A Study in Contrasts: The Birth of Christ

Article from the Illustrated Study Bible

Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is a study in contrasts. On the one side is the lowliness of the birth. A poor peasant couple makes their way to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to register for a census imposed on them by the oppressive Roman Empire. Their journey is a long and hard one from Galilee, and when they arrive they can find no place of lodging. They are consigned to a place reserved for animals. There is a sense of poverty, rejection and obscurity. At the birth of the child, announcements are sent not to great kings or to the rich and powerful, but to lowly shepherds watching their flocks in the field.

Yet beside this humble lowliness is a message of unspeakable power and grandeur. The child who is laid in a manger is the Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of King David. He will reign triumphant over the people of Israel and his kingdom will never end. He is the one spoken about by all the prophets. All of history has been pointing forward to its climax in him. An army of mighty angels comes from heaven to announce his birth.

These contrasts are a foretaste of things to come. In Jesus, the God of Israel and Lord of all the earth has come to visit and to save his people. The Divine One reaches down to meet them where they are. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will show special concern for the lowly, the poor, the outcast, and sinners. These are the ones he has come to save because they recognize their need for him. They receive the message of salvation with joy and rejoicing.

The contrast between lowliness and exaltation also relates to Jesus’ mission. Though wicked people reject him and put him to death, Jesus is vindicated at his resurrection and exalted to the right hand of God, where he reigns as Lord and Messiah. From there he pours out the Spirit of God to guide and direct his church. Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation Jesus provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all those who respond in faith to him.

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Chuck Swindoll on Humble Thankfulness

We have so much to be thankful for, but do we truly give thanks to God for his many blessings? Instead of giving glory to God for his provision, the children of Israel became arrogant and selfish. Read more from The Swindoll Study Bible on the importance of living a life of humble thankfulness:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: This is an illustration of what will happen to Jerusalem. I placed her at the center of the nations, but she has rebelled against my regulations and decrees and has been even more wicked than the surrounding nations. She has refused to obey the regulations and decrees I gave her to follow.” Ezekiel 5:5-6, NLT

God bestowed upon His people privilege, safety, and wealth. But instead of glorifying Him, the people became arrogant. God loathes self-exaltation. Therefore, we must be mindful of our need for humility in times of plenty and ease.

We must acknowledge the goodness of God during times of prosperity. Every good gift comes from Him (Jas. 1:17). In Him, we have everything; without Him, we could not exist. We cannot comprehend—cannot even begin to fathom—the depths of the mercy, forgiveness, sacrificial love, and safety wrapped up in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. God is lovely and cannot commune with ugliness. The intent and actions of humankind are soiled and heavy with self-importance. It’s wise to remember that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).

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Learn About the Roots of Immerse

Where did Immerse come from? Turns out, it’s the result of over a decade of research and experimentation by the Institute for Bible Reading (IFBR), the creators of Immerse.

We caught up with Glenn Paauw, Senior Director of Content for Institute for Bible Reading, to dig deeper into the history, research, and mission behind Immerse.

Tell us about the Institute for Bible Reading and its mission:

The Institute for Bible Reading (IFBR) is a nonprofit ministry working to change the way the world reads the Bible. Coming out of a long history in Bible publishing, our founding team members have both the experience and passion to focus on the vital mission of making sure people not only have Bibles but also read and understand them.

We believe that the ongoing research into the place of the Bible among God’s people reveals a glaring problem. The lack of attention to the Bible, of sustained reading, of knowledge and understanding is an epidemic. Some voices are even promoting a “Bibleless Christianity”—growing out of their own inability to understand how the Bible really works and informs our faith. It is crazy that the church has been given this essential gift from God, yet it is not intimately familiar with it. Christian communities often take the Bible for granted. “Of course we’re biblical,” we say. But are we? Do we actually read the Bible? Do we understand how it works? Do we have a good pathway for living out its ancient story in our own world?

These are the questions that animate the work of IFBR. Our goal is to do new, ground-breaking research into what is actually happening with the Bible in our churches. We listen and learn from the finest biblical scholars about the meaning and context of the Bible. We interact with pastors and church leaders to hear their concerns and needs. Then we work hard to translate all this learning into real help and real resources for the life of the church. We provide education and resources like Immerse that are well-informed by the best insights of scholarship yet straight-forward and accessible to everyone.

We’re an activist think tank, therefore everything we do is deeply oriented toward giving people real-world help for reading, understanding, and living the Bible well.

Why did your team feel the need to create Immerse?

The Bible is the bestselling book in this country every single year. But as pollster George Gallup used to say, the Bible is the bestselling, least-read book in America. As we became increasingly aware of the research showing that people owned Bibles but did not know the Bible’s content or live out its message, we shifted the target of our own work to Bible engagement.

Too often we end up using the Bible in minimalistic ways and are guided by our own agenda. But God had his own purposes for giving us the Bible. We have this magnificent collection of books in order to invite us into his story of redemption and restoration. The only way to know this story well, and to live it in our own day, is to regularly read it—at length and in depth.

It’s clear that even highly-motivated people are struggling to read and live the Bible well. They pick up the Bible and it’s flat-out hard to read. It’s confusing. It can be kind of dry at times. So eventually, most of them give up. We knew that just telling people to do better and try harder was not going to cut it. They need new “tools” (i.e., a differently formatted Bible made for reading) and new practices that give them a fresh experience.

But we were also motivated by the positive vision that lies in front of the church: What if people loved reading the Bible? What if more and more people knew the Bible deep down in their bones? What if the majority of Christians were not only Bible literate but actually fluent in the Bible’s story? What would be the new story of the impact of the church in the world?

So we created Immerse as a new resource and a fresh experience for the church with the Bible. We knew that it would take a different kind of Bible presentation and a new kind of communal engagement for churches to have breakthrough encounters with the Bible. So we set out to provide something no one else is providing: a simple yet significant program to help people rediscover the riches of God’s word.

Your website says that Immerse: The Reading Bible was designed with one goal in mind: to provide the best reading experience possible. Can you talk about why the 6 volumes are designed the way they are?

We looked closely at the history of the Bible—the whole long journey from ancient oral tradition to contemporary electronic access. It’s clear the Bible is a cultural artifact that has changed in form over time. People have chosen to design and present the Bible in very different ways in different historical eras. As the medium has changed, so has the way people answer the two crucial questions: What is the Bible? and What are we supposed to do with it?

One of the critical periods for the development of the form of the Bible was the birth of the modern era. Within about 100 years of the printing press being developed, Bible translation took off, and a new chapter-and-verse format came to the forefront. As more people began to get their own copy of the Bible for the first time, what they encountered was a two-column, reference book presentation in which every verse was presented as a new, stand-alone paragraph. Add in new study notes and section headings, and the modern Bible format was born.

This led to a whole new set of Bible practices, adapted to the new form. This wasn’t a reader-friendly Bible, so it became harder and less likely that long-form reading would happen. Think about it: What other book have you ever read that is formatted like the Bible?

In place of long-form reading came the practice of proof-texting and focusing on single verses, often taken out of context. As Philip Yancey has said, we’ve now created an entire culture of Bible McNuggets.

So in order to help the church get back to big, contextual reading, we reverse engineered the Bible to an earlier, more holistic format.

First, by collecting the books into six manageable volumes instead of one massive book, the intimidation factor is reduced.

Next, we placed the books in an order that makes more sense for good reading. For example, rather than using the size of books as an organizing principle (like in the prophets and Paul’s letters), we’ve put the books in those sections back into a better historical order. This allows readers to follow events in a chronological way and make more sense of things. We’ve also reunited books that were split into smaller books: Samuel–Kings, Chronicles–Ezra–Nehemiah, and Luke–Acts. In the New Testament, we’ve gathered books around each Gospel that naturally fit with that telling of Jesus’ story—for instance, Peter’s letters are now with Mark’s Gospel, and so forth with the other Gospels.

Then, in a crucial move to enhance better reading, we’ve removed all the modern additives. So there are no chapter and verse intrusions, no footnotes, no section headings or cross-references—all features that tend to distract readers and work against big, immersive reading of whole books. This allows us to present each book with its natural literary sections intact. So the five natural sections of Matthew’s new Torah can be clearly seen, letters look like letters, songs like songs, proverbs like proverbs, etc.—all across the literature of the Bible. This restores the Bible to the kinds of literary forms that authors chose and God inspired and helps us to have a more authentic interpretation.

Finally, we’ve designed each page for easy and smooth reading. The single-column text, comfortable type size, and generous margins and line spacing—all surrounding the clear, straight-forward New Living Translation text—make for a significantly rich Bible reading experience.

What is your vision for normalizing Bible “book clubs,” and how are these different from Bible studies?

The original experiences of God’s people with the Bible were all communal experiences. Before the books were written down, ancient stories were being recounted and passed on to new generations; prophets were delivering their oracles openly and publicly at city gates and Temple entrances; and regular, ongoing Bible readings and discussions were organized in local synagogues. Traditions about Jesus were being told and retold in villages and early Christian gatherings. All of this was done in community.

Then, even when the Scriptures were first written, the copies were few in number and always read aloud in groups. Think of the apostles’ first letters to churches as an example. These would have been written down, transported, and then read to gathered followers of Jesus, most of whom were not literate. People overwhelmingly heard the Bible read, and they listened together.

It was only much later in church history that technological advances gave individuals the chance to have their own copy to read alone. Personal use of the Bible began to replace the previous communal experiences.

Personal reading of the Bible is, of course, a great thing, and none of us should stop that. But something different and very important happens when we read the Bible in community. It’s crucial to remember that the Bible’s own goal is the formation of a distinctive Christian community of people. It is addressed to communities and meant to be lived out as communities.

When we read and discuss the Bible together, we get beyond our own biases and filters. We get to hear how the sacred text impacts others. We see more and learn more. Our own personal understanding is enhanced. It is also important for us to practice the virtues (the fruit of the Spirit) required for true community. Patient listening, striving to understand the point of view of my neighbor, and shared learning are all critical parts of being a genuine Christ-following community.

Traditional Bible studies tend to focus on dissecting smaller parts of the Bible text. While there is certainly value in doing that, what’s been missing from the church’s experience with the Bible is taking in the messages of whole books and having bigger, more open-ended discussions about them.

A book club approach to our gatherings around the Bible is a fresh way for Christian communities to read, learn, and even struggle with the Bible together. And if we were to embrace this as a regular, ongoing pattern of the Christian life, we could begin to see more serious discipleship in understanding and following the way of Jesus. Not just in our personal lives, but our community presence is meant to be a witness to the coming of God’s gracious rule into the world.

The first vision of God’s people for engaging the Bible was a pattern of lectio continua—the continual (weekly or even daily) immersion of the community into whole books of the Bible. Ongoing penetration into the depths of God’s word allowed gatherings of believers to understand all that God had said before and to effectively live into the story in their own day. A re-envisioning of church life today—around deep engagement in the word of God—could strengthen our struggling churches and empower a new sense of identity and calling.

How do you think Immerse and the other work of the Institute for Bible Reading can help the church?

Once upon a time, God’s people were known as the People of the Book. Israel developed the only religion in the ancient world that was so deeply oriented toward a set of sacred texts. Then the earliest followers of Jesus, who were all Jewish and were shaped by this orientation, continued this profound commitment to reading, knowing, and living by the Scriptures.

The early church did whatever it took to make sure every new congregation of believers in the growing movement had access to the Scriptures and were regularly engaged with them. This happened in a world where 90% of the population was illiterate. The practice of reading through the Bible in regular cycles was brought from Judaism right into Christianity. At one point, being a lector, or Bible reader, was an official church office. It was considered essential in early Christianity that all of God’s people were consistently and significantly occupied with God’s word.

We have fallen from this. The work of the Institute for Bible Reading is geared toward helping the church regain this status and rediscover God’s story found in the Bible. We believe that a renewed commitment from church leaders, together with great new resources that surprise people with the Bible, are the things that can feed genuine renewal in the church. The Scriptures are infused with the power of God to bring real transformation into individual lives and into the life of the world. We believed and practiced it once, and we can do so again.

Learn more about Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience

Learn more about the Institute for Bible Reading

One Year Pray for America Bible

Reading from May 7th in the One Year Pray for America Bible

Lord, Hannah understood exactly who you are. When she prayed, “No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you,” she nailed it (1 Samuel 2:2). May all who search for you—the powerful and the humble— recognize who you really are! Amen.

Prayer Prompt

1 SAMUEL 1:1–2:21
There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.

Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have
me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”

Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”

As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

“Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

“In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

“Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.”

The next year Elkanah and his family went on their annual trip to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and to keep his vow. But Hannah did not go. She told her husband, “Wait until the boy is weaned. Then I will take him to the Tabernacle and leave him there with the Lord permanently.”

“Whatever you think is best,” Elkanah agreed. “Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise.” So she stayed home and nursed the boy until he was weaned. Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-​year-​old bull for the sacrifice and a basket of flour and some wine. After sacrificing the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. “Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they worshiped the Lord there.

Then Hannah prayed:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you
rescued me.
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions. The bow of the mighty is now broken,
and those who stumbled are now strong.
Those who were well fed are now starving, and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
and the woman with many children wastes away.
The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.

“He will protect his faithful ones,
but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
he increases the strength of his anointed one.”

Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest.

Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-​pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.

The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.

But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest. Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice. Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.” And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

JOHN 5:1-23
Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind,lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-​eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!”

But he replied, “The man who healed me told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”

“Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded.

The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd. But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” Then the man went and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him. So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.”

PSALM 105:37-45
The Lord brought his people out of Egypt, loaded with silver and gold;
and not one among the tribes of Israel even stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they were gone,
For they feared them greatly.
The Lord spread a cloud above them as a covering
and gave them a great fire to light the darkness.
They asked for meat, and he sent them quail;
he satisfied their hunger with manna—bread from heaven.
He split open a rock, and water gushed out
to form a river through the dry wasteland.
For he remembered his sacred promise
to his servant Abraham.
So he brought his people out of Egypt with joy,
his chosen ones with rejoicing.
He gave his people the lands of pagan nations,
and they harvested crops that others had planted.
All this happened so they would follow his decrees
and obey his instructions.
Praise the Lord!

PROVERBS 14:28-29
A growing population is a king’s glory;
a prince without subjects has nothing.
People with understanding control their anger;
a hot temper shows great foolishness.

Want to read more? The December 2019 Read With Us plan is featuring the One Year Pray for America Bible. Every week you will receive links to the reading for the each day of the week. Sign up and join us.

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God of Your Story

365 days from now you will look in the mirror and see a better person—if you will show up every day. The choices you make over the next 365 days will determine the story of your year.

Use the daily readings from The God of Your Story in conjunction with the One Year Bible to enjoy and appreciate the entire Bible without getting lost—and, perhaps for the first time, to hear the Bible speak to you on its own behalf. You may be surprised to discover that the God of the Bible is also the God of your story! Will you find Him where He’s speaking?

Make the Bible a daily decision. The adventure awaits.

Watch this video and hear from from Brian about his journey beginning with the One Year Bible to becoming the author of the God of Your Story.

Brian is the leader of the Daily Audio Bible podcast. Subscribe for daily readings from the One Year Bible.

True Freedom in the Spirit

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” Galatians 5:1-4, NLT

Taken from the Wayfinding Bible

As Paul continues his letter, he explains to the churches what it really means to live in Christ, free from the law. The burden of following the Jewish law has been lifted by Christ, who fulfilled the law entirely. This is the joy of Christianity. Paul writes that we are free to live out the love of God through the power of the Spirit, experiencing joy and peace as we trust in Christ completely for our salvation.

The Galatians thought they would please God more if they followed the law while believing in Christ. They had it all wrong. Christ had freed them from the obligations of the law. By his grace, his free gift, they were saved. Salvation is free. God gives it to us out of love for us, not because of what he gets out of us in return. In response to his generosity, we live a life of gratitude and thanksgiving to glorify him.

Christians are free from the law, but we do not have a license to keep on sinning. We have a choice, either to rely on the Holy Spirit or to yield to our sinful nature. The power of the Spirit within us will guide us to a life filled with peace, love, and joy. If we allow our sinful nature to dominate us, we will live in chaos, strife, and bitterness. We don’t have to battle sin on our own. We have the Spirit’s power to fight our sinful desires and to change our hearts to follow God’s will.

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Finding Roots in God’s Word

As the son of a marine, Joshua grew up moving from military base to military base. Rarely having time to catch his breath, let alone put down roots, he moved from one location to the next feeling alone and unable to connect, especially when it came to church. From talking to the base chaplain to going to local churches, he kept getting discouraged and gave up on church for several years. Until he found Cherry Point Baptist Church, a loving community that encouraged him to find out why he believed what he believed.

“After I was saved, I wanted to learn all that I could about the Bible. When I heard about the New Living Translation (NLT) my curiosity was piqued. Reading the NLT has brought a sense of vividness and clarity. I have read lots of translations, but keep coming back to the NLT,” said Joshua.

Joshua’s enthusiasm for God’s Word continues to grow and he can’t keep it to himself. He leads a multigenerational Bible study at his church and has become an active member in a local community feeding program.

“We live in a world filled with competing ideas. Not only reading but understanding the Bible helps people find their way. If they aren’t in the Bible, they are putting themselves at risk. I know, because it happened to me,” said Joshua.

From past experiences Joshua learned the importance of discernment and finding truth in God’s Word, not in the world around you. In his Bible study he helps others understand that too. It’s not only about reading the Word, it’s about studying it and applying it to our lives.

“Readability helps a person to understand what God is telling them. If a translation is hard to read and understand, I’ve seen people struggle when asked to read aloud or feel frustrated that they don’t understand. I’ve had that experience in my own study, finding myself mentally rephrasing or using a dictionary to try to understand some of the words. I wonder how many people have given up reading the Bible when faced with these issues?” said Joshua.

Making sure that doesn’t happen has become paramount to Joshua. The NLT is used every week in the Bible study Joshua leads to make concepts clear and help people feel confident while reading God’s Word. He has also found that the NLT is a great way to engage with people who attend a local feeding ministry.

Called Loaves and Fishes, this ministry invites community members to a free meal. Volunteers bring hot meals and desserts and they talk to people around the tables. The evening includes a short devotional, Scripture reading, and a time of prayer.

“I started attending as a visitor, and now I’m a volunteer. I give the devotional, but I also hand out plates, set up the tables, and help wherever I can. Just being a listening ear or extra pair of hands to someone who needs it is a powerful ministry,” said Joshua.

“Reading the NLT gives me a sense of peace. I feel I can turn off the distractions of the world around me and just pray, read, and ask God for wisdom,” said Joshua.

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Pointing Toward Hope

With a uniform comes a sense of responsibility. No matter the country of origin, when a man or woman puts on a military uniform, they are representing their nation. They have become a protector of ideals and a defender of the people. But at times this weight of responsibility can seem overwhelming or a person may not feel they are not up to the task.

The Operation Worship Bible was created to point people to God’s hope. No matter our circumstances, internal or external, we have a God who cares. The first thing someone sees when they open one of these Bibles is Jeremiah 29:11:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”

It is only in trusting in that hope that any of us can move forward into the future, no matter what it holds.

Read the words of Lt. Colonel Steven R. Young, retired chaplain in the U.S. Army, has he shares this hope in the forward of the Bible.

To all you—our men and women in uniform—and to your families,

It is our prayer that the contents of this book will feed your soul, enrich your heart, and broaden your understanding of relationships with your fellow man and with your Father in heaven, who loves you beyond compare.

The Bible is a book about hope, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. It has rightly been declared the greatest book ever written, for it openly reveals the loving heart of the Everlasting God. It is his love that compels us to serve well, to live with honor, and to defend the causes of right and freedom throughout the world, protecting the vulnerable and promoting equality. The world’s greatest minds have studied its sacred contents, and the world’s premier orators have proclaimed its truth principles. We are honored to provide this Bible for your enrichment and edification.

Perhaps you’re now serving in a foreign country, far from home, where hostility and uncertainty are the norm. Or perhaps you’re serving safely at an installation elsewhere. To all, we want you to know that America supports your efforts and deeply appreciates your tremendous dedication to duty. Your distinguished service demonstrates with remarkable clarity the values you believe in and the determination of character you bring to your profession. Because of your faithful service, not only are hostile tensions diminished, but the helpless, the hopeless, and the oppressed have hope for a better tomorrow.

Jesus Christ entered a hostile environment more than 2,000 years ago. He came on a rescue mission. John 3:16 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus saw a troubled world in desperate need of help—so he came. He lived a sinless life and he died a sacrificial death, all for you and me.

The sacrifice of Christ on the cross has provided every person with the opportunity to gain eternal life with God. Though the appointed time for Christ’s first coming occurred a long time ago, the results of his life and death are still in full effect today.

If you’re in close communion with Christ, keep it up. There is no greater joy in life. If you feel distant from God, please be encouraged. Your Savior has never left you. He remains as near as ever. Call on Christ Jesus often, anytime—anywhere. Call on him in your time of need. That’s when he loves to hear from you most. Whisper his name—he will joyfully and quickly respond. Request his grace—he will be merciful beyond measure. Believe in him—and all the promises contained in this Bible will become your inheritance instantly.

To those who wear the uniform, thank you for your service to our great nation. As you continue to carry out the mission before you, we pledge our loving support to you and your families. To family members and friends, you are the reason for our constant duty. With all of our strength and will, we are devoted to protecting your freedom and safety.

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