Archive for ‘Christian Living’

June 16, 2010

Two “F words”

This week has been great for some valuable blog posts. I shared Tim Challies’ article the other day, which I think may be his best article (period). Jonathan Acuff also has a great blog – the best for daily Christian living . His article today is one example of why that is true. Check it out here.

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June 15, 2010

A Parody of Ourselves

Tim Challies wrote an article that all young Calvinists in America need to read. You can find it here.

June 9, 2010

My Most Famous Recipe of All

I like to call this recipe IT HAS BEEN A GREAT NINE YEARS BEAUTIFUL LADY.

Recipe follows:

Ingredients:

3 parts princesses
1 part Hurricane Katrina
1 Part Fiasco at Festus
1 Part Job Loss
6-7 Parts Cars
1 miscarriage
2 willing servants
1 Awesome God

Cooking instructions:

Take two willing servants and bake into cohesive mold with Awesome God. Take out of oven and add two cars. While still warm add miscarriage. Continue to hold steady with Awesome God. while cooling add another car and two princesses. Mix in blender with Hurricane Katrina. Take out of blender using Awesome God. Form should still be in mold as held together by Awesome God. Add another car and another princess. Throw into food processor and dice with Fiasco at Festus. Do silly dance of praise because food processor can’t put asunder what Awesome God has put together. Add another car, mix with job loss, bake for nine years, take out of oven and add another car. Recipe calls for many more years of exciting ingredients to be added, proceed with joy.

Thanks for the wonderful years my sweet lady. Dare I say I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us next. Love you bunches.

May 31, 2010

About Bible Translations

“What translation do you use?” Is that some secret code I need to know? Is there a litmus test among Christians that reflects one’s maturity based upon the translation you use? Is it a sign of intelligence or spiritual growth? Perhaps different spiritual gifts respond better to different translations.

When people use to ask me that question of translations I use to answer “umm, Greek for the New Testament and Hebrew for the Old Testament. You?” They would look at me cross-eyed as if I had just spoken Greek to them. As they walked away shaking their head I would call after them, “Wait! Wait! I didn’t mean it…” But it was too late, they were gone. And while extremely cool for reading the original languages of the biblical text, I found myself all alone. But that is what I get for hearing the words that are coming out of yo’ mouth.

Now when people ask me this question I hear this question instead, “If you didn’t know Hebrew or Greek which translation would you use?” But what I really answer is “Based on what you know about me, what translation would you recommend?” That’s when I pull out my handy-dandy white board and start drawing stick figures and say “Man-Adam…Woman-Eve.” Then I give a few grunts for emphasis. Sometimes, if it seems appropriate, I’ll actually find a table to climb and start beating my chest as I scream like a chimpanzee. It all seems proper to me.

I love this intramural competition between translations. Mine is better than yours. Why isn’t there a trophy that has a representation of a representation of a bible on it and which ever translation wins that year would be considered the “authorized version” for the year? There could be multiple categories to decipher the winner. Categories to determine the winner would include:

  1. The Best Selling Bible Translation of the Year: Easy enough category, which translation sold the most that year – NIV, KJV, ESV, etc… – one point
  2. The Best Growth in Sales for a Translation in the Last Year: Which translation experienced the greatest growth in sales in the last year. Probably a newer translation, maybe the HCSB or NIrV? One point.
  3. The Best Study Bible Translation: Take inventory of all the study bibles out there and which ever translation has the best study bibles committed solely to that translation gets a point.
  4. Translations that have exhaustive concordances dedicated to them – two points.
  5. Bible study literature (SS literature counts) paying royalties for use of bible version – one point.
  6. Bible translation created so you don’t have to pay someone else for royalties – five points.
  7. Number of revisions for translation – one point per revision.
  8. “New” versions of older translations: Like the New King James or the New American Standard – one point.

Then you take the top three versions and put them into a final round where some arbitrary verses are picked utilizing a lottery ball vacuum cage thingy. The first ball sucked up into its tube would pick the book of the bible. The next ball would pick the chapter. The third ball would pick the starting verse and the last ball would pick the ending verse. There would also be a power ball that would pick a comparison text elsewhere in the Bible. Which ever translation did the best job with the text and its comparison text, as chosen by our celebrity guest Christian judges, wins! Then none of us would have to worry about which translation to rely on in the upcoming year.

Sadly, I don’t see this happening any day soon. So until then I have a few pointers that I think are worth considering as you chose a translation in your personal study.

  1. Use multiple legitimate translations: The reality is that by referring to multiple translations you will get the underlying issues the interpreters wrestled with as they sought to accurately translate the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible into your modern day langauge.
  2. Have a word-for-word base translation that you are comfortable with in doing your verse-by-verse studies. It will then simply become your compass in that you have a version you can continue to come back to when you need to regain focus and familiarity. I like the NASB for this use personally. In part because I find the “awkwardness” (the version’s primary criticism) of the text an aid in forcing me to focus and think through what the text is saying. It is much harder to gloss over the text in a version you have to labor over.
  3. Have a readable translation you can curl around with a cup of coffee (or tea…I guess) that you don’t have to work so hard to read for those times in the day when you need to read through long passages, an entire book or as you do your “read through the bible in a year” plan. Have that really readable version. One of my friends is a big New Living Translation fan for this.  Notice the difference in rule 2 and rule 3. Rule 2 likes to look at the tree and Rule 3 likes to look at the forest. I keep changing my readable translation but I like the NET right now.
  4. Have a memorable translation. By memorable I mean one that seems to read the way you think. This way it is easier for you to memorize. My translation for this is the HCSB. After the HCSB I probably would go with the ESV and the NIV. But I’m just simply giving you examples. Many people like the KJV here because they love the beauty of the old english and find it easier to remember. What ever works.
  5. Stay away from the mentality of “authorized version.” I’m not talking about the KJV when I say this, but the idea that “my translation is the best translation.” It is a ridiculous statement. There simply is no such thing as the best English translation. It confuses the issue, creates arrogance, makes us boastful, becomes resistance to change, can result in idolatry and probably a litany of other things.  If you disagree with the decision of the translators on a specific verse in a specific version than good for you. You probably should, whether it is a difference in punctuation or word choice, but that opinion doesn’t delegitimize the translation, rather just strengthens the need to consider multiple translations.
  6. Wrestle with this issue. So far this entire blog has been academic to most of us because we simply don’t even deal with this issue of translations. We stay largely apathetic. I’m glad to know many people will disagree with me after engaging in their own study of the versions. So don’t take my word for it…

And a neat video promoting the HCSB that does a good job explaining the driving ideas behind translation philosophy.  Enjoy

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “About the HCSB Translation“, posted with vodpod

May 15, 2010

Welcome MEA: America’s Newest Athletic Adventure

With postseason basketball upon us, this seems an appropriate time to consider the announcement of a newly formed professional league to vie for your attention. Move over NBA, and let’s give a hearty applause to the MEA. The MEA was in the process of announcing its primary market yesterday at a press conference when controversy broke out from a leaked audio recording. While initially shocked by the very fact that a new sporting league was already shrouded in controversy, I am quickly coming to the realization that apparently it can’t be a sporting event without some type of controversy. Back to the MEA controversy….

Yesterday, the president of the Monastic Evangelical Association – or MEA, Hermit Benedict, was announcing the need for a growing need for a new and more professional type of monasticism in evangelical life. “We need to refine the art of piety to the heights of superstardom. Then, as children grow up dreaming of becoming their favorite MEA player, we will compete with the NBA, NFL and other sporting franchises for the hearts, minds and physical talents of the phenoms that are around us. The next generation of MEA superstars will bring overwhelming moral and religious commentary on our culture in a single solitary meditation.” Benedict proclaimed. He continued by saying that “while we need superstars, there can be no doubt this is a team event.”

However, contrary to Benedict’s claims, a recording of a private meeting reportedly held a day earlier between owners of MEA teams was leaked. Benedict was quoted in this recording as saying that despite the public mission statement of the MEA (which reads “Committed to promote godliness while simultaneously condemning cultural sins”) the purpose of the MEA is to take attention from the everyday evangelical Christian so they can live their life in unrepentant sin without anyone noticing. He went on to say, “With MEA superstars garnishing the attention we will successfully alleviate any expectation of Joe Christian to live a godly life publicly. After all, we all know that only some of us are really God’s superstars.”

The implications of such an attitude calls into question Benedict’s claims at the initial press release by wondering if the purpose of the MEA is really to call attention to “culturally driven sins”, as Benedict calls them, or if it is really to allow the church to continue in those sins with little accountability.

It was discovered that the person responsible for the leak was a top executive in the MEA, a man by the name of Martin Luther, who is now being call the Benedict Arnold of the league.  While refusing an interview, his advocate released the following statement on his behalf, “It is our belief that all Christians are accountable to God to live a godly life while being a part of their respective cultures. We are told to be both salt and light. Mr. Luther correctly believed that despite the claims of piety that come with any type of monasticism, it is in fact a back door entry to let most Christians go unaccountable as they buy into a pragmatic philosophy of ‘well, I’ll never be [insert MEA superstar name here] so why try.'”

In the swirls of controversy, this reporter was left wondering who exactly is an ideal prospect for the MEA and what demographic would be its likely target. The Press Secretary of the MEA, Ethane Gantry Tho, was glad to give some fast facts about this breakout league. My interview with him follows:

IS: How did you get involved with the MEA?
EGT: I’ve been here since the beginning.
IS: How is this league going to look?
EGT: Like baseball, the MEA will have a farming system. The entry-level league is commonly called “The robe wearing league.” That promises for some interesting games of piety. The second level is the Kibbutz league, where farming is refined to a holy skill with the professional league garnishing the nickname “the Meade League” for obvious reasons. Each team will be from a specific denomination, with interdenominational play being the large makeup of the season’s games.
IS: Where do you expect most of your players to come from?
EGT: Prospects will only be considered from the professional ministry leadership of local churches.
IS: You aren’t accepting laity?
EGT: If you aren’t getting paid now, don’t expect to get paid in the future. And if you are getting paid now, don’t expect to get paid in the future.
IS: You’re smiling as you say this. Why such an emphasis on the clergy?
EGT: Because Christian superstars only come from clergy. It is a known fact. We’re only interested in superstars.
IS: Is there a specific kind of clergy you are looking for?
EGT: Yes, we are only looking for clergy who are currently superstars. These will be men and women who do everything for their church. Their unofficial job description shows them as the teacher, preacher, minister, evangelist, servant, hand maid and butler for everyone else in the church. If a church has anyone else volunteer to do any physical labor other than the clergy than, frankly, he just is not our man (or woman). We especially look for micromanaging churches. They produce the best overall monastic athlete.

The entire interview left me wondering one question. Is your church MEA material?

May 12, 2010

Y’all is required English

While engaging in an email conversation the other day, a friend lamented my written usage of “y’all” in our correspondence. After cordially (and immediately) responding to him, I realized that a larger audience is in need of my valuable insights concerning the value of this precious commodity.  In this regard I have inserted my response to my friend with a few additional flourishes just to make it appear that I am instantly witty in tart replies to the nay-sayers of Israel. Be thou one of them?

Dear Christian,

Thank you for your sweet concern in regards to my usage of the English language. However “y’all” is more refined than you credit. In fact, to argue against y’all in the English language is to argue for an antiquated system that is evolutionarily stuck in the mud. Why? Because  languages typically differentiate between second person singular and plural. I admit at this point that I have not done an exhaustive survey, but all of the languages I have an acquaintance with do.

Specifically, I have in view (Ancient) Hebrew and (Koine) Greek. First let us consider Genesis 1:29-30, where we are informed “Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;  and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. ” Our concern in this text is the word “you” which I emphasized with bold letters to make reference easy.  A good translation of this text would read “Behold, I have given y’all every plant.. and it shall be food for y’all.” Can you imagine the infighting that would have occurred had Hebrew been like English?

Adam: Yup, you heard God. These plants, trees, fruit, beast, birds, creepy crawlies are all mine.”
Eve: What? But what about me?
Adam: What about you? That’s not my problem. Did you hear God? He used the singular masculine second person pronoun. That puts you out of the mix little darling. After all, I don’t want to go against God’s plan.
Eve: (crying as she runs out of the Garden of Eden)
Adam: (Whistling Dixie as he checks of the first, and only, battle won by men in the war of the sexes.)

You can only imagine how that application of that verse would have gone down in history. But thanks be to God, Hebrew can differentiate second person pronouns from singular to plural (as well as masculine and feminine).

Or how about in 1 Corinthians 16:14 when Paul instructs, “Let all that you do be done in love.” I can see the Corinthian church arguing over this one.

Chloe: You heard him Priscilla! You best start doing everything in love! Uh-huh.
Priscilla: Uh, I think he was talking to all of us.
Chloe: No he wasn’t (snapping her fingers in a circle). He was talking to you. If he was talking to all of us it would have been a second person plural pronoun. Boo-ya! You got served.
Priscilla: Who are you?

Thankfully the Greek has a second person plural pronoun so Chloe and Priscilla didn’t have this confusion and neither do we – that is if we can read Greek. As I lament, English does not have a second person plural pronoun to help distinguish these beautiful biblical nuances – unless you happen to have within your repertoire the poignant “y’all.” Then there can be mutual understanding so no equivocating can take place. For example, let’s say I wrote to you the following:

“Dearest Christian, I do hope with all sincerity that all is well with you.” And, of course, you were deeply moved by my incredible showmanship of empathy and reported such to your wife who tartly responded with “Well how do you like that, he asks about you but no one else. Well, there are more people in this church than just you. I’ve never! The man has no heart I tell you!”

And now I’m in a pickle so to speak. What to do, what to do? The answer, my friend, is to be a linguistic aficionado and utilize English to its fullest potential. Do I dare let others have the second person plural but not us? No I say! We will not be left alone. We will not go down on a sinking ship. We can be progressive by turning back the tables to an earlier time and better syntactical usage of pronouns to carry the weight of specificity into our daily conversations!”

For some reason I now feel like yelling at the top of my lungs so let me leave you with this picture: Just imagine William Wallace, as played by Mel Gibson, at the end of Braveheart scream “FREEDOM Y’ALL!” instead of just “FREEDOM!” Now that my friends gives me the shivers; that is powerful indeed. Who knew William Wallace that you meant for all of us to have freedom? Who knew?

May 3, 2010

Scotch Tape Christians

In our small group – (cough: Sunday School) – discussion yesterday at church we discussed the need for transparency in our lives as Christians. Here is how our pretend conversation went:

Me: Let’s talk about transparency.
Guy 1: I’d love to.
Me: Great! What do you think on the subject?
Guy 1: That’s none of your business.
Me: Okay….anyone else.
Guy 2: I think it is a good idea for us to talk about transparency.
Me: So…you think transparency is a good thing?
Guy 2: Haven’t I already shared enough?

read more »

May 1, 2010

Christian Horror

The new Nightmare on Elm Street came out yesterday. I’m not really afraid of Freddy or Jason or Pinhead. They just don’t scare me. Alright, Freddy a little but the others are bogus. What does scare me is the zombie who looks like a normal person walking down the street. You know the guy – the one who is decked out in an Ashworth, Birkenstocks and Italian designer jeans. Looks normal, sounds normal. But he isn’t normal. One second you’re talking about something innocuous and the next thing you know he’s pummeling you with an axe like Mario on steroids in that old Nintendo game. Can you hear the music in the background? AAAHHHH! That is frightening.

Don’t know what I”m talking about? Let me give you a G rated example. In this scenario I’m the zombie.

You: Did you see the game last night?
Me: No.
You: Yeah, it was a 20 inning stretch.
Me: You know what bothers me? Renée Zellweger. I was watching a movie the other night – with my wife OF COURSE – and she was running in it.  Only, her running was horrible. I’ve seen better form on a flock of geese. Seriously, she was trying to create a monsoon with the sheer force of her wind turbulence. Can you imagine? A monsoon that all started because someone couldn’t take the time to get their running form straight? And how many takes did they do of that scene? 4, 8, 12? That’s the entire hurricane season right there and it as all do to Renée Zellweger. Thanks Renée. Perhaps her public safety announcements should be to herself.
You:  (Pummeled to death)

read more »

April 25, 2010

Fasting

How many types of fasts are there? Tom Ascol lists at least nine  in his blog. They are:

  1. A Normal Fast involves abstaining from all food, but not from water. (Mt. 4:2
  2. A Partial Fast is a limitation of the diet but not abstention from all food. (Dan. 1:12; Mt. 3:4)
  3. An Absolute Fast is the avoidance of all food & liquid, even water. (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9).
  4. A Supernatural Fast which require God’s supernatural intervention into the bodily processes and are not repeatable apart from the lord’s specific calling & miraculous provision. (Deut. 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8)
  5. A Private Fast is the one referred to most often by Jesus, and should be done without calling attention to oneself. (Mt. 6:16-18)
  6. Congregational Fasts involve the church participating together. (Joel 2:15-16; Acts 13:2)
  7. A National Fast is a call to the nation to fast. (2 Chron. 20:3; Neh.9:1; Jonah 3:5-8) (The US Congress has called 3 national fasts, under John Adams, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln)
  8. There was one Regular Fast under the Old Covenant. (Lev. 16:29-31)
  9. Occasional Fasts which occur on special occasions as the need arises. (Mt. 9:15)

The article in its entirety is worth reading.

April 20, 2010

The Weight of the Cross

Many times I have considered the weight of the cross as Jesus bore it. By that I don’t mean just physical weight, say 250 lbs or whatever; rather, I have in view the ontological weight. By that I mean the weight that came with becoming a substitute for us when he who knew no sin became a curse for us who are by our fallen nature sinners. In one sense I don’t think we will ever fully grasp the immense cost (i.e. weight) of this act – even after God brings things back to rights in the future. For all eternity we will dwell and we will grow immensely in our knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice due to our exposure to God’s holiness, but I doubt that we as finite beings will ever grasp that which is infinite in value becoming a sacrifice and then the turmoil it must have caused in his being as God Jesus took on the task of the cross.

At the same time, I think it is an appropriate exercise to consider this question because Scripture gives us hints which communicate the depths of the pain and suffering that Jesus went through on the cross. For example, we know that Jesus cried “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34) And this one example is one apple in a barrel of examples of excruciating biblical examples that pound into us the reality that the cross was a cosmically cataclysmic difficult task that the Son of Man carried out.

In my devotional time there is a thought that has brought me closer to grasping this weight perhaps more than any other. To set it up, you have to understand how Jewish thought worked throughout biblical times. Specifically I have in view the way Hebrews would communicate superlatives in Hebrew and then by extension in thought even if they were speaking in Aramaic or Greek.

While Ancient Hebrew also shares many of the same linguistic tools we have to show emphasis and make superlatives comparisons/statements they also utilized something we don’t – namely, they would repeat the word twice in a row. For example, in Psalm 148:4 creation is instructed to “Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!” The phrase “highest heavens” is what has my attention here. In Hebrew, it reads woodenly  “heaven heaven” or “sky, sky” depending on context. The idea is even to the highest heights imaginable, even these heights are under God’s sovereignty and thus are due to give him praise. What I want you to get from this is the superlative nature of the use of the repetitive nature of the syntax. Specifically, there is no higher heaven than that which the Hebrew has in mind. It is an “est” superlative, not an “er” one – like “strongest” not “stronger.” Does that make sense? I hope so, because you have to get this clarification to go where I’m going and I want you to come on this journey with me.  (Cf Dt 10:14; 1 Kgs 8:27;  2 Chr 6:18; Neh 9:6. Oh, also check out Gen 2:17 where “die” is repeated twice in the Hebrew at the end making a very interesting statement about what kind of death comes with eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.)

In the Old Testament we have a multitude of various ideas that are furthered like this – and we even see it evidenced in Jewish thought in the New Testament. This is what is happening when Jesus says the powerful proclamation of “truly, truly” throughout the Gospels. This is lagniappe, but worth the diversion – in the first century after a rabbi would issue a teaching the listening rabbis, scribes and religious leaders would say “amen” (meaning truly; its the same word Jesus says – gives depth to when you say “amen”) giving their seal of approval on the teaching. Then the common listener would accept the teaching as trustworthy. But when Jesus says “Amen, amen” at the beginning of his teachings he is making a declarative statement in both its placement in the teaching and his repeating of it. Jesus means to communicate that he speaks truth and has authority to validate its authenticity without the input of the religious leaders. It was shocking to hear for the first century Jew. (Back from the rabbit trail) What it does for us is show that this thinking was still very much part of Jewish communication even when speaking in Aramaic or Greek.

Back to the Old Testament, there is only one attribute of God that gets the superlative royal treatment and that is God’s holiness. And it is not repeated twice in a row, but three times in a row! It is the Hebrew superlative of all superlatives. The Bible doesn’t claim “God is love, love, love” nor does it say that “God is mercy, mercy, mercy” nor does it say that “God is justice, justice, justice” but it does say that God is holy, holy, holy. Isaiah 6:3 gives us that grand picture in the throne room of Heaven where the Seraphim are crying out, “And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!'”

I lament my inability to convey the depth and width of this amazing claim that communicates to us just how holy God is because we struggle to grasp holiness in all its otherness to what we are, but to get sin you must first get God’s holiness. And of course, this is where any hope of understanding the weight of the cross must begin. It is not by accident then that there is a connection between holiness and glory, for glory in Hebrew has behind it the sense of weight literally carrying the connotation of heaviness. God’s glory is a heavy thing indeed.

With this in mind, now perhaps hear the precious words of the world’s only Savior as he tells us how much our sins weighed upon him with the looming cross drawing ever nearer. Matthew 26:37-45

And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Many things from this text are important – the fact that Jesus is looking for comfort and encouragement from his human companions, some of the very sheep for whom he will be slaughtered, and their constant inability to stay away after having their fill of food and wine from the passover feast.  But I want to focus on his time with his father as he comes before the Father’s throne. The very purpose he came to earth about to culminate into the climax of the cross – a path God had set before the foundation of the world and something Jesus did willingly and of his own volition. No one made him give up his own life; it was his to give and he gave it of his own accord. But the joy of the cross as it was set before him was the conquering of death. But now, in the Garden of Gethsemane the looming of the pain of his anticipation of being a substitutionary atonement who is sacrificed while incurring a debt that was not his brought a weight that caused him to the superlative of all superlatives. It is by no mistake we are given a different superlative this night – where Peter denies to the third degree, but Jesus will not deny the Father. Still, he comes into communion with the Father and asks not once, not twice but three times that the cup of the cross pass from him.

How much did the cross weigh on Jesus’ mind? More than anything has weighed on the mind of anyone else ever. It is the superlative that conveys the weight of the cross as only a Jew could communicate. “Take this cup from me!” Again, “Take this cup from me!” and again, “Take this cup from me.” What can conquer such a burden? How does Jesus fight through this terrible anxiety that he is experiencing?

“But not my will be done, but yours.”

Again, “Not my will be done, but yours.”

And again, “Not my will be done, but yours.”

And yet again for a fourth time for that is what is behind Jesus words when he says “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”