Meditations on Snow

Meditations on Snow

Some of us like a good snow storm – those that can’t wait to go out and play in it. Others see it as a big bother – enough to want to move to the South in the winter.

And although the news folks like to “hype” up the fact that a nor’easter is coming our way, remember that in New England, it is a normal occurrence.

Wherever you are on the snow storm appreciation continuum, know that snow is a form of precipitation that is spoken of in the Bible.

We sometimes think of the land of Israel as a dry place consisting mostly of desert.  Yet there are mountains and areas of green vegetation. In fact, they have seasons.  It does snow in the Holy Land. One travel website notes the following:

Israel is a land of diverse landscapes. It is mountainous in the northern part of Israel while southern Israel boasts of humid coastal temperatures. The snow-capped mountains in the north are the source of the freshwater lakes and rivers of Israel. It is not a very common winter destination for travelers from around the world which makes the concept of snowfall in Israel unheard of. It snows every year in the region of Golan Heights and Hula Valley while the Negev Desert and the coastal cities in the south enjoy the Mediterranean climate.

 

I have stated in the past that snow is gospel precipitation. What exactly do I mean by that?

The word, “Snow”, occurs 23 times in the NKJV bible.

It carries with it several metaphors that contain gospel truths.

Let’s consider 3.

1)Snow is part of God’s provision for creation.

Isaiah 55:10

10 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater,

 

We understand that snow is frozen rain.  Rain is necessary.  In fact, if we did not have snow in the winter, we would need to have a significant amount of rain in the spring to offset the lack of snow.  Too much rain in the spring brings flooding and erosion.  Far better to have gently melting snow that waters the earth and prepares it for spring and the time of planting.

Back in my grammar school days, when I first learned the basic “water cycle”, I was fascinated by it. Weather is tied into the water cycle.  Weather fascinates me.  It fascinates just about everyone.  When you have a TV channel dedicated solely to weather, that is pretty much saying that the fascination with weather is universal among people.

As Christians, let’s move beyond the fascination and focus our fascination on the God that provides for this old world.  Thank Him in season and out of season.  We should be thankful for the seasons, and the weather associated with all 4 of them.

The “good news” (i.e. gospel) is that God provides.  When we say “God Provides”  we are speaking in universal terms.  He provides  everything.  We cannot even breath if He does not provide air with the right mixture of oxygen.  We cannot have food if the ground is not watered.  So, even when the ground is solid and no water could even penetrate, he made snow to just sit there for a while and wait for the springtime. As it gently melts the earth is provided for. Even more, we are provided for.

Most importantly, we cannot be forgiven and made fit to dwell with Him for eternity if he doesn’t provide the way to Him.  Thanks be to God for Christ!

2)Snow is a metaphor for a soul forgiven by God.

Isaiah 1:18

18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

 

Psalm 51:7

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

 

Did you ever wonder why snow is white?  When light hits the snow, it is scattered and bounces off the ice crystals in the snow. The reflected light includes all the colors, which, together, look white.

We know that white stands for purity.  White robes at our baptism speak of our forgiveness from sin in Jesus Christ.  The white gown of the bride speaks of her chastity as she enters holy matrimony.

Purity. Cleanliness. Stainless.  These are the words we think of with the color of white.

Once a snow storm passes, look again at the woods, rivers, and fields.  What was once brown and barren looking, becomes a glorious feast for the eyes.  White everywhere!

Isaiah received a prophetic word from the Lord.  It was for God’s people.  They had sinned. They had strayed from the path of the Lord. Isaiah would be the mouthpiece of God’s rebuke of their waywardness.

Yet, even at the beginning of his prophesy there is the promise –  your sins, though scarlet red, shall be white as snow!

How! Because they still had a God that forgives.  The reason for Gods messengers, the prophets, was not to simply depress people with doom. It was to shake them to awaken them.  To inform them of this truth: God will abundantly pardon!

That is exactly what David experienced.  He had committed gross sin.  But once he turned to God, he experienced a purging of his soul.  It was now white.

When you look on the aftermath of one of our “nor’easters”, look past the labor that is required to dig out.  Pause for a moment.  Look around. Find a place of solitude in your back yard and just look at the snow.  And be reminded that in Christ, you are as white as the snow!

3)Snow is a picture of the Holy Majesty of God

Mark 9:3

3 His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.

Revelation 1:14

14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;

 

Only a few people in the Bible got a visual glimpse of what God looks like.  In Mark 9 we read of a time when Jesus allowed 3 of his disciples to see His true essence. It was Peter, James, and John who were invited to ascend to the mountain where Jesus would transfigure before them.   In Revelation, John had a vision of Jesus on the throne.

Snow is referenced to explain what they saw.  They used the best earthly illustration to try and explain what they beheld with their own two eyes.  They saw Jesus in all his glory. His majesty.  His holiness. His perfection.

Notice that one must be allowed to witness such a reality.  Peter, James, and John were allowed/invited by Jesus to go up to the mountain where he was transfigured before them.  They saw the glory of Jesus – white as snow.  It was another proof of his Divinity.

John was allowed to see the “One on the throne”.  Yet another glimpse into a thrilling reality for the believer. It is the reality that will one day be ours who are in Christ. To see Jesus in dazzling brilliance.

One of my favorite Hymns is “One Day”.  The refrain states:

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;

Buried, He carried my sins far away;

Rising, He justified freely forever:

One day He’s coming—O glorious day!

 

Loved ones!  There is coming a glorious day!   One Day those of us who by faith have trusted Christ for salvation will be invited in to see his Holy snow-whiteness!

This encompasses all the virtue of Christ that can be experienced by the one forgiven.

Joy, peace, security, blessing, satisfaction.  And on and on.

Yes!  It also includes being allowed to enter the place where we will behold the “snow- white” majesty of Christ.

John proclaimed:

1 John 3:2

2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

So, as you gaze upon the wonder of a snowstorm.  As you survey the blanket of white that is left behind.  Stop. Pause. Worship.

In Christ, you are His.

1)You are provided for.

2)You are forgiven.

3)You will one day behold the snow-white glory of your Savior.

Hallelujah!

Amen!

 

If you would like to study further, here are the list of verses referencing snow.

Exo 4:6, Num 12:10, 2Ki 5:27, Job 6:16, Job 9:30, Job 24:19, Job 37:6, Job 38:22, Psa 51:7, Psa 68:14, Psa 147:16, Psa 148:8, Pro 25:13, Pro 26:1, Pro 31:21, Isa 1:18, Isa 55:10, Jer 18:14, Lam 4:7, Dan 7:9, Mat 28:3, Mar 9:3, Rev 1:14

 

 

 

Lament is Worship

Lament is Worship

Lament, a word that we do not use much in our modern vernacular.

“Lament” is a passionate expression of grief or loss.  It is the deepest cry from a pain filled heart. A cry for help, relief, someone to notice and to care.

It is a part of the human condition.  Yes, it is part of being a Christian.

I have spent most of my 50 years in one church or another.  Somewhere along that time I moved to another evangelical tradition from where I started.  I have visited worship services from different backgrounds. I consider myself an observer of the modern evangelical movement.

I have noticed something.  It is something of an extreme.  Churches tend to be either highly what I call “Happy/Clappy” or they are rather dour and ultra-reserved, almost showing no emotion at all in an attempt to sanctify the service.

It my humble opinion, both are equally dangerous to the life of the Christian.  Life in in Jesus is not a promise that everything will be “happy/clappy”.  We have not been promises butterflies and puppy dogs. And every worship service may not be a happy/clappy time. If it is, then it is just a cover up, while at the same time providing no place for those facing deep depression.

At the same time, we are not meant to live all our lives with long faces – just enduring until the Lord returns, or, at least until he takes us home.

This summer I will be preaching some of the Psalms.  We don’t have 150 weeks in such a season to do this, so I am endeavoring to simply get us to return to the Psalms and consider the various “types” of Psalms.  There is a Psalm for every situation that brings us either happiness and bliss or pain and trouble.

Lament Psalms are one expression.  Lament is a form of worship.

Consider these words.  Penned by King David – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 13:1–2 (NKJV)

1How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?

2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

David’s cry was “How Long, O Lord.”  He felt abandoned by God.  He had a bout with the very real experience of every believer at some point, the paradox of the hiddenness of God.  The idea that since God cannot be seen, or felt, he can seem like He is playing hard to get.

His cry is deep.  His will is fixed.  His desire is focused.  This is the beginnings of worship.  In the struggle of living (probably written during the 10 years he was evading the insane King Saul), David felt like evil was winning. Trouble was going to win.  He was going to be the collateral in a holy war against God by the Devil. God’s promises to him that he would be king did not look like they were going to come to fruition.

Can I give you some pastoral advise?  Know that God is big enough to handle your questioning: “How long Lord are you going to let this continue?”  Or, even simple declarative statements like “I’ve had enough Lord.”

Know that your conversing with him is healthy.  We have to take our troubles to someone.  The creator of the entire universe is the best place.  It truly is a cathartic experience.  It is focused lament to our Holy God.  It, is a form of worship.

Later in this Psalm David has a resolve that bubbles up within him.

Psalm 13:5–6 (NKJV)

5 But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

6 I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Remember, God has not failed you yet.  It isn’t about to start today. You believe that Jesus is your Savior – then, loved one, you are saved. From what?  The wrath to come. You are on a sure path to be with Jesus for all eternity. That trajectory is not going to be deviated from.

Meanwhile he comes to us. In word. In quiet prayer.  In fellowship with other struggling travelers (i.e. the church). In his ordinances.  In his working everything out according to His good purpose and pleasure.

So, lament.  Let it out.  Tell it to Jesus.  Allow him to listen and respond.

 

 

What Jesus’ healing points us to

Luke 13:11–17
11And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. 12And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.13And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
16And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

Introduction

Luke recounts a moment in the earthly teaching ministry of Jesus. In this instance it is in a local synagogue on the sabbath.

Luke does not record what Jesus said, but focused on what he did. There in the midst of the gathered worshippers was a woman who was exhibiting the signs of demonic oppression. Verse 11 indicates she had a spirit of infirmity which exhibited its influence through her posture, she could no longer stand erect and upright. Jesus indicates in verse 18 that her physical ailment came from Satan, as a form of binding her, debilitating her entire life.

Jesus laid his hands on her, and with Devine power delivered her from her infirmity. Not only was she healed of her physical problem, she was “loosed” from the bonds that held her in that state. She was delivered from Satan’s bondage. She responded by glorifying God.

Right before the eyes of those in that worship gathering they witnessed a physical manifestation of his teach: “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

We mustn’t get so focused on the physical elements of this account to miss the vital spiritual point that is being made. The woman’s situation clearly had a spiritual element because it was Satan who had brought her to such a pitiful state. This is not to say the woman was not at fault, but Satan, through the helpless state of her humanity, seized upon this woman to try to ultimately kill and destroy her. The physical ailment was a manifestation of something deeply spiritual and becomes a type of the human condition wherever, and whenever we find it.

Let us consider this woman as a representative of humanity. This woman is for us a type of all of humanity – people who are spiritually lost until Jesus touches them with his saving grace.

 

 

Three gospel themes as seen in the synagogue woman

1)Her situation is hopeless apart from the work of Christ.

There was nothing the woman could do to change her situation. That is evidenced by her being in her sorry state for 18 years. She went about her daily routine as best she could, even making it to sabbath day worship at the synagogue.

No doubt she was known by the people who attended the synagogue as well as those in the greater community. At that time there was a commonly held belief that sickness and sin were closely tied together. The extreme end of this view held that she was the way she was because she was a wicked sinner. Her community, perhaps even those in the synagogue, would have thought that she must have be harboring something heinous for the Lord to have stricken her with such a disease.

This in turn left her as a social outcast, similar to another woman Christ healed when he was on his way to Jairus’ house. (c.f. Mark 5:25-30) In that account Jesus healed that woman’s constant hemorrhaging. She, a woman perpetually unclean according to Jewish law, was healed through the compassionate virtue of Christ.

In a similar way the anonymous woman at the synagogue was visibly “defective” according to societal standards. This appeared to be her “lot in life” and she was unable to lift herself out of this deplorable state.

Contrary to the popular opinion of her day, sickness is not necessarily a punishment for sin. But, sickness is a result of sin. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, though originally placed in a in a state of blessed bliss, chose to sin. That sin brought death. Death brings entropy. Entropy is seen all through creation as things die – from plants to animals – all things die. Things are winding down rather than up. Human beings begin to physically die the moment of birth. Physical sickness eventually leads to physical death. For even so called “old age” is a sickness that will lead to death.

Sickness then is a reminder of sin. And sin is something that permeates all of creation, but has its ultimate effect on the human race. For the bible indicates that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This is both physical and spiritual death. Spiritual death is eternity of punishment in a place called hell. Our lack of love for God, our disobedience to his laws, our choosing selfish gains over more noble endeavors are all signs that we are sinners in need of a healing, a spiritual healing.

We must recognize that not only was the woman in the synagogue in a hopeless state physically. She, like all people was in a hopeless state spiritually. Her infirmity was an outward manifestation of the inward problem we all have. We have a sickness, all of us, called sin.

Isaiah’s prophesy concerning the Messiah links the metaphor of physical sickness to spiritual sickness.

4Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

This “he” in his prophesy was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Isaiah uses “healing” as a metaphor for the work of Christ on our behalf. Jesus’ death through crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection heals the disease of sin (iniquities). The only remedy for sin sickness is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

The question for us all is: “Do we see ourselves spiritually in this unnamed woman?” We should. We must. For in that realization comes a grip of need in our lives. We are hopelessly in sin and only Christ has done what is necessary to provide the remedy for our spiritual illness.

2)She is representative of those burdened by the law.

First, we read in between the verses of our focus that there is a criticism levied on Jesus by the Pharisees. (vs. 14-15) The Pharisees were the arbiters of the Jewish Law. They had even amassed more laws than those given at Mt. Sinai when God gave his law to his people under the leadership of Moses. They had developed laws to keep laws. So much so, that no one could possibly keep track of them. This “letter of the law” system had become so great a burden to the sons and daughters of Abraham that compassion had been all but abandoned.

Secondly, this woman lived in a Pharisaical system of worship that had become a works righteousness based system. The Pharisees kept note of those who were obeying God’s law as well as the rules they themselves had added to ensure God’s law was observed. People who kept such laws were deemed righteous regardless of where their heart was toward the God who gave them the law.

Moreover, people who were healthy, wealthy, powerful, and strong were considered the pillars of both community and the life of the synagogue. One could say and do all the right things yet never be a true follower of God.

In both cases the law had become an end in itself. So rigid and focused on dotting every “I” and crossing every “T” the focus on a living relationship with the one true God had been all but eclipsed. It looked spiritually alive, but it was actually a dead and lacked a vibrant grace that God is so willing to shed abroad in the hearts of his people.

Many today see Christianity as nothing but a set of rules to keep. As they gaze upon the “rules” they realize they don’t measure up. Many know there is something wrong with humanity and perhaps even themselves. But, they just go on about their lives. They push down what God requires perhaps even rationalizing to themselves that since they don’t “measure up” why bother and simply make a way of their own choosing as they go about their lives.

Still others, believe they are on the right track. If they just balance the scale of what they determine to be good and bad that somehow their effort will win them favor. Folks such as these often do a comparison and contrast with themselves and others. They would never place themselves in the same category as the bent over woman in the synagogue. They aren’t, spiritually speaking, in that bad of shape. Yet, their thinking has succumbed to the oldest lie in the world, that they could be as God judging good and evil. That they could determine the necessary righteousness to please a God they cannot see.

When Jesus said to this woman “Thou art loosed” he was not only healing her of her infirmity, and the oppression of the evil one, he was freeing her from the burden of the law as a means of redemption. He was setting her free to worship God with a heart free to worship God through the compassion of Christ she experienced right there in that synagogue meeting.

So, it is that Christ is ready, willing, and able to declare us “loosed” from the infirmity of sin and its consequences. When we turn from legal maneuvering to loving truth in the Savior, we find that we are lifted out of our pit of sin.

3)She is representative of one who experienced Jesus’ compassion.

Notice that her experience, probably for as long as she had been infirmed, was not one of compassion.

The Pharisees saw her as nothing more than a pawn to be used to challenge the authority of Jesus. No doubt week after week she attended that synagogue and was simply looked over. As a woman she would have sat on the woman’s side of the room, perhaps even in the back of the room, and the synagogue rulers just looked past her.

As already noted her profoundly stooped position would have marked her as a defective person by the community at large. Her ability to do work, contribute to society, and even care for her house would have been greatly compromised.

Moreover, the one who seeks to “kill and destroy” Satan had worked the opposite of compassion in her. Instead, using her as a means to defame the image of God within her.

Yet Jesus laid his hands on her. He pronounced her healed. He called her a daughter of Abraham. This later designation meant that she was in the true line of Abraham an earnest believer and one who belonged to God not only by ethnicity but, by the touch of the Master’s hand.

Compassion is one of the kind and gentle virtues that is often lacking in human living. Many are victims of the devil’s schemes to rob them of their dignity, their humanity, and even their connection with the greater human community.

Yet, in Jesus Christ there is a true manifestation of compassion on the one who is lost in the throes of sin. Not only does Jesus embody God’s compassion, he is the only one who can truly bestow it upon us.

Jesus’ ultimate expression of God’s compassion is dying on a cross for the sins of humanity. His death was to atone for our sins to propitiate a Holy God. That act of compassion on a sinful people, becomes the pathway whereby he compassionately forgives our sickness of sin.

Conclusion

How does one apprehend such compassion as this? Where does one begin to find healing for the sickness of sin? Believe in Jesus, what he has done for you. Believe that his death paid the penalty for your sickness of sin. Trust in him, ask him to forgive you of your sin. Ask him to become your Lord. For today is the day of salvation.

It’s Still That Simple

It’s Still That Simple

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” 1 Timothy 1:15.

There is a joy in the heart of a pastor when those listening to him preach and teach the bible are attentive and engaged.

I have noticed that often it is the young children who often are more engaged and genuinely interested in the bible’s message than others. Having spoken at school assemblies I can tell you that the nonverbal ques of engagement with the speaker are more pronounced in the ones in the grammar levels verses those in middle and upper school grades. Often even more than adults.

Could it be that as we get older we lose some of the genuine joy in the simplicity of the gospel message? Could it be that we have grown tired of it? Or, perhaps, we even have tried to make it more than it is, that it must be more complicated and sophisticated that the message we heard as a youngster.

No, my friends, the gospel is not hard to grasp. There was a reason that the children rushed to be next to Jesus and have him place his hands on them and give them a special word of blessing. He is so approachable, because the salvation he won for us makes it possible to be near Him and know his love, forgiveness, and acceptance. He makes us fit for heaven; No other can, only Jesus.

When was the last time you simply pondered the simplicity of the Gospel? May I suggest you should ponder it often. Then share it. For it is not only for you, but to everyone who believes.

The Way of Salvation…
‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ John 3v16

The Bible says that all men are sinners.
‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ Romans 3v23

God’s Word states that sin must be paid for.
‘For the wages of sin is death…’ Romans 6v23

The Good News is that Christ died to pay for our sins.
‘But God commendeth his love toward us, in that,
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ Romans 5v8

‘…Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried,
and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.’ I Corinthians 15v3-4

We must receive Christ by faith as our Saviour.
‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Romans 10v13

Pastor’s Blog 3/9/3017 “I Will Sing”

I will Sing!

Psalm 9:2 I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.

A recent blog post by Thom Rainer noted that there is a new phenomenon afoot in the evangelical church in America. Congregational singing appears to be on the decline.

An article at factsandtrends.net chimes in with the same observation. A variety of suspected causes are discussed by both articles such as: Too many new songs, the loss of the choir, lack of musical training, focusing too much on trends, etc. While all these things may contribute, I believe we need to do some soul searching first.

I am presently working on a message for our community Lenten services. This year the pastors have chosen a hymn “What Wondrous Love Is This” as our theme. Each week’s sermon focuses on one of the verse another verse. This 182-year-old hymn is fitting for the Lenten season as it re-focuses our attention on God’s saving work in Jesus Christ – the very core of our Christian faith that we remember and celebrate every spring.

I have been assigned the third verse. The verse has the repeated refrain: “I will sing”. It is a declarative statement. The poet is saying; “once I consider the love of God as displayed in Christ, when I realize I was sinking down deep in sin, the only appropriate response is to sing out in doxology.”

Doxology? That sounds like a stogy old theological term. But, that is the right term.

The Holman Bible Dictionary defines doxology this way.

DOXOLOGY Brief formula for expressing praise or glory to God. Doxologies generally contain two elements, an ascription of praise to God (usually referred to in third person) and an expression of His infinite nature. The term “doxology” (“word of glory”) itself is not found in the Bible, but both the OT and NT contain many doxological passages using this formula.

A brief expression of praise to God. And just like the verse from Psalm 9 I quoted above, it is something throughout scripture. In fact, the phrase “I will sing” occurs 145 times in the Bible.

In my study of the New Testament, and the letters of Paul in particular, I have often noted that the Apostle Paul would often break out into doxology, not at the end of an epistle, but right in the beginning or middle. We tend to think of doxology as synonymous with benediction – something that occurs at the end.

Paul however often states a profound theological doctrine and then follows it up with a statement of praise.

One of my favorite is at the beginning of 1 Timothy.

1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal immortal, invisible to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever amen.

This is on the heels of verses 12 through 16 where Paul recounts just how miserable of a sinner he was and yet God saved him from eternal damnation.

This my friend is the heart of singing – the heart of doxology.

I have said from the pulpit that a redeemed people is a singing people. They just go hand in hand. If we are not singing, then one of two things are happening either: 1) We are not truly redeemed – that is, not saved. Or 2) We have lost our wonder that God would save a wretch like us.

Neither position is tenable. Yet, both situations are solved by a healthy application of the gospel once again. The gospel applied and understood will yield a heart willing to Sing.

This is what Paul says: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

That faithful saying is true for everyone! That includes you and me. May we accept it. Trust in it. And find our source of joy to sing because of it. We, the worst of all sinners, are saved by Christ Jesus who came into the world to save us. Sing on!

Pastor’s Blog 2-3-17 Choosing a Study Bible

Study Bibles: Which one(s) do I choose?

This blog is practical in nature.  As I frequent both digital and traditional box book stores I am amazed at the number of Bibles available for purchase.   Indeed, publishers keep publishing the word of God, in various English translations and formats, all the time.    One can easily get lost in all the bibles wondering which one they should buy.

One of my hobbies is bible collecting. Many bibles, in many English translations have passed through my hands over the years.  Many of these are study bibles.  Study bibles are bibles meant to assist the student in the study of God’s word by systematic grouping of bible topics or, they provide a commentary, usually at the bottom of the page, designed to help the student quickly grasp the meaning of the text and sometimes even offers a bit of a suggestion for application.

I recommend study bibles.  Quite honestly, as a pastor writing sermons, they are one of the first places I go.  Presently I own 17 different study bibles in either electronic or printed format.  So, I guess I have a little to share about study bibles and the best ones to zero in on.

First, realize that all study bibles come from some sort of theological persuasion.  There seems to be at least as many study bibles as there are denominations of churches.  Even the “broadly based” “evangelical” bibles, which would claim more to be “non-denominational” are still sharing a theological perspective.  In some places, they might even present several interpretive options for a passage, just to play it safe.

Second, realize that the publishing houses, that have their own English translation, tend to also produce their own study bible.  There is big business in study bibles and they are all, in some way trying to out-do the other.  And since all modern English translations are copywritten one either produces their own or has to pay another to use their text.  So, one may be locked into a certain translation when a certain study bible is chosen.

Third, the notes of study bibles are usually prepared by some sort of committee.  Even the study bibles that carry a person’s name such as the MacArthur Study Bible, or the Jeremiah Study bible were compiled with the help of a team including both content writers and editors.

What do I select?

First, choose a translation.  This is not as simple as one might expect.  There is a veritable alphabet soup with letters standing for names:  KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, HCSB, NIV84, NIV2011, ASV, CEB, NLT, MSG.   And on and on in goes.

I believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of God.  A reading of Psalm 119 quickly reveals that the very words of the Bible are inspired.  Not simply the thoughts.  Indeed, thoughts are made of with words, and the Bible conveys the mind of God, but God gave us actual words.  These are inspired.

There are two schools of thought in English bible translation.  It’s a little more complex that this, but let’s suffice it to say one is word for word, the other is thought for thought.   Word for word tries to find, as best as English would allow, the exact word that conveys the meaning of the Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  Thought for thought chooses words and syntax to try and smooth out the reading and perhaps better render the meaning.

I tend to favor the word for word translation.  The more a translator tries to convey through thoughts what the text says the more likely they are to insert interpretation.  I don’t want somebody’s interpretation in the text itself.  That is where a study bible comes in.  I want to be able to point to the text and be able to proclaim “This is the word of God.”.   That cannot always be as easily accomplished in a thought for thought translation.

I have only scratched the surface of the issue.  The amount of ink being spilled on debating the two approaches as well as the number of new English translations produced all the time could fill one of the Great Lakes.  Simply put, if one subscribes to the belief that God gave us words, then there are a few translations that rise to the top.

I prefer the following word for word translations, King James Version (also known as the Authorized Version), New King James Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Version.

Translations that I don’t prefer, but are quite popular in the word for word camp. They are the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).  These are easy to read.  But, keep in mind that easier is not always better.  When a translator starts to choose several words to convey meaning of the though and not the actual word, interpretation inevitably creeps in.  This can be an accurate interpretive meaning or show a bias.  But, you won’t know as you don’t have the transparency to the text.

You will notice in the King James and New King James translations that there are italicized words.  That is not done for emphasis. These are words the translators added to convey the meaning of the text.   The only other modern translation that I am aware of that does this is the New American Standard Bible.  None of the others to that.  So, who does one know which words are God’s words and which words are man’s words.  I don’t want to get pedantic here. But, just think about that for a minute.  We are, after all, dealing with the veritable Word of God.

All of these translations have study bibles.

But, before we go on, there is another issue that most Christians never hear of.  It is the issue of which New Testament Greek text is used to translate and English translation.  We can get into the weeds here pretty fast, so I’m going to summarize the issue. Perhaps I may write another Blog delving into the issue further. There are many helpful articles on the issue available at www.tbsbibles.org.  Yes, it really is an issue.  One we should be aware of.

If you were to take a modern translation such as the English Standard Version, a fine word for word translation, and start reading the New Testament you would notice that there are many times it directs you to a footnote.  It will say things like “some manuscripts say”.   Or, even suggesting that verses 9 to 20 of the last chapter of Mark do not belong in the bible.

Notes such as these do not appear in the King James Version.

What is going on?

There are two standard Greek New Testament texts.  One is called the Textus Receptus.  This is Greek standing for the “Received Text”.  This has been the standard for at least 1500 years.    It is the most plentiful in number of texts in existence literally in the hundreds.  It was the text used by the church without any consideration that there might be another until the 19th century.

But, during the mid to late 19th century other manuscripts started being discovered.  These were found to be in relative good condition.  One was found at the Vatican in Rome, the other at a Monastery at Sinai. As these were studied it was noted that there were textual variants.  That is, they changed some words, left out some words, or even entire sections of the bible (Mark 9 for instance) when compared to the Received Text.  But, they appeared more ancient than the Received Text manuscripts.

In the world of antiquities, particularly in texts, we tend to think older is better.  But, that is not always the case.

Enter in scholars that are schooled in what is called textual criticism. This simply means they are trying to discern what a text should say.

The long and short if it is that over the last 100+ years editors have produced a New Testament Greek text that is, in their scholarly opinion, what the text should say.  If you will look inside your modern translations such as the ESV, NIV, and NLT you will see that the text use is the 27th edition of a Nestle-Aland text.  Yes, that is right, the 27th edition.  As supposed new discoveries in texts come about the text of the New Testament is slightly altered.

One has to ask – “Did the church not really have the word of God for 1900 years until these editors came along and pieced it together?”

The Bible says:

Psalm 12:6–7 (NKJV) 6 The words of the Lord are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times. 7 You shall keep them, O Lord, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.

God preserved his words.  It is not a farfetched claim to believe that the preserved word is found in the Received Text of the New Testament.   And there are only two English translations that use the Received Text of the New Testament as the basis for translation.

Therefore, I urge folks to have as their primary English bible either the King James Version, or New King James Version (or both if money allows).  The KJV can be hard to understand as vocabulary and the meaning of the words used have changed over time.  There are helps in this area. But, with that in mind I often recommend the New King James.

Secondarily, have a bible on hand from another word for word translation based on the edited NT text like the English Standard Version, New American Standard Version, or the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  The language in these translations is quite accessible.

Thirdly, have a modern thought for thought for the express purpose of commentary.  I suggest either the New International Version, or New Living Translation.

I strongly urge people not to have only one bible from the second and third list.  Use these as supplements.  There is no good reason to believe that parts of the NT do not belong there.  The sheer number of Greek New Testaments in the Received Text Tradition far outweighs the obscure number texts used to somehow “recreate” the Biblical New Testament text.   You can point to the New Testament of, for instance, the old King James and say “This is the word of God.”  I question whether one can really do that with other edited text editions.

If you are still reading by now you are one who perseveres.  Let me get to the point of the title.

Here is a list of Study Bibles I recommend in order of preference.

The Thompson Chain Reference Bible   

This is a 100- year old classic.  Its intent is to guide the student to seek out Biblical truth for themselves with the aid of a chain reference system based on a large variety of topics.  This allows the most basic rule of biblical understanding, scripture interprets scripture, to be put on full display. There are not study notes.  That’s the point.  The bible student should work the scripture and mine the truths. This Bible will help you do that.   It is available in the KJV, NKJV, and most recently the ESV.

The Holman Study Bible

Written from a conservative evangelical viewpoint it has plenty of notes, charts, and is multi- color.  It is available in several translations including the KJV, NKJV, and HCSB.

The Reformation Heritage Study Bible

This is written from a conservative reformed perspective.  However, the intent of this bible is to move the reader to deeper devotion not to convert them to Calvinism. The notes are not argumentative but simply points the reader to a historic protestant understanding of the text.  It is only available in the KJV. But, one of the beauties of this bible is that it provides definitions of older words right in the notes.  You can understand your KJV with this bible.

The Jeremiah Study Bible

This is the bible produced by the ministry of David Jeremiah. He is well known for his radio broadcast “Turning Point”.  The style found in his pulpit ministry translates over well into the notes of this bible. Scholars from Dallas Seminary helped compile the notes.  It is Baptist in orientation.  It also is meant to move the student from mere head knowledge to application.  It is available in the NKJV and NIV.

The ESV Study Bible

This is a big book. It is probably the thickest among all of them.  It is packed with material.  I opted for the kindle version as it is large.  It represents the best of scholarship found in conservative and more reformed circles.  It has some of the best charts available.  The notes are explanatory in nature, not necessarily devotional.  If there is a second study bible you should have, this is the one.

Henry Morris Study Bible.

This is just about as large as the ESV study bible.  The late Henry Morris was the curator of the Institute for Creation Research.  This bible comes from the perspective of a creationist that was also a bible scholar.  The notes on Genesis alone are worth the price of the book.  But, it also does a fine job in all areas of the bible.  His insight is pastoral and defends the accuracy and veracity of scripture.  It is only available in the King James Version.

NLT Illustrated Study Bible

Last on my short list is the NLT illustrated study Bible.  It truly is a beautiful bible.  It is multi-color with color maps, pictures, charts.  The notes are broadly based conservative evangelical.  The only drawback is it is only available (as its name indicates) in the NLT.  This is makes it supplemental to another study bible you may own.

As I mentioned I own 17.  I could go on.  But, perhaps this will help you as you seek out the best bible.

One last thing.  If your budget allows, and you are only purchasing one bible, get it in genuine leather.  It will last longer.  Its use will take on the character of all the time you have spent communing with God.  It will become a close friend in your journey.

Happy bible shopping.

 

 

 

 

 

BLOG 01-09-17: Walking with the Shepherd

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want – Psalm 23:1

This will hopefully be 1 of six in a series of blogs concerning this famous Psalm.

I have been reading much about this Psalm, endeavoring to dig deep and drink well from the message of this Psalm. I have been doing this not only for my own edification, but these short blog posts are hopefully just a snippet of a series of sermons I will deliver at New Covenant Baptist Church in January and February.

Being a pastor means you are called on when death comes. Meeting with the surviving family members of a loved ones is part of the pastoral duties of the charge. When the family asks what they want included in the funeral or memorial service Psalm 23 is mentioned – just about 100% of the time.

It is good to read and recite (if it has been committed to memory) this Psalm at such moments of bereavement. But, to relegate this Psalm onto to times of bereavement is to limit its focus and intent. This Psalm is about life, not only death. It is about living under the care of the great shepherd. It is under his watchful care that we truly find life and that to the full.

The text makes a declarative statement: The Lord is my Shepherd. The word LORD is in all caps in the Authorized Version (as well as other English translations) because it is referring to Jehovah – God. This is none other than the one and only true God. The one self-existing, all powerful, all loving, perfection of Holiness, and one that strikes awe and wonder in the true seeker. He is the one who gives us Jehovah – Jesus – the savior, the one we trust for our eternal salvation.

Before we get to far into the Psalm, it simply must be asked: “Is Jehovah your Shepherd?” He is not everybody’s shepherd by default. Just because you are a living and breathing human being does not mean that the LORD is your shepherd. There is only one way to place yourself under his shepherding care – trust in Jesus as your savior. The one who made a way through his shed blood for your to be forgiven. The one who rose again for you to be justified before a holy God.

One of the amazing “byproducts” of our salvation, is that we get to enter into the pasture where none other than the God of the universe is located to care, watch over, love, feed, and preserved sheep – human beings. It is there in his pasture that we both know and experience the reality of “I shall not want.”

Consider for a moment that the next 5 verses flesh out the “I shall not want”

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: My soul shall not lack for rest
He leadeth me beside the still waters: My soul finds refreshment.
He restoreth my soul: My soul is strengthened and renewed daily.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness. I do not lack any instruction on how to love and serve Him
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: I do not lack safety and preservation. For His rod and staff comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: I do not lack provision even amidst forces that wish to do me in.
My cup runneth over. I have abundance of spiritual blessing and nourishment.
I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. I do not lack any spiritual need for all eternity.

May believers in the one true God as expressed in the Savior Jesus Christ truly know what it means to know the Shepherd their Shepherd.

Pastor’s Blog: Looking out for Others

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

Look out for the interests of another. It is a constant effort for us to be looking out for others rather than ourselves only. It is the “default” position to look out for yourself. It is a God inspired vision to be looking out for others.

I have found through talking with other people that the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is either endearing or repulsive. Seriously, as I have talked about my appreciation for that film (which is celebrating its 70th year of release on December 20th), the reactions are either one of genuine like, or strong distaste for the movie.

For the most part, people like the movie. Perhaps it’s the helpless romantic in many of us that love the story of George Bailey and the little upstate New York town of Bedford Falls. Perhaps for some the “helpless romantic” is in them somewhere but it lies dormant. And the likes of a 70- year old movie isn’t enough to draw it to the surface. Or, just maybe the movie touches the softy in some of us that does not want to be touched. Whatever the case, the movie received mixed reviews when it was released. It only has been over the past 40 years that it has become a staple in a distinctly American celebration of Christmas.

Philippians 2:4 teaches Christians that we are to look out for the interests of others, not simply our own. The message is one of considering another before ourselves. That is a Christian virtue. If I was to choose a verse that sums up “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Philippians 2:4 might just be the verse.

Consider how much selflessness was exhibited in the characters of the movie. Of Course, the main character stands out in the forefront. But, if we study the film a little closer, we would see the same attitude in George’s father, his wife Mary, Ernie the taxi driver, and of course Clarence Odbody, George’s guardian angel.

At the end of the movie the whole town, except for one grumpy old Mr. Potter, seems to catch the spirit of looking out for George, if not for Christmas, and ensures that George’s recent financial difficulties are covered.

And that is the joy of looking out for the interest of others. If everyone is doing it, then everyone is taken care of. The closing scene of the movie is iconic. It represents all that is good in the world, good that God brings when we seek to love others as we love ourselves.

I have noted through talking with the 80 plus members of town, those who can remember WWII, that there was a time when small towns and communities tended to behave like those in the mythical Bedford Falls. But, they quickly note that by the mid 1950’s that had all but gone. Where do we fund such community today?

Christians ought to provide a remedy to our present situation. For we are foolish to think that true community can be achieved in our work places, sporting events, or even social media. True community is Koinonia. This is a kind of brotherhood and sisterhood that is achieved when God comes in and brings new spiritual life to a person and puts that person in a community of persons, a community called the church. These persons are then the “body of Christ”, out doing one another in love and good works. Always looking out for the interests of others. This should spill over to the community at large. When Christian virtues are taught, and lived they seem to take on a life of their own. It spreads into the surrounding world where the church resides. May our churches resemble more of Bedford Falls and may a Bedford Falls spirit sprout in our town – for the Glory of Christ.

Pastor’s Blog 11/22/16: Gifts for Advent

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17

Well it’s here, Christmas season 2016 is upon us. Thanksgiving Day marks the “official start”, although retail outlets started about 2 months ago, always the ones to rush things for the sake of revenue.

One of the pitfalls of being a Christian in such a commercialized society is that we get caught up in the seasonal flows as directed by the consumer driven culture. We focus on Christmas from Thanksgiving to Christmas day, but historically the church has focused on Advent, then Christmas. We then wat to focus on New Year’s, quickly letting Christmas fade into memory. The church for hundreds of years has celebrated Christmas tide. This was the time from Christmas Eve through January 6th, which is epiphany. (Remember the 12 days of Christmas?)

Advent is a time to reconsider our lives, our walk of faith, to ponder the wonder that is the first Advent of Christ. Ultimately, it reminds us that Jesus promised to return, the second Advent. Christians have this hope that does not disappoint, Jesus will return one day just as he promised.

As we scurry about purchasing gifts from friends and loved ones during this Advent season, may we as Christians stop and consider, the gifts that God gives us. These are gifts guaranteed through Christ in His First Advent.
James 1:17 teaches us that every good and every perfect gift comes from the Father of lights. These gifts are both tangible and intangible. Food, clothing, shelter are gifts from Him. However, those gifts that money cannot buy are from Him as well. These gifts are available from him now, and they take us all the way to eternity.

This advent and Christmas season we ought to focus on some of these “intangible” gifts. These are gifts you cannon purchase at any retail outlet. These are the gifts of hope, love, peace, life, joy, and glory.

If your reading the blog and do not have a church you call home, won’t you join us at New Covenant Baptist Church. Our first study on the topic of biblical hope is Sunday November 27 at 10:30 A.M.

I wish you a blessed Advent.

Pastor’s Blog: Talking to Ourselves

Psalm 103:1-5

“Bless the Lord, O my Soul”

I’m one of those people who talks to themselves. And like many of you, I have been caught talking to myself.
When caught talking to myself, I often reply it’s because, sometimes I’m the only one that will listen.
Practically speaking, it’s because my mind works best when I talk it out, audibly, so I can hear what I am working through. I can think through my lists best when I talk through my lists.
If the truth is to be known, we all talk to ourselves a bit every now and again. We shouldn’t be all that embarrassed when caught. We all do it. So did some of the greatest people in history.
Biblically speaking, we know of one man who talked to himself. He was the Holy Spirit inspired writer of much of the book we call the Psalms. Psalm 103 is prima-facie evidence that David was a man that conversed with himself, especially when thinking about God.

While we cannot know exactly the situation that prompted David to pen Psalm 103, I like to surmise a bit.  We all face highs ad lows in our lives.  Truth be told, situations face us that are downright unpleasant.  It is during those times that an attitude of gratitude is most needed.  While we may be in a valley at that moment, God has done much in our life.  We need to tell ourselves of these truths.  Reminding ourselves of what God has done, in real time, will help us move out of the valley.

David Points to 5 things God has done for him.  They are the same for us as well

  1. Forgives Iniquity.  God is the one who provides forgiveness to everyone who asks.  This is forgiveness for every sin past, present, and future.  In verse 12 he tells us what the extent of that forgiveness looks like “As far as the east is from the west”  This is not points on a compass.  It is infinity, east and west never meet.
  2. Heals Disease:   Both body and soul.  David is pointing out that God does in-fact heal us.  Our souls can be healed when we trust in Christ for salvation.  Every day our bodies undergo healing.  Every day that we are alive to live for Christ it is because he has sustained us and strengthened our bodies through his providential care for us.
  3. Redeems from destruction:   He saves us from death.  He spares us from death.  Think about all the things that you do that expose you to bodily harm.  Driving a car is a perfect example.  Yet you drive day in and day out, most often safely.
  4. Crowns you with lovingkindness:   John 3:16 is not just a poster to display at sporting events.  God demonstrated his own love toward us in that while we  were yet sinners Christ died for us.   We know God’s love by looking to the cross of Jesus Christ.   Nothing can change that.  He should have let humanity die and face judgement. Instead he chose to provide a way for salvation.
  5. Satisfies your mouth with good things:   Every meal you share. Every new article of clothing you get to enjoy.  The building you live in.  These are all gifts from God.  Something to be enjoyed. Something to be shared.

There is an old hymn “Count your blessings”    It’s words are timeless and remind us again, like David, we need to tell ourselves these truths.  This is the best form of personal communication we can engage in.

When upon life’s billows
You are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged,
Thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings,
Name them one by one,
And it will surprise you
What the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings,
Name them one by one,
Count your blessings,
See what God hath done!
Count your blessings,
Name them one by one,