Friday, June 26, 2009

Church a Spectator Sport?

What have we done? We invite friends, neighbors, family members or fellow co-workers to church. This might be something absolutely new to them. Then again it might not. We require them to sing along with us to songs they have never heard of let alone have sung too. We expect them to join the crowd and sit down and stand up three or four times, perhaps even more depending on the service. Listen to what appears to them as a lecture or monologue. How are they supposed to know we call it a sermon? We expect them to open a bible from the pew. A book they may have never seen before until now. Listen to the preacher and somehow understand what is going on. Then after all that we expect them to rush forward and give their lives to Christ. Yes, it has happen before but not often enough. We come in. We sit down. We watch and listen. We cheer once in a while. Then we go home. Have we made church a spectator sport?

If a blind man walked in front of you and tripped over your foot would you kneel down to help him up and say, “Watch where you are going?” Of course not you know he is blind. You know he cannot see. Why do we expect unbelievers to understand us? Understand the scriptures? Understand the hymns we sing? Understand what living for Christ is all about?

No wonder many point fingers at us saying look at those people. Look at that church. What are we doing wrong?

I am sure it has happen to you. You have read one verse over and over again. Then suddenly without warning it hits you like a bolt of lighting. Crashing down on you like an ocean wave an unstoppable power demanding you to take notice now.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt 28:19-20 (NLT)

The Great Commission, we have read it many a times. Heard many sermons preached on it. What could possibly have gotten my attention? See the word “GO?” It does not say to ask to come to church, to come to a meeting, to come to an event. It says GO. Go and make disciples. There is that word again, “Disciple.” Spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ. Is that the preacher’s job? No, Jesus is talking to all of us. This week it hit me like a brick.

All my friends here are Christians. I work at the church where we are all Christians. So, like Jesus told His disciples I need to go out there and share the good news. Learn to meet and talk to complete strangers about Jesus. Will I be rejected? Yes, I expect that. Will I give up? No and I need my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to help me up when I am pushed down. Does this mean running around downtown with a sign chanting out scriptures and acting like a crazy man? Absolutely not, that is not biblical nor is that how Jesus taught us. Keep watch on this Blog as my life story continues.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Produces Faith?

Be careful this might be considered a theological question. The focus is on Luke 16:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This story raises many theological issues. Here Jesus names one of the individuals by name, Lazarus. Many then conclude that this is not a parable but perhaps a real story of a real experience.

We find the rich man enjoyed all the best that life had to offer at least materially speaking. The rich man could have eased the suffering of Lazarus without really interfering with his own lifestyle. In fact little effort would have been required if the rich man really wanted to help the poor man.

They both die. The rich man finds himself in torment. The KJV says Hades. The NLT says he went to the place of the dead. The poor man was not. It is verse 31 (vv. 31) that is the focus of this article. The rich man asks Abraham to send a messenger from the dead to his brothers so they will believe and repent to escape such punishment. Abraham tells him flat out no. Miracles will not change them.

Here is a story. I met a man and shared my faith in God with him. After talking a while he still told me that he just does not believe in God. So I asked him, “What would it take for him to believe.” He looked around the room for a moment then at his jacket hanging over the chair. He said, “When my green jacket turns red then I would believe.” Looking at me as if I could snap my fingers and poof it is done. We soon parted ways. Later that evening there was a heavy rainstorm. The hillside behind the man’s house which he had lived for years was saturated and broke loose mud spilling towards the back of the man’s house. The next morning the man came downstairs to survey the damage. The coat closet had some damage. Within the muck he pulled out his jacket. At first he did not recognized it. The green jacket was now red. Did he immediately believe in God? No, instead he tried to explain what had happened. By chance they had had a very heavy rainstorm. By chance the hillside behind his house, which had been stable for years some how, gave way. By chance the iron rich mud slid to the back of his house where the coat closet was located. By chance the red mud mixed with the pigment of the green jacket changing it from green to red. Did he deny that the jacket had turned from green to red? No. He simply denies that what had happen was by chance and not by God. So do miracles produce faith? No, that is what Jesus is telling us in Luke 16:31.

So what produces faith? In Romans 10:17 faith comes from hearing by the Word of God. We see in Genesis that Satan attacks Eve by manipulating God’s Word. We see atheist groups trying to manipulate God’s Word to further their cause. When we fail to regularly study God’s Word we find ourselves attacked more and more. Studying God’s Word regularly keeps us in communication with Him along with prayer. Knowing the scriptures and knowing the author are two different things. Many atheists know the scriptures better than us. The bible tells us that Satan himself knows them better than we. I find it interesting that in Romans 10:17 the word “hearing” is used. We need to hear God’s Word. That means out loud. Shared among us through group study, reading aloud, song and worship. Yet our streets are void of God’s Word.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Training of the Twelve:

This week I have been going through a bible study entitled, “The Training of the Twelve.” While going through it I was reminded of the many lessons we have gone through during seminary. Let's get right into it. First off there were more than just 12 disciples. In seminary our professors instructed us to back everything we say with scripture very good advice. So how do we know their where more than just 12 disciples? See Acts 1:20-26. The replacement for Judas was to be a man who had been with the other apostles from the time Jesus was baptized by John to Jesus' ascension. Therefore there was more than just the twelve we commonly refer to. We also see in Luke 10:17 that Jesus refers to 72 disciples returning from their missionary work.

Perhaps we should look at the word “Disciple or Discipleship” more closely. In the first century Judaism discipleship was a well-established institution. It was the only way of gaining the recognition as a rabbi (teacher) and often refers to as lawyer. Unlike today's seminary, discipleship was very similar to an apprenticeship. The disciple would live with his master observing and listening to his teachings and discussions with others. Establishment of elementary schools for Jewish boys dates back as early as 75 B.C. Very few students went beyond their basic elementary schooling. Yet it was the responsibility of the parents to instruct them in scripture memorization from as early as age 3. It was in the synagogues that served as a community center in the teaching of the adults. We see this in our churches today. Unfortunately I have seen a growing trend of church members attending church with no desire in bringing their bibles with them. This indicates a growing trend in the lack of continuing bible education.

In Luke 6:12-13 we see where the twelve moves from disciple to apostle. The interesting point is that Jesus went to pray and consult with God first before deciding on the choice of the twelve. While reading in the Book of Mark one might interpret that Jesus choose the twelve at random or spontaneously. This is where we get the questions that Jesus only choosing twelve to be His disciples. The truth as mentioned above is much different.

In Matthew 8:1-4 and in Mark 1:40-44 is the story of Jesus healing a leaper. Here the disciples are taught that compassion is a critical element in ministering to anyone in need. Though many of our professors try to teach this to us without such a real experience how can any of us really teach such a critical element? Missionary work is one real example. Actually going out of your comfort zone and meeting the needs of others is a great way to learn from experience. Perhaps going out as group to witness to others would be a wonderful teaching experience too. We see Jesus sending out His disciples in Mark 6:7. In Luke 10:1 we see Jesus sending out 72 other disciples in pairs to share the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven. You might think about it as on the job training. A point we lack in today's seminaries.

In Matthew 10:16-41, we see Jesus instructing the apostles on what is going to happen as their ministry begins. They will be delivered up. (10:19) Meaning they will face persecution before the Jewish and Gentile courts. Their preaching and teaching will cause division among people. (10:21-25) They are to speak with boldness. (10:26-27) They are to fear God rather than men. (10:26-33) Telling them that it is not going to be an easy journey in fact just the opposite. In one of our textbooks in seminary author Gene Mims comments that seminary teaches us how to run a church. It falls short in teaching how to fix a broken church. Let's face it today most of our churches are in fact broken.

With that said where does one go from here? As Jesus teaches us the first is to pray. Commune with God first. Who better? This is also the point when the issue of “Being Called” comes to mind. When I tell someone that I am attending seminary his or her next word is, “So are you going to become a preacher?” It is my belief as Christians that we are all called. (John 6:44) Not all of us are willing to meet that call. (John 6:60-71) Preaching is just one part of ministry. We often fail to realize that. Thinking that the pastor of our church is responsible for witnessing for us. We expect our pastor to know the bible and respond to our questions like some sort of search engine on the Internet with lighting fast answers. We expect our pastors to be cheerleaders and cop at the same time. It is neither right nor biblical.

For we are each responsible for our own conduct. Gal 6:5 (NLT)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lost in Translation Revisited:

This week I have taken upon myself a study of the various English translations of the Bible. So far I have been privileged in sampling over twenty biblical versions. Conducted an in depth study of formal equivalence or word-for-word as well as dynamic equivalence or thought-for-thought translation theories. Been through the debate over gender-inclusive language. Still I have not cast my vote on the “King James Only” controversy.

Those who know me know that I am not a great supporter of the KJV. Over 300 words in the KJV have changed in meaning. Example in James 5:11 the word pitiful today means “deplorable or pathetic.” Yet back in 1611 the meaning was, “one who has pity on others.” Today the verse can be easily mis-interpreted. We also see in James 2:3 the phrase “gay clothes” may be interpreted with a homosexual meaning whereas in the KJV its true meaning is “fine clothes.” For those of us preaching God's Word you can see some of the problems the late 16th century English language can negatively impact the message being conveyed. Add to it that back in the 16th and early 17th centuries the Hebrew and Greek texts available were deficient to what scholars have access to today. Many critics of the KJV point out translation differences such as Matthew 23:24 which the Greek text is now interpreted as “strain out a gnat” and not “at a gnat.” To me it is just splitting hairs. Even with all the attacks the KJV has received it has stood the test of time for nearly 400 years. In seminary our professors have advised us to always be prepared to give your sermons in the King James version. This has been hard for me to accept but after reading some of the findings of my latest study you too will find it to be sound advice.

During the past ten to twenty years there has been a deluge of new English bible translations. With it like computer software we have witness numerous updates and revisions. My favorite is the New Living Translation which in my opinion has no real association with the infamous Living Bible than in name reference. The second edition is a major revision compared to the first one that I fell in love with. Even the English Standard Version published in 2002 was revised in 2007 with over 360 changes to it. The New American Standard Bible has been updated several times the latest in 1995. The NASB is seen as the measure that all word-for-word translations are compared too. The New International Version with its combination of word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation combination began to outsell the KJV in the mid-1980's. A sales force focusing on direct sales to churches rather than just individual retail sales helped push more than 110 million NIV's sold to date. America loves its numbers.

One of the problems being created with so many translations out there is with Bible verse memorization. Which translation is best to teach our kids? The KJV is rated with a twelfth-grade reading level. Add to it the need to translate the archaic language back into modern English and then interpret its life application. As Southern Baptists should we use the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) as our primary Bible of choice? First published in 2004 which is ultimately a product of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is a personal issue for me being a Southern Baptist myself. The HCSB is a bit more literal than the NIV yet less than the NASB or the ESV.

This whole thing reminds me of standing in front of the counter at Starbucks and asking for just a plain coffee. Nothing is plain anymore and good old vanilla does not seem to be on the top of anyone's list.

So now I have come full circle. My first bible was the KJV. I found it hard to read and understand. Today I find it still complicated and that complication has forced me to study more and seek out God's Word. That has lead to the collection of a personal biblical library and a thirst to seek God's will daily. What is the best Bible? The one that moves you into His service.

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