The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translation…

I posted last week about the need to pick one translation of the Bible to teach with, and thought this would be a good time to do so, in accordance with the need to get a large print Bible for teaching purposes. I polled the congregation to get an idea as to what most people use when they follow along with me, and got mixed results. But also playing largely in the decision was my thoughts on the best translation for both study and public reading purposes (Note, I’ve been using HCSB all along for sermon prep, along with several other translations.). I started this post as an actual Bible review for my new teaching Bible (coming soon), but thought the translation talk would bloat that review, since it’ll be a review of an actual Bible and not the HCSB translation itself. So, here’s my thoughts on the HCSB and why I decided to return to it for public teaching…

(1) It’s a translation.

That may seem like a bit of needless or redundant information, but it’s pertinent. Almost all of the new ‘translations’ in the past 30 years or so have been revision of older (some quality) translations. The NKJV, ESV, NRSV, NLT while great translation which I highly respect and actually use for both study and devotional reading, are all revisions–not new translations.

Now, there is nothing wrong with revisions. There are good points to a revision, but a new translation that uses the latest in discoveries per manuscripts, ancient languages, ancient cultures, etc, is a good thing if the translators use proper translation principles. The HCSB does, as we’ll discuss.

(2) It’s a trustworthy translation.

The translation philosophy was to be as literal as possible, while expressing the thoughts and intents of the author in a way that we can best understand them. In other words, it’s not a paraphrase. The translators tried to be as literal as possible, but they made allowances for such things as literal word order, and translated cultural idioms (which would have been lost on us) into phrases that get the point across.

To be honest, I’ve always been a little conflicted about the two translation philosophies. Is it better to translate literally what they wrote, and leave interpretation to the reader? One would think so. Especially if the reader has the technical knowledge to correctly interpret. (But how many do? How many know that the phrase “I gave you whiteness of teeth”, in OT Israel, was a bad thing? How many know that it’s a description of starvation?)

Or is it best to translate something into a less literal format that is more comprehensible to the reader?  I’m conflicted, except for the fact that I’m realizing that the purpose of language is to get the thought across in such a way that the reader can comprehend. I may use technical language to a fellow System’s Analyst and non-technical language to my wife, who just recently broke down and accepted a smart phone. Either is appropriate, and either is inappropriate, depending on who the audience is, and whether they can understand what I’m saying. That’s what I’ve come to.

I think the HCSB, of the translations available to us today, does the best job of walking the line of literal but understandable. It’s made only better by the fact that it is better ‘footnoted’ than any translation I have ever come across. If they make a decision between different manuscript evidences, they give alternates in the footnote. If they make a decision to not translate something literally, they offer a footnote offering the literal translation.

So… It’s trustworthy, yet easy to read. It’s perfect for my study and teaching Bible.

For more detail than you probably want on translation philosophy, go here.

(3) As mentioned above, it’s easy to read.

The language is concise and natural, which lends itself well to public reading. This is a big deal for me. As mentioned in my other post, there are a couple of decisions that have made it a bit harder at times to read aloud–like the use of “Messiah” when the traditions in my brain are expecting “Christ”. But in researching their motives in making such changes, it makes sense, I’ll deal with it, and I can defend their decisions if anyone ever asks me about it. It’s not a deal-breaker.

(4) I had gotten lots of folks in our congregation hooked on the HCSB, then quit teaching from it for a while.

I have no good reason for not using it on Sunday mornings. I have a lot of good reasons to use it. I have always loved it. And I have to look people that I love in the face every week.  (OK… This wasn’t really the big reason, but it looks good on the blog.)

So, that was the translation decision, if not a full translation review.

 

 

Without faith…

I am convinced of something… If you are going to claim to be a follower of Jesus, God will not allow you to live in your comfort zone. He just won’t do it. We should stop trying right now, just get over it, and continue along our spiritual journey.

Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith, it is impossible to please God because (a) we’re called to come near to Him and (b) to draw near to Him we must first believe that He exists and (c) He rewards those who seek Him. The rest of the chapter basically recounts OT examples of what it cost people to do this.

Think about this for a second. We are called to draw near to God. That would be easier for me if He showed up and began splitting cows as proof of His covenant, like He did for Abraham. It would be easier if He was explicit in His direction and promises like He was then–telling me where to go and what (personally) was awaiting me.

It would be easier if He was the voice from a burning bush–if He was pillars of fire and smoke–like He was for Moses. Something physical that I could follow with my eyes, or maybe even with my nose. Someone I could meet on the mountain and have conversations with.

But no. That’s not for you and I most of the time. Most of the time, we’re just told to draw near to Him. We’re told to just believe that He exists and He’ll reward us if we seek Him.

I’m making some choices right now that will require faith. The stakes are going up and I’m feeling it. I don’t want to move when He hasn’t said to, nor do I want to stand still when He’s calling me to take a step. Moving may be wrong. Inaction may be wrong. I see no fire and I smell no smoke.

I just have my faith and a pursuit of God.

I’m outside of my comfort zone.

But I also praise God for that verse up top there. I praise God that I have access and privilege to draw near Him. I take comfort in the promise that He will reward me for my efforts. Note that… For my efforts. He rewards those who seek Him. It doesn’t get explicit and say that He rewards those who find His perfect will and walk perfectly within it.

He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

I’ll do that. I’ll earnestly seek Him and His will. I’ll follow His will as closely as I can interpret it. And I will take faith in the fact that He’ll reward my efforts. He’s big enough to tell me what He wants if I’ll listen, and powerful enough to reward/cover even my mistakes if they’re honest mistakes.

Out of your comfort zone right now?

Believe Him. Seek Him. Follow Him. Then trust Him and not yourself. Walk confidently evenly while you’re seeking Him.

Bible translations…

OK… I have another confession to make.

The older I get, the harder Sunday morning preaching is on my eyes. It’s getting harder and harder to turn the slight blur on my Bible pages into spoken words for the congregation.

I’m forced into the regions of the large print Bible.

While I was as the used book store the other day, I picked up a couple of nice large print slim-line Bibles for potential use. Then I happened to think: “This would be a great time to settle on a more stable version to teach, out of respect for the congregation so that they can know what I’ll be teaching from and get the same version if it’s that important to them. (It’s a smaller deal than it sounds, since it’s just the Sunday morning teaching Bible. I use no less than five translations for study and sermon prep.)

I’ve been bouncing between the ESV, HCSB, NKJV and occasionally the NASB (mostly the ESV lately) to teach from. I like them all, by the way.

So, I’m asking our folks at CCO, what translation do you bring to church to study along with me? I know a few folks went to HCSB when I started teaching from it. I love that translation. The main reason I stopped teaching from it as often is a nit-picky and selfish one. It was awkward for me to read aloud, “Jesus Messiah” when my brain is screaming “Jesus Christ”.

Yah. Stupid I know. I’m funny that way sometimes.

I know a few have the NKJV, and I really like it. I’m familiar with it, which makes it easier to read aloud at times. But, to be honest, it retains a lot of awkward sentence structure from the original KJV, which makes it awkward for me to read aloud at other times.

I like the ESV. But it too has some of the awkward sentence structure too.

Ditto the NASB.

One of the large print slim-lines I got was a NLTv2. I know it gets a bad name because of the Living Bible paraphrase, but I’ve been using the revised NLT ever since about 2005, and I have to say, I’ve been impressed with its overall trustworthiness. This is no paraphrase. It’s a legitimate translation, and I’m intrigued by the thought of public teaching from it. It sure would be easier to read and hear aloud.

But alas. I’d like to settle on something that would serve the greatest part of the congregation.

So… CCO… What translation do you use? What do you prefer? Do you care? Let me know in the comments section below!

A Kingdom Harvest…

I taught the first half of Matthew 13 this week and loved the Word time in preparation. God seems to always filter a sermon through me before He unleashes it on the world. In other words, my toes get stepped on first; I am encouraged first; I am challenged first; I am humbled first…

One key theme in Christ’s Kingdom talk resonated with me much this past week. Sunday, I gave the theme mention but not what it deserves. (To give all of the Word all that it deserves every Sunday, we’d probably cover a verse a week, I guess.) So I wanted to give more spotlight to this Kingdom Key.

In Matthew 13, when Jesus explained the Parable of the Seed/Soil, He explained the soils.

There is trampled soil (a person’s heart) that is too pressed down and busy for the seed (Word of God) to penetrate. So the seed doesn’t penetrate and no germination happens. The birds (evil one) steal the seed and the soil remains dead.

There is rocky soil. This is a heart will little depth and rock close beneath the surface. Puny roots develop, so when the heat of the sun (problems) comes along, the plant which sprang up quickly, quickly dries and dies out. There was growth, but no fruit.

There is soil with brambles and briers. The seed takes root, but is soon crowded out and smothered by parasitic competition. The briers and brambles represent the cares of the world–anxieties and materialism. The plant may come to a semblance of maturity, but it is killed off by competition and never bears fruit.

Then there is the good soil. It is deep and soft. The seed germinates with life. It grows deep roots that nourish it through droughts and it escapes the competition of thorns. Because it is nourished, it grows tall and strong. In its season, it bears fruit to bountiful harvest. It’s a beautiful picture of the Christian. The seed dies and gives life to a new plant. That plant is rooted and immovable. It is connected to the life-giving nourishment of Christ and flows with living water. Through spiritual photosynthesis, that living water is transformed into a harvest of fruit that blesses the vineyard owner.

The running theme of the Kingdom of God is ‘bear much fruit’. We get caught up in the process and think that the process is a means to itself. Be planted in the word… Soften your heart… Endure the heat of trials… Resist the call of worldly pleasures and treasures… ‘Be mature…’

All of this is wonderful, and we shan’t minimize the importance of holiness, maturity, steadfastness and right priorities. But that’s all a part of the process. Even when James tells us to let troubles have their way with us that we may be perfected… I think even he knew he was just describing the process and not the end result.

In the Kingdom economy, it always comes back to harvest. It always comes back to bearing much fruit. It always comes back to God producing something in us to be shared.

Are you reading your Word and planting the seed deep? Praise God! But it’s merely a part of the spiritual process. Is it bearing fruit? Are you plugged into Jesus and rooted in Him? Praise God! Are you bearing fruit? Are you enduring problems? Praise God! Is it bearing fruit? Are you resisting the idolatry of materialism? Praise God! Is it bearing fruit?

Are you coming to maturity? I’ll give you the end-all, be-all test for that. Are you bearing fruit? If not, you only look mature. You have some stones to dig out of the soil of your heart. The plant in stony ground sprang up quickly and gladly. It looked mature and healthy. But its roots were poor and it never came to the part that matters…

Bearing fruit. It’s all about bearing fruit. It’s all about what God is producing in you.

I think of the day that Jesus was walking with His disciples and saw the fig tree. It was the season for harvest, but the tree was bare. Apparently, by all other visible standards, it looked healthy–but Jesus saw the bare branches and basically said: “What use is this?”

Perhaps we should give ourselves the same test. Perhaps we should worry about the process but not stop short at perceived maturity. Perhaps we should be bold enough to judge maturity by bearing fruit.

Am I bearing fruit? Maybe not, ‘Am I laden with fruit and the branches are drooping?’ Maybe you’re early in the process and you can take great joy in the first fig of the season! Perhaps you can let that first fig make you hungry for drooping branches! Thank God for the production and ask Him for more fruit on your branches.

Am I bearing fruit? Perhaps you’re well into the process and you still see no fruit. Start digging for rocks and clean out the soil. Plant the Word deep in your heart. Cut away the cares of the World. Ask God for direction while thanking Him for His grace. Dedicate your life to the process–but with the sole purpose of seeking fruit for His Kingdom.

In the Kingdom economy, God loves fruit. So we should love fruit too. He is a God of grace, so I’m convinced that you’re not earning anything from Him with it. He’s not buying your fruit, He’s producing it through the blood of His beloved Son and the power of His Spirit.

He just loves fruit. So we should too.

Jesus, the radical…

Of all the things I wish I could minister to the youth of the world today about Jesus–in addition, of course, to the fact that He was and is God in flesh, their savior–I’d like to tell them that Jesus was a radical. He came to turn society upside-down and change it for the better.

The Millennials are known for many things, but they’re known most as a generation committed to change. They’re a generation that is primed to change the world for the better. They’re a generation that sees wrongs and takes actions to right those wrongs. It’s a generation of radicals, in many ways.

I believe the church needs to tap into that by showing Christ for who He actually was and is. For some reason, our generation and those before us have been content to portray parts of Jesus, while ignoring and suppressing other parts. We’ve created a Jesus that we were comfortable with–a faith that matched our American dream–thereby putting Jesus in a box. We’ve ‘tamed’ Jesus. Thus, we’ve robbed Him of His power, His ministry on Earth, and in large part His plans for the church.

When the younger generations think of Jesus, they think of what they see in the modern pulpit. Jesus has become either a stuffy, grumpy, unhappy pastor who preaches for the sole purpose of emptying wallets into the church coffers. Or He has become a smiling, slick, snake-oil salesman that tells you His greatest concern is your happiness (oh, and by the way, give me your money so you can have a watch like mine). Or He has become a moralist whose greatest concern is that you act right. Or He becomes… Well, you get the picture.

I’m teaching through the gospels chronologically right now. And yes, Jesus talks about good stewardship. He talks about ethics. He talks about joy and fears and anxiety–all of the things that pertain to living everyday life. But do you know what?

He talks about all of those things within the greater context of living everyday life in the Kingdom of God.

Think about that for a second… The Kingdom of God! Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion or update an old one. He came to take over the world. He came to announce His right and intent to reclaim what is His. He came to point out how messed up the world is under its old government, and show what it would look like under His rightful rule.

He said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)

He said, ” But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:28-30)

(In other words, He came in power to overthrow the strongholds of His enemy, and the enemy can’t stand against Him. He will overpower the spiritual forces that have no right to rule, abuse and oppress God’s creation. He came to bring a new Kingdom, to overcome the old guard, His power proves it, and you’d better pick your side–there’s no middle ground.)

I’ll say it again. He came to take over the world–to turn it upside down. He came as an agent of change, gave us the blueprint and our marching orders, left us the Spirit to empower us to those orders, then promised to come back and take possession of what we are called to take in His name. He left us to do battle with the spiritual forces that are squatting on His rightful turf–to announce His lovely and loving leadership as contrast to the burdensome, oppressive rule of religion, sin and death. He left us to live His Kingdom ethics as a contrast to the messed up, selfish, destructive values of wicked generations. He called us to sell out completely to His cause and prioritize our entire life–all of our time, treasures and talents–to that cause.

Jesus is a radical and He’s called us to be as well.

I think our generations have put Him in a box because we’ve been uncomfortable with that very blatant fact. I think we’ve been uncomfortable with that fact because of its implications–because we haven’t wanted to be radical. Because we’ve been hesitant to sell out to that Kingdom. Because we’re really neither for Him nor against Him. We’ve been milquetoast, moderate, diluted, idolatrous, American Dreamers.

How could we ever expect another generation–one that is fed up and rebelling against such a soft, moderate, watered-down society–to accept such a Jesus, much less sell out to Him?

Church, choose your side. Become either for Him or against Him. Get radical or get off. Turn in your dual citizenry card. Show them the real Jesus or none at all.

A few words about grace…

Theology is a strange thing sometimes–which is to be expected when trying to understand and describe a holy God. I mean, ‘holy’ means ‘different’, ‘other-ly’, well… ‘strange’.

This weekend I’m getting ready to teach Matthew 7, and it’s a heavy chapter. We’re told not to judge one another, while immediately then being commanded to make judgments (Matthew 7:6). We’re told that the path is wide but the gate narrow. We’re told literally that there will be people standing in judgment who thought they were a Christian–had even done good works in Jesus’ name–but who were not Christians. They claimed to know Him, but He didn’t know them. They were goats that looked like sheep. They were tares that looked like wheat.

That’s a pretty sobering thought. It could lead to fear. It could lead to doubting grace. Do our works save us?

I always have to fall back on what I know clearly of God and His word. I know that I know that we are saved by grace through faith, and this is not of ourselves–it is a gift from God. I know that the blood of Jesus is fit to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I know that it is the power of the Holy Spirit to transform me into His image.

Do you know what I think? (Well I know it, to be honest…)

Jesus was talking about those that thought they were going to get into heaven based on what they’d done. He was talking to the ones that thought they’d earned it. He was talking to the ones that had planned on walking through the pearly gates with their heads high and a self-serving grin on their faces.

Because those folks… They never really meet Jesus. They never come to the broken place where they admit spiritual bankruptedness and are forced to ask for the righteousness of Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith, and this is not of ourselves–it is a gift from God.

If I think I have it all covered, I never come to Jesus. If I think I don’t need it, I never really accept the gift.

The path is wide, but the gate is narrow. It’s narrow because there’s only room enough for you and Jesus. Before going through, you have to take an honest, humble look at yourself standing right next to Jesus–the actual standard. And if anyone of us ever truly do that, we are broken to the point of begging for grace.

Jesus, thank you for loving me even though I don’t deserve it. Thank you for teaching me to love myself, as I learn to deal with the fact that I don’t deserve it. Thank you for carrying all my sin to the cross, that you can one day smile and invite me in as a good servant. Thank you for making it about you and not me.

 

Amen…

 

The All-Seeing God

Maybe this is an admission, but I have some subtle scars left over from my early stint with religion as a child. I was sold a bill of goods about God–very subtly–while I was sold the legalism of religious Christianity. I was sold a God that stood both near and far–near enough to know my every crass and unholy thought and far enough to get a wide view of my every misdeed. He was a God that loved me when I was good and hated me when I was bad. If you’d have known me then, you’d know that God hated me more often than not.

Man, that was a heavy load. It was such a heavy load that my back still tweaks on occasion from carrying it. That heavy load drove me from my faith by 16, and only when I was introduced to the real God of the Bible–a God of true grace– did I return in my early-ish twenties. But even now, having known and walked in grace for going on twenty years, I still have to fight the thoughts of God that were planted so long ago.

I sometimes err on the side of God’s justice at the expense of grace. Now, I’m the first to admit, we can’t neglect one of God’s attributes for another. We can’t minimize His justice for the sake of His grace. But neither can we minimize His grace to maximize his wrath and justice. Jesus is too big for that. Jesus is the ‘connector’ between His grace and justice. In Christ, He could be a perfectly just God while showing me infinite grace.

I guess what I’m getting at is, sometimes I have to pointedly remind myself just how grand and complete Jesus is in my life.

And just how much my heavenly Father loves me.

Now that I’m a father, I understand God more–even if I exhibit His Fatherliness imperfectly. I have four beautiful kids (who are not kids anymore, by the way). I have three daughters and a son. I know them better than probably even they understand. I know most of their strengths, and most of their weaknesses. I know their many good points and their few bad. I am not blind to their weaknesses and shortcomings.

And I love them more than they can imagine. I lay awake at night praying for them. I cry for them. I rejoice in them–not just for them, but in them! I exude pride. I brag on them. I carry them as pictures in my mind and heart. I can imagine nothing–absolutely nothing–that they could say or do that would diminish my thoughts and feelings for them.

They are as secure in my love and adoration as the earth is in its orbit around the sun.

God is my Father. And He’s better at it than I am. Where I am firm, He is unmovable. Where I love, He perfects love. Where I care, He fulfills. Where I glow, He radiates and illuminates.

So, sometimes I need a reminder that it’s actually a good thing that God is the all-seeing God. I think I need reminders that it’s to my benefit for Him to see and know my every move. It’s just that He’s not looking on with lightning bolts and an itchy trigger finger. He’s looking on with the care and commitment of a doting Father that can see the most secret me, and still love me–still care about me. He can see my every fear, and console it–my every weakness and strengthen it–my every need and fill it.

Thank you God, for that reminder today.

Matthew 6:4 — …and your father who sees you in secret will reward you.

The problem of pain… Is it really a problem?

There’s something spectacular for me in the writing process, and I can’t even describe the excitement I feel right now, in the current stage of my current project. (Maybe that doesn’t say much for me as a writer since I guess, as a writer, it’s my job to describe it to you.) I’ve been knee deep in plotting and structuring the novel. I’ve been planning high points and low points–the cliffs I’ll throw my characters off of and the injuries they’ll receive when they hit, the rugs I’ll pull out from under them, and the bruises they’ll receive from the hardwood contact. Tightly integrated with these plans for their lives is characterization and character arc. I need to know what to do to them because I need to know where they need to grow.

And that’s the point of any good story. That’s the whole plan. That’s why you read a story, which means it’s why we write them. You need weak, flawed people you can care about, put into conflict and danger of some type, so that you can see them grow and overcome. You want someone with whom to empathize. You want that someone to overcome all odds. And during the process, you want to see their journey create a more complete person.

Because at some core level, you need connection. You need to be assured that you can overcome–that your weaknesses will somehow become strengths. You need to be convinced that your journey means something–that you can change–that you can become a more complete person.

You may not know it, but you do.

So, again… The entire process of designing the plot of my current novel has been to create lives for these fictional characters that will change them. The major plot points are designed to expose their weaknesses, give them opportunities to fail, be strengthened in those weaknesses, and then to give further opportunity–to prove either their growth or failure to grow.

My need to connect and empathize, to be convinced that my journey means something, to be convinced that I can change and that I’m not destined to the stagnancy of the person I am now, to hope that I will be strengthened in my weaknesses and can someday pass the tests… That core level that I spoke of in you? Well in me, it convinces me that I am much more willing to experience it vicariously through others than in my own drama. It’s much safer to invest myself in others and be assured from afar, than to be thrown off a cliff and be tested myself. If I must experience it and gain those assurances, let it happen to someone else, and at best someone that I can be assured doesn’t even really exist. I can gain my catharsis, and no one ever really had to face death. Win, win.

Pain is bad.

Right?

I’m often questioned about my faith, and a common one is: “How can an all-powerful, all-loving God create a universe with pain in it?”

Well, the first answer is that this universe was created “good” (read: “perfect”), and we messed it up. We damaged it and ourselves.

My second answer comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13. After listing the gifts of the Spirit, Paul says that three remain, Faith, Hope and Love. And the greatest of these is love. Our perfectly good God designed this universe with the plan that His highest ideals for humanity would be faith, hope and love. And of these high ideals, the greatest is love. In other words, to be explicit, God’s grand design was a universe that loves–God to us, us to God and us to one another. That’s basically why He created the whole enchilada–that love and relationship may exist in His new creation.

You can’t have love without free will. You really can’t have free will without the danger of trespass. So, God designed the universe in the only way He could design it, and get the product He desired. He created us knowing we would fall (and knowing what that fall would cost Him, by the way.)

So, we find ourselves, damaged in a damaged world. We find ourselves incomplete, weak, broken.

Have you ever considered that, if God is the author of your life, perhaps He has had a great hand in plotting that story? Perhaps He sees you as a damaged, incomplete character that needs to grow–and He wants you to grow because He loves you. He wants you complete and healthy.

Perhaps He’s thrown you some plot twists that you wouldn’t have chosen. They may be suffering, but they are not wasted. They are meant to build you. They are meant to empower you during the next plot twist. They are meant to teach you and test you and drive you to Him (2 Corinthians 2). They are meant to be a life process that completes you. They are meant to be tests that break and recreate you. They are meant to be tests that either reveal where you need to grow, or prove where you have grown already.

Trust the author of your life. Know that He means you well. If you fall off a cliff, it’s either because you ran off of it (stop!), or were driven off it. The author still loves you. He’ll control your landing because He knows exactly what the ending is supposed to be.

You live in a damaged world. Yes. And your life is God’s process of redeeming you from it. Take great joy.

James 1:2-5

Have no enemies…

OK. So first, I want to apologize to those of you who’ve subscribed here for content. I know I’ve dropped the ball this week. I’m usually not one for making excuses, but I will. 🙂 To be honest, I’ve been dutifully and furiously working on my novel, and I’m really excited about the progress this week has produced. So, I apologize if you’ve expected content this week and haven’t seen it. Maybe you’ll enjoy the content from this week one day when you’re snuggling up to a nice fireplace, with a cup of Chai tea, and my novel in hand.

Hint, hint…

On to the blog post.

There’s these guys I sometimes argue with. OK. I realize this isn’t the next sentence you expected from me. And perhaps argue is a strong word. But there are several people that I interact with that are almost the polar opposite of me in politics, philosophy, religion, sports teams… All of those things that one is usually most passionate about? Yes. That’s what we discuss pretty frequently.

As the Lord continues to work in me about what’s really important, one huge thing is my personal testimony. He’s refining my sensitivity to how my actions, motives and character are perceived by those around me. Matthew 5 comes to mind. Jesus didn’t just whistle Dixie when He was here. He said things of importance, and they were recorded into human history because they’re important. The Sermon on the Mount was his treatise to the church about living the Kingdom of God among the Kingdom and man.

In the beatitudes, He said something we often miss. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Wow. Don’t consider that if you don’t want your life rocked.  When we are seen as peacemakers, we will be called God’s children. God is the ultimate peacemaker. He sent His only begotten Son, that He could make peace with fallen humanity. Jesus came and willingly bore our sin to give the Father a just excuse to make peace with us. He didn’t concentrate on what we deserved. He peered through our trespasses and saw people He wanted to have relationship with.

Do I do that? I mean, really… Do I seek to live out His character? Do I look for reasons to love instead of dwelling on trespasses? Do I seek opportunities for relationship, or reasons to break it? Do I try to create peace–with myself and God–or stand on my perceived rights to be angry, hurt, resentful, right, smarter, more refined, more cultured, holier, etc?

Do my actions make the world look up and say, “That’s God’s kid. He looks just like Him. And if that’s what His God looks like, I want to know Him”?

That brings me to the next snipped from Jesus’ sermon.

He said, “Let your good deeds be seen so that you Father in heaven may be glorified.”

Wow. What was He talking about? Obviously, He wasn’t talking about public religious piety so that you may be glorified. He was talking about a life poured out so that God may be glorified in and through your actions. He was literally saying that people will judge God by what they see in and through us.

What do people think about God, based on you deeds? I’m not picking on you. It’s the question I live with these days.

Praise God.

So, there’s these guys I’ve been arguing with. They’re basically the polar opposite of me in the major areas of life. And I decided not to even appear to argue with them anymore. I decided to converse with them and profess my beliefs within whatever platform I have. But I decided to do so as a blatant peacemaker. I began to secretly pray for them–their salvation, their health, their beliefs. I began to compliment them and tell them blatantly that I respect them. I began to reassure them that I understand how they have come to their views, as I express different perspectives. I invited them for dinner and offered to cook for them (if they take me up on it and taste my cooking, they may view me as adversary more than ever).

I decided that I have control of whether I have enemies. I and only I. I just decided to have none. I consider that the only way a Christian can kill his enemies is to befriend them.

And do you know what has happened? That platform I mentioned? It’s grown tremendously. And isn’t that the point? The point isn’t to win. The point isn’t even to be right. The point is to grow God’s platform to work through you. It’s to glorify Him in both truth and action.

I encourage you, in the name of Christ, have no enemies. Kill them with kindness.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20

 

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Take the stone off the well

I’ve been doing a fairly intense study of Acts over the past couple of weeks, really seeking to see how the early church did things when they had no traditions, only the Holy Spirit and a very real love for Jesus. Today, as I studied Acts 2, I was struck by something. As soon as the Holy Spirit fell upon the church, they were supernaturally united in speech, they were supernaturally united in message, and they were supernaturally united in an outward-focused attitude.

They began speaking in tongues– the supernatural gift that enabled the gospel to go out and be understood by all of those outside the church who had traveled to Jerusalem from afar. This supernatural gift ministered from the inside out. Did you catch that? The Holy Spirit’s first order of business was to proclaim the gospel to the unsaved. Thousands got saved and the Church grew.

We have new traditions these days. We want our churches to grow, but unfortunately we’re not doing it by the example of the Spirit-empowered church. We’re not about the Spirit’s first order of business.

Walk into any Christian book store. Ask for their church growth section. Open any book at random. I would wager you that the greatest part of that text will be (subtly) dedicated to stealing sheep from another pen. It will be showing you how to make your church more appetizing to current Christians than the one they’re going to, or at best the one they last attended.

Now, they won’t tell you that’s what they’re doing, but that’s what they’re doing. They’re showing you how to market your church to someone who wants a church.

It’s sad, I think.

I can’t help but think of good old Jacob, back in Genesis 29. You remember him? He’d lied to his father, stolen his brother’s blessings, and high-tailed it out of town because his brother wanted to kill him. He’d gone to hide (I mean stay) with Laban, his uncle.

When he got there, all the shepherds were hanging out around a well, and the well was capped with a huge stone. And it was hot out in that desert! Jacob looked around and saw all the sheep, thirsty and suffering. He asked the shepherd, “Hey! Why are you letting the sheep suffer out here in the hot sun? Give them water!”

The shepherds answered, “No. It’s too much trouble to uncover the well. The stone’s heavy, so we wait for all the sheep to gather, then we take the stone off once, and then water them together.  That’s more convenient.  That’s more efficient.”

Seeing his beautiful future wife walk up, it appears that Jacob got the strength of ten men, because he uncapped the well and watered the sheep. It wasn’t too much work when love was involved.

I look at much of our church the same these days. It’s too much effort to roll the stone away and offer the unending stream of living water that Christ promised us in he Holy Spirit. So, we only take the stone off and let the water flow when the sheep gather. (That’s usually on Sundays and Wednesdays for us evangelicals.) Anything more is just too much. And it’s not worth it unless lots of sheep are gathered to drink.

But what about the Spirit’s first ministry? What about a rushing torrent of living water that wants to empower the gospel outward to the unsaved– those who don’t even know that they’re thirsting? Those whom Jesus said would never thirst again, if we’ll just roll the stone off the well?

In Acts 2, the church went from nothing to a mega-church in one day, because the Spirit empowered the gospel outward. The early church didn’t just wait for sheep to gather. They gathered and made sheep.

Do you want your church to grow? I’m not just talking to pastors. I’m talking to you. Do you have a heart for the unbeliever like Jacob had a heart for the sheep, standing and thirsting in the sun? I’m talking to every Christian, so let me rephrase… Do you want Jesus’ church to grow? Do you want to see it filled with people that once were lost and now are found– once were thirsting to death in the sun, but are now satisfied in the Son?

Roll the stone off. Start watering wherever you find them.