When Jesus Said "No, You Cannot Come With Me."

This morning I met with our students at the local junior high to lead our weekly Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting. We have a great group of seventh and eighth graders. Some are athletes, others are not. It's an FCA meeting, but students do not have to be athletes to attend. Truthfully, they don't have to be Christians either. In fact, they don't even have to want to fellowship. Nevertheless, we meet. After our welcome, and the weekly stuffing of our faces with Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts, we enter into our weekly study.

Today, I shared a story that has been a "go to" one for these meetings at different times over the years. It's intriguing, but familiar to most who have been in church. For those who have never been to church, it's a bit shocking - often resulting with "That's in the Bible?" questions.

The Naked Man in the Cemetery

The story is one found in three of the gospel accounts. In some places, it's referenced as one demon-possessed man found living in the cemetery. In another, it's two men. It's not contradictory. Read why here.

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The story gets the attention of the students...well...because it's about a naked man who lives in a cemetery. That's crazy! Right? That's what the people in the nearby town thought. 

The passage I read this morning was from Luke's gospel - Luke 8:26-39. Click here for the verses.

A Summary

We don't have a long time together on Thursday mornings before school starts, so I shared the story quickly. These students always listen and interact well, but this time they were really drawn in to the strange story. Here is a brief summary:

  • Jesus and his disciples get on a boat on the west side of the Sea of Galilee
  • They begin their journey to the east side of the Sea.
  • A storm comes up. Jesus calms it.
  • They arrive on the west shore. 
  • The disciples stay in the boat. Jesus gets out.
  • There's a naked man in the cemetery on that shore.
  • The naked man comes to Jesus, because the demons inside him know him. 
  • The demons speak, questioning why Jesus was there. They were afraid.
  • They ask if he would just send them into the herd of pigs nearby, rather than cast them into the abyss (apparently, they know how the Bible ends.)
  • Jesus obliges and they enter the pigs.
  • The pigs then run off the cliff and die.
  • The herdsmen aren't happy. They're scared.
  • They run into town and tell the townspeople.
  • The townspeople come to the cemetery and see Jesus sitting with the formerly naked man (now clothed) and everything ... seems ... normal. This is shocking!
  • The townspeople (Gentiles, by the way) are afraid and ask Jesus to leave.
  • Apparently, the disciples are still in the boat.
  • The healed, formerly naked demon-possessed man comes to Jesus and asks to go with Jesus.
  • Jesus says, "No."

The man is instructed to go back to his people and tell them what Jesus had done. 

Shocking Moments

I asked the students what shocked them the most about the story. 

Of course, as is the case every single time I tell this, they were upset that the pigs had to die. 

Yep. Every time.

They thought it was unfair because the pig herders had lost their pigs. Seemed like a harsh thing. They asked "Why did Jesus kill the pigs?"

Interesting, because Jesus didn't kill the pigs, but just as many of us do, when things happen that seem unfair, we often blame God for the hardship.

Then, there's the naked man. That part was weird. How did Jesus know he was there? Why would a good Jewish rabbi go to an unclean land of the Gentiles, be near unclean animals (pigs) and hang out in an unclean cemetery? There's much here. 

Notice, that as far as we can tell, the good Jewish disciples didn't even get out of the boat. They weren't ready for this, but Jesus was preparing them. I wonder if Peter thought of this moment when he had the vision prior to meeting with Cornelius?

We talked about how this crazy, naked, demon-possessed man was not liked by the townspeople. He scared them. Likely, he angered them as well. Why? Because if he's in the cemetery, no one can come and pay respects to their dearly departed. There's no leaving flowers or spending time there to honor the dead. It was too risky.

But now everything has changed. 

Jesus shows up. Heals the man. Transforms him. He's a brand new man!

Rejection?

This is what shocked us most. This man, likely not wanted by his people, desired to go with Jesus. He asked. He was ready to get into the boat and become one of the inner crowd. 

Then, Jesus says "No."

What? This is the total opposite of every invitation at youth camp, revivals, and church services I have gone to most of my life. The pastor or evangelist always says "Jesus loves you. Come to him. He will never leave you. Come on down that aisle and make a decision to abandon everything for the sake of Christ." The message has been "Come see. Walk with Christ. Stay with him. He won't reject you." Then, there's this story.

It seems so out of place, out of character, and just wrong.

Jesus said "No!"

Of course, he gave him more instructions. He said: "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."

In other words, Jesus said "No, you can't come with me. You cannot get in the boat with the disciples. You need to go into the town. Go home to the people who have been afraid and embarrassed of you for years. Go back to those who made fun of you, avoided you, warned their children to stay away from you. Go back to a people who are from your own culture...but, don't really like you. Oh, and when you do, be sure to tell them all that I, a Jewish rabbi, Son of God, from the other side of the sea has done for you." (That's my paraphrase and definitely can be corrected.)

Oh. Okay.

Then Jesus got in his boat with the disciples and made their way back across the water, never to come to this place again, as far as we know.

It's a strange story, to say the least.

A mission movement in this Gentile region began, to come to fruition when Paul arrived years later. An unnamed man who formerly was possessed with a legion of demons was healed, transformed, and rescued. His seminary training lasted just the time it took for the herdsmen to get out of the region, go into town and bring all the residents back with them. He's then commissioned, ordained, and sent out as a missionary. 

And Jesus said "No." 

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Photo credit: duncan on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

What's the Point?

There is much to learn here. Some things I have thought of after reading this over and over, and by sharing it once more with a group of teenagers. These are just some of the points I believe are transferable to our lives...

  • Not all followers of Jesus are at a point of accepting all other followers of Jesus, but eventually will be the longer they walk with him (I'm thinking of the disciples who apparently never exited the boat.)
  • Sometimes we can miss the point by being distracted by other things going on around the main focus (i.e. worried about the dead pigs rather than focusing on the demon-possessed man.)
  • Fear can trump faith. The townspeople were so frightened, they just asked Jesus to leave, rather than celebrate that their friend/relative/fellow townsperson was healed.
  • Following Christ fully mat not look like what we desire (the man wanted to get in the boat, not be left in the cemetery.)
  • Our personal testimonies, or stories of rescue by Christ are not about us, but ultimately about him. This is why we don't know the name of the one who seems by many to be the main character (the man in the cemetery.) Why? Because he's not the main character. Jesus is. He is in our stories as well.
  • A "no" may hurt, but when God says "no" there is always a bigger "yes" behind it. Jesus saying "no" to the man was not a rejection, but an invitation. The "yes" was that many would come to Christ, or at least be open to hearing about Christ. The man, just like you and me, was not privy to all that would occur. Thankfully, he was obedient and remained. Oh, and as an aside, I don't think the disciples were quite ready to take this Gentile into their boat yet.

I love this story. I have heard it so many times throughout my life, but the more I look into it, the more I see. Students love talking about it. It's strange. It has so many odd elements in it - pigs, Jesus, naked man, cemetery, demons, angry business owners, a boat, etc.

We also talked about how so many of us can relate to the rescued man...and maybe sometimes to the disciples in the boat who just aren't ready to like others who are different...yet. 

It was a great morning.

I am, however, very cognizant that some of our junior high students may have gone home today and told their parents "Hey, we talked about a naked man at FCA today," and not explain any more than that. I'm waiting for the phone calls and emails. 


The Problem with Unconditional Forgiveness

I have been teaching on Wednesday evenings this month on biblical forgiveness. You'd think this would be a basic study, but I'm discovering how many Christians and those, like me, who have been raised in churched families have missed some fundamental truths regarding forgiveness. The fact is that all of us come to this concept of forgiveness with preconceived ideas of what is right and fair. When someone questions that which we have held to be true for decades, there may be pushback.

And there has been.

This is not uncommon, but has opened up opportunities for discussion.

I threw out a teaser prior to beginning the study that caused some questions and ultimately led people to want to attend.

I made a statement related to the living church members of the Charleston, South Carolina church who stated that they forgave the murderer, Dylann Roof for killing their family and fellow church members. I stated that while the offer of forgiveness was right and honorable, to unconditionally forgive Roof is actually unbiblical.

That statement caused some to question.

Perhaps they thought I was calling into question the motives of those who offered forgiveness. I was not. In fact, change the story to any other incident where an unrepentant individual was offered blanket forgiveness by the offended or others. I would say the same - that form of forgiveness is not biblical.

As I have studied the Scripture and read works by authors such as Chris Brauns and sermons by men like Milton Vincent, I am convinced that while we are commanded as Christians to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us, to equate that forgiveness to be unconditional actually waters down the gospel and opens the door for universalism.

Forgiveness event

Does God forgive everyone?

Simple question, but according to Scripture the answer is NO. God does not forgive everyone. Some live their entire lives never surrendering to Christ and seeking forgiveness of sins. God is prepared to forgive. It is an offer, but it is an "if...then" offer.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

If we confess, or repent of our sins, he forgives. The central character of any forgiveness story is not self, but God. He created forgiveness.

Love is offered unconditionally. Forgiveness is conditional.

Otherwise, everyone's sins are forgiven and ultimately...everyone gets to heaven. That's not Christianity. That's universalism. It feels good, but it eliminates the consequences of sin and the value of God's holiness and love.

Why is this such a hard concept for even Christians to grasp? It is due to a centeredness on self and a idea of "fairness" that does not find biblical anchors. Even I have told people in the past that their forgiveness of others was really more about self-healing than releasing others of guilt. Sounds good, but that statement leans more toward therapeutic help than biblical truth. For that I repent. 

I have posted the first two sessions on forgiveness on our website here and will post the third later this week. As stated earlier, no original material from me. Mostly gleaned from Brauns and Vincent. 

So, from Chris Brauns' book Unpacking Forgiveness (highly recommended) here is the "TRUE OR FALSE" test I offered to our group two weeks ago. See how you do.

FORGIVENESS QUIZ

  1. TRUE OR FALSE – Where deep wounds between people are concerned, forgiveness can be unpacked in a moment.
  2. TRUE OR FALSE – Personal happiness and joy can legitimately motivate people to live out what the Bible teaches about forgiveness.
  3. TRUE OR FALSE – Most Christian pastors and counselors agree about what forgiveness is and how it should take place.
  4. TRUE OR FALSE – Forgiveness occurs properly only when certain conditions are met.
  5. TRUE OR FALSE – Jesus said little about how people should resolve interpersonal conflict.
  6. TRUE OR FALSE – A willingness to forgive is a test of whether or not a person will go to heaven when he or she dies.
  7. TRUE OR FALSE – Good people get to the bottom of all their disagreements.
  8. TRUE OR FALSE – There are times when it is wrong to forgive.

ANSWERS:

  1. FALSE
  2. TRUE
  3. FALSE
  4. TRUE
  5. FALSE
  6. TRUE
  7. FALSE
  8. TRUE

Here's more from Brauns on each point...

DEALING WITH THESE BIBLICALLY

  1. Where deep wounds are concerned, forgiveness can be unpacked in a moment. FALSE

Unpacking forgiveness is like relocating a family. While you may move on a particular day, unpacking takes a lot longer.

  1. Personal happiness and joy can legitimately motivate people to live out what the Bible teaches about forgiveness. TRUE

There are some excited about learning more of biblical forgiveness, but others who dread this. There is fear that you will find out what you ought to do and it won’t match what you want to do.

  1. Most Christian pastors and counselors agree about what forgiveness is and how it should take place. FALSE

There are profound disagreements about forgiveness among pastors and counselors. Forgiveness is biblical. It is right. No question there. Remember that the choices you and I make regarding forgives shapes much of our lives. That’s why we must consciously work out what you believe about forgiveness and then intentionally put those beliefs into action. It is a process.

How can you know what is right when there are so many opinions being voiced? Examine the Scripture.

Now these Jews (Bereans) were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. - Acts 17:11 (ESV)

More noble because they examined the Scriptures for truth.

  1. Forgiveness occurs properly only when certain conditions are met. TRUE

Most people answer “false” to this.

Does God forgive all? No. That’s an unconditional statement. Unconditional love is offered, but not unconditional forgiveness.

We have mixed our definitions and created a false theology with this.

The Bible is full of true stories of people who were not forgiven by God.

Goliath – not forgiven.

And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 1 Samuel 17:57 (ESV)

Revelation speaks of what happens to the unforgiven.

God's forgiveness is conditional. Therefore, our forgiveness is conditional as well.

  1. Jesus said little about how people should resolve interpersonal conflict. FALSE

Matthew 18 – about discipline and conflict resolution.

  1. A willingness to forgive is the test of whether or not a person will go to heaven when he or she dies. TRUE

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. - Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV)

  1. Good people get to the bottom of all their disagreements. FALSE

There are times when good people just can’t resolve differences. What do you do?

  1. There are times when it is wrong to forgive. TRUE

Some say that is a wrong statement. We’ll see why it is not.

Dennis Prager, “The Sin of Forgiveness” – WSJ 1997

The bodies of the three teenage girls murdered by a fellow student at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., were not yet cold before the students of the Christian prayer group that was shot at announced, "We forgive you, Mike," referring to Michael Carneal, 14, the murderer.

This immediate and automatic forgiveness of a murderer is not surprising. Over the past generation, the idea that a central message of Christianity is to forgive everyone who commits evil against anyone, no matter how great and cruel and whether or not the evildoer repents, has been adopted by much of Christendom.

The number of examples is almost as large as the number of heinous crimes. But one other recent example stands out. In August, the pastor at a Martha's Vineyard church service attended by the vacationing President Clinton announced that it was the duty of all Christians to forgive Timothy McVeigh, the murderer of 168 Americans. "I invite you to look at a picture of Timothy McVeigh and then forgive him," the Rev. John Miller said in his sermon. "I have, and I ask you to do so."

The pastor acknowledged: "Considering what he did, that may be a formidable task. But it is the one that we as Christians are asked to do."

Though I am a Jew, I believe that a vibrant Christianity is essential if America's moral decline is to be reversed, and that despite theological differences, there is indeed a Judeo-Christian value system that has served as the bedrock of American civilization. For these reasons I am appalled and frightened by this feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness.

CHRISTIANS MUST ALWAYS HAVE A WILLINGNESS TO FORGIVE OR AN ATTITUDE OF FORGIVENESS, BUT THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT FORGIVENESS ALWAYS TAKES PLACE.


The Problem With Gender Neutral Bibles & Gender Neutrality in the Church

Years ago I led our church through a doctrinal study over the distinctives that define us as Baptists. In an age where denominational labels tend to offend or in some cases are avoided at all cost, there is value in knowing and understanding the doctrinal pinnings of one's church. This study led us through our doctrinal statement, known as The Baptist Faith & Message (2000.)

Article I of our statement of faith reveals our understanding of the inspiration and value of the Bible. The article expresses this as follows:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

 As we dug into this teaching on the value of Scripture, it becomes confusing to some, especially in the English-speaking world, as to which version of the Bible should be used. There are some who believe the only valid version to be read, studied and preached is the Authorized King James Version. While I am not one to discount the value of the tried and true KJV, primarily because I grew up, like many of you, reading and memorizing passages from this version. It's a beautiful version and yet, it is often hard to follow due to the changing vocabulary and different meanings of English words from the 1600s to now. As an American with friends from Great Britain, I find that phrases we use have vastly different meanings to them, and vice versa. 

Some have asked why there are so many modern English translations. The simple answer relates to money. Each publishing house tends to own the rights to its own modern translation. Therefore, since Biblica owns the rights to the very popular New International Version, it stands to reason that Broadman & Holman would rather own it's own version for publication, as would Crossway and other publishing houses.

Yet, it is more than a business decision. Sometimes, there are decisions made by translators that seem less connected to history or the oldest documentation and more to swaying with the cultural shifts of the day. 

A movement has continued to grow that seeks to delete all masculine references to God throughout Scripture. On the surface, this may seem to be insignificant.

"It's more inclusive," some would say.

"It's less offensive to those who have difficult relationships with men, especially their earthly fathers," is declared by others.

So, in this age where gender and sexuality are the unavoidable subjects through the media and the amoral revolution continues to occur, I find myself going back to a previous teaching on the value of Scripture and the use of non-gender neutral versions. (The original post from January 2011 may be read here.)

A number of churches are also intentionally moving away from using gender-specific terms. This was printed in a church's bulletin recently and ended up on Twitter. I wish I could say I am surprised, but this is little more than the next step down a slippery slope.

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Why Does Gender in the Bible Matter?

It is my assertion and belief that gender matters in life and therefore within the Bible. Regarding Bible translations, it matters at a deeper level than most realize. 

In an article posted a number of years ago by Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress and The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (full posting here,) the writer touches on some of the most common translation questions and issues:

In Greek the word aner usually has the sense of husband or man (male human being).3 Until recently, English translations included the male semantic component in translation. But the new gender-inclusive translations show some changes.

In Acts 1:21 Peter discusses the replacement of Judas: "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men (aner) who have been with us…" (New International Version [NIV] 1984). But in the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI 1996) and in the New Living Translation (NLT 1996) "men" becomes "one of those" (NIVI) or "someone else" (NLT). The change is theologically significant because it no longer conveys in English the Greek evidence that Peter did not think that a woman could be an apostle. In Acts 20:30 Paul warns the elders at Ephesus about false teachers: "Even from your own number men (aner) will arise and distort the truth…" (NIV). Indirectly Paul indicates that the elders were all men. This theologically significant detail drops out in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1993), NIVI, and NLT.

The common thread in the verses above is that they all involved situations where males were examples of larger principles. This is not to denigrate females, for both male and female are made in God's image, unique and special. It was, however, descriptive of the role of the men within the early church.

Another translation issue revolves around the Hebrew word 'ish.

Consider the translation of 'ish. It almost always means "man." It can be used in idiomatic constructions with the sense "each one" (e.g., 1 Chron. 16:3, Job 42:11). The main problem is that gender-inclusive translations eliminate male marking in other passages where they have no lexicographical warrant.

Consider Psalm 1:1, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers" (NIV). NRSV, NIVI, and NLT change it to read, "Blessed are those who…," or a similar phrasing. The change from singular to plural produces a description that is "less specific…, less easy to visualize." Moreover, with the singular, the reader tends to picture a single man standing against a multitude of wicked people, sinners, and mockers.

After reading Psalm 1, sensitive readers know that it offers the "man" as a representative, an ideal, for men and women. The principle applies to many. But the starting point is the picture of one, and that one is male. The semantic component as well as grammatical gender is present for the original readers.

The gender-inclusive translations simply eliminate this semantic component. They contain a formulation that expresses the general principle of equity, and that is part of the point. But they drop one aspect of the meaning, by not expressing the subtle interplay between a male representative on the one hand, and a general principle applying to both men and women on the other.

The writer speaks of the more traditional usage of the word man to describe the entirety of the human race. This, now is not considered politically correct or tolerant.

The biggest issue in removing gender from Scripture is the elimination of the word he.

How do we treat generic "he" in English? Matthew 16:24-26 says, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (NIV)

The verses contain several occurrences of generic "he," referring back to "anyone." Some people find this usage distasteful, so the NIVI eliminates it: "Those who would come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for me will find them. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?" Singulars are converted to plurals, third person "he" becomes second person "you."

Meaning Is Warped

The arguments for eliminating gender is both explicit and implicit. There's no neutral ground in this movement for neutrality. The most dangerous issue is when the meaning of Scripture is warped from poor translators. Though some declare that "all translation is interpretation" the end result is the justification of already held beliefs when seeking affirmation. In other words, it fuels the fire of those who are set on their beliefs, and then seeking to find a verse or passage that affirms their already held beliefs. If the verse is taken out of context, so be it.We've seen this done numerous times. If the verse is mistranslated, all the better. Why? Because the truth in these cases is not that Truth is sought, but justification. This is a dangerous slide.

John 14:23 in the NIV reads, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." The NRSV reads, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

The NRSV substitutes plurals for the generic singulars found in Greek and in the NIV. But this results in an unintended ambiguity in the product. The last clause, "make our home with them," has a plurality of people, "them," combined with a single dwelling place, "our home." Conceivably, it might mean that the Father and the Son make a home with each person. But it might also mean that the Father and the Son make a single home with the plurality of people together. That is, they come and dwell with the church corporately. This latter interpretation is closer to the surface or more "obvious" than the first, since it responds to the difference between the singular "our home" and the plural "them." Such a thought of corporate dwelling is genuinely biblical (see 1 Cor. 3:10-15, Eph. 2:22). But it is not the thought found in the Greek text of John 14:23. Both the Greek and the NIV picture the Father and the Son making a dwelling with each person, not with the church corporately.

Gender neutral Bibles weaken the Word. They represent poor scholarship at a minimum and the conformation to cultural sensitivities. Do the masculine pronouns really matter? I believe they do, but not because men are better than women or that we are insensitive to the plight of those who have had terrible experiences with men in their lives. They matter because they signify the deconstruction of God's Word which will inevitably end for some with a Bible that looks like Swiss cheese, with holes throughout and passages that only align with our previously understood realities.

The introduction of mainstream gender-neutral Bibles was little more than a foreshadowing of removing gender tags within the church (for some.) The cultural influence within the church is immense and while "neutral" may be the stated goal, "neutered" is the end result of a church that abandons the truth of God's Word.

RELATED: Interview with Dr. Mohler Regarding the Need for Christian Counter-Culture

 

Listing of Gender-Neutral English Bible Translations (Not a complete listing)

  • New Jerusalem Bible (1985)
  • New American Bible (1986)
  • New Century Version (1987)
  • Revised English Bible (1989)
  • New Revised Standard Version (1990)
  • Good News Bible, 2nd Edition (1992)
  • Contemporary English Version (1995)
  • New Living Translation (1996)
  • Today's New International Version - TNIV (2002)

 


THE SIN OF OUTSOURCING: How "Good" Ministries Are Robbing the Church

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the danger of buidling silos in ministry within the church. It garnered a number of hits and created some talking points among other ministers, ministry leaders throughout the world and members of the local church.

As a local church, we now find ourselves at a place of decision regarding ministry roles and purposes.

Over the past few weeks, I have had some one-on-one meetings with ministry leaders and church members regarding the future of the church in our community and culture. We have had numerous pastoral/ministry leader meetings where vision-casting tempered with cautious optimism about next steps reigned. Most recently, I had the privilege of sharing with our Deacons and then our Children's Ministry Leaders about the future of ministry and programming.

A few weeks ago, our Associate Pastor of Discipleship & Students preached in my stead a message that reaffirmed the role of parents as being the spiritual heroes in the lives of their children.

GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF BEST

Like most evangelical churches in the west, we have grown and developed ministries based on the very same metrics every other church has used over the past forty years or so. It's not that those metrics were wrong, but over the long haul, the good ministries established have become what every long-standing ministry becomes when the bigger picture is blurred or never clearly defined - ministry silos.

In other words, we have built some incredibly good ministries over the years (i.e. children's, student, collegiate, single adults, married adults, women, men, senior adults, etc.) but the "goodness" of these programmed ministries have led to an inability to experience and offer the "best."

OUTSOURCED DISCIPLING

We are a culture that outsources everything. I do. If there's a plumbing issue in my home and the 2 minute YouTube video cannot help me fix it, I have to outsource the work to a professional. When we had carpet installed in our home years ago, I outsourced the installation to a professional. When I need work done on my car, I have to call a professional. There are skills I have and am comfortable with, but in many cases, I must find an expert to help.

The problem in the Christian family and in the church is that we have borrowed this "outsourcing" from our culture and implemented in the church. Therefore, when our children have spiritual questions, most parents feel ill-equipped to respond and answer and must call the "expert" which in many cases is a deacon, minister, pastor, small group leader, etc.

While it is a good thing to gain wisdom from others who have journeyed a similar path, the truth is that parents cannot outsource the discipling process to others for their children and be obedient and effective.

We must live out the truths of Scripture. 

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)

This is a command to parents and to God's people. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to lead our families in faith. The church then is to come alongside the parents and the families and give encouragement, offer helps, pray for and give moms and dads clear handles of leadership. In those cases where parents are not believers, or there are no parents in the story, the church stands in the gap. It's an incredible model. In fact, it's best.

Our Associate Pastor of Discipleship, Dave Paxton, will be spearheading our strategy shift to this biblical model of family discipleship. He will be overseeing the full model and implementation with ministry leaders and families.

While there is nothing new under the sun, sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. In that moment, it seems that the old is new again. 

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CELEBRATING MILESTONES

Over the years our church, like many, has offered numerous studies and resources for families and for personal growth. However, it seems that never have we connected all the strategies as they should be for an overarching movement and ministry. It has been like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the cover of the box. In other words, all the "good" ministries and resources were just that, but not best because the end was never clarified.

If the goal of the church is to make disciples and develop fully devoted followers of Christ, which it is, we must realize that everything we do must be evaluated and judged by this criteria.

A sister church in Texas has been developing a strategy for years and under the theme "Legacy Milestones" has been fruitful in connecting these dots. We have communicated with them about their strategy and have been given permission to use what they have developed as needed.

The truth of the matter is that what works in the south Texas culture will be different than what will work in the northeast Florida culture, so understand clearly. . .our framework is still being built.

Once the framework is built, we will then be free to staff positions as needed in these areas of ministry to lead families forward and to ensure that all within the church are engaged in the process.

Some of the milestones that must move from being just "age-graded celebrations" to full-church body events and celebratory moments are:

  • Parent/Child Dedication (more than just a photo op with the babies and a gift of a certificate and a keepsake Bible that will never be read.)
  • Salvation & Baptism
  • Preparing for Adolescence (a strategy for pre-teens as well as their parents)
  • Pathway to Purity (leading students to live biblically pure before & after marriage)
  • Rites of Passage (an biblical event for those stepping into manhood and womanhood, rather than a culturally-defined passageway such as getting a driver's license, getting to vote, or being legal to buy liquor)
  • High School Graduation (more than just a photo op with students wearing the caps and gowns and receiving a gift book they'll never read.)
  • Disciple's Life (the lifelong journey of faith as defined by Scripture and enforced through our Grow, Serve and Engage groups)

At these key times in a person's life, moms and dads speak Truth into their lives clearly. Effective and proper handles, or next steps, are provided for families and the church as a whole walk through the journey as well. 

WHAT ABOUT SINGLE ADULTS, SENIOR ADULTS AND OTHERS?

This is not a ministry strategy for a specific ministry, but is holistic discipleship where every person is led to understand their role in the story. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, mentors, grandparents, etc. all play vital roles. 

It is the responsibility of the church to give the handles, walk the path, keep the focus on the Gospel and Christ and make disciples.

That means. . .everything that's "good" must be put on the table. Change will happen. It will be worth it, eventually. 

WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES?

More to come regarding how this will work at our church. In the meantime, consider your church, your ministry, your area of service. Are you settling for "good?" 

In other words, if your church does everything exactly how you're doing it today and never adjusts, what will you look like in five years? Ten years?

The Gospel is never-changing. 

The Truth is never-changing.

The strategies are always changing.

Live like a missionary. Study your culture. Don't compromise your faith. Don't compromise the Gospel. Go. Make disciples.


Why The Church Doesn't Need Small Group Leaders

I'm a Sunday School guy. I say that proudly. I grew up in church hearing the message "You grow a church through it's Sunday School." I even focused on Religious Education in seminary because I believed so much in the small group (i.e. Sunday School) model for reaching a community for Christ.

I still believe the small group is essential, but . . .

Things are changing.

I know many cringe when you hear that word in church. It's almost a dirty word for some. . ."change."

For the city_final The truth of the matter is, things are changing and yet, in a world of changes, we hold on to the truth that the Gospel never changes. That being said, we must continually discover the best ways to get this unchanging Gospel message to those who need it most.

By the way, those who need it most are the ones who aren't here every Sunday.

While I still believe the small group is a key to reaching our community, the old model and even old terms may not be best. Let me share something I just read from Pastor Matt Carter of the Austin Stone Church in Austin, Texas as they began to discover God's plan for being missional in their city.

We began investigating a new structure for relating to each other and to our neighborhoods, something we called missional communities. We began moving away from a traditional small group model that emphasized church community and evangelism by invitation. While this model continues to be popular at many churches, we saw several barriers in this model that kept us from truly engaging the people of the city who were not from a church background. The very people who needed to hear the gospel weren't able to establish relationships with those who were sharing the gospel.

Existing small group models typically aim for community first, but they often miss the mark and are ineffective at fostering either mission or community. Yet when they aim for mission first, they are effective at fostering mission and developing organic forms of community. When community was the focus, mission and community both suffered. But when mission takes priority, community naturally follows.

Interesting.

We decided that since disciple-making is best done by missionaries who are living out the Great Commission to specific people, we needed to redefine the identity of our community leaders, seeing them as missionaries rather than small group leaders.

(For the City by Patrick & Carter, p. 120)

When I read this, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. Community missionaries rather than small group leaders. Wow! I know it's just a term, but it redefines what we do completely. In fact, it's biblical. This doesn't mean that we disassemble the Sunday morning small group ministry, but it does mean that our leaders need to begin thinking of themselves as community missionaries. Look at it this way - if you are a leader in a married adult class for 30-40 year olds (I know the ages don't mean much around here, but you get the picture) then in a real sense, you have been called out to be a missionary for every married adult in our community in that age range. In the past, leaders just saw their "flock" as the group that showed up on Sunday. The emphasis was getting through the lesson on Sunday and maybe organizing the obligatory "fellowship" complete with BBQ and games for the kids every month or so. That's all good. . . .it's just doesn't have much to do with Kingdom growth.

This concept is still ruminating in my mind, but I'm excited about this. This moves our structure into a missional mode. However, names don't mean much unless the vision is understood.

Our ministry is like bifocal lenses - able to see far away and close up at the same time. The larger portion of the lens is the "far away" portion. In other words, the priority of our small groups must be outward mission first, then inward care. Too often we swap these.

Many churches will never get this. The jury is still out as to whether we will. The times, they are a changin'. I fear that what Ed Stetzer said is true, "If the 1950s ever come back, the SBC church is ready."

We must be a church in our time, for our time, for the glory of God.

Interesting. . .and exciting.


We Were All POWs

I am currently in Americus, Georgia. I am leading a group of our senior adults on a trip to some sites up here nearby. Yesterday, we left early from Orange Park and arrived a little after lunchtime at Andersonville. While some in our group have been here before, the vast majority have not.

Andersonville, Georgia is the home of the National POW Museum and a National Cemetery. If you travel on I-75 in Georgia, you may have seen the brown sign showing an exit leading toward Andersonville. If you're like most, you just drive by. Click here for the National Park Service info regarding this site.

Andersonville is not close to the interstate. It's a bit of a drive.

So, why did the federal government put the National POW Museum so far off the beaten path? 

DSCN0070 Andersonville is the home of formerly named Camp Sumter - the largest Civil War era POW facility in the nation. In this Confederate camp, that existed for only 14 months, over 43,000 Union soldiers were confined. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure to the elements. The camp was not a prison as many would imagine, but an open air 26 1/2 acre stockade with a 16 foot log wall surrounding. While the walls no longer exist, a portion of the stockade has been recreated to help visitors imagine the setting. Today, it's a grassy hill with a few large trees growing in one corner, complete with monuments from northern states commemorating their war dead. At the time the prison was active, there was no grass, just red clay and sandy ground with a trickling stream running through the middle (which was the only source of water, and also served as the public toilets.) 

In 1970 the legislature established Andersonville as a National Historic Site. The goal was to create at the park a museum that would "interpret the role of prisoners-of-war camps in history" and "to commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who lost their lives in such camps." This museum is wonderfully designed and takes the visitor through the plight of POWs in various wars, from the Revolutionary War to Operation Desert Storm (expansion to cover stories from current wars is in the works.) The features of this museum are interactive and very emotional. 

DSCN0045 As we walked through the museum, toured the prison grounds and the National Cemetery, the sobering reality of the depravity of man is very clear. I heard some of our seniors saying things like "It's hard to believe that man can do this to other men." 

We discussed how this relates to the larger story. In a sense, every person on the planet is a POW, being held by the Enemy in a prison of sin as the great spiritual battle continues. The sad thing is that most do not even realize they're being held prisoner. Once a person surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accepts Him and his substitutionary atonement, he/she is rescued from prison and set free (see Galatians 1.) This is true liberty.

In the museum, there are a couple of short films shown. One titled "Echoes of Captivity" we have shown at our church in the past. Yet, every time I view it, I tear up. The personal stories of men (and one woman) who have served in the American military and have been held captive (some for almost a decade) as prisoners-of-war are incredibly moving. Perhaps the most moving portion of the film is when the former POWs describe the day they were liberated. Some are sharing of an event that took place decades earliers, but the tears start flowing. 

These reunion stories of former prisoners and family are incredible. The joy that is described is overwhelming. The images of these men (and woman) stepping out of planes to be greeted by spouses and children will bring a tear to one's eye. 

DSCN0088 We are reminded as believers that heaven rejoices when one soul is saved. I think perhaps this rejoicing resembles these images somewhat (but on a much larger scale.) The rejoicing that takes place when a child who has been held, unknowingly, as a POW in the real battle is liberated and set free. Now, that will bring a tear of joy to your eye. . .or at least it should.

So, this started as a trip to a historic site and has become a great illustration of God's great love for us. I guess it's true. . . everything's spiritual.

He who has ears to hear. . . listen.


Does It Matter Which Bible Translation You Use?

We are working through a study of doctrine on Wednesday evenings titled "Foundations of Our Faith."  One of the foundational issues that we cover is the inspiration, inerrancy and worth of Scripture.  Our doctrinal statement on the Scriptures states this. . .

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation. (Baptist Faith & Message, 2000)

Every so often I will have church members and attenders ask what English translation of the Bible is best.  This is sometimes asked with a sincere desire to know which Bible to purchase and study.  Sometimes, it's a test to see if I will say the version that the questioner likes.

Regarding English translations, it seems that a new one is available just about every couple of years.  If you go to the local Christian bookstore, you will find a wall of different translations in a variety of styles and with different features.  The marketing of the Bible has become big business.

While it is still the best selling book in the United States, it may also rank as one of the least read.  However, when studying the Bible, it is wise to have a good translation in hand.

There are primarily two types of translations of the Bible available.  One is a "word for word" translation that seeks to be as literal as possible with regards to the original languages of Greek and Hebrew.  On the other end of the spectrum is the "thought for thought" versions which seek to maintain the ideas of the original texts, knowing that sometimes the original Hebrew and Greek words do not translate easily into English.

Some Bibles available aren't actually translations at all.  They are paraphrases in modern language, which are fine for personal reading to better gain a grasp of what is being said, but should never be used as one's primary Bible for study, teaching and research.

Translation-continuum

Yet, this still may not answer the question "Which translation is the best?"

Let me highlight some of the features of translations most often used by those in our faith family.

KJV - The King James Version:  Well, this is the gold standard for English translations it seems.  It's also the translation that most adult believers grew up reading.  This is a big year for the King James Version. This is the 400th anniversary of this 1611 edition.  You'll notice that on the continuum, it would be classified as mostly a "word for word" translation.  It presents beautiful language, with all the "thees" and "thous" and Old English terminology.  There is great beauty in how this version is presented and while I do not preach from this version, I believe it is a good translation.  I, however, am not one who would be a "KJV only" Christian as some are.  The old joke was "If the KJV was good enough for Paul, then it's good enough for me."  There has been and will continue to be debate among Christians about the King James Version.  The reality is the antiquated language is often difficult for new believers to understand.  Some words are no longer in use in the English language.  Then, there's the constant debate on better understanding of the original Greek texts.  Nevertheless, this posting is not to be a debate on the King James Version.  I personally do not believe it is the best or only valid translation available, but I certainly would say that if the KJV is the Bible you grew up with and you love it, then read it.  The KJV certainly has served a great role in the church for the past 400 years and we are to be thankful to God for it's availability.  (It's also a public domain translation, not owned by any one publisher, so it remains the most widely distributed version.  Just ask the Gideons.) The King James Version is presented at a 12th grade reading level.

NASB - New American Standard Bible:  Other than the Interlinear Greek/Hebrew Bible, the New American Standard is the most literal English translation on our continuum.  My first study Bible was the NASB and I love it.  While preserving the literal accuracy of the 1901 American Standard Version, the NASB has sought to render grammar and terminology in contemporary English. Special attention has been given to the rendering of verb tenses to give the English reader a rendering as close as possible to the sense of the original Greek and Hebrew texts. In 1995, the text of the NASB was updated for greater understanding and smoother reading.  It is not the easiest to read, however, and is presented at an 11th grade reading level.

ESV - English Standard Version:  This is the version I have recently begun using in my preaching and studying.  The English Standard Version stands in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half-millennium. The goal of the translators has been to carry forward this legacy for a new century.  To this end each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text. The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale-King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work. Archaic language has been brought to current usage and significant corrections have been made in the translation of key texts. But throughout, the goal of translators has been to retain the depth of meaning and enduring language that have made their indelible mark on the English-speaking world and have defined the life and doctrine of the church over the last four centuries.

The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. It seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

NIV - New International Version:  This is the most popular English Bible version other than the King James Version.  A self-governing body of fifteen biblical scholars, the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) was formed and charged with responsibility for the version, and in 1968 the New York Bible Society (which subsequently became the International Bible Society and then Biblica) generously undertook the financial sponsorship of the project. The translation of each book was assigned to translation teams, each made up of two lead translators, two translation consultants, and a stylistic consultant where necessary. The initial translations produced by these teams were carefully scrutinized and revised by intermediate editorial committees of five biblical scholars to check them against the source texts and assess them for comprehensibility. Each edited text was then submitted to a general committee of eight to twelve members before being distributed to selected outside critics and to all members of the CBT in preparation for a final review. Samples of the translation were tested for clarity and ease of reading with pastors, students, scholars, and lay people across the full breadth of the intended audience. Perhaps no other translation has undergone a more thorough process of review and revision. From the very start, the NIV sought to bring modern Bible readers as close as possible to the experience of the very first Bible readers: providing the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning in every verse. With this clarity of focus, however, came the realization that the work of translating the NIV would never be truly complete. As new discoveries were made about the biblical world and its languages, and as the norms of English usage developed and changed over time, the NIV would also need to change to hold true to its original vision.  The NIV is presented at a 7th grade reading level.

HCSB - Holman Christian Standard Bible:  This is our Southern Baptist translation and is Very good. (the updated version of this translation is the CSB.) After several years of preliminary development, Holman Bible Publishers, the oldest Bible publisher in America, assembled an international, interdenominational team of 90 scholars, all of whom were committed to biblical inerrancy. Smaller teams of editors, stylists, and proofreaders then corrected and polished the translation. Outside consultants contributed valuable suggestions from their areas of expertise. An executive team then reviewed the final manuscripts.

The HCSB uses optimal equivalence in translating. This approach seeks to combine the best features of both formal (word for word) and dynamic (thought for thought) equivalence. In the many places throughout Scripture where a word for word rendering is clearly understandable, a literal translation is used. In places where a literal rendering might be unclear, then a more dynamic translation is given. The HCSB has chosen to use the balance and beauty of optimal equivalence for a fresh translation of God's word that is both faithful to the words God inspired and "user friendly" to modern readers. This translation is presented at 7th grade reading level.

OK, these are descriptive terms about some translations.  Others are good as well such as the New King James Version and even the Revised Standard Version, but what about all the others.

GENDER NEUTRALITY IS AN ISSUE

Many newer translations have bought into the politically correct rhetoric and therefore have determined that it is better for the Bible, in an attempt to be inclusive (which it is anyway), must remove masculine references. This is a problem.

In an attempt to be all-inclusive, neutering the Bible of gender renders it watered-down and in some cases totally wrong.

While there are times when it would be appropriate to change the word "man" to "people" in a verse (only when the original text shows that to be a more reasonable translation) many of these translations have gone overboard and have sought to remove all gender.  This results in verses not saying now what the original intended, removing characteristics from God and Jesus that are essential to understanding the Word, and not being all-inclusive, but rather removing the individual need for a response to the Gospel.  

The first gender -neutral English translation to hit the mainstream was the 1979 New Revised Standard Version (NSRV).  Others have followed suit, such as the New Century Version (ncv), Contemporary English Version (CEV), New Living Translation (NLT), Today's New International Version (TNIV), the International Children's Bible (ICB), and the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI)- sold primarily in Great Britain.

So, this being said - a gender-neutral, thought for thought translation is not one that I would recommend.  Below is a chart that will show you some comparison data regarding translations.

Bible Translation Chart (1)-1
Click the chart above to open a larger version.

Does it matter which translation you use?  Yes.  I study the ESV and use that translation in my sermon preparation.  However, I like the NASB and HCSB as well.