Don’t Give Up

February 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

Changes-Are-Taking-Place-in-Church-Attendance-Patterns-2“And let us consider…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV)

Don’t give up church.

The first part of this plea from the writer of Hebrews charges the church not to give up meeting together as believers. You can be a Christian and never meet in a church, because “we have a great priest” in Christ (vs. 21) wherever we are. But who would want that kind of misery? There is much to gain from regular church fellowship. A great benefit is spelled out in the second message of this verse:

Don’t give up, Church.

Go to church and be found “encouraging one another,” something you can’t do outside a community of believers.  In fellowship, we can encourage brothers and sisters in our salvation because of the Lamb’s once for all sacrifice (vs. 10), in assurance of forgiveness (vs. 22), in right living (vs. 26), in confidence in what we believe (vs. 35), in perseverance in the faith (vs. 36-39).

I belong to a church that is not without struggles, as is true with any church. I’m grateful for this dual exhortation. I won’t give up on my church, and as a part of it, I can encourage others not to give up God’s work that the church was made to do for His glory.

Approaching the Bible

December 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you’re thinking about getting a Bible or getting more serious about reading the one you have, I hope that these insights from my own experience will be helpful. I will preface this by saying I’m no expert. I do have behind me a year at Emmaus Bible College, have taught some classes in Sunday School, camps and high school youth group settings, and have been in God’s Word (consistently and inconsistently at times) since childhood—but I still consider myself very much a student, and I ought to know more. That’s the fun part.

Bible_paperGET A BIBLE

The most popular versions include the New International Version (NIV), King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), New American Standard Version (NASB), New Living Translation (NLT), and English Standard Version (ESV), but there are literally hundreds of translations available. Here is an expanded list of what BibleStudyTools.com considers the best known 16 versions and a brief description of each. I think the best approach is to preview some text in each version, which About.com does here for the 6 listed above. You can also do this at Bible sites such as Bible.cc, which has 25 English versions online, and  BibleGateway.com, which has 42 English versions as well as many in other languages.

The differences are mainly translation philosophy. When translating into English from early Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts, translators can elect a form-driven, a meaning-driven approach, or somewhere in between. A form-driven (also called formal equivalence, or literal) seeks to get as close to a word-for-word translation as possible. Some consider formal equivalence more cumbersome (well, it’s formal) to read but gain more nuances and detail in what the original author penned. Meaning-driven, (also called functional or dynamic equivalence, or free) goes for the overall meaning of the passages, or a thought-for-thought approach. Functional equivalence tends to use a more contemporary and familiar style of language.

G&NTransChart

On the spectrum from formal to functional, NASB, ESV and KJV, for example, are on the formal side (word-for-word), NLT, CEV (Contemporary English Version) and Living Bible are on the functional side (thought-for-thought), and NIV is right in the middle. On the extreme end of functional equivalence lies paraphrased Bible translations such as The Message, which I’ll talk about more in a bit. But why so many approaches? There is no exact equivalent to every Greek and Hebrew word and every Greek and Hebrew construction in English, so there is room for interpretation to move in varied directions. I’ve thought that most people prefer translations that lie in the middle of the scale or lean toward the functional/thought-for-thought side. One recent survey showed that 61% of Bible readers prefer a more formal word-for-word version, which was surprising. The reason, “when asked about accuracy, the Bible readers also overwhelmingly said they preferred Bibles with strict, accurate translations over ones with ‘easy readability.'” The growing popularity of the ESV and my own Twitter poll favoring the ESV seem to confirm this.

The goal for all Bible translation is and should be a faithful and accurate rendering of the original revelation from God. Of course some versions are disputed. Some claim the KJV doesn’t utilize the most reliable manuscript sources (and some say it’s the only correct translation). I have personally found words in my NIV that I think were poor choices after I examined some sources and commentaries. And The Message has come under fire for being too free and compromising in its interpretation, if we are to consider it a true Bible translation. The Message was written by scholar Eugene H. Peterson, whereas as other translations are developed by teams of scholars in a more rigorous process. I agree with the criticism that The Message should be viewed as one man’s commentary on the Bible, not the Bible itself. Even the author has urged people not to preach directly from it. As long as we understand that, it’s no problem having one on hand as a supplement.

TorahIf all that seems overwhelming, try this. Visit a local Bible retailer and try out the few of the most popular versions: NASB, NKJV, ESV, NIV or NLT. A study version of any of those Bibles will have helpful notes that explain historical context, suggest practical application, and include cross references to find other passages related to what you’re reading. With most Bibles on the shelf, you can’t really go wrong.

Personally, I think having more than one Bible is beneficial for Bible study, although multiple versions are available online or for your smartphone (I like YouVersion’s Holy Bible app; my wife has GloBible on her phone and likes it too). I have one NIV study Bible that lives on or near the kitchen table and a smaller ESV (minus the commentary) to pack in a bag or take to church, which also serves as an alternate, slightly more formal translation in case I want to read another version of a passage. I also refer to an old NKJV I’ve had since college. If you’re just starting out with Bible reading, start simple and just get one. You can always add more later.

GOT A BIBLE? NOW GET A PLAN

Wondering what to read? If I’m talking to someone who is new to the Scriptures, I recommend they tackle the first 11 chapters of Genesis, then read John, then Romans, then whatever they like. Genesis 1-11 are events including Creation, the entrance of sin into the world, and the flood, which are events that lay the foundation for much of the Bible’s story of God’s plan of the redemption of man. John’s gospel introduces Christ and the message of salvation. Romans further explains sin and the need for Christ and walking with Him. Most new readers will probably be drawn to the New Testament and that’s okay, but the certain truths and background at the beginning of the Old Testament will help understand the main message.

In 2012 I read through the Bible in a year for the first time (New Years is a perfect time to consider something like this, right?). I used a chronological reading plan to get a historical overview of what happened in what order, since the books and chapters of the Bible are not arranged in order of when the events occurred. The chronological plan is mostly ordered like your traditional Bible, except at times you will be jumping back and forth from 1 and 2 Samuel to Psalms and 1 Chronicles. It’s an adventure! It gave me a different perspective and in a way affirmed the historicity of the Bible.

Any way you slice it, reading the whole thing in a year is 3 to 4 chapters a day, so I wouldn’t recommend this for a someone who doesn’t love to read or who might be easily discouraged if they got behind schedule. It makes a great future goal though. The downside is that with a higher volume of daily reading, there is less time for in-depth study or mulling over a passage for a more thorough understanding. I admit I have “skimmed” parts in my daily reading to keep up, mainly in Numbers and Leviticus, but again my goal was a chronological overview.

My friend and neighbor Ashley McCoy put together her own New Testament in a summer reading schedule while in college. Let me know if that sounds like a more suitable challenge for you and I can hook you up.

Devotional books are helpful to guide you through reading passages from scripture and then suggesting a practical application. Most are formatted for short daily readings. There are too many good ones to suggest a short list here, but there are plenty available, just hit up your local Christian book store.

40 QAs far as methodology for scripture study, two books I have read (at least in part) are great. 40 Questions About Interptreting the Bible by Robert L. Plummer deals with very common questions on the subject. Living by the Book by Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks explains the inductive process of observation, interpretation, application, the importance of context, and other helpful principals. There are many others too.

How-to books aside, I think the best methodology for reading scripture is to simply read it like you would read anything else. God intended that we understand the Bible, so there really is no cryptic messages to decipher or special ordination required for the reader in order the grasp its truth. Just read it.

GET AT IT AND STAY WITH IT

How do you start and stay consistent? Find a time that works for you, first of all. If I read at night, it’s not long before I fall asleep, but maybe that works best for you. I read over breakfast for about 45 minutes most days because I’m reasonably alert and ready to learn in the mornings, and it works with my schedule. Even busy people can find or create a half hour of time for reading on most days—maybe some days it’s 5 minutes. If you can’t manage that, then you probably need to drop something from your schedule before an ulcer kills you.

You may not be able to read every day, but make it a priority to read as much as you can as often as you can. Pretend it’s important, like eating. On the busy days, some food is better than none. I don’t mean to say that it isn’t important so we have to pretend it is. It’s God’s message to us, so of course it is. Often we need to tell ourselves truth in order to believe it. After a month, it will hopefully become a habit and much easier to commit to.

Pray before you read and ask God to show you something, and ask Him to help you keep at it. This works. A simple prayer for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to truth is sufficient I think. Below is part of the Prayer of St. John Chrysostom, as a model for attitude, not necessarily liturgical eloquence.

O Lord Jesus Christ, open Thou the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Thy word and understand and do Thy will, for I am a sojourner upon the earth. Hide not Thy commandments from me, but open mine eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Thy law. Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom. On Thee do I set my hope, O my God, that Thou shalt enlighten my mind and understanding with the light of Thy knowledge, not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them…

Accountability is a great idea. Tell a friend that you’re reading the Bible and have them ask you how it’s going and share what you learn. It will keep you in it and may get them in it too. Return the favor. I text verses out almost daily, from what I read in the mornings, to about 50 people. They range from grade school to adults in their 50s, some Christians, some not, all willing recipients. One purpose of this is accountability—50 people will wonder if I’m still reading my Bible if they stopped getting these texts. The other purpose is of course to spread the Word. Scripture changes lives when it gets in front of people, which I’ve heard from many of the recipients of those texts.sword

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrew 4:12, NIV)

I’ve personally seen the truth of that verse in action as lives have been changed by God’s word, at least three this year, and many more in years past. Whatever your schedule or level of motivation, do what you can to get the Bible in front of you. Then get it in front of others.

Full

December 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

This time of year we may experience more often than usual the feeling of a full stomach. When you’ve had enough to eat, you know you can’t fit any more food in you, so you stop… unless you’re a Rottweiler.

BurgerHunger is like a vacuum. Where there is a void, there is a yearning to fill it with something. Sometimes we make good choices on what we eat. Sometimes we hit the drive-thru.

The human heart is like a vacuum too. If it feels empty, we will fill it. Sometimes we choose poorly in the filling of our hearts. Once sin finds a home in our heart and mind, showing up in our habits and lifestyle, there’s really just one way to eliminate it effectively. In a practical sense, it can’t be simply removed or forgotten. When you pull something from a vacuum, low pressure forces draw it—or something else nearby—back into it. It must be replaced, selectively, with something good.

There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.
~Blaise Pascal (French Mathematician, Philosopher and Physicist, 1623-1662)

Pascal recognized the vacuum in the human heart that only found true satisfaction in God. Paul encouraged Christians to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”, (Colossians 3:2) and warned against superficial vices: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)

Choose to ingest Him—through prayer, reading His word, practice worship and right living, and fellowship with other believers. When you are full of something good, there simply isn’t room for lesser things.

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:5-11)

Eat up!

What On Earth Are You Waiting For?

October 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

God calls people to action. Here are a few of many such callings to “go” in Scripture.

The call of Abram (Genesis 12:1-9): “The Lord had said to Abram,’Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.'”

The call of Isaac (Genesis 26:2-6):  “The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.'”

Moses and the Burning Bush by Domenico Fetti, 1615-1617

The call of Moses (Exodus 3:10-12): “‘So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people the Israelites out of Egypt.’”

The call of Jonah (Jonah 1:2):  “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’”

Jesus calls His first disciples (Mark 1:17): “Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out…”

Jesus sends out seventy-two to preach (Luke 10:3): “‘Go! I am sending you out…”

The Great Commission for all believers (Matthew 28:19): “‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…'”

The last call is Jesus’ parting mission for His followers. If we are His follower, it’s likely that someone in our lives took this mission seriously. And if we are His followers, this is our mission too. Christians are supposed to lead others to Jesus. We also are to be living for God, reading His word, praying, worshiping, fellowshipping with other Christians, and striving to be like Christ, putting our Creator first in our lives and loving our neighbors as we do ourselves.

But have you asked yourself, are you ready to really live out the Christian life? Are you prepared to present the Gospel to someone? Are you confident you can give an adequate defense for your faith? Have you memorized enough scripture? Do you read the Bible and pray daily? Have you gotten your Bible college or seminary degree? Or at least taken some good notes at Bible camp? Are you a regular and active member in your church? Are you mature enough? Have you forgiven your enemies and kicked all your bad habits? Theologically, do you know your stuff well enough talk about God to the really smart guy in class or at the office that likes to throw around million dollar words?

When we look at the examples in Scripture of God calling people into ministry, we almost never see a prolonged time of preparation or training for the ministry. God just says “go.” The truth is, if we wait until we think we are “good” enough and therefore ready to fully embrace Christianity, we won’t be ready in this lifetime.

Paul, after writing about what it means to live like a Christian, admits he is far from perfect:

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things…. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Phil. 3:12-16)

Paul knew he wasn’t there yet, but he knows he needs to press on with an eye on the prize, not on the past or even so much on the present. Christians are a work in process, but during the process, we need to work. Waiting until we are good enough, old enough, smart enough, spiritual enough, confident enough, or some other arbitrary point of progress is the biggest thing that can keep us from progress. Some things we need to wait for and prepare for, but a committed pursuit of Christ isn’t one of them. He didn’t wait to pursue you—“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” (Rev. 3:20)

Speaking of Christ’s pursuit of you, if you’re looking for motivation to get serious, gratitude for His pursuit ought to be enough. Think long and hard about the great lengths the Savior went on our behalf, and getting in the game ought to be an easier decision.

Considering the brevity and mist-like consistency of life (James 4:14), how can we delay becoming a full-fledged disciple of Christ? Life is fleeting. The people you can have an eternal impact on will come into your life and they will leave your life, often unexpectedly. They may even take their own life or have it stolen from them. Meanwhile, here we sit, just across the street or across the hall or across the classroom aisle quietly preparing to one day be a Christian so we can reach out to them.

There’s another motivation that is hard to see without experience that comes from faith: I invite you, as Jesus did (John 1:39, 43), and the disciples did (John 1:46) to make other disciples: “Come and see.”

More than once Paul compares the Christian life to running a race. What would it take to get in the race, instead of strolling along the sidelines or just warming the bench waiting for confidence to arrive? Get this: To train for a race, you do the same thing you do in the actual race. You run. If you feel you need to train first to whole-heartedly go after Christ, then whole-heartedly going after Christ is your training—and the race. (Related post: Don’t Settle for Half)

If you’ve been putting off getting serious about Jesus, today is the perfect day to get serious. What on earth are you waiting for? There is nothing on earth that will prepare you, and it’s heaven that we are seeking anyway. Press on, and start today!

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