I recently sat in a church that spends more money on its Christmas and Easter programs than it does on its benevolence fund. I know because they are kind enough to post that information publicly.

Five Thousand dollars a year for the poor. Almost twice that for productions. The sermon was full of the easy to hit sins, cute phrases and “rah rah, go team!” rants. Diversity didn’t seem to be a major concern to the congregation or the pastor. It was like being transported back to the early 90’s.  The alliteration of his points was flawless. Seriously, almost every point started with a D, including the sub points. From one perspective, it was simply amazing. Eighteen Christmas trees adorned their stage.

It actually occurred to me that I could be attending a convention of retired CIA agents. Three piece suits, long rain overcoats.

The church was about conservative exclusion. Keep the other kids out of the sandbox so to speak.

I also sat in another church recently. This one went the other way. Invite everyone. Put a ton into the production of the show. Change sharing your faith to inviting people to church. Play with the lights to match the beat of the music. Dim the lights, pump dry ice through the air. Do a rah rah message. By rah rah, I mean read one maybe two verses, and then talk for forty minutes about things that have nothing to do with the verses read.

Lament the fallen state of mankind and the world. The sermon was a mix of self-praise for the preacher, his family and a group therapy session. As a therapist, I know a little bit about group therapy. Just sit in the people’s misery.

Never actually offer real hope. How does one move out of their crap?

I’m afraid we’ve lost our way.

We think we need to protect the message.

We think we need to make the message a show. We need to drum up excitement for it. We offer things that are never promised in the Text. (Those will be a different post).

We have lost our way.

The message is simple. And it’s amazing. Here it is:

God wants to have a personal relationship with you. The God of the universe wants to walk through life with you. He wants to offer you the best way way to live. That’s it. Love God, and love people.

We don’t need to make it better. It doesn’t need to be “made better.” It just needs to be repeated in words and in deeds.

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(with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, for riffing off his meme)

If you automatically assume that someone honoring another person in stained glass is venerating them and conferring sainthood on them, youuuuuuu might be a Roman Catholic.

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Over on his brilliant blog, Stuff Christians Like, Jon Acuff occasionally posts a re-run. From what I’ve observed, this happens more often on “Serious Wednesdays” (the one day a week when Jon puts down his humor and satire pens and reflects more seriously on what God’s showing him). And, seeing as how he isn’t Carlos Whitaker (who sees spiritual lessons in everything), re-runs are understandable.

Plus there’s the whole thing of the fact that we don’t always seem to get truth the first time that we hear it. Heck, apparently Paul felt like he even had to repeat himself in the same verse!

Well, this was one of the weeks where Serious Wednesday was a re-run of something that Jon had written a couple years ago. There were scores of comments thanking Jon for the article, many of which even acknowledged it’s re-run nature and stating that now is when they needed it.

But then some goof came along and started griping about the re-runs and related issues (e.g. Jon often gives his big platform to a lesser-known writer once a week), positing the theory that Jon was losing interest in his blog and stating that he (the goof) saw less and less reason to read it. Oh, and said goof posted all this anonymously.

Now, to be honest, no one’s going to even come close to the brilliance of Jon’s reply:

Did you just anonymously criticize me for not giving you enough of my personal time?

But even acknowledging that fact, it was all I could do not to fisk the anonymous comment, as it was dumb six ways from Sunday. Fortunately, others had already responded, so my desire to feed the troll was lessened and I was able to resist.

But the whole thing got me thinking about something. The anonymous goof was complaining about something that he got for free.

I’ve noticed a rise in this tendency of late. As the ‘net and digital delivery of information and entertainment grow, more stuff is free (or at least really cheap) that would have been expensive 5 years ago or — more likely — didn’t even exist. Yet kvetching has become such a common occurrence, it’s a wonder that we all don’t speak Yiddish.

And then I realized that excessive complaining about free stuff is older than dirt.

I woke up ridiculously early this morning* and couldn’t get back to sleep. Actually, I take that back. For a Saturday morning for a normal person, the hour was ridiculous — for me, it was obscene. I was off my game a large part of the day and would probably be in bed now if it wasn’t for a nap that didn’t really accomplish much this afternoon.

Then Jesus said, “You woke up.”

* (I wrote this Saturday evening)

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Code words are such fun. For those unfamiliar with their usage by the critics of this site, its writers, and those who we dare to think might occasionally have something to contribute to the faith, here’s a handy-dandy guide. Some are adapted from the Bible, whereas others are lifted directly from Scripture (and then twisted like a contortionist’s pretzel):

  • sheep-beater: any straightforward pastor/teacher with whom I disagree
  • compromiser: all others pastors/teachers with whom I disagree, especially if I don’t like his Hawaiian shirts
  • another gospel: any belief with which I disagree, regardless of its relevance to the gospel
  • persecution: anything negative that I have to endure, regardless of its causation or its relevance to my faith
  • post-modern: any thought or belief whose inception occurred after my great-grandfather’s birth
  • emergent: anyone who is friends with anyone who is related to anyone who read a book by anyone who once quoted anyone who once ate dinner in the same restaurant as the fourth-cousin twice removed of anyone who has already been declared emergent (by this definition)

Although that last one is the most ludicrous (and the most common), it’s not my favorite. Rather, my favorite abuse of Scriptural language is to call someone an “enemy of the cross” when you disagree with them. So whence cometh that phrase?  I’m glad you asked:

Philippians 3:18
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

I’m pretty sure that every contributor to this blog has been labeled an “enemy of the cross” at one time or another. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve never seen anything even approximating “weeping” accompanying that accusation. The actual attitude of the labeler is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Caveat 1: That’s not a typo, but a pun that jumped out at me, given the topic at hand. Had I declined to use it, I surely would have been disinherited.

Caveat 2: This is not a pop on all cessationists — some of my best friends are cessationists. It is, however, a pop on those who feel that they must beat the dead horse into the ground with a stick as part of their ministry of criticizing continuationism (that list of links spans less than a month, and yet doesn’t even include the post about which I wish to talk).

Over at TeamPyro (where one can have one’s comments purged for the horrific offense of quoting the Bible), Dan Phillips has climbed back on his hobby horse of bashing continuationists. The latest installment contains several interesting aspects on which I’ll briefly touch before getting to my main point:

  • Phillips starts by noting that we all have blind spots, however there’s no indication in the context of the post (or the favorable comments or Phillips’ response to them) that this could be one of his, but rather that this is one that others have which he has identified.
  • We are assured that this post is not a blanket criticism that impugns the “Gospel soundness” of all continuationists, some of whom are “splendid preachers of the Gospel”. I’m sure that this is of great comfort to those people, as Phillips never actually refers to them as “continuationists”, but always uses the highly derisive term, “Leaky Canoneers”.
  • Noting that something occurred to you “while I was praying today”, when prayer has nothing to do with your topic, seems like a violation of Matthew 6:5-6 to me (see also, “I thank thee that I am not like these continuationists”).
  • Phillips’ overall thesis is “that there is a parallel between the Leaky Canon position and the false gospel of moralism”. This is an “interesting” idea, at least in my experience, as the vast majority of the moralists that I know are cessationists.

But, all of those observations aside, the implications of Phillips’ “proof” of his argument are terrifying (or at least an epic fail in logic), and one doesn’t even need to subscribe to any particular belief in the cessationism/continuationism spectrum to see the problem.

Phillips premise is that since Christianity does not perfectly teach nor practice the 66 books in the Canon (I’ll certainly buy that), that the last thing we need is more revelation from God to further condemn us.

If you aren’t nauseated by that last sentence, go back and read it again. If you still don’t get it, read on.

Phillips’ contention is that the purpose of Bible (and/or further words from God, if you embrace such a thing) is to provide a means by which God communicates to us how much we suck.  And no, that is not my analysis extrapolated from his statements. Rather, witness these words, direct from his keyboard:

More words from God, given our failure to be faithful to what we already have, and absent repentance, would simply mean more failure and more faithlessness.

If that’s Christianity, would someone please direct me to the nearest mosque?

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that if the occurrence “while I was praying today” is not a violation of Matthew 6:5-6, then one must come to the conclusion that God extra-biblically communicated to Phillips while he was praying. Which, ya know, pretty much destroys his whole post.

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I have a post up on my own webpage asking this question. I’ve been inundated with people who have suggested that yes, married is the new divorced. Some suggest it, others are blatant about it. You can read it by clicking here. Below is a quote from the post. Come on over and join the conversation.

Married is the new divorced. If you get married before twenty-five people expect you to get divorced. Of course, if you get married after twenty-five, people expect you to get divorced too. If you’ve been married for more than a few years and you tell people you’re happy being married, they look at you as though you’re crazy.

You can read the whole post here.

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A little more than a month ago, a newly-published Bible translation came to my attention, and I was able to get a copy of it.  The Voice, a translation commissioned by Chris Seay and the Ecclesia Society, is an interesting approach to translation that I believe is quite good, for what it seeks to be.

Before I go on, it’s probably best to get some comments out of the way about Bible translation.

A Messy Business

Unless you happen to speak fluent Hebrew, Greek and a smattering of Aramaic, you have to depend on somebody to translate the Bible for you.  There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 words in the English language, whereas there are only about 80,000 words in the Hebrew language, with only about 8,000 different Hebrew words used in the Bible.  Because of this, translators have to make lots of choices, informed by their own theology, as to what words and phrases they will use in English to approximate the words and phrases used in Hebrew/Greek.  As a result of this, whenever a translation is published, its language pattern is somewhat dated as time goes by (think of the Shakespearean English of the KJV compared to our day-to-day English).

In some cases, there is no real equivalent word in English, or a word is used as a special title, so the translators choose to transliterate the word, creating a “new” English word.  Examples of this are “Christ” and “baptism”.  In other cases, there are examples of wordplay in the original languages that are difficult to translate into English, so they translators have to decide between translating “word for word” (sometimes called “literal” translation) and translating “thought for thought”.  Other translators want to give readers a more narrative or “readable” version, so they choose to include some level of paraphrase in a “dynamic” translation.

Each type of translation has its own strengths and weaknesses.  It is important for Christians, as the readers of each translation, to understand what type of translation they are reading, why they are reading it, and not to try to make the translation to something it is not meant to do.  So long as you keep this in mind, there is really no such thing as a “best” translation.  If you are doing a word study, a dynamic translation is a poor choice.  If you are looking for a version to read out loud, or for a 90-day-through-the-Bible plan, a word-for-word translation will be frustrating for the reader.

Some folks get their panties in a twist over translations, claiming theirs is the only legitimate one (i.e. the KJV-only crowd) or they go the legalistic route of declaring the use of certain translations (or paraphrases) as sinful.  They all miss the point.

A Unique Voice

Probably the most well-known dynamic translation is The Message, a translation written by Eugene Peterson.  While it is more a paraphrase than a translation, The Message gives us Scripture in late-20th-Century English.

The Voice, also a dynamic translation, sits somewhere between The Message and thought-for-thought translations, like the New Living Translation.  A group of 120 individuals were involved in translating the original texts into The Voice.  Initially, a group of about 80 pastors, artists, musicians, writers and poets translated the Bible into literary/readable manuscript and then gave it to a group of 40 Biblical scholars.  Members of the translation team came from a cross-section of modern, orthodox Christianity, representing a healthy diversity of denominational backgrounds.

They wanted to have both intellectual rigor in translating from the original languages along with an artistic eye to assist modern readers in accessing Scripture.  This meant that they would have to make some choices, some of which contained no small measure of controversy.

Probably the most discussed choice they made was with the word “Christ” – a transliteration of the Greek word Christos, which was, itself, a translation of the Hebrew word for “Messiah”, which also meant “Anointed One”.   The translators of The Voice chose to translate this word, instead of transliterating it, as “the Anointed One”, or – when referring to Jesus’ role – as “The Anointed One, the Coming King”.  I remember a friend of mine who thought that “Christ” was Jesus’ last name (and that his parents were Jesus and Mary Christ), and this mistake is not uncommon.  The translators of The Voice sought to prevent this problem, as well, bringing cries of pain from the expected quarters of ODM-land.

Even so, this seems like a good choice.

Probably one of my favorite aspects of The Voice is that the translators chose to differentiate between the direct translation and the paraphrase by italicizing the paraphrased words.  In many cases, as well, the paraphrase pulls in referenced facts from earlier in Scripture (to remind the reader what the writer is referring back to) or to call out something that is foreshadowing later events.

Another feature of The Voice is that it is written in “screenplay” format, where speakers are called out in highlighted text (as if in a screenplay), which is very helpful in many of the conversation-heavy portions of Scripture.

In Conclusion

If you are looking for a dynamic translation, I would recommend The Voice as superior to The Message – both for its readability and for the increased rigor in the translation.  I would recommend that you download the New Testament portion of The Voice, which is available for free at the publisher, here, and try it out for yourself. (NOTE: You may have to add “.pdf” to the end of the file, depending on the browser you are using.)

Remember, though, if you’re looking to do a word study or teach a Bible Study, you should look to use a “word-for-word” or even a “thought-for-though” translation.  But if you’re looking to read through the Bible, or for a dynamic translation for other purposes, The Voice fits the bill very well.

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So, after Brendt’s post last week, I thought my temptation to write an article on this would pass.  However, after a number of DM’s, Tweets, Facebook messages and some emails, I think it might just save me some time and lots (and lots) of repeating myself.  Additionally, a good friend asked me what was going on with all of this, and my reply was “it’s a long story” (which I probably owe her at some point, anyway), and current events seem to be surfacing this topic, as well.

Background on “Christian”

Andy Stanley started an 8-part series a couple of months ago at North Point Community Church, called “Christian”.  The overarching premise is that “Christian” is a malleable word (a poor adjective) that can mean most anything these days.  It was a word given to Jesus-followers by outsiders, not the followers, themselves.  What the followers called themselves, and what Jesus called them, is much better defined: disciples.  As such, we, as followers of Christ, ought to try to live up to what Jesus expected us to be (disciples), not take the squishy road of “Christian”. [I highly recommend the entire series, FWIW.]

  • Part 1: Brand Recognition – This is the basic premise of the entire series, relayed above, where Stanley lays out Christianity’s reputation, outside the church as “judgmental, homophobic moralists, who think they are the only ones going to heaven and secretly relish the fact that everyone else is going to hell”, and then goes on to describe the difference between “Christian” and “disciple”
  • Part 2: Quitters – Picking up from Part 1, Andy tells the story of Anne Rice – leaving the church, rediscovering her faith, and then disavowing “Christians”, saying “Today I quit being a Christian.  I’m out.  I remain committed to Christ, as always, but to being ‘Christian’ or being part of ‘Christianity’.  It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.“  Stanley then goes on to describe the defining characteristic given to disciples by Jesus (see 1 John 4:7-8), that should differentiate us from the world around us, so that we don’t settle for the brand “Christianity”.  Key quote: We give up our leverage in society when we opt for anything other than LOVE.
  • Part 3: Insiders Outsiders – Andy follows the evolution of the early church – from a small, persecuted minority to a movement that toppled the Roman Empire.  He points to this event in time as a point where Christians stopped leveraging love as their distinguishing characteristic, and started leveraging other things – like political power – to impose their faith on others, by threat or force.  He examines how Christians should treat those outside the faith, and that we should not expect those who don’t follow Jesus to live as he commanded his followers to live.  (This sermon shared points with the incredibly good 1-sermon series last summer, The Separation of Church and Hate.)  Over time, though, Christians morphed the Great Commission into “Therefore, go and impose my teaching, values and worldview on all nations, threatening them with judgment and destruction if they don’t obey everything I have commanded you.“  The main point he comes to is that we are to judge disciples (who are acting against his commands), not outsiders (who never signed up to follow his commands).  [He uses Mark & Grace Driscoll's appearance on The View as an example of how to demonstrate this.]
  • Part 4: Showing Up -  The Sunday before Easter, Andy preached this sermon on how disciples should live – as salt and light – in the world.  He traces this from the experience of the early persecuted church, up to how we ought to live now – where how we treat one another and how we treat those outside the church (by “showing up”) – is to be such examples of Christ that when people see us, they see what he is like.  This is messy, and is not always immediately (or ever) visible to us, but our good deeds should shine in such a way that others speak well of Christ from seeing how we act.  “The way we act may make them feel guilty, but it should not make them feel that we are condemning them.”  (i.e. it should be their conscience that convicts them, not our criticism.)
  • Part 5: When Gracie Met Truthy – In a theme common here, Andy touches on the tension that exists between grace and truth.  His basic premise, spoken several times and several ways:  “A tension exists between grace and truth.  If we try to resolve that tension, in either direction, we lose something.”  He goes through multiple examples in Jesus’ ministries where Jesus, described by John as the perfect embodiment of grace and truth, gives both grace AND truth.  For example, in the woman who committed adultery and as brought before him, Jesus response was “I do not condemn you” (grace) and “go and live in sin no more” (truth).  As Brendt quoted this sermon, “… people may misunderstand your grace towards sinners as somehow condoning their sin, but that is not the case.“  This was a very good, but very difficult lesson (and the source of the controversy, covered below).
  • Part 6: Angry Birds – This sermon covers similar territory the previous week – this time via Jesus’ teaching, whereas Week 5 dealt with Jesus’ actions.  It examined Jesus’ teaching to the disciples about how to treat sinners, followed by the story of the Two Lost Sons (sometimes called The Prodigal Son).  In the first part, he says that if Christians are doing what Jesus did and following what he taught, we, too, should end up attracting the “tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes”, which will likely result in the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law to mutter that we’re associating with the wrong sorts of people.  Even though we have more in common, and nearly identical theology, to the ‘Pharisees”, the way we live our belief – if we’re doing it right – will likely result in the sinners feeling welcome and the self-righteous feeling … self-righteous and put out.  Basically, as Stanley follows on, we should be modeling the role of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
  • Part 7: Loopholes – This sermon continues on, examining how “Christians” (and, to some degree, non-Christians) try to use “loopholes” which allow our own sinful behavior, while condemning/damning the sins of those who are different than them.  He contrasts this with what Jesus taught – “Love God, and love your neighbor – all other laws flow from/are subservient to these”.  In the context of loopholes, Andy sums this up – to the Pharisees – as “Don’t you dare take a verse or a passage of Scripture and use it to unlove someone else, you hypocrites” and then continues: “Disciples don’t look for workarounds or loopholes – ‘Christians’ do that – Disciples ask ‘What does love require of me?’“  [I loved this particular bit, as well: "'Christians' use the Bible like a mace - 'Disciples' use the Bible like a mirror."]  If you only have time for one sermon in the series, I’d go here.  Very challenging stuff.  Stuff I often suck at.  Stuff that will make you uncomfortable.  Stuff that doesn’t require you to compromise, but requires you to love people who are not like you.
  • Part 8: Working It Out – In the final sermon of the series, Andy picks up from the final question of Week 7:  What does love require of me? In it, he notes that the people who have shaped us the most are either a) those who really loved us; and b) those who really hurt/abused us.  Originally, Jesus gave us a new commandment: Love one another.  Our defining characteristic was to be how we love one another, but over time it has evolved from being more about how we behave to being almost completely about what we believe.  If we want to re-brand “Christian” to become synonymous with “Disciple”, we need to follow the new commandment he gave us.  “We represent the commander, not the commandments.”  He finishes up the series by talking how to prepare ourselves to live in love: 1) Don’t do anything that will hurt you; 2) Don’t do anything that will hurt someone else; and 3) Don’t be mastered by anything.
  • All in all, this was an incredibly good series, and one that is challenging (for good reasons).  I encourage you to watch/download/listen to it all.  Twice.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Let me start by saying that this is going to be about the Andy Stanley kerfuffle. If you’ve missed out on what I’m talking about, hit your knees and thank God — even if you’re an atheist.  Also, if you fall in that category (blissfully ignorant) — and here I’ll commit a major sin of authorship — I suggest that you read no further, as your curiosity may be piqued. Then you’ll go and hit Google and start reading up on what this is all about. And then I’ll be partially responsible for you being exposed to articles and comments that have all the civility of Johnny Knoxville burping the alphabet during the prayer at a royal wedding.

In the sermon that everyone’s carping about, one of the other things that Andy said was:

“… people may misunderstand your grace towards sinners as somehow condoning their sin, but that is not the case.”

The story of the woman caught in adultery is a prime example of this. A cursory reading of the passage makes it look like Jesus totally let her off the hook. Actually, forget “cursory” — there’s a level at which I still don’t get it. And it’s probably a safe bet that you’re in the same boat.

Yes, He said “go and sin no more”, but He didn’t even specifically state that the act in which she was caught was sin. Based on nothing more than that single isolated instance (notice a pattern here?), we could just as easily conclude that He was telling her to stop smoking those funny cigarettes.

When Jesus told parables, people misunderstood all the time. And it wasn’t simply an issue of Him knowing in advance that this would be the case and thinking “c’est la vie“. Part of the reason that He used parables was specifically because people wouldn’t understand.

By sheer definition, not everyone can be the sharpest knife in the drawer. When we show grace, some people are going to misunderstand. The only way to avoid misunderstanding is to stop showing grace altogether.

Is clarity of your beliefs that important to you?

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The LORD is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer;
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my Savior
My God is my rock, my secure haven,
My shield and the horn of my salvation.
The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be the Savior of His flock! 

In my distress I called to the Most High
I called out to my God with tears
My desperate plea came to his ears.
From his temple he heard my cry

He reached down and He took hold of me;
He drew me out of my deep disgrace
He brought me into a spacious place;
He rescued me for He delighted in me. 

The LORD is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer;
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my Savior
My God is my rock, my secure haven,
My shield and the horn of my salvation.
The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be the Savior of His flock! 

As for God, His way is perfect and sure
His word is trustworthy and true
His presence will revive and renew
For who is God besides the LORD?

It is God who arms me with His might
It is He who keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like those of a deer;
And causes me to stand on the heights.

The LORD is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer;
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my Savior
My God is my rock, my secure haven,
My shield and the horn of my salvation.
The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be the Savior of His flock!

Therefore I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
I will sing your praises, O God of my salvation

(From 2 Samuel 22)

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