what you’d expect.  You see, I believe Candy Crush has a lot to teach us about Bible reading.

I had never heard of Candy Crush until I read the recent article about it in TIME Magazine.  Intrigued, I downloaded the free app to my iPad and iPhone.  Soon I was lining up sets of three fruit candies and enjoying the deep-voice affirmation when I progressed to the next level, "Sugar crush!"

But what does a mindless mobile game have to do with Bible reading? It turns out the secret to the success of Candy Crush, according to developer Tommy Palm, is the habit-formation principles he incorporated into its design; things like keeping the process simple, providing positive feedback and encouraging players to connect on Facebook.

That fascinated me because ten years ago Scripture Union studied habit formation and the Bible. Instead of making daily devotions a heavy-duty study, we asked, “What would make Bible reading an enjoyable, repeatable behavior?” With the help of author and psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown of the Harvard Medical School, we looked at lots of habit-formation research. In the end, the principles that seemed most effective in the devotional life were: a) setting achievable goals, b) making a personal plan of action, c) using a pre-determined schedule, d) tracking one’s progress, and e) having the “soft accountability” of reading the Bible with another person or group.

We then built these principles into our E100® Bible Reading Challenge and the program took off. To date, over 2,500,000 people in dozens of countries and 20 languages, have participated. We’ve partnered with the American Bible Society to distribute E100® to the US Military. And we've even developed a youth edition. Honestly, E100® is growing faster then we ever imagined.

But in the end, the secret to regular Bible reading is not some kind of Candy Crush trickery. It’s what faithful Christians have known for centuries: meeting God in his Word is what brings you back to the Bible every day. SU is now building that approach into all its programs. As the Psalmist said, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2). That's what people truly crave.

After a week of playing Candy Crush (and progressing to level 23), I permanently deleted the game from my iPad and iPhone; I was wasting too much time on it.  But the good new is I’m still experiencing the joy of meeting God in the Bible every day, and I don’t plan to stop.  Bible crush!

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Top 10 Urban Myths about the Bible


You know what an "urban myth" is, right?  It's "a story of obscure origin that has little or no supporting evidence, and yet spreads spontaneously." In other words, it's a popular belief that's not true.  That seems like a perfect description of what many people think about the Bible.  How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh, today we know the Bible isn't true because..."?

So what I'd like to do is respectfully challenge some popular misimpressions about the Bible.  But first, let me be upfront about my bias: I believe the Bible is true.  So what I'll do is give you the evidence that led me to my conclusion.  Then it will be up to you to make up your own mind.  Fair enough?  OK, so let's take a look at the Top 10 Urban Myths about the Bible.
  1. The Bible was created by church officials to maintain their own power. “The content is far too counterproductive…to promote [the church] policies, consolidate their power, and build their movement. If this popular view is correct, we would expect to see many places in the gospels where Jesus takes sides in debates that were going on in the early church …However, we do not find this.” Timothy Keller in The Reason for God.
  2. Modern translations of the Bible obscure the original meaning. “The only kind of sanctity which Scripture can lose (or, at least, New Testament scripture) by being modernized is an accidental kind which it never had for its writers or earliest readers… We ought therefore welcome all new translations (when they are made by sound scholars).” C.S. Lewis in God in the Dock.
  3. The Bible as we know it omits other Gospels that tell a different story about Jesus. “The vastly exaggerated claims made on behalf of these gospels are more revealing about what contemporary scholars and writers would like to find about the first Christian ages, and how these ideas are communicated, accurately or otherwise, to a mass public. The alternative gospels are thus very important sources …for what they tell us about the interest groups who seek to use them today; about the mass media, and how religion is packaged as popular culture…” Philip Jenkins in Hidden Gospels: Howthe Search for Jesus Lost Its Way.
  4. The Bible was written centuries after the events it describes supposedly happened. “The great majority of the New Testament books were penned between A.D. 50 and 100.” David F. Payne in New InternationalBible Commentary.
  5. The Bible's view of God is inconsistent: in the Old Testament he's mean and angry, in the New Testament he's loving and forgiving. “The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil... Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.” A.W. Pink in The Attributes of God.
  6. The Bible advocates things we know are wrong, like slavery. “While the Bible does not reject slavery outright, the conclusion that it actually favors slavery is patently wrong. Scripture does reveal that slavery is not ideal, both in Old Testament laws forbidding the enslavement of fellow Israelites, the law of jubilee, and in New Testament applications of Christ. In fact, the Bible teaches that the feeling of superiority in general is sin! The abolition of slavery is thus not only permissible by biblical standards, but demanded by biblical principles.” Ravi Zacharias, “Does the Bible Condone Slavery” in Slice of Infinity (
  7. The Bible is against proven science. “Science and religion … are friends, not foes, in the common quest for knowledge. Some people may find this surprising, for there’s a feeling throughout our society that religious belief is outmoded, or downright impossible, in a scientific age. I don’t agree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if people in this so-called ‘scientific age’ knew a bit more about science than many of them actually do, they’d find it easier to share my view.” Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne in Quarks, Chaos and Christianity.
  8. The Bible has been discredited by modern archaeology. “Now, however, it is no longer possible to reject the substantial historicity of the Bible, at least as far back as the time of Abraham, because of the remarkable discoveries of archaeology.” Henry Morris as quoted by Roy Mills in Truth—Not Exactly: A Book for Truth Seekers and Those They Care About.
  9. The Bible is full of errors and can't be trusted. “We can be sure that copyists worked with great care and accuracy on the Old Testament, even back to 225 B.C. At that time there were two or three types of text available for copying. These types differed amongst themselves so little, however, that we can infer that still earlier copyists had also faithfully and carefully transmitted the Old Testament text. Indeed, it would be rash skepticism that would now deny that we have our Old Testament in a form very close to that used by Ezra when he taught the Law to those who had returned from the Babylonian captivity.” From an essay by R. Laird Harris, “How Reliable Is the Old Testament Text?”, in the book, Can I Trust My Bible?
  10. The Bible may be great literature but it's not "inspired by God. “The word ‘inspired’ … refers not to the writers, but to the words that have been written… A further indication that the Bible is the Word of God is in the remarkable number of fulfilled prophecies it contains.” Paul E. Little in KnowWhy You Believe.
What do you think?  Before you answer, there's one more important piece of evidence you need. For the sake of intellectual integrity you should read the Bible yourself.  Then you can make your own decision.   So here's my challenge: find a Bible and read the Gospel of John.  No preaching from me or anyone else.  Just "pick it up and read it," as a child once challenge St. Augustine.  It changed his life and I pray it will change yours.

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Marching for the Paris?


If you're like me, you long for Bible reading revival in America.  The problem is, all the trends are headed in the wrong direction; Bible reading is declining, biblical values are eroding.

That's why I've been intrigued by a growing movement in France, one of the most secular countries in the West.  For the past few years thousands of French citizens have marched in favor of biblical values.  But the most surprising thing is most probably had no idea they were doing so.

What's ignited the protests is a 2013 French law legalizing gay marriage and adoption, the so-called "Marriage for All" law.  In the US, opposition to such laws is often driven by a commitment to God's Word.  But as NPR correspondent Eleanor Beardsley pointed out, in France, "rarely do demonstrators wave signs with Bible verses."

Instead, French opposition is driven by a commitment to parenting; they simply believe children need a father and mother to fully develop.  "The absence of a religious tone to the French protests seems strange," continued Beardsley, "to someone used to the Bible-centric, American opposition to gay marriage."  But it seems to be getting a hearing.

Maybe the French have inadvertently discovered the secret to promoting biblical values to a new generation.  In the past, there was a consensus that the Bible had authority, or at least that it was still "the Good Book."  Billy Graham was famous for proclaiming, "The Bible says...."  Today, people just shrug.

So I wonder if those of us who love God's Word can learn something from the secular French: a better way to promote God's design for the family, for example, is to march for children rather than against gay marriage.  Sure, the Bible has clear teaching on both subjects.  But a secular world will never hear any of it until we stop shouting Bible verses and start lovingly advocating for a biblical worldview.

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