Friday, August 31, 2012

Maybe it's you...

As a pastor, I have a lot of people who come to me and say things like, "I don't know why this is happening to me.  Maybe God is punishing me".  My first instict is to say, "No, God doesn't do that.  These things you are going through are a result of Satan, or maybe you are just going through a tough time in life."

While both of those things could very well be true, and often are true, they are not the only possibility.  Maybe Satan is fighting against you.  We see this often in the Bible.  We see Job, Jesus and Peter being attacked by Satan, so clearly this happens to Christians today.  Satan went after Jesus, and if you are His disciple, Jesus has promised that you will go through trials as well.  That is part of having an enemy.  

It could also be that you are just going through a tough time in life.  After all, Jesus said "The rain falls on the just and the unjust."  Or, as a friend of mine stated, "Everyone's grandma dies".  Though a little blunt for our taste, that statement is certainly true.  Bad things happen because that is part of life.

But I find myself unable to tell someone that God isn't causing their trials.  As a matter of fact, the further I go in life, and the more I study Scripture, I find myself cringing a little when someone else says it.  Is this because I think God likes to watch us suffer?  Of course not.  

My reasons can be summed up rather well by looking at a passage in Hebrews 12.  

6  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 
    "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, 
        nor be weary when reproved by him.
     For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, 
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
8  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
9  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
10  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
11  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

While God may not be "punishing" you, it is possible that He's disciplining you.  After all, this is what a father, who genuinely loves his child, does for them.  God is not so unloving that He will let us go on in our lives living less than the full life He wants us to have.  Instead He will discipline.  

So when you're going through a tough trial, particularly when you can't seem to shake your trial, don't assume God isn't trying to get your attention.  Take some time to think, pray and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in your Scripture readings.  Be honest with God and listen for His voice.  I can assure you that He will be honest with you.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bible Translations

Which translation of the Bible is the best translation?

As a pastor, I have been asked this question many times.  Not a few, but many.  And it is a question with many possible answers.  So let me explain how I approach this question.  It may help, and it may not.

There are two basic ways people translate the Bible.  One is to translate the Greek into English, word for word.  Translations which follow this are ones like the King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Version (NAS).  These texts take the words found in the Greek, and while rearranging them a little for coherency, don't change any of the words themselves.

The other way to translate the Bible is called Dynamic Equivalency.  This is remarkably different, and is found in translations like the New International Version (NIV), the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).  Instead of word for word, these are thought for thought.  Assuming that many of the words don't mean the same to us today as they would have in the days they were written, translators feel comfortable not only rearranging the words, but in using ones which aren't in the original text in order to make the ideas which the author was talking about get across.

So which is right?  To be honest, I don't know.  I'm not a professional when it comes to the original languages.  But even if you were to ask the professionals, they would give you two different answers.  That is why those who are eminently familiar with the original languages have done it these two different ways.

Understand that there are bad translations, but all the ones I have pointed out have merit, and critics, and are all fairly reliable.

Actually, if someone asks me which translation I think they should read, I usually follow up with a question of my own.  Which translation are you the most familiar with?  Once they have answered that question, I like to point them in the opposite direction.  For instance, if you have spent most of your Christian life reading the NIV, which is true with me, I suggest you go read one of the word for word translations.  Take a look at the ESV, for instance.  If you grew up with the NKJV, maybe it's time to look at the NLT.

I also think it can help if you are studying a passage to have both types of translations with you.  Find a parallel Bible which has both types of Scripture so you are getting all out of the passage you can.  

The reason is because these two different texts can be so different that it can provide you with fresh insight on a text you've read many times before.  Take a look at John 1:14, first in the NLT, and then in the ESV.

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son."

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

While the text is not remarkably different, it will cause you to read, study and understand the passage differently.  Or perhaps it will give you some new way of approaching an old truth.  Either way, this, I believe, can be valuable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Come Thou Fount

I love much of the hymn "Come Thou Fount".  I say "most" because, to be honest, it gets a little hard for me to sing the traditional words in the third verse.  This is how they read.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let they goodness, like a fetter
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.

My issue with these lyrics is simple; they aren't Biblical.  I know, everyone wants to go back to Romans 7 at this point, when Paul is admitting his struggles with sins.  However, they are forgetting not only the rest of Romans in this case, and particularly chapter 8, but also the rest of the New Testament.

Does God really desire His children, who are called to love Him with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength, to be "prone to wander"?  Are the ones who are led by the Holy Spirit really "prone to leave the God I love"?  I've never been prone to wander away from anyone else I loved, so why would this apply to God?

So what am I denying here?  Am I denying my humanity, and the question of failure?  Of course not.  I do fail, and I'm certain that I'll make plenty of mistakes throughout my life.  However, this is really a question of sin and intent.  Scripture identifies sin as something I do out of desire, not something I do because I "made a mistake".  Wesley defined sin as "A willful transgression to a known law of God".  Is this really what I'm doing?

So I will continue to cry out to the fount of all blessing, raising my Ebeneezer, and cling to the grace of God, which I'm indebted to far more than I can ever pay.  But at my church we sing the following lyrics to the third verse, found in the Nazarene hymnal.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor 
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace, now like a fetter, 
Bind my yielded heart to Thee.
Let me know Thee in Thy fullness; 
Guide me by Thy mighty hand,
Till, transformed, in Thine own image 
In Thy presence I shall stand.

My heart is yielded, not wandering.  I do not wander, as long as I crave to know God in His fullness.  I do not leave the God of love when I am led by His mighty hand.  I will have to be excused for believing in the power and love of God, which is too great to leave me wandering.