LIVING THE WORD – Father’s Day 2019

A righteous man who walks in his integrity—blessed are his sons after him! [Proverbs 20:7 (RSV)]

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. [Proverbs 22:6 (RSV)]

Yesterday, when writing about various translations of Scripture, I was reminded of a story about four ministers who were discussing their preferred Bible translations. The first pastor said he favored the King James because, in spite of the archaic language, its words conveyed divine power with their elegance and majesty. The second pastor noted that he preferred the Amplified Bible because its alternate readings helped clarify and broaden the meaning of the original text. Explaining that his church was made up of new believers, the third pastor said he liked the Living Bible because its modern paraphrase of traditional Scripture was easily understood by his congregation. The three men then turned to the fourth minister and asked what Bible version he favored. The man answered that his favorite translation was his father. “You see,” he explained, “He put God’s word into practice which is the best translation of Scripture that I’ve ever seen!”

Shortly before our pastor’s first mission trip, his grandfather gave him a book about ministerial ethics and morals. Although he still has that book, I think he had an even better book in the examples of both his grandfather (a man who truly served “the least of these”) and his evangelist/pastor father. Both men’s lives witnessed the truth of the Gospel message. Some of us were blessed with fathers or grandfathers like his: godly men, the salt of the earth, men who embody the message of God’s word in their daily walk. Sadly, others may not have been so fortunate. Nevertheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, every one of us can translate God’s word into practice. A popular saying is, “You may be the only Bible some people read.” Indeed, we may be the only glimpse of Jesus seen by some.

Sunday is Father’s Day, a day when we honor the men who raised us. Let’s remember to honor our spiritual fathers, as well: those men we’ve know who didn’t just profess their faith but truly lived it. The best way to honor any of them isn’t with t-shirts, books, baseball caps, or after shave. It’s by living the way our Father in heaven wants us to live: with faith, generosity, joy, love, mercy, fairness, gentleness, compassion, honesty, wisdom, forgiveness, peace, humility, patience, kindness, and self-control. In honor of God the Father, let us all be faithful translations of His holy word.

There are five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian—but most people never read the first four. [Rodney “Gypsy” Smith]

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GETTING THE RIGHT MEANING

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (KJV)]

Author John Greco wrote of answering a call for a 24-hour phone prayer ministry to find a man in crisis. Sobbing, the caller confessed that he was a dog breeder and that he hadn’t known that every dollar he gave to the church was a sin that made God angry. A new believer, the man had been following a Scripture reading plan with his King James Bible. That morning, he’d read Deuteronomy 23:18: “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord … for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” Thinking God found his tithe from selling dogs disgusting and sinful is what had him so distraught. What the man didn’t understand, but Greco patiently explained, was that, in the Old Testament, “dog” was a euphemism for “male prostitute.” Reassuring his caller, Greco read the same verse from the NIV translation: “You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord….” The King James, being a word-for-word translation, had given the literal translation rather than the original meaning. The NIV, being about half way between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations, used “male prostitute” with a footnote that explained it had been “dog” in the original Hebrew.

Curious, I looked up this same verse in a variety of translations. My NLT, which moves a little further down the thought-for-thought-chain, translates the words in question as, ”the earnings of a prostitute, whether a man or a woman” and also provides a footnote with the original word. Like the King James, the RSV is a word-for word translation but it adds a footnote indicating “dog” meant “sodomite.” The VOICE, a paraphrase translation, refers to the earnings from “cult prostitution.” Although each version is different, they all are right in their own way.

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and many of its original words don’t translate easily into English. For example, there were at least four different Greek words (phileō, storgē, eros, and agapē) for our one word “love.” Moreover, like “dog” for “male prostitute,” idioms often are difficult to translate. In 1 Samuel 24, the word-for-word KJV says that Saul went into a cave “to cover his feet” which doesn’t make sense to us. Covering his feet, however, was a Hebrew idiom for relieving himself (which the thought-for-thought translations make clear) and does make sense.

Because it is the first Bible I ever read, I will always treasure the King James translation; its version of the 23rd Psalm remains my favorite. Nevertheless, when I read that same psalm in the TLB, NLT, or Message versions, I see other nuances. Until reading the TLB’s “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!” I hadn’t thought of it in terms of cause and effect. Rather than the “valley of the shadow of death,” the NLT broadens it to “the darkest valley,” and the Message refers to “Death Valley.” Thinking of actually traversing Death Valley—an unforgiving land of extremes where one could die from lack of drinking water or drown in a flash flood—and crossing more than 3 million acres of desolate wilderness—gives new depth to some very familiar words!

When we’re struggling to understand a difficult passage of Scripture or when we’ve heard or said the same verse so often that it’s lost its impact, using another translation is often helpful. Whatever Bible translation or translations we have on our bookshelves, however, the important thing is to open and read them!

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THAT WAS GOD

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. [John 3:18 (NLT)]

hindu pujaWhen writing about the prayers of Malala Yousafzai’s mother yesterday, I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding. Although she was praying to Allah, it was the one true God—our Triune God of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—who heard and answered her prayers. While God is not a fan of Islam, He loves all of His children, whether Muslims, Hindus, Christians or others. Just because the Yousafzais don’t believe in Him doesn’t mean He doesn’t believe in them and their efforts to make our world a place where every girl can learn and lead.

If we believe that Christianity’s major claims are true, then the claims of any other religions must be false wherever they contradict it. Islam condemns the Trinity and denies the Fatherhood aspect of God, the deity of Jesus, and His death. By denying Jesus’s death, Islam denies His resurrection and ascension, His atonement for our sins, His Holy Spirit, and the salvation of His believers: the cornerstones of our Christian creeds! Islam and Christianity can’t both be correct any more than Buddhism, Hinduism or a whole lot of other isms and Christianity can.

My Hindu friends often say, “Well, it’s all the same God!” but it isn’t. Christianity recognizes one God in three person but my Hindu friends believe in a multitude of gods who are a manifestation of various aspects of one god, Brahma. Omnipotent, unknowable and impersonal, he may exist in three separate forms: Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver), and Shiva (Destroyer). While Hinduism views mankind as divine and believes each person is judged and punished by his own karma, Christianity believes that only God is divine, Jesus is the only way and there will be a final Judgment Day.

Saying we all worship the same God is what David Limbaugh calls “intellectual laziness.” The claim that all paths can lead to God is a statement we should never make or accept. It’s an insult to Jesus: God incarnate who came, suffered, and died on the cross for our sins—something totally unnecessary were there another way to God. Jesus definitively said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6] In spite of the Universalists’ claims, all religions do not lead to God. Then again, no “religion” leads to God; only faith in Jesus Christ does!

Our God is a God of love and His benevolence and mercy is extended to everyone. It was our Triune God, not Allah, who heard Mrs. Yousafzai’s prayers and extended His hand of healing to her daughter. Unfortunately, that mercy won’t be extended in the world to come. Simply put, for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, death means punishment and eternal separation from God. Let us remember, however, that the exclusive truths of Christianity do not mean that we are exclusive in our love. Everyone, regardless of race, faith, ethnicity, sex or culture, is our neighbor and a person to be loved!

The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment. [John 3:35-36 (NLT)]

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. [Acts 4:12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GUARD YOUR GATES [THE HOLY WAR – Part 1]

He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. [2 Kings 25:9-10 (NLT)]

Schoonhoven - city gate

Jerusalem was heavily fortified and completely protected by walls over thirty-nine feet high and eight feet thick. In 586 BC, the Babylonian forces of King Nebuchadnezzar breached those seemingly impregnable walls and Jerusalem was burned, the city’s walls torn down, and the people taken captive. The city’s walls were rebuilt by Nehemiah 141 years later but they were again breached in 70 AD by the Romans who destroyed the city, demolished the second Temple, and massacred much of the population.

Published in 1682, John Bunyan’s allegory The Holy War tells of another fortified city’s fall. Bunyan’s walled city of Mansoul had five gates: Eye-gate, Ear-gate, Mouth-gate, Nose-gate and Feel-gate. Rather than Babylonians or Romans, Mansoul’s enemy was Diabolus. Unlike Jerusalem’s, Mansoul’s gates could not be breached or opened from the outside. They could only be forced if someone within the city allowed it. In short, sin could only enter if someone permitted its entrance. Diabolus and his then invisible army sat down in front of Ear-gate and assaulted it with fraud, guile, and hypocrisy. With the deaths of Captain Resistance and Lord Innocence, the townspeople looked at the tree of forbidden fruit, tasted it, forgot their good King Shaddai, opened both Ear and Eye-gate, and Mansoul came under the rule of Diabolus.

The Holy War is a none too subtle allegory that makes its point: walled cities can fall and city gates can be breached, if not from the outside, then from within. Like the city of Mansoul, sin will tempt and try to seduce us but it can’t force its way into our lives; it only enters by invitation. We alone are the ones who determine what we look at, hear, touch, feel, smell, say and do. Satan didn’t force Eve to eat that fruit, Cain to kill Abel, Jacob to deceive his father, the Israelites to worship a golden calf, Samson to dally with Delilah, David to take Bathsheba, Jonah to run away from Nineveh, King Ahaz to sacrifice his son, Herod to decapitate John, Judas to betray Jesus, or Peter to deny Him. These people freely opened their gates to temptation and allowed sin entrance into their lives.

An inevitable part of life, temptation is not a sin; it is a trial of faith. Mansoul’s sin was not in hearing the lies of Diabolous—it lay in believing and acting upon them. Sin happens when we drop our guard, open our gates, and allow it into our lives. God has given us a conscience, self-discipline, His word, and the Holy Spirit to defend our gates; whether or not we open ourselves to sin always remains our choice. Let us be cautious as to who and what enters our gates!

Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in. [Billy Sunday]

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. [1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

TURNING A DEAF EAR

Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand? Are you deaf to the words of God— the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant?… Listen, you who are deaf! Look and see, you blind! [Isaiah 40:21, 42:18 (NLT)]

the Shanahan sistersMy Great-aunt Camilla began to lose her hearing as a girl and was completely deaf by the time she reached adulthood. Although she didn’t sign, she did lip-read quite well. In spite of her deafness, as long as we were face-to-face, we were able to converse without much difficulty. However, if Camilla didn’t want to continue the discussion or disagreed with us, she’d simply turn away and refuse to look at us. Tug as we might at her sleeve, she’d not turn back to rejoin the conversation until we’d convinced her that the subject had changed to one she preferred or that we agreed wholeheartedly with her opinion.

Thinking back to her, I wonder if we all might be a little like my aunt. We don’t have to be unable to hear to turn a deaf ear to someone. People do that all of the time when they ignore a doctor’s advice; recommendations to eat less and exercise more frequently fall on deaf ears. Most of us will hear only what we want to hear when we want to hear it. What should be heard is another matter and, just as the people of Israel did, we frequently turn a deaf ear to God. As long as everything is going our way, life is pleasant, and the future looks rosy, we keep our eyes and ears on Him. But, when we hear the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, God’s plan differs from ours (as it frequently does), or life takes a nosedive, we often turn away from Him. We only turn back with complaint or demands. We readily accuse God of being deaf to our pleas when, in actuality, we are the ones not hearing Him.

When my deaf aunt turned away from us and refused to listen with her eyes, she won. The topic was changed and we spoke of what she wanted. God, however, is persistent. We just need to look at the Old Testament to see the various (and often severe) methods He used to get the attention of His chosen people. When they refused to listen to His prophets, God took measures that were not as easily ignored.

Faith is trusting God’s words and actions, even when we don’t like them. Faith isn’t turning a deaf ear to God; it is turning to Him and listening closely to what He is telling us. When life isn’t working out, He’s probably telling us something important so it’s best to listen carefully. God can speak to us in a whisper or a shout; as for me, I’d rather hear His whisper!

None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see. [Matthew Henry]

Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings. O Israel, if you would only listen to me! [Psalm 81:8 (NLT)]

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! [Matthew 11:15 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT LANGUAGE DO WE SPEAK?

The leaders saw that Peter and John were not afraid to speak, and they understood that these men had no special training or education. So they were amazed. Then they realized that Peter and John had been with Jesus. [Acts 4:13 (NCV)]

Sometimes, we Christians use religious jargon or “Christianese” when speaking. In fact, we might “testify” or “witness” instead of talk about our faith and “fellowship” instead of meet with friends! If, while speaking with non-believers, we use words we (and our fellow church-goers) can barely define we may as well be speaking a foreign language. Tossing about words like propitiation, sanctification, justification, glorification, conviction and reconciliation show that we can talk the talk, but what does it mean to anyone else? Let’s remember that Christianity isn’t a secret society like a lodge, college fraternity or sorority. There’s neither a secret handshake nor a password required for admittance.

When sharing our faith [witnessing], let’s not make the mistake of making Christianity harder than it is. Man rejected God [sinned] and we all stand guilty before God [condemnation]. Mankind’s sin alienated us from God but Jesus’s actions restored mankind’s relationship with God [reconciliation]. Jesus is God in flesh [incarnation].  Although the punishment for sin is death, Jesus paid that price [redemption]. Because Jesus took our punishment on the cross [propitiation/substitutionary atonement], we are no longer considered guilty [justification]. Jesus rose from the dead [resurrection]. When we believe in [accept] Jesus Christ and decide to follow Him [salvation], we turn from our old ways [repent] and are changed [born again/regeneration]. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we then grow more and more like Christ [sanctification]. Salvation is not something we earn [works], but something God freely gives to us [grace] when we believe in Jesus [faith].

Jesus didn’t use fancy words; he used parables and metaphors to make his point. Better yet, he explained his parables so everyone could understand the point he was making. The men he chose to spread the faith, men like Peter and John, were simple men. They didn’t require impressive words to preach or heal; they just needed faith! The bracketed words in the previous paragraph weren’t necessary and I’m not even sure I even used them all correctly! We don’t need $10 words or a special vocabulary to talk about Jesus; we just need to be sure we’re speaking the same language as the people with whom we’re talking.

Too many of us have a Christian vocabulary rather than a Christian experience. We think we are doing our duty when we’re only talking about it. [Charles F. Banning]

But we hear them telling in our own languages about the great things God has done! [Acts 2:11b (NCV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.