Online Bible Study Tools I Love

I plan to come back to the Christian music series at some point in the future, but this morning as I was studying I thought I would highlight a few Bible study tools that I use regularly as I prepare for sermons.

Many people think that serious Bible study requires knowledge of Greek or Hebrew and/or a significant library.  While these things certainly don’t hurt, anybody can study the Scriptures well these days thanks to a variety of online tools and commentaries that are extremely helpful.

Here are a few of my favorites (FYI, I’m not being paid to shill any of this — just stuff I find helpful):

SonicLight — Dr. Thomas Constable of Dallas Theological Seminary (my alma mater) has prepared extensive study notes on every book of the Bible. Imagine getting an entire 7000-page commentary set for free; that’s Sonic Light for you. Dr. Constable has spent 25 years compiling this information — there are even audio lessons on many of the books as well.

Bible.org — Bible.org contains thousands of articles on various theological and biblical subjects, along with a searchable online NET Bible (translated almost entirely by DTS scholars). The theological viewpoints on the site are not necessarily uniform because of the broad variety of contributors, so read with care.  Nonetheless, it’s a huge resources if you are looking for free commentaries and articles from top scholars.

Biblia.com — This is the online version of Logos software. You can get an account for free and use some of their commentaries and searchable resources online.  It’s like having your own Bible software free online.  Incidentally, if you are looking for a stellar Bible software package, I highly recommend Logos.  There are several versions depending upon the level of study you are looking for. The Home Study Library starts at about $120.  I would recommend starting with the Leader’s Library if possible, which runs around $260.  I use Logos every week to prepare and it’s been one of the best investments I’ve ever made.  But check out the online version first to get a taste of what’s available.

Blue Letter Bible — Another excellent searchable Bible tool.  There are a number of translations on here, and also some charts, dictionaries, timelines, and outlines of biblical books.

At any rate, these are just a few to get you started.  If anybody knows of others that are helpful, feel free to pass them along by commenting here.  Happy studying!

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Christian Music (Part 1): Rich Mullins

Wow! It’s been a month since I last posted…the time has flown.

For some time I have been wanting to write a series of posts about the Christian music that has influenced me the most throughout my life. I was a church worship leader for about ten years and have always loved music, especially when it leads me to greater understanding and worship of Jesus.

For me, any discussion of influential Christian music would have to begin with Rich Mullins (for his iTunes page, click this link: <a href=”http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/rich-mullins/id1504452?uo=4″ target=”itunes_store”>Rich Mullins</a>).

These days Rich Mullins is mostly remembered for his tragic 1997 death in a car accident, as well as for the fact that he was a bit of a radical.  He gave away most of the royalties from his tape and CD sales and for a while chose to live on a Navajo reservation in order to teach music to impoverished children. He was well-known, even in life, for saying exactly what he was thinking, even if it was unpopular or offensive. At times this was endearing, and at other times it bordered on inappropriate.

(Toward the end of his life I was involved in promoting a Rich Mullins concert at Texas A&M, and was privileged to eat one meal with him. When he found out that several members of our organization were Baptist, he told us that you should always bring two Baptists with you when you go fishing.  “Because if you only bring one, he’ll drink all your beer.” I’m not sure if the Baptist students were amused.)

What is often forgotten in the discussion of his life is that Mullins was one of the most skilled pop musicians of his generation. Those who are only familiar with his praise songs, like “Awesome God” and “Step by Step” ought to go back and listen to a more extensive sampling of his music. Mullins played several instruments prodigiously, including the piano, guitar, and hammered dulcimer. You would be hard-pressed to find a modern pop artist who had his skill on the piano. As a songwriter, he was second to none in the Christian market, and probably in the pop market as well.

Here, in my opinion, are his two best albums:

A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band (1993) — Hands down one of the best Christian albums to date. Every song has its own unique contribution, but the album sounds remarkably consistent as well. The band is tight and the songs are so well-written. Here in America is a beautiful song that places the love of Israel’s God squarely in the context of 20th century America. My favorite song, The Color Green is less known — it’s a praise song based upon the imaginary observations of a monk returning from morning prayers (Be praised for all your tenderness, by these works of your hands//suns that rise and rains that fall to bless, and bring to life your land//look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that you have made//blue for the sky and the color green//that fills these fields with praise). Creed, Peace, Hold Me Jesus, and Land of My Sojourn are other notable songs to check out.

The World as Best as I Remember It, Vol. 2 — Volume 1 is also excellent, but he stepped it up considerably with this one. Hello Old Friends feels like you are sitting in his living room hearing his heart for presenting the Gospel through music. Sometimes by Step is of course a praise music classic by now, one of the first ones I learned when leading worship. Growing Young is perhaps the most poignant song on the album, a wonderful retelling of the Prodigal Son. For quirky but meaningful songs, listen to The Maker of Noses and What Susan Said.

From Mullins’ music I learned that complex spirituality can be expressed fairly well through 3-5 minute songs, if the writer and the artist take the time to know Jesus and think carefully about how to communicate truth about Him. (My older brother and I spent 45 minutes one day, Bibles in hand, decoding Jacob and 2 Women — I don’t think there are many contemporary artists that require Bible knowledge in order to understand them.) He had a rare skill, and honestly I don’t know if today’s Christian radio would accept an artist like Mullins — he asked tough questions and gave tough answers.  The deepest problems of life were not usually wrapped up by the song’s bridge.

If you are looking, though, for challenging music to move toward worship, but also toward thoughtful consideration of your Savior, I would recommend giving some of his old stuff a spin.  For an introduction to his music, check out the album simply titled Songs.

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