Monday, March 28, 2011

The Kindness of Kevin Durant

The Kindness of Kevin Durant |

The Oklahoman ran a good story over the weekend about Kevin Durant, one of the NBA's rising superstars who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Click on the link above to read the full story.) He stands out among his peers because of the kindness and respect he shows to others around him. Everyone can be inspired by his example. He serves as an excellent role model for younger men coming up behind him.

"Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness
will find life, righteousness, and honor" (Proverbs 21:21).

Friday, March 25, 2011

Gender Inclusive Language in the Bible

While attending a Christian conference yesterday, someone asked my opinion of the revised New International Version (NIV) of the Bible and its use of gender inclusive language. I have not bought a copy of the latest NIV, but I have read portions of it online. I have not read enough of it to give an informed opinion about whether the NIV has been improved or damaged by the changes.

However, I read a couple of versions of the Bible that use gender inclusive language. The Message and the New Living Translation do a good job of capturing the general spirit of the text, but I'm not comfortable with relying on either when I'm engaged in a serious study of a biblical text. I'm not an expert in the original biblical languages, so I depend on essentially literal translations of the Bible to guide my studies. I want to study from a version of the Bible that places an extremely high value on accuracy.

I like the approach taken by the translation team of the English Standard Version (ESV):

"In the area of gender language, the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original. For example, 'anyone' replaces 'any man' where there is no word corresponding to 'man' in the original languages, and 'people' rather than 'men' is regularly used where the original languages refer to both men and women. But the words 'man' and 'men' are retained where a male meaning component is part of the original Greek or Hebrew." (Preface to the English Standard Version)

It's important to get an accurate understanding of the Scriptures. Sometimes a more accurate understanding can be achieved with gender inclusive language, but sometimes it can't. Whatever the case may be, I want to be able to study from a Bible that gives me a highly accurate translation of the original words in a text.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Hope of Christ's Return

"The Lord isn't really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

"Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, He will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth He has promised, a world filled with God's righteousness.

"And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in His sight"
(2 Peter 3:9-14, New Living Translation).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bob Lepine on the Rob Bell Controversy

Bob Lepine serves as a co-host of the FamilyLife Today radio program and as a pastor of Redeemer Community Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. On the church's blog (which can be accessed from my blog roll on the right side of this post) on March 16, 2011, Mr. Lepine wrote an excellent article about the controversy concerning Rob Bell's latest book.

This is his post:

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of on-line and, more recently, on air talk about Pastor Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

Based on the reviews of the book I have read and the interviews I’ve read or seen this week with Rob, I would say that the book is neo-liberal at best and heretical at worst.

I’ll have a little more to say about Love Wins in my message this Sunday. But what I want us to think about here is the role you and I may have played in nudging Rob Bell in the direction he’s going.

Kevin DeYoung, a pastor who has written a helpful critique of Love Wins makes what I think is a very astute observation about where we are as evangelicals at this moment in church history:

“As younger generations come up against an increasingly hostile cultural environment, they are breaking in one of two directions—back to robust orthodoxy (often Reformed) or back to liberalism.”

“The neo-evangelical consensus is cracking up. Love Wins is simply one of many tremors.”

I think Pastor DeYoung is right. As the culture becomes increasingly hostile toward Christianity and a biblical worldview, many younger evangelicals find themselves facing a fork in the road – either they stand for biblical orthodoxy and find themselves marginalized and castigated by the culture, or they soften their positions and find that the culture is friendlier. Because many younger evangelicals want to take the gospel to the culture, they decide that the softer approach is the only way to gain a hearing for their message.

But there is another reason that I think some younger evangelicals shy away from holding on too firmly to biblical truth.

It’s because they’ve seen some of us hold onto truth in a way that was unattractive and unlike Jesus.

They have seen Christians who care more about being right than about caring for people.

They have seen Christians who turn secondary issues into primary issues, getting angry and divisive over things that shouldn’t matter as much as they end up mattering.

They have seen Christians deal harshly with sinners, acting more like the Pharisees with the woman caught in adultery than like Jesus.

They have seen Christians who think too highly of themselves instead of taking on the form of a servant.

They have seen Christians who are dogmatic about issues where godly, committed, Bible believing people disagree.

They have seen Christians turn prejudices and preferences into tests of fellowship and holiness. From hair styles to worship styles, from piercings to politics.

In short, they have seen people committed to a high view of God and truth who are very harsh, stubborn, unloving, ungracious and self-righteous.

And they’ve said to themselves “I love Jesus, but there’s no way I want to be that guy.”

At the same time, they’ve have seen non-Christians who have been kinder, more selfless and more caring. And they have rightly asked themselves in the process “How much does this high regard for truth really matter anyway? Looks to me like it hurts more than it helps.”

It is hard sometimes to find the place where grace and truth come together, with no compromise in either. Jesus was full of grace and truth. He is who we look to –not the TV preacher or the Koran burning pastor or the funeral protesting pastor – as our model for what being His follower should look like.

More than a generation ago, A.W. Tozer commented on a similar slide toward a softening of truth in his day. He said:

“Little by little, evangelical Christians these days are being brainwashed. One evidence is that increasing numbers of them are becoming ashamed to be found unequivocally on the side of truth. They say they believe but their beliefs have been so diluted as to be impossible of clear definition.”

“Moral power has always accompanied definitive beliefs. Great saints have always been dogmatic. We need right now a return to a gentle dogmatism that smiles while it stands stubborn and firm on the Word of God that liveth and abideth forever”.

It’s true in our day as well. We must stand stubborn around the truth of the gospel and stand firm on God’s Word, while we demonstrate grace and love and care and kindness for all. Let’s make sure we’re not giving younger evangelicals a reason to doubt the gospel because we make it so unattractive.

And when we do, I think there will be fewer Rob Bells leading people in dangerous directions.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sincerity as Evidence for the Christian Faith

A few nights ago, I was reading a portion of the Gospel of Luke to my son Christopher before bedtime. In that portion of the Scriptures, Jesus was healing men and women of various illnesses and afflictions.

At a break in the reading, my son asked, "How do you know that's true?" Puzzled, I responded, "What do you mean?"

Christopher said, "Those miracles. How do you know they happened? It sounds like someone's lying to us."

At that moment, I realized that our son was taking a huge step in his development. He was not believing something merely because his parents believed it. He was questioning it.

My wife Janet and I assured him that it was proper to question us and the Bible. He needed to know that he was not alone in his doubts; he needed to know that it was a part of spiritual growth to raise questions. After all, those kinds of miracles do not happen every day in our lives. We have seen some remarkable answers to prayers for healing, but we have not seen anything like someone walking on water or someone being raised from the dead. In fact, even the apostle Thomas did not accept the resurrection of Jesus until he saw the Lord for himself.

We explained to Christopher that we have not seen the miracles recorded in the Bible firsthand, but eyewitnesses to those miracles preserved a record of them for us.

A few nights later, we returned to the subject. I let my son know that those eyewitnesses spread the word about Jesus and his miracles to everyone they encountered for the rest of their lives. Even though they faced severe persecution and death for telling people about the resurrection of Christ, they never stopped spreading the good news that Jesus had died for their sins and had risen from the dead in order to save them.

If the apostles had not honestly believed what they were saying and what they were writing in the Scriptures, they could have changed their story very easily in the face of death. But they remained committed to their account of Christ's message.

Sincerity does not necessarily prove one's testimony to be true. However, when a man remains committed to his eyewitness testimony in the face of death, it's a strong indication that he truly believes his message. Something happened in his life that he cannot deny.

And that's one good reason to take seriously the message of the apostles and other early Christians who wrote the New Testament. We know that they were not lying.

"And they have conquered (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (Revelation 12:11).

(The picture above portrays the crucifixion of the apostle Peter)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Aruamu: Transformed By God's Word

On July 2, 2005, the Aruamu people of Papua New Guinea celebrated the completion of the New Testament in their own language. With the support of Pioneer Bible Translators, missionaries Marsha and the late John Relyea spent nearly 20 years translating the New Testament into the language of Aruamu for the first time in their history.

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near" (Revelation 1:3).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Need to Believe in Christ

"For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:12-16).

I received an e-mail last week from a minister who used those verses to propose that some people who have never heard of Christ do not actually need to believe specifically in Christ in order to be saved. As I understood his premise, the minister asserted that a non-believer could be saved by living a good life and trusting in the existence of a god who is unknown to him (or who is misidentified by him).

I could see how the minister could come to such a conclusion by reading those verses, but I have concluded that he has taken the verses out of context and has misunderstood them.

In the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul informed his readers that the problem with humanity is not the absence of God and his standards. The problem is that we have rejected and replaced God and his standards (Romans 1:18-32).

In chapter 2, Paul made the point that people have not lived up to God's law, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. He was not making the point that people could be saved from their sins by simply being decent people who acknowledged the concept of the existence of deity. In the passage quoted above, the apostle was making the point to Jewish men and women that a knowledge of the law was insufficient. After all, many Gentiles who did not have the written law were living better lives than some of the people who were experts in the law. But even among the good Gentiles, conflicting thoughts were a part of their lives. They could not stand before God with any degree of real confidence because some of their thoughts accused them of guilt while other thoughts excused them.

In chapter 3, Paul made it clear that everyone has a problem with sin. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). From that point on, the apostle Paul emphasized that all who would be saved from the consequences of their sins "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:24-25a). "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Romans 3:28).

I believe the preaching pastor who thinks that a decent non-believer who has not been exposed to the gospel of Christ is safe has a kind heart. He does not want to believe that the unbeliever is in any real danger of hell. But I believe the preacher has made a mistake in underestimating the pervasiveness of sin and evil within the hearts of the best of us. The truth is: we are in great danger without Christ, no matter how good we are, because we are not good enough. That is why Christ came as one who would take the punishment that sinners deserve. We needed him, and God loved us enough to send him to save us.

The preacher's e-mail asserted that non-believers who respond favorably to "available light" will be saved. In a sense, he was right. For example, Cornelius the Roman soldier was saved because he had responded favorably to the light of God available to him. However, he was not saved without any knowledge of Jesus Christ. Cornelius sent for the apostle Peter to tell him the message of Christ because an angel had told him, "(Peter) will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household" (Acts 11:14). The Lord gave Cornelius the saving message of Christ because Cornelius had responded favorably to the will of God that he already knew. He still needed the gospel of Christ, despite being a very good man because his goodness was not good enough.

Contrary to the preacher who sent the e-mail, I cannot presume that some people do not need the gospel of Christ. The gospel is the good news of salvation in Christ, but it starts with the realization that everyone is in a bad situation to begin with.

I published this post on my blog nearly two years ago. I have re-published it since the topic came up in our Bible study at the Normandy Apartments tonight. A couple of participants were asking me to recommend speakers to hear at a Christian conference in our city next week. They also asked whom I would not recommend. Since a couple of the speakers teach the doctrine of inclusivism (the doctrine that unbelieving, but ignorant, sinners do not need to believe in Christ in order to be saved), I felt that I needed to explain why I cannot recommend listening to them.


This is the trailer for the upcoming movie Courageous: Honor Begins at Home. I'm looking forward to seeing it. The movie was made by the same group that made Facing the Giants and Fireproof.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Build Me a Son, O Lord

BUILD ME A SON, O LORD by General Douglas MacArthur

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be; a son who will know Thee….Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clean, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Ordinary Christians

Sometimes it's good to notice the extraordinary impact of ordinary Christians around me.

These are the Christians who serve God faithfully without knowing how much of a difference they are making in the world around them.

They love and respect their husbands and wives. They honor their parents. They nurture, discipline, and instruct their children.

They show up to work on time and ready for the day. They approach their jobs with good attitudes. They care about their co-workers, employees, and customers. They take the time to listen to the concerns of others, sometimes offering helpful advice and sometimes offering a prayer. They are sincere in their gratitude when they are helped; and they are willing to help others whenever possible.

They spend time reading their Bibles and praying. They want to be close to their Lord. They want to know him better. They believe what they read in their Bibles; and they trust that God is listening to their pleas on behalf of the people for whom they pray.

They enjoy worshipping with their local churches. They participate in and teach Bible classes. They clean the church buildings. They mow the grass and shovel the snow on the church's property. They serve food when the church shares meals. They drive the vans to pick up people who want to worship with them.

They volunteer to help teachers at their local schools. They coach and support their children's sports teams. They are involved in their children's scouting programs. They e-mail and meet with their political leaders in support of just legislation or in opposition to unjust legislation. They raise money to fight diseases. They recycle paper, plastic, and aluminum products to help the environment. They get their pets from the local animal shelter.

They share the good news of Christ whenever an opportunity arises. They adopt children, volunteer for pro-life ministries, and sponsor children around the world through Christian relief organizations. They send money to organizations that fight global poverty and others that translate the Scriptures into native languages around the world.

They are ordinary Christians, but they are intentionally committed to doing good so that others are blessed and God is glorified.

"...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Successful Father

I will succeed as a father if I can help my son to develop a desire for the right things in life:

~right motives
~right attitudes
~right actions
~right relationships with other people and with God

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6).

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

"She Does A Lot of Good, But She's Mean"

"She does a lot of good, but she's... mean."

A friend used those words to describe her mother-in-law to me recently. Frankly, I don't remember much about the rest of our conversation; but those words have stuck with me for days.

At first, the sentence doesn't look right, does it? How could someone who "does a lot of good" be "mean"?

However, when I think about it, I can think of examples of times when I (or others around me) have done "good" in a "mean" way. How often have I helped someone while being in an irritable mood? How often have I done good in one moment, only to say something mean in the next?

What is the saddest part about doing good while being mean? People can see through the pretense. While I may think I'm honoring Christ by doing good, I'm really disgracing his name while erecting a barrier between people and God. It's no wonder that the apostle Paul wrote, "And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works..." (Titus 3:14). Sometimes we need to learn not only to do good works, but also how and why we should do them.

"If I give away all I have...but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:3).