Lines of defense

Here’s a little snippet from a new book I’m working on:

God is your first line of defense. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Ephesians 6. Your real enemy is not flesh and blood. Making God your refuge doesn’t mean you never get hurt; it means God will see to it that you will ultimately be okay.

Truth is next. Deception destroys lives, marriages, communities, and nations. Truth sets us free.

Good judgment is next. The prudent see danger and take refuge. A martial arts master was once asked by his student how he would defend himself from someone jumping out of a tree on him. His answer: I wouldn’t be stupid enough to walk under the tree.

Family and community come next. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Calming words are next. A soft answer turns away wrath.

Physical self defense is last.


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Nahum spoke out against Nineveh.
New question: What is the first war or battle referenced in the Bible?

Which books of the Bible are easiest to read?

Below I’ve ranked the 66 books of the Bible from easiest to most difficult to read. See notes below the list. I know this is longer than my usual posts, but I thought you might like this list.

  1. Ruth – short, easy to understand story (4 chapters)
  2. Jonah – easy-to-read narrative containing a poetic prayer (4 chapters)
  3. Mark – easy-to-read narrative, the story of Jesus (16 chapters)
  4. 1 John – easy words, profound thoughts on our relationship with God and each other (5 chapters)
  5. Luke – more detailed easy-to-read narrative – some knowledge of Old Testament helpful – story of Jesus (24 chapters)
  6. Philippians – a letter discussing humility and joy in suffering (4 chapters)
  7. Matthew – mostly easy to read narrative, contains many references to the Old Testament (28 chapters)
  8. Acts – mostly easy to read narrative of the early church (28 chapters)
  9. 1 Samuel – easy to read narrative containing the familiar David & Goliath story among others (31 chapters)
  10. 2 Samuel – easy to read narrative (24 chapters)
  11. Judges – mostly easy to read narrative (21 chapters)
  12. John – narrative, speeches and commentary – easy words but profound thoughts, at times challenging (21 chapters)
  13. Esther – easy-to-read narrative (10 chapters)
  14. Genesis – mostly easy-to-read narrative (50 chapters)
  15. Ephesians – a combination of theology and instruction for Christian living (6 chapters)
  16. Colossians – similar to Ephesians (4 chapters)
  17. Philemon – a letter returning a runaway slave (1 chapter)
  18. 3 John – a brief letter on waking in the truth (1 chapter)
  19. 2 John – a brief letter on loving one another (1 chapter)
  20. 2 Timothy – instructions to a young pastor (4 chapters)
  21. 1 Timothy – instructions to a young pastor (6 chapters)
  22. 1 Corinthians – a letter to a church with problems (16 chapters)
  23. James – a discussion of practical Christian virtues (5 chapters)
  24. Daniel – narrative combined with apocalyptic dreams and visions – makes much more sense if you have a solid understanding of history (12 chapters)
  25. Galatians – a letter explaining the Christian concept of grace (6 chapters)
  26. 2 Corinthians – a letter to a church with the author defending his authority (13 chapters)
  27. 1 Peter – a letter to Christians who are suffering (5 chapters)
  28. Titus – instructions to a young pastor (3 chapters)
  29. Proverbs – short sayings of ancient wisdom (31 chapters)
  30. Psalms – a collection of song lyrics – mixture of easy, poetic, profound, puzzling (150 chapters)
  31. 2 Kings – combination of narrative and history (25 chapters)
  32. 1 Kings – combination of narrative, history and architecture – some of the narrative (e.g., ch 13) is puzzling for modern reader (22 chapters)
  33. Exodus – first half is mostly easy-to-read narrative, second half is law & architecture requiring some knowledge of history and ancient culture (40 chapters)
  34. Joshua – some easy-to-read narrative together with a great deal of geographical information (24 chapters)
  35. 1 Thessalonians – a letter to a church discussing faith and the return of Jesus (5 chapters)
  36. 2 Thessalonians – a letter to a church discussing the “Day of the Lord” and warning against idleness (3 chapters)
  37. Song of Solomon (also called Song of Songs) – newlyweds expressing their admiration for one another in colorful language based in ancient culture (8 chapters)
  38. Romans – a complete Christian theology, in places difficult to follow (16 chapters)
  39. Jude – a letter warning against false religion (1 chapter)
  40. 2 Peter – a warning against false teachers and discussion of the “Day of the Lord” (3 chapters)
  41. Ecclesiastes – a search for wisdom, challenging because it isn’t always clear what is intended as truth and what is intended as processing (12 chapters)
  42. Zechariah – colorful, apocalyptic visions with explanations (14 chapters)
  43. Revelation – the apocalyptic vision of John (22 chapters)
  44. 2 Chronicles – history and narrative (36 chapters)
  45. Nehemiah – narrative and lists (13 chapters)
  46. Malachi – a plea for God’s people to return to Him (4 chapters)
  47. Haggai – an exhortation to rebuild the temple (2 chapters)
  48. Jeremiah – narrative, warnings, predictions (52 chapters)
  49. Job – narrative mostly in the form of dialogue (speeches) filled with figures of speech – tackles complex issue of suffering (42 chapters)
  50. Hebrews – a letter to Jewish Christians helping them process the transition from Judaism to Christianity while facing persecution (13 chapters)
  51. Hosea – a prophet compares his own unstable marriage to God’s relationship to Israel (14 chapters)
  52. Habakkuk – poetic look at God’s practice of using evil nations to accomplish His purposes (3 chapters)
  53. Amos – warnings and a call for justice, visions, some narrative (9 chapters)
  54. Ezra – lists, genealogies and narrative (10 chapters)
  55. Isaiah – combination of narrative, warnings, predictions requiring a solid knowledge of Biblical history and culture (66 chapters)
  56. Lamentations – a poem lamenting the fall of Jerusalem (5 chapters)
  57. 1 Chronicles – extensive genealogies together with narrative and lists (29 chapters)
  58. Numbers – some easy-to-read narrative interspersed in census data and ancient laws (36 chapters)
  59. Deuteronomy – laws, promises and warnings to ancient Israel with some narrative (34 chapters)
  60. Ezekiel – a collection of encounters with God together with warnings, predictions and architecture. Highly figurative language in places. Some knowledge of Levitical law required (48 chapters)
  61. Obadiah – a prophecy against Edom (1 chapter)
  62. Zephaniah – warnings and prophecies (3 chapters)
  63. Micah – warnings against Israel – knowledge of history helpful (7 chapters)
  64. Nahum – poetic warnings against Nineveh (3 chapters)
  65. Joel – poetic and sometimes symbolic warnings and prophecies requiring a knowledge of history and culture (3 chapters)
  66. Leviticus – collection of laws primarily relating to sacrifice and Old Testament priesthood and sacrifices; challenging to read without a thorough Biblical and historical background (27 chapters)

When creating this list, I factored in

  • the potential to get bogged down
  • different tastes and different attention spans of different readers
  • popularity of the book
  • how well a given book is likely to hold the attention of a Western reader
  • the potential for misunderstanding or misinterpretation
  • the distance between the words and the meaning

As a rule, I felt that

  • Narrative (story) is easier to read than instruction, lyrics or theology.
  • The New Testament is easier to read than the Old Testament because most readers are closer to the New Testament in culture and mindset.
  • Books containing controversial passages are more challenging than books that don’t contain such passages.
  • Prophetic books tend to be more challenging because they presuppose a knowledge of law, history and culture. They also tend to be written in poetic syntax making them somewhat more difficult to read. Some poetic books are rich in figures of speech and / or symbolism making the book even more challenging.

Some Christians see John as the easiest of the four Gospels possibly because it contains John 3:16 and passages that support elements of evangelical theology. But I see John as the most challenging of the four Gospels. Although the words are easy, the meaning is sometimes difficult to follow. John is a combination of narrative and essay which I feel is more difficult to read than straight narrative.

Some Christians consider Revelation to be the hardest book in the Bible. I disagree. Revelation has a reputation of being filled with impossible-to-decipher symbolism, but in fact much of Revelation is straightforward. It is a challenging book, but not the hardest, in my view.

If two books were otherwise equal, I chose the shorter book as the easier to read.

This should not be construed as saying that some books are better than others. Some of the most challenging books are, to me, the richest in meaning, but you do need to work harder to get at that meaning. For example, I love the book of Job–it’s one of my very favorites, and I’ve benefited so much from pondering it. But I do rank it 49 out of 66 in this list.

You might rank the books of the Bible differently based on many factors including the version of the Bible you are using, your own literary preferences, your background and understanding of the Bible, history, ancient culture and law.

How to hear the voice of God—part seven

Enjoy your conversations with God. In a typical day, I talk with God about many different things–my work, my family, my feelings. We joke around with each other sometimes. Sometimes we’re both very serious. I talk with Him and listen to Him. I get ideas from Him when I’m writing. That doesn’t mean that God is dictating every moment of my existence. He doesn’t tell me what toothpaste to use, for example. He doesn’t steal my personality. On the contrary, He affirms my identity and often asks me what I want. My desires become part of the ingredients of the life we build together.

Keep in mind that every person is different. Just because I experience God one way doesn’t mean that you will experience Him exactly the same. You are you. God will relate to you differently than He relates to me. I tend to hear a quiet voice in my mind, but you may experience Him a whole different way. That’s fine. Enjoy the journey. There’s no better friend than God, and learning to hear His voice (or whatever your conversations with God are like) will add a whole new dimension to your life.

This post is adapted from content found in my book Spiritual Self Defense. More info here:
http://dwightclough.com/books2/dwight-clough-books/spiritual-self-defense/

And this is the last of seven posts on hearing the voice of God. If you missed any of them, you can find them all here: http://ssdcourage.com/archive/


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Jonah slept in a boat during a storm.
New question: Nahum spoke out against what city?

How to hear the voice of God—part six

Trust but verify

The Bible says not to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to make sure they come from God. (1 John 4:1)

How do we test or verify?

#1 God’s Spirit will affirm that Jesus lived as a man and that He is Lord. (1 John 4:1-3, 1 Corinthians 12:3)

#2 God’s message will conform to His word, the Bible. That’s one reason why it’s important to get to know your Bible. Knowing your Bible gives you foundational knowledge that makes it harder for you to be deceived.

#3 When God’s Spirit is finished, there will be peace. He might point out your need to make a change, but He never paralyzes or condemns. He always gives you a very clear path to freedom. That path may involve making a hard choice, but it will be clear. God is not the author of confusion. God’s message will not leave you with anxiety or fear. It will leave you with peace.

#4 And following His directions will result in a good life where you stay healthy and bring much good into the lives of others. If the messages you are receiving, pull you in a different direction or result in something other than love, joy, peace and patience, then it’s time to re-examine whether what you thought you heard really came from God.

#5 A message from God will stand the test of time. In most cases, they won’t be terribly time sensitive, so you can pray it through again tomorrow and see if you get the same thing.

#6 In addition, God has put you with other Christians, brothers and sisters in the family of God. There’s safety in community. If you’re not sure whether what you’re getting comes from God, check it out with a brother or sister with more experience in the faith. You might want to check it out with a couple of people. Many times God speaks to a group rather than to one individual.

This post is adapted from content found in my book Spiritual Self Defense. More info here:
http://dwightclough.com/books2/dwight-clough-books/spiritual-self-defense/


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Job’s wife said, “Curse God and die.”
New question: In the Bible two people slept in a boat during a storm. Jesus was one of them. Who was the other?

How to hear the voice of God—part five

Ask and listen
Part of hearing from God is having the faith to believe that God can figure out how to talk to you. God has been talking to people for thousands of years. He isn’t going to have any trouble figuring out a way to get His thoughts across to you–if you’re willing to listen. You could pray, “God, I want to hear from you. Please silence all other voices. Make Your word clear to me.” Then ask Him a question and wait for the answer. You might get something right away. You might get something in a minute or two. You might not get anything at all. If you don’t, no worries. Sometimes I ask God a question and get nothing. No big deal. I just figure He didn’t have anything He wanted to say about that, and I let it go. Or maybe He will say something later.

One of the areas where God’s voice has been particularly helpful to me is in the area of my own hurts. Like everyone, at times I’ve felt like a failure, I’ve worried, I’ve been stressed. As I’ve come to God with these anxieties, He has spoken words of encouragement to me that have completely changed my life. “God, today I feel like I can’t do anything right. Is that true?” I wait and almost always get a response. Most of the time these responses weren’t earth shattering words, but just simple words like: “You’re okay,” or “I like you.” But they were earth shattering to me because they came from God. Even though my circumstances might not have changed, my whole experience changed because I saw the same circumstances through a different set of lenses.

This post is adapted from content found in my book Spiritual Self Defense. More info here:
http://dwightclough.com/books2/dwight-clough-books/spiritual-self-defense/


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: “A time to walk and a time to run” is NOT an example given by Ecclesiastes.
New question: Who said, “Curse God and die”?

How to hear the voice of God—part four

Jesus said not to throw your pearls to the pigs. (Matthew 7:6) In other words, you don’t give what is sacred and valuable to people who value nothing, people for whom nothing is sacred. In a similar way, a close intimate relationship with God depends on your willingness to obey Him. That doesn’t mean that you need to be perfect, or that you need to clean up your act before you come to Him, but it does mean that it is arrogant to assume that God will talk with you if you refuse to do what He says. In fact, a rebellious attitude opens the door to all kinds of deception. (See 1 Kings 22, for example.) You will think that you are hearing from God when may be hearing from a deceiving spirit.

I knew someone who regularly heard from God. One day God asked her to do something she didn’t want to do. She refused to do it, and from that point forward she couldn’t hear from God at all for a long time, several years if I remember correctly.

In our “question authority” culture, obedience is almost a dirty word. But God takes our obedience very seriously. Part of having faith in God is trusting Him enough to lead while we follow.

More next time…

This post is adapted from content found in my book Spiritual Self Defense. More info here:
http://dwightclough.com/books2/dwight-clough-books/spiritual-self-defense/


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Esther took the place of Queen Vashti.
New question: According to Ecclesiastes, there’s a time for everything. Which of the following is NOT an example given by that book: (1) a time to keep and a time to throw away, (2) a time to walk and a time to run, (3) a time to kill and a time to heal.

How to hear the voice of God—part three

I started hearing from God by paying close attention to the Bible. I would ask God a question, and He would bring a Bible verse to mind to answer it. He still does that. For example, one day I asked Jesus if I should be concerned about knowing the difference between His voice and the Father’s voice. His response? I and the Father are one. That’s a direct quote from John 10:30. At other times, God would give me insights through His Spirit when I was pondering a Bible passage.

If you want to hear from God, it just makes sense that you would value the Bible. God has spoken through His written word. Are you reading it or listening to it daily? (Billy Graham keeps an open Bible near him all the time. That way, when he walks by it, he pauses for a moment to read a bit of it. I put the Bible on audio on my phone and have it playing next to my pillow all night.) Do you value it? Are you pondering it? Do you memorize portions of it? Hearing from God means treasuring what He has to say, and the place to start listening is with the Bible.

More next time…

This post is adapted from content found in my book Spiritual Self Defense. More info here:
http://dwightclough.com/books2/dwight-clough-books/spiritual-self-defense/


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: The Lord will return to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4).
New question: Who took the place of Queen Vashti?

How to hear the voice of God—part two

The ability to carry on a conversation with God is the birthright of any child of God. Prayer was never meant to be a monologue that ends with “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Rather it is an ongoing dialogue between you and God, filled with laughter at times, tears at times, chit chat at times, serious business sometimes, jokes at other times.

You have a Father in heaven who likes you, who cares about you, who likes spending time with you. Your Father expects to have a relationship with you, just like a good father in any reasonably healthy family wants to have a relationship with his children.

The Bible confirms this expectation. In John 10:27, Jesus says that His followers can hear His voice. Romans 8:16 tells us the God’s Spirit talks with our spirits. 2 Corinthians 13:14 invites us to experience “fellowship” with God’s Holy Spirit. The Bible is filled with examples of people hearing from God (Genesis 15:4, 1 Samuel 3, 1 Kings 6:11, 1 Kings 13:1, 1 Kings 17:2, Jeremiah 2:1, Acts 8:29, etc.). Jesus tells His disciples that the Spirit will guide them into all truth (John 16:13).

But suppose you don’t experience this kind of give and take, this kind of ongoing conversation with God in your life. Does that mean that you are somehow a second class citizen, that there’s something wrong with you?

Not at all. For many years I didn’t hear from God, and I was clueless as to how to go about learning this process. This isn’t something that is regularly taught in most churches, so let me share some things with you that I’ve found helpful.

This isn’t spooky. It isn’t weird. You probably won’t hear an audible voice, though you might. You probably won’t see any visions, though you might. You probably won’t have any angels appear to you, though you might. Mostly, hearing from God is just a quiet inner voice or an inner sense of what God is saying to you.

Is it foolproof? No. You might think you’re hearing from God when you’re not, though I’ll give you some suggestions that will help you validate what you get when you ask God a question. If there’s ever a conflict between what you think you’re hearing from God and what God clearly says in the Bible, go with the Bible every time. God isn’t going to tell you to steal or commit adultery or engage in other behaviors that are contrary to what He has revealed in the Bible.

More next time…

This post is adapted from content found in my book Spiritual Self Defense. More info here:
http://dwightclough.com/books2/dwight-clough-books/spiritual-self-defense/


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Keturah was the mother of Abraham’s other children.
New question: According to Zechariah, what is the exact location where the Lord will return to earth?

How to hear the voice of God – part one

How does God speak to you?

I gotta believe that the answer to that question is going to be a little different for each person because we’re all unique. But I also think that God is trying to speak to each of us and will speak if we’re willing to listen.

For me, God usually whispers to me with a quiet inner voice in my mind. For example, one cold January day years ago, I was out taking a walk on a trail in the country, feeling pretty down about everything that was going wrong in my life at the time. After pouring out my heart to God, I heard Him say, “Listen.”

So I listened. Nothing. Silence. Chirp. Silence. Chirp. More silence. I was listening, but no one was talking except a couple crazy birds that forgot to fly south for the winter.

Then God spoke: “Even though it’s gonna be a long winter, they still sing.”

How about you? How does God speak to you?

In the next couple posts, I would like to share with you some things I’ve learned along the way about hearing the voice of God.

PS. The other day I was rereading part of the novel I wrote, The Man from Sun Prairie (which, by the way, is a story about hearing the voice of God). There’s this line on page 30—every time I read it, I laugh out loud. And then something happens at the bottom of page 178 that puts tears in my eyes. No, I can’t promise the same thing will happen to you, but it seems unfair that I wouldn’t invite you to find out.
http://dwightclough.com/books2/dwight-clough-books/the-man-from-sun-prairie-dwights-novel/


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: David’s sons who died before their time: (1) Solomon’s older brother, the unnamed son of Bathsheba died as an infant. (2) Amnon was murdered by his half brother Absolom. (3) Absolom was killed by Joab and his soldiers during the battle that followed Absolom’s revolt. (4) Adonijah was executed by order of King Solomon.
New question: Hagar was the mother of Ishmael. Sarah was the mother of Isaac. Who was the mother of Abraham’s other children?

Helping people in pain

How do you help loved ones who struggle with depression and hopelessness?

A friend posed this question to me a couple weeks ago, and I thought you and I could address it together. So let me start by asking you: What do you think? What works for you?

Here are my thoughts. For a long time I figured the only hope for depression and hopelessness was a good therapist. I figured this was something that God could fix, but probably wouldn’t. So apart from therapy and medication, you were stuck until you got to heaven. The best you could do is put on a happy face, and pretend you’re okay.

Then shortly after 9/11/2001, I discovered a process that God uses to fix things like this. I explain that whole process in great detail in my textbook, Spiritual Self Defense.

Of course I was excited about this, and went around trying to get everyone I knew enrolled. As you might imagine, that didn’t go over as well as I hoped. Change is hard. Even good change is threatening to most people. This is part of the reason why people remain stuck where they are for years and years.

And so, yes, I recommend you get my textbook and learn the process. It will give you powerful tools for helping other people—and, of course, for helping yourself. But I also add this caution: People can’t be bullied or pushed into transformation. They’re ready when they’re ready. Meanwhile, you and I can do all we can to create high trust relationships with the people we love. That way, when people are ready, we can be there for them.

Hope this helps.

PS. More information on the Spiritual Self Defense textbook here:
http://dwightclough.com/books2/dwight-clough-books/spiritual-self-defense/


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible.
New question: Four of David’s son’s were executed, murdered, or died before their time. Can you name any of them?