Thursday, January 28, 2010

Memorize God’s Word

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
—Psalm 119:11

On the Bible Answer Man broadcast this week, I emphasized the significance of reading and meditating on God’s Word. Indeed, this year it is our intention at the Christian Research Institute to get you into the Word of God, and to get the Word of God into you.

I would like to challenge you, moreover, to take the next step beyond reading and meditating on God’s word and to memorize Scripture. Your memory is a dynamic and powerful muscle that will strengthen with use. As with any form of bodily exercise, the more you use a muscle, the stronger it becomes. And by memorizing God’s word, you’ll discover that God has fitted each one of us with the ability to remember quickly and with great retention.

As I have exhorted you to read the Bible not in bits but by Books, so I also want to encourage you to memorize not just a verse or two, but whole passages. Knowing whole portions of the Bible helps you meditate on them and thereby better comprehend the essence of the Scripture. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Revelation 21, which I memorized in full years ago and find myself quoting often. Find a passage that holds great meaning for you and set your memory goals!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Down Dog for Upward Bliss? Thoughts on Yoga Day USA, January 23, 2010

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” (1 Corinthians 6:14–18 NIV)

Since Swami Vivekananda first introduced yoga to the West more than a hundred years ago, yoga has steadily gained in popularity, becoming as American as apple pie. In fact, you can find classes at the local gym as well as the local church! And according to the Columbia Journalism Review,

Everybody loves yoga; sixteen and a half million Americans practice it regularly, and twenty-five million more say they will try it this year. If you’ve been awake and breathing air in the twenty-first century, you already know that this Hindu practice of health and spirituality has long ago moved on from the toe-ring set. Yoga is American; it has graced the cover of Time twice, acquired the approval of A-list celebrities like Madonna, Sting, and Jennifer Aniston, and is still the go-to trend story for editors and reporters, who produce an average of eight yoga stories a day in the English-speaking world.….Consumers drop $3 billion every year on yoga classes, books, videos, CDs, DVDs, mats, clothing, and other necessities.

With the growing attraction of yoga and its “rock-star status,” I have put much thought into the appropriate Christian response. In short, believers need to “think Christianly” about yoga; to facilitate this understanding, I have created the acronym Y-O-G-A.

Y” reminds believers that the word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yogah,” which means “to yoke or to unite.” Indeed, the goal of yoga is to uncouple oneself from the material world and to unite oneself with the God of Hinduism, commonly understood to be Brahman, the impersonal cosmic consciousness of the universe. Put another way, yoga is the means by which the user’s mind is merged into the universal mind.

O” represents the Hindu mantra “Om”—a sacred Sanskrit syllable cherished by Hindu yogis as the spoken quintessence of the universe. Repeating such mantras as Om over and over is a principal means by which participants work their way into altered states of consciousness with the objective of dulling the critical thinking process. As noted by the late Indian guru Bhawan Shree Rajneesh, the mind is an obstacle to enlightenment.

Shockingly, what was once relegated to the kingdom of the cults is now being replicated in churches. In the ashrams of the cults there is no pretense. Despite such dangers as possession or insanity, Hindu gurus openly encourage trance states through which devotees tap into realms of the demonic and discover their “higher selves.” Whether experiencing involuntary movements or encountering illusory monsters, all is written off as progress on the road to enlightenment.

G” recalls the gurus who developed and disseminated yoga for the express purpose of achieving oneness with the impersonal God of Hinduism. Most noteworthy among the Guru’s is Patanjali—the Hindu sage who founded Yoga around the second century B.C. Of particular significance in the West is the aforementioned guru, Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of the self-proclaimed “god-man” Sri Ramakrishna. In 1893 Vivekananda used the Parliament of World Religions to skillfully sow the seeds for a new global spirituality. Second only to Vivekananda in the Westernization of yoga was Yogananda—proudly hailed as “Father of Yoga in the West.” In 1920 he founded the L.A. based Self-Realization Fellowship, a principal means of disseminating Yoga to multiplied millions of Americans. Finally, of special note is Swami Muktananda, popularizer of kundalini yoga, a method by which divine energy thought to reside as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine is aroused; ascends through six chakras; and aims for union with the Hindu deity Shiva in a seventh center allegedly located in the crown of the head.

Finally, the “A” in Y-O-G-A brings to mind the Hindu word asana. As repetition of the word “Om” is used to work devotees into altered states of consciousness, so too a regiment of asanas—or body postures—are used to achieve a feeling of oneness with the cosmic energy flow of the universe. Coupled with breathing exercises and meditation practices, asana positions are considered to be the pathway to serenity and spirituality. According to the Yoga Journal, “asanas are their own type of meditation; to perform difficult postures you have to focus on your body and breath and relax into the pose.” While multitudes are being seduced into believing that asanas are spiritually neutral, nothing could be farther from the truth.

In sum, while an alarming number of American Christians suppose they can harmlessly achieve physical and spiritual well-being through a form of yoga divorced from its Eastern worldview, in reality attempts to Christianize Hinduism only Hinduize Christianity.

If you want to read more on the subject, see Elliot Miller’s three-part article series, “The Yoga Boom: A Call for Christian Discernment,” which was published in Christian Research Journal, Volume 21 / Numbers 2, 3, and 4; available on-line through Christian Research Institute at

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not a formula for Prayer, but a Guide

Many Christians have structured their prayers around the acronym A-C-T-S, which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The Psalms are filled with whole chapters that can assist believers.

Prayer without adoration is like a body without a soul. It is not only incomplete, it just doesn’t work. Through adoration we express our genuine, heartfelt love and longing for God. The Psalms, in particular, can be transformed into passionate prayers of adoration.

Read Psalm 95:6:
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

Not only do the Psalms abound with illustrations of adoration, but they are replete with exclamations of confession as well. Those who are redeemed by the person and work of Jesus are positively declared righteous before God. In practical terms, however, we are still sinners who sin everyday. While unconfessed sin will not break our union with God, it will break our communion with God. Thus confession is a crucial aspect of daily prayer. Go to Psalm 51, a beautiful example of a confessional prayer of David:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin. (verses 1-2)

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more basic to prayer than thanksgiving. Psalm 100:4 teaches us to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” Frankly, failure to do so is the stuff of pagan babblings and carnal Christianity. Pagans, says Paul, know about God, but they “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21).
Carnal Christians likewise fail to thank God regularly for his many blessings. They suffer from what might best be described as selective memories and live by their feelings rather than by faith. They are prone to forget the blessings of yesterday as they thanklessly barrage the throne of grace with new request each day.
And thankfulness flows from the sure knowledge that our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need and will supply it.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be on my lips.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together. (Psalms 34:1-3)


In the context of having regular communication with God, our heavenly Father desires that his children will bring their requests before his throne of grace with praise and thanksgiving. After all, it was his Son Jesus who taught the disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
And as we do so we must be ever mindful of the fact that the purpose of supplication is not to pressure God into providing us with provisions and pleasures, but rather to conform us to his eternal purposes.

Psalm 37
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass. (Psalms 4-5)


Indeed, as I have experienced firsthand, prayer is a beautiful foretaste of something we will experience for all eternity. Let the Psalms guide you daily into communication and communion with our loving Father!

Friday, January 15, 2010

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and his righteousness…

“The earthquake in Haiti is a tragedy of such gargantuan proportion that it's natural to wonder how -- or why -- any God, if there is a God, could allow it.”

I read the above headline from an ABC news story on what may surely be the worst earthquake to have hit the impoverished nation of Haiti. And over the years, I have been asked many times a similar question with some variation: If God is good, why does He allow bad things to happen?
We must first remember that while God the Creator made natural and moral evil possible by granting us freedom of choice, it was humanity that actualized evil. We can't put this on the Master's table. We have to realize that the fingers point back at us. In our Genesis reading, recall that Eve, while tempted by Satan, chose to partake of the fruit that God specifically forbid. “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). As a result, humans fell into lives of perpetual sin terminated by death.While it may be popular to refer to the earthquake as "unthinkable," the history of humanity graphically demonstrates that there is virtually no limit to the possibilities of disease, natural disasters, and, ultimately, death.
This disaster painfully reminds us that the world is groaning in travail, but the gospel points us to the fact that creation will yet be liberated. As the apostle Paul put it "one day creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay." This liberation begins with the conquest of the cross and will be completed at Christ's second coming. As Christ's conquest ensures our bodily resurrection so too his conquest ensures the resurrection of this cosmos.
Here is what I want you to think about: the worst thing that can happen to any person is not to tragically die in a devastating earthquake. The worst thing that can happen is to live a long, robust life and then to forever be separated from the love and grace of the one that knit you together in your mother's womb. Ultimately, when we see things like an earthquake, we cannot cope with them unless we have an eternal perspective.
It is my hope and prayer that the images of devastation emanating from Haiti will arouse us from our lethargy and engage us to give water and food to those in need and to use the testimony of our love and our lives as an ultimate witness which will lead us to give them the bread and the water of life so that they may truly never hunger and thirst again.
As I write these words, my thoughts run to the old hymn written in 1834 by Edward Mote:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

The Purpose of Prayer

A lot of callers to the Bible Answer Man ask me questions about prayer such as: Why pray? Does God really hear our prayers? If God knows what we need, why ask?
For Bible-believing Christians, prayer should be thought of not as a magic formula to get things from God, but instead as an opportunity to communicate and commune with God. In other words, prayer is not about presenting our requests as it is a means of pursuing a relationship with our heavenly Father.
If I want to have a relationship with my wife, Kathy, I have to spend time with her and talk with her. It‘s no different with our Heavenly Father who longs to hear the voice of his children—clear and strong, without the static of everyday cares and concerns.
As Philip Graham Ryken explains in his book, When you Pray, “Prayer does not simply maintain the Christian life; it is the Christian life, reduced to its barest essence. Can there be any greater joy—in this world or the next—then to commune in the secret place with the living God?”
In my next blog post, I will discuss ways to structure our prayers so that they are pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prayer & the Psalms: Be still and know that I am God

Yesterday, I asked one of my kids to upload new music to my ipod as I prepared for a cross country plan flight. Looking forward to the diversion, I relaxed back in my seat, and once in the air, turned my music on…and was blasted with a bunch of static!
I reflected that my in-flight ipod experience is a lot like prayer. We can send and receive either noise or static to our Heavenly Father with our ungrateful complaints and arrogant requests or we can offer melodious songs of praise and thanks.
Today, let’s ponder awhile on this question: what sort of music do we make when we pray? And another equally important question: are we quiet enough to hear our Heavenly father when he speaks to us through prayer? We can tune him out, allowing the static of the day to crowd out that still small voice that says, “Be still and know that I am God”(Psalms 46:10).
The Psalms are an important part of our Legacy Bible reading plan—be sure to incorporate at least three Psalms per week. Many of the Psalms were written in the land of Israel and were used in temple worship, accompanied by stringed instruments.
The psalms are a wonderful way to give focus to your prayer life. A beautiful, uplifting and soul-strengthening Psalm is Psalm 46. Why not read the whole song now?

Friday, January 8, 2010

In the beginning...

Are you as excited as I am reading through the account of how God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo or out of nothing? How He established day and night, divided water from dry land, and created every living thing—from every kind of plant to every kind of animal. And God saw that “it was good.”

And then God created his finest work: He made man in His own image.

Astounding! And every word reliable! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Popular TV personality Bill Maher has made a cottage industry out of ridiculing Christianity. In fact, he has gone so far as to dogmatically pontificate that the Bible was “written in parables. It’s the idiots today who take it literally.”

Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that Scripture is indeed a treasury replete with a wide variety of literary styles that range from poetry, proverbs, and psalms to historical narratives, didactic epistles, and apocalyptic revelations. To dogmatically assert that the Bible was “written in parables” as Maher asserts and that those who read it literally must be “idiots” is at best an idiosyncratic form of fundamentalism and at worst a serious misunderstanding of the literal principle of biblical interpretation.

In order to read the Bible for all it’s worth, it is crucial that we interpret it just as we would other forms of communication—in its most obvious and natural sense. Hence, as you read through your Bible, pay special attention to what is known as form or genre.

In other words, to interpret the Bible as literature, it is crucial to consider the kind of literature we are interpreting. Just as a legal brief differs in form from a prophetic oracle, so too there is a difference in genre between the historical accounts set forth in Genesis—the first book of the Old Testament—and the prophetic visions given to John set forth in Revelation—the last book of the New Testament.

The Book of Genesis is largely a historical narrative interlaced with symbolism and repetitive poetic structure. More specifically, the first eleven chapters are Hebrew historical narrative with poetic elements; Chapter 12 to the end are Hebrew historical narrative. Keep in mind that while the historical books of the Bible consist of accurate records of historical events and personalities, they, like all other ancient historical narratives, involve intentional selection and structure of the events recorded.

Getting back to Maher, if the events recorded in Genesis were merely reduced to “parables” for “idiots,” devoid of any correlation with actual events in history, the very foundation of Christianity would be destroyed. Taking this a step further, if the historical Adam and Eve did not eat the forbidden fruit and descend into a life of habitual sin resulting in death, there is no need for redemption.

Finally, keep in mind that while the Scriptures must indeed be read as literature, you and I must ever be mindful that the Bible is not merely literature. Instead, the Scriptures are uniquely inspired by the Spirit. As Peter put it, “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21). We must therefore fervently pray that the Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures, illumines our minds to what is in the text.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
— Joshua 1:8

Have you set any New Year’s Resolutions? It seems to be a very American thing to do — lose those few extra pounds, sleep more, eat less, take up a new hobby, or XYZ.

Have you set any spiritual resolutions? I have. In fact, I have encouraged the staff at CRI to join me in reading through the Bible in 2010.

Sounds challenging, doesn’t it? I assure you it is quite doable.

In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, discovery of the Book of the Law was the catalyst for spiritual renewal. And I am utterly convinced that what happened in Jeremiah’s day can surely happen again.

Thus, the Christian Research Institute has purposed to tackle the issue of biblical illiteracy head on during the year of our 50th anniversary celebration by setting the goal of reading through the Bible in 2010.

I urge you to join me in the adventure of a lifetime!

In January, we begin in the Book of Genesis. As you read through the first book of the Bible, remember that genesis is from a Greek word meaning “origin” or “beginning.” In the beginning, God created the world and saw that it was good. Adam and Eve, however, fell into lives of sin resulting in death and are banished from Paradise. They are relegated to restlessness and wandering, separated from intimacy and fellowship with their Creator. Yet, the very chapter that references the fall also records the divine plan for the restoration of fellowship (Genesis 3:15). The plan takes on definition with God’s promise to make Abram a great nation through which “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). As such, Abram’s call constitutes the divine antidote to Adam’s fall.

You will see God’s plan for redemption begin to unfold — because you are reading the WHOLE book.

Do you know why most diet or exercise plans fail? We set goals that are unrealistic. When we fail to meet our high expectations, we tend to give up.

With my Bible reading plan for 2010, I encourage you to be flexible with yourself! There will be times that you may read ten chapters in one sitting and others when you may read one or two. There may be a day that you don’t have the time to read at all. Don’t fret or give up; keep the end goal in mind: to read through the Bible as you would read other literature — in books rather than in bits.

—Hank Hanegraaff