“Bible Trivia, Jokes, and Fun Facts for Kids” Book-Review

I might have called this “The Bible Joke and Quiz Book”. In places it’s not clear whether the author’s in joke or fact mode, and I’m not sure what age-group it’s aimed at. For instance, the most memorable joke – Why did Moses have a hard time as a baby? He was in de-nial – wouldn’t be easily understood by a 5-year-old. There are certain words the author explains, such as ‘Lame’, but then he’ll use ‘Prophet’ or ‘Apostle’ with no explanation. The reference to NFL teams is also a mystery to anyone living outside of the US.

On the positive side, it’s a very good concept to have questions parents can ask their children. I’m reviewing the eBook, and I don’t think it works in this format. It would work well as a hard copy so that someone could cover up the answers.

Considering the book as a whole, there were parts I liked, particularly the section on Jesus’ disciples, but there were also some discrepancies, E.G. Troy Schmidt says King Nebuchadnezzar saw an angel in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; however, many Christians believe this 4th figure was not an angel, but Jesus. Schmidt also claims Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the Bible with 150 verses; it actually has 176.

Bethany House were kind enough to give me a complementary copy in exchange for my honest review. While I wouldn’t recommend this book in its entirety, it may hold some useful ideas for parents; they might just want to have a Bible handy to check the facts.

We Three Magicians?

In the church calendar, today is Epiphany – the day when we think about the wise men following a star to Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus, and that carol is sung. You know the one:
Star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright;
Westward-leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light
.

I do like some of its truths: Gold for kingship; frankincense for a deity; myrrh as a reminder of the kind of death He would die, but you won’t catch me singing the first verse. I hate it with a passion: Firstly because they weren’t kings and nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three of them, but it’s more than that. I don’t like it because it takes away from who they really were and what that means.

The ministry Telling the Truth once released a box set called “Coping with Christmas”. I bought the series on CD and would recommend it. In their message about the wise men or Magi, they said the first four letters of that word gave us a clue: Magi … magic. In Biblical books like Daniel, when it came to distant nations (E.G. Babylon), their ‘Wise men’ were magicians and astrologers. Very likely, these were too.

I find that amazing because in the Law Moses wrote for the Jews, God had something to say about magic and astrology: “Don’t let anyone use magic or witchcraft, or try to explain the meaning of signs” (Deuteronomy 18:10). “The LORD hates anyone who does these things. Because the other nations do these things, the LORD your God will force them out of the land ahead of you.

“The nations you will force out listen to people who use magic and witchcraft, but the LORD your God will not let you do those things” (Deuteronomy 18:12, 14). Astrology and magic aren’t what God wants for His people, and living like that, they (or we in our generation) aren’t right in God’s sight.

But the story of the Magi is so awesome because God didn’t toss them aside or give up on them. When they weren’t living right before Him, He met them where they were at. They studied the stars for guidance, so the Messiah’s star appeared in the east. When they bowed down and gave Jesus their worship, it was a call to a changed life – a life centred around this new-born King they’d come to see.

* * *

Perhaps this Epiphany, it’s worth celebrating that God offers the same to us. If you accept His offer, you can say with me and with Paul: “We should have suffered God’s anger because we were sinful by nature. … But God’s mercy is great, and He loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, He gave us new life with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5).

My One Word for 2017

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to do this again. Last year, my word was Restoration and although in some areas the restoration process has started, I didn’t leave 2016 feeling completely restored.

Taking a brief look at last year’s post, activity-wise, I mentioned I wanted to do more outside the house and try to organise something different once a month. Well, nine out of twelve ain’t bad. Some particular highlights were the Stuart Townend concert in April, my meeting with Damon Hill in June, the first-ever ChristianityWorks conference in October (shared between ChristianityWorks and GNBA), and my Christmas present to Mum – a trip to York in December for the carol concert at Yorkminster.

When it came to community, I was finding it difficult at my church with the size of its congregation. I did celebrate their move to new premises, but left halfway through the year to try a smaller church. This is a better fit for me – much easier to figure out who’s who, and where they are. Meeting new people and opening up to them can be hard. I want to be known and respected, even though I haven’t been there long enough to earn their respect, but I’m grateful for their patience and the way they’ve welcomed me.

I also touched on exercise, but I’m not back into a good exercise routine yet. I did join a gym, but the pain I sometimes experience meant I was having to finish early, which didn’t work well with taxies etc. I’m still working on this.

* * *

So that’s why I was unsure about a word for 2017, but I prayed God would show me if He wanted me to have one. At church on Sunday, I got my word. And it is?

Shelter

During the worship, my friend felt God was saying we were a shelter for many. 2017 would be a year of shifting sand for people, but our dependence on God and His Word could be an anchor for them.

Can you picture it – people coming to us because they see Jesus living in us? “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). This was a challenge, and made me see the importance of staying strong in God. Who wants to come to a crumbling shelter? I’m thankful that in Christ all things hold together, but I need to take responsibility too. As Paul says to the church at Colosse: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).

I’m a shelter for God (a place where He lives through His Spirit), I’m a shelter for others, and God is a shelter for me. “He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).

Quiet

“’Here is My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope.’

“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: ‘I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“‘I am the LORD; that is My name! I will not yield My glory to another or My praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you’” (Isaiah 42:1-9).

Christians see those verses in Isaiah as a prophecy about Jesus. Prophecies are messages from God to those He loves, and I’d like to go through this one phrase by phrase:

  • God’s chosen Jesus, and of course He’s going to delight in His Son.
  • God’s Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus when He was baptised (Luke 3:21-22).
  • Jesus brought justice, but it wasn’t packaged the way His friends thought it would be. He didn’t come shouting out or aggressively raising His voice in the streets, keen to do battle with the Romans; His was a quieter and altogether different deliverance. He came gently, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
  • Jesus won’t kick you when you’re down. Maybe as a young Christian, you were fired-up, but life’s knocked you about a bit. You’re feeling bruised, or as if your candle’s been smothered. Jesus isn’t waiting to condemn you, or to replace your dying embers with a brighter flame. He wants to fire you up again – get you back in the race.
  • During His life on earth, Jesus was in constant communication with His Father, holding His hand in prayer.
  • God sustained Jesus, and yes, He has become the New Agreement between God and His people. Whereas beforehand the Jewish High Priest would offer sacrifices to make the people acceptable to God, now Jesus has sacrificed His life as the peace-offering for all who will believe in Him. “In the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new agreement that God makes with His people. This new agreement begins with My blood which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20).
  • Jesus came into this world as the Light for everyone – to open eyes, physical and spiritual; to free from prisons, real or imagined.
  • God gave His glory to Jesus, and told us about Him centuries before He was born – this quiet Deliverer of ours: Not aggressively raising His voice in the streets; just inviting all those who are thirsty to come and be satisfied.
  • A Time to Give and a Time to Keep

    In a Jewish wedding ceremony, a groom would suddenly come for his bride during the night; no one knew when to expect him. With this in mind, Jesus paints a picture: Ten young females, five wise and five foolish, waiting to attend the wedding. They carry lamps to light their way when they go to meet the bridegroom. Some of them think to bring extra oil.

    They all wake up to the news he’s on his way! The dopey ones (whose oil has run low) say: “Let us have some of your oil!” but the others realise there may not be enough to go around, so they’re refused. Off they go to buy some more oil and while they’re gone, the bridegroom arrives and the feast starts without them. They’re too late!

    Maybe you never do this, but I’m a writer. I like to imagine different scenarios. What if one of the girls, out of love for her friend, pipes up: “Yes, here. You take my lamp; I’ll go and buy some more oil” … What would happen? She would miss out on the wedding.

    * * *

    This story shows me there are some things we have to do for ourselves. Let’s take that oil as a symbol of faith in Jesus. We can’t rely on somebody else’s faith to give us right standing with God. It’s no good saying: “I’m a member of this church group,” or: “I come from a Christian home.” When you stand before God, it’s your light He’s going to be looking at.

    Maybe you think it’s impossible to give too much, but be careful not to do so much for others that you disqualify yourself. I’ve heard of people going into something on-fire for God, but then they’ve suffered because their dedication to the task has overtaken their desire for Him. A. W. Tozer cautions against becoming so engrossed in the work of the Lord and forgetting the Lord of the work. It’s important to acknowledge God, to remember that He gave us the ability, and to let Him refresh us and give us a heart of wisdom so we can serve Him more effectively.

    Aimlessness

    Last month, I had a job-interview where I was asked: “What motivates you to get out of bed each day?”

    I wouldn’t always have been able to answer a question like that, but I said: “Knowing God has a good plan for my life, and that I can do something useful for Him.” How do I know that? Because it says so in the Bible. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s a good plan. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). That’s one of the reasons we’re here on earth.

    Everything we can know about God, we’ll find in His Word. Nothing Godly will ever contradict it, so when we’re told to test everything, that’s what we test it against – for our benefit. I’ll give you an example. “All you who are thirsty, come and drink. … Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1). In other words, God’s offer to nourish us is unconditional, so if someone asks you for money in order to receive something from God, alarm bells should start ringing. Jesus was so passionate about everyone having access to God’s kingdom. Listen to what He said against the religious teachers: “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52). Jesus doesn’t want any barrier to stand in the way of us getting to know God. He wouldn’t want people taking advantage of us.

    If I keep on about the Bible, it’s because I’ve found it so helpful in the decisions I’ve made. When my attitudes have been wrong, God’s Word has put me right. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Who became flesh and came to live among us? Jesus. God’s Word is Jesus. When we read the Bible, it points us to Him.

    Before I was a Christian, I didn’t have the privilege of being God’s and not my own; I didn’t know what I know now – that my life is His, not mine. As we’ve seen earlier in this series, I may sometimes be homesick for heaven, but I do have someone to live for – a God who takes great delight in you and me.

    If you’ve taken anything away from these 31 Days of Positive Spin, I hope it’s that God cares about you and all the difficult things you’ll ever have to go through in your life. I’ll finish with the chorus of a song I wrote:
    Jesus, what You did for me –
    The pain You had to bear –
    It shows me that whatever I go through,
    You’ve already been there,
    And so I ask the question:
    Why should I complain
    ?

    Self-Consciousness

    Have you heard about the woman who’d been bleeding for twelve years, who touched Jesus’ clothes and was instantly healed? Jesus felt power go out from Him and asked who touched Him. Jesus was a Jew, and she would have known that according to Jewish law, her bleeding made her unclean. She probably didn’t want to draw attention to herself, but there was no alternative: She had to own up and face the consequences. I’m not surprised she was shaking. Self-consciousness is rooted in fear, but the humiliation never came. Instead, Jesus reassured her. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

    I wonder if sometimes my worship of Jesus is stunted because I’m too preoccupied with what others might think. Jesus’ words to the woman set her free, and I’m sure He’d want that same freedom for us too. I can’t promise you’ll never come up against negativity. When Jesus was worshipped extravagantly and perfume poured on Him (Mark 14:3-11; John 12:1-11), people protested that the perfume could have been sold for more than a year’s wages. Judas Iscariot was so incensed, he decided to betray Jesus, but Jesus (who deeply loved Mary) said: “She has done a beautiful thing to Me. … Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

    As Hebrews 12:28 says, let us worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.

    Independence

    This is a big one for me. As a blind person, independence is something you strive for. As a Christian, independence tends to be viewed as prideful because ‘We all need each other’. As a Christian blind person? Help! How do we get a balance?

    I wrote about this subject before, and then I came across a quote in the handbook I use to support people recently diagnosed with sight loss. Torch Trust is a Christian organisation that works with blind and partially-sighted people. I think their aim is exactly right: Independence in activity and interdependence in relationships.

    When someone’s said to me in the past: “You’re very independent”, I’ve replied that I’m God-dependent because I know there’s so much I wouldn’t have done without Him. Before I was a Christian, I wasn’t comfortable using my cane. At nineteen, when I left the house, I would always be with someone. Now I’ve lived in two flats on my own; I’ve taken myself as far south as London and as far north as Scotland on the train … Some might say I would have done that anyway as I matured, but even if I had overcome the self-consciousness, I probably wouldn’t have done it quite the same way. I would have regularly got angry or impatient when I couldn’t control outcomes; I might have treated staff who met me at stations as people there to serve me, rather than as people I could relate to. God has an amazing way of taking our focus off our own needs and putting it onto the people we’re with.

    If you want to be competent, choosing to rely on God shouldn’t take that away from you. I read about a little boy trying to type. His mum had the power to tell him where the keys were, but she didn’t because she knew he had to learn. I believe God’s like that too. He wants us to learn how to navigate life, but don’t just take my word for it. Look at Jesus and His disciples. Jesus was asleep and they woke Him in a panic. He said: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” then He calmed the storm (Matthew 8:26). Later, there was another storm. This time, they were in the boat without Jesus. He came walking towards them on the water, and the Bible says: “He was about to pass by them” (Mark 6:48). I believe His desire was that they would have learnt from Him, and stilled the storm themselves. Independence in activity; interdependence in relationships.

    For the rest of this series click here, or you can find other blogs on the Write31Days site

    Isolation

    I really like being with people, but I also like to have some quiet time in order to process what’s gone on. Being amongst people from different backgrounds who don’t understand where you’re coming from and don’t necessarily say things the same way you would – it can be hard, and if I’ve had one of those difficult days, I like to come home, flop onto the sofa and get into a book that’s going to lift my mood. Sometimes I get far more encouragement and strength from reading a book by someone in my situation than I do from people who’ve never experienced it.

    The problem comes when my four walls become my safety net. I’m tempted sometimes just to be around family and close friends, and not to bother with anybody else. After all, no one can upset me if I’m not there, but here’s a Bible-verse that really hit me earlier in the year: “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire” (Proverbs 18:1). So it’s saying isolation is selfish? I always thought of it as unselfish. If I’m feeling fragile, I won’t go, they won’t upset me, I won’t fly off the handle and everybody wins … but that’s not what the Bible says. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2).

    Brian May (my hero as a teenager) said once: “If you’re hardened off, you’re not living,” and he’s right. I have to let people see the real me – not just me when I’ve got it all together. “The fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is … self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Fruit needs a chance to grow. If I choose to be with people and let the growth happen, surely that can only be a good thing.

    Have you ever been tempted to isolate yourself? If you’re unable to leave the house, what ways have you found to connect and grow?

    Inadequacy

    This morning I read about the three servants, who were each given different amounts of money to steward. Let’s say one had £10, the second £5, and the third £1. The one who had £10 used it wisely and was given ten cities to take charge of. The one with £5 got five cities, but the one with £1 gave it back and said to his master: “You are a hard man, and I was afraid of you” (Luke 19:11-27).

    There’s a similar story in Matthew’s gospel and the measurement’s in talents, which makes me think of the gifts and talents we’ve been given. Have you noticed that someone who’s afraid to use their gifts tends to have very little self-worth?

    I’ve been given the ability to write songs. I’ve made CDs with them on because I think if God enabled me to write them, He must want people to hear them. I totally understand not wanting to draw attention to yourself, and so does Jesus. After all, He said: “If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured” (Luke 18:14), but you don’t have to use the gifts God’s given you in a flashy, attention-seeking kind of way. Someone might have the gift of hospitality. They could hold a big, lavish banquet and invite the whole neighbourhood, or they could invite a couple of people to lunch on a Sunday. In either case, they’d be using that gift.

    Have you ever thought about God’s commandment: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Matthew 19:19)? If you’re going to love another as much as you love yourself, then surely, first you have to love yourself and appreciate what you’ve got to offer as a person.

    If you struggle with feelings of inadequacy, like I do sometimes, can I encourage you to bring them to God? Ask Him what He sees in you – what it is He loves about you. If He’s given you something you feel you can use for His glory, please let Him give you the confidence to do that because the world around you really needs to hear your voice.