Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Confident? In What?

Lately the news has not been too encouraging, especially if you are only living for this life. Wall Street has been riding a roller-coaster down some pretty precipitous slopes. If you are not buckled in...well, you just might fall out. Governmental leaders are now talking about a bail out of the failed banking system using figures that I can't get my hands around. Can you comprehend $700 billion? I don't understand what $1 million is like, let along nearly one million million dollars. Where is that money coming from? I guess you and I will be coughing it up someday. There seems to be a long line in Washington these days, all of them with their hands open looking for hand outs. And I thought the management of a local church's Deacon Fund was difficult (I had those responsibilities back in the early 80's during my days in Chicago). Confident of Wall Street...shaky at best.

And the political electioneering continues at a feverish pace. Although both candidates purport to be agents bringing change to Washington, I am highly skeptical that either will do that. It has been so long since the Washington establishment has even considered making changes...and I doubt they will reconsider any time soon. Yet we will continue selecting new faces who promise us change...and soon they become just like the old faces who have been there almost forever. Confident of Washington...certainly not where I want to stake my hope.

These week we have heard the nearly endless cycle of speeches being given by the world's leaders before the General Assembly of the United Nations. Some, with saber in hand, come spouting fiery contempt for the Western world, especially aiming barbs at Israel. Others reveal a profound sense of apathy toward what is happening in their world. Can the United Nations bring real peace to a world seemingly bent on tearing itself apart? Well it has had over 50 years...and its track record is most pitiful. Confident of the United Nations to bring about a secure peace anywhere in the will never happen.

And what about the Church, you ask? Can a person find security there? Do you want me to be brutally honest? I believe the Church to be as confused as is the world. We argue over worship know, to drum or not to drum...ah, is that even a question worthy of being asked? We divide over how to "repackage" our faith to reach our culture. But often in our "repackaging" we forget what we are to package, leaving us presenting a message that is without any foundation. I believe if Jesus were here He would heave great sighs of despair. We have forgotten the heart and soul of His Gospel. So, confident of the Church...not really.

So where am I to find any confidence? I am being continually drawn back to the Scriptures themselves. Not to any historical understanding of the Scriptures, although I do find referring to ancient writers and their examinations of the Word to be interesting. But I want to hear from the Word itself. I want to wrestle with those texts that I don't understand - and there are many of those. And I want to savor those texts that are meaningful to me. I want them to simmer in my heart and soul like a good soup upon a slow stove. I want all the flavors to come through. I want my life to be permeated by them. Confident of the Word...absolutely, without a doubt or hesitation. I echo the song writer: My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness;...On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"To KJV or Not to KJV"...Why the War?

There are many wars being waged within the walls of churches today. There is the "worship war" pitting guitars against organs, hymns against spiritual songs, and hymnals against power points. Then there is what I call the "war of texts." What? You have never heard of this war? Perhaps but it is happening nonetheless. It is the struggle over which translation of the Bible to follow. It is the attempt to identify one version as being more spiritually correct than another.

Recently I was handed an article that featured the following banner: "The Message" Exposed! The writer of the article who, by the way, remained anonymous, compared the King James Version (KJV) to the Message. As I read the article I was troubled in my spirit. No, really I was angered in my spirit. Now I have nothing against the KJV. When I was growing up it was the only Bible translation readily available that had not been judged as being liberalized. (For those of you who can remember those days, the Revised Standard Version had been condemned by many evangelicals as being too liberal). So, I read the KJV. I memorized hundreds of verses from the KJV. In fact, to this day, I find memorizing from other translations incredibly difficult - guess my mind was weaned on KJV. There was a beauty within the KJV that is often lacking with today's versions.

But, is the KJV the only truly biblical translation in the 21st century? Absolutely not! Perhaps the most popular version is the New International Version (NIV). During my days at the Graduate School of Theology at Wheaton, my class on advanced Hebrew exegesis had the privilege of working alongside the translators of the Book of Isaiah for the NIV. This was one of the most eye-opening experiences. I actually got to participate in the dialogue about how words and phrases were going to be translated from Hebrew into everyday language of the 20th century. And I can honestly relate to you that it was not easy. I came to appreciate the "blood, sweat, toil, and tears" (to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill) that went into a Bible translation.

Do we need further translations? Absolutely! Let's see. The KJV was translated in 1611, nearly 400 years ago. But since that time biblical archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of ancient biblical texts. The Dead Sea Scroll discovery in 1947 re-energized biblical translations. And I believe that more translations will appear in the coming decades as more ancient texts are discovered. Is this a good thing? Absolutely! With each discovery comes the realization that God has been superintending the translation of His Word. Have we found errors? Some, but none that changed the doctrines espoused by the Word of God. The reliability of the Word of God is untarnished...undiminished.

Now, what about that article made me so angry. Friends, "The Message" is not a translation. It is a personal paraphrase. You say, "What's the difference?" A translation works from the latest Greek and Hebrew materials available. A paraphrase is an author's restatement of a translation already in existence. Perhaps the most popular paraphrase was the Living Bible. Written by Kenneth Taylor to help his children better understand the Bible, it was a restatement of the KJV. Eugene Peterson began paraphrasing the Bible in order to help his congregation better understand the Book of Romans. While a translation helps us to understand the ancient texts, a paraphrase shares how one person has come to understand what the Scriptures say. Therefore, when I read "The Message" I am not reading the words of God, merely the words of Eugene Peterson as he came to understand those words of God. To compare the KJV with The Message is like comparing apples to radishes. Can't be done!

I value paraphrases as a tool to help to explain one interpretation as to what God is saying in the text. Would I ever build a teaching around a paraphrase's explanation? Absolutely not! The foundation for truth is the Word of God itself...a reliant, consistent, accurate translation from the Hebrew and Greek.

So, if you use the KJV, blessings upon you. But don't go around trumpeting that the KJV is the only accurate, inspired version of the Word! Because it isn't!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Finishing Well through Grace

I have just finished reading a book written by Dr. David Jeremiah titled, "Captured by Grace." It is subtitled, "No One is Beyond the Reach of a Loving God." Dr. Jeremiah uses the lives of the Apostle Paul, the slaver-turned-reformer John Newton, and Newton's famous hymn, "Amazing Grace," to teach us the great principles of grace. It was truly a fascinating book and one that I would highly recommend.

Just after having read the final chapter in the book and heard once again the story of how both Paul and John Newton spent their final years, I came across a verse in Hebrews 11 that overwhelmed my soul. It is verse 13 which states, All these people were still living by faith when they died. These people ended life well. Oh the final script might not have been what they desired. I am sure that Paul did not envision dying at the hands of an executioner. Nor would John Newton have thought of being blind and of having his beloved wife precede him in death. Not one of us knows how the final chapter in our lives will be written. That chapter might end suddenly - I am thinking of those who went to work, or boarded a plane seven years ago not knowing that the chapters of their lives would end that day - but they did. Or that chapter might come through tortuous pain and difficulty as disease wrecks its worst upon us. We have absolutely no control of the closing lines in the book which is our life story.

But, what God gripped my heart with was that truth - "these people were still living by faith when they died." Do you know what John Newton's last recorded words were? "I am satisfied with the Lord's will." Do you remember what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy, knowing that his death was imminent? I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). Both the Apostle Paul and John Newton were still living by faith when they died. Both men had so been gripped by God's grace that, even in the face of death, they clung to that grace to see them through.

This got me to thinking. I have no control over the manner in which God will take me home someday. But I do have control over the attitude that I have as that journey is completed. I like to think that John Newton entered glory humming those words he had written many years before. Why not sing them as your testimony to God right now?

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed!

Thro' many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
'Tis grace hath bro't me safe thus far And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures.

When we've been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise Than when we first begun.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Where Did That Verse Come From?

Have you ever come across a verse in the Bible that, somehow in a way you cannot explain, you had never read before? It just sort of "pops up" and says, "I am here! Pay attention to what I have to share!" Well, I had that experience a few mornings ago while I was having my quiet time. I have been spending 2008 reading straight through the New Testament. I was reading from Hebrews 2 and I read verse 18: Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted. I had not ever remembered reading those words before. Where did that verse come from?

I remembered Hebrews 4:15 very well. You will remember that it says: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. I have been eternally grateful that Jesus never sinned when He was tempted. He was victorious over those temptations. And yet the picture that came to my mind was of a strong-willed Jesus, who confronted temptation with nerves of steel. Who hit temptation head-on almost daring it to attack. I read Matthew 4 and my mind pictures a calm, quiet Jesus thwarting the attacks of Satan there in the wilderness.

Yet, this same writer to the Hebrews reassures me that Jesus truly suffered when He was tempted. I believe Jesus knew what it meant to be vulnerable to attack. Certainly, when a person has not eaten for a long period of time - to not eat for 40 days almost seems incomprehensible to me - the sight of food becomes a powerful temptation. There was that smell of freely baked bread wafting in the air. There was the rumblings from a stomach that had not been filled for nearly 6 weeks. Jesus' body knew suffering at that moment. And that is only one incident in His life.

What did God share with me from Hebrews 2:18? I believe God was saying to me, "Max, you don't have to be a macho-man all the time. It is okay to admit that you feel some pain, some heartache, some disappointment when testings come. It is also okay to even cry out, 'God, why have you forsaken me' as Jesus did upon the cross. I know the suffering of enduring temptation; but I also know the joys of being victorious over temptation."

Friends, when I read this verse, Jesus became more human to me. The only time I had ever considered that Jesus truly suffered was when He died. Yet I believe the writer to the Hebrews would have us to understand that Jesus knew the suffering of temptation, of trials, of disappointments throughout His life. Yet He was victorious. And so can you be. And so can I.