September 30, 2011

Is my Bible Accurate?

All of this talk about Bible translation can be very instructive and edifying. But if we are not careful, it can also be quite disconcerting. With questions swirling in our heads about whether the KJV is based on the best Greek Testament; or whether the NIV’s translation theory is faulty, we may find ourselves wondering if we’ve been misguided all these years by faulty Bibles. So let me address that in this final article.

Have you been misguided by your Bible translation? Probably not. Yes, there are translations (such as those printed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) that intentionally change key words to promote their heresies. But chances are you haven’t been reading those versions. Probably you’ve been reading one of the following: the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NIV, NRSV, or NLT. As I have been saying for the past five weeks, they are not all created equal. Some of them (particularly the NASB and ESV) are head and shoulders above the rest. But, if you grew up on the KJV or the NIV; or if you’ve been reading the NLT because of its ease of access, you will not have imbibed any heresy.

Here’s the mercy of God for you – though all translations have been put together by fallible men and women; and though there are noticeable differences in many of them … not one of those differences (in the mainstream translations mentioned above) will change the way a person believes about the cardinal doctrines of the faith.

Yes, the KJV has a few extra verses at the end of the book of Mark. The same is true in John 8, and in a few other spots. But the truths taught (or not taught) in those verses do not make or break the Christian faith. For the most part, the KJV’s additional verses just say the kinds of things that may be found in other places in the Scriptures.

And yes, the NIV and NLT sometimes frustrate me by telling me what they think Paul means instead of what he actually says. And sometimes, by doing so, some of the nuances Paul probably had in mind get ‘lost in translation’. But overall, even though they shouldn’t be interpreting for me, these translations get the interpretations basically right. You won’t be led into any serious errors if you’ve read the NIV your whole life long.

I hope that’s a relief to you. Surely there are better translations and worse ones. And yes, if you read one of the lesser ones, you will miss out on some things that God intends to give you. But I haven’t written this series of articles to undermine your confidence in the English Bible, but to strengthen it. I believe that, if you understand what you are holding in your hands, and how it was translated, and from what Greek manuscripts, and so on … you’ll actually be more confident that it really is possible, without knowing a word of Greek or Hebrew, to know exactly what Moses, Ezekiel, James, Paul, and John wrote … indeed, what the Holy Spirit wrote through them! I believe that, if you understand how translation works, and why it ought to work a certain way, you’ll see with all the more clarity the importance of reading from a good translation. And the better the translation, the better you’ll understand God’s word. And the better you understand God’s word, the more you will love Him; the more you will find yourself under the Spirit’s gracious influences; and the more you will grow into conformity to His Son. That’s worth a lot of effort … and a good translation!

What about the King James Version?

Once we have settled the question of what kind of translation we want to use, we still have a question to answer. Which specific one? When thinking about word-for-word translations, we English speakers have four or five marvelous options (KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, and HCSB to name the ones that immediately come to mind). But which one shall we use? Most Christians are content with any or all of the above. But there is a minority who prefer the King James above all others, and who insist on using it alone. Some would even go so far as to argue that it is uniquely inspired. We have already shown that to be a misguided assumption.

‘But what about all the differences between the KJV and the modern translations?’ it is sometimes argued. ‘Is it not obvious that modern translations have left certain things out of the Bible?’ These are questions you may have been asked by a KJV-only proponent. At their best, these questions are well-meaning, but uninformed.

Did modern translators really leave things out of the Bible? And would they have done so, as some KJV-only proponents argue, as a grand conspiracy to change Bible doctrine, lessen our appreciation for the deity of Jesus, etc.? No, and no. So then why do the modern translations (especially in the New Testament) not include certain sentences, words, and sometimes whole verses or passages that appear in the KJV?

Well, remember that the New Testament came to us in Greek, not in Elizabethan English. Understand, also, that no one possesses the original copies of Luke in Luke’s own hand-writing, or of Galatians in Paul’s own script. All of the Greek manuscripts that exist today are handwritten copies of the various books of the Bible, produced from the first century AD and onwards. And, as we said about Bible translators before, so we now say of Bible copyists – they are not infallible. Sometimes, when we compare a handful of copies of the gospel of Matthew, for instance, it becomes obvious that one of the copyists inadvertently skipped a word or two. Other times it would appear that an overzealous copyist added a few of his own explanatory notes to the biblical text – notes which were sometimes thought by later copyists to have been part of the original text, and were therefore copied down as though they were!

What this means is that Bible scholars and translation teams have to sift through all the thousands of ancient Greek Bible manuscripts, comparing these aberrations, ‘typos’, and so on … and by careful consideration, come to studied conclusions about which manuscripts contain the most accurate copies of the infallible originals. There are men and women who have given their whole lives to this pursuit, gathering together the thousands of ancient Bible manuscripts available to us, and piecing them together into the most accurate final product possible.  Thank God for them!

And, as in any scientific study, the larger the sample size these men and women have to work with, the more accurate the results. The more manuscripts the Greek scholars have, the easier it is for them to piece the New Testament together accurately.

What does this have to do with the KJV? Well, as you may know, the KJV was produced in 1611 – four hundred years ago this year! But at that date, the men who had pieced together the New Testament had only six or seven ancient Greek manuscripts to work with. And so they took the handful manuscripts they possessed and put them together into a Greek New Testament – from which Luther’s German Bible, the KJV, and several other versions were translated. And let me say, with everyone else who has ever known anything about this subject … they did a masterful job! The King James is a marvelous English Bible translation! And it is highly accurate to the Greek manuscripts its translators had to work with.

But that last sentence is key. The King James is accurate to the Greek manuscripts its translators had to work with – six or seven Greek manuscripts, all copied several centuries after the events of the New Testament. But, praise God, in the four hundred years since, over five thousand more New Testament manuscripts have turned up – many of them much, much older than the ones available to the KJV committee in 1611! So modern Greek scholars, in putting together the most accurate Greek New Testament possible, have about 900 times more data to work with. And, as they have studied that data, it has become fairly evident that some of the very ‘typos’ and overzealous notes that I mentioned already were prevalent in the manuscripts that the KJV translation team had to work with.

Put simply, we can now look back and realize that the KJV translators didn’t have as accurate a copy of the Greek New Testament as modern translators have at their disposal. That is no slight on the KJV committee, any more than we fault ophthalmologists from a century ago for not being able to offer contact lenses or laser surgery. As with the eye-doctors, the KJV translators were simply doing their best with the tools they had been given … and working masterfully, as I said. But if God has uncovered more and more data for us to work with, should we not use it … and piece together the best Greek New Testament possible? And, once that work has been done in the Greek (as it has), doesn’t it behoove us to use those better Greek Testaments as the basis for our modern English translations? Surely it does! Thus the existence of the ESV, the NASB, and so on … with their occasional variations from the KJV.

There is no conspiracy to take ‘the real English Bible’ out of people’s hands … but rather an earnest attempt to place the best English Bible into people’s hands, by basing it on the best Greek New Testament. Good, word-for-word, modern Bible translations are simply building upon the exact theories and disciplines employed by their forbears on the KJV committee … only with the kind of data to work with that would have made the men of 1611 salivate. We should be thankful for them. I have a feeling the KJV committee members would be!

September 29, 2011

What God Said ... or what He Meant?

There are two theories of Bible translation – word-for-word, and thought-for-thought. One set of translators seeks to present the English reader with an accurate translation of each Greek and Hebrew word in the Bible. The other takes a phrase or so at a time, determines its meaning, and then renders that meaning into modern English. Which is best? I prefer the word-for-word theory of translation a hundred fold.

First, is it not true that God inspired every word of the Bible? That’s what the Bible says about itself. “Every word of God is tested” (Proverbs 30.5, emphasis mine). “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4, emphasis mine). Every last word of the Bible is God’s. And every last word is vital for my spiritual nourishment! And, therefore, I want a translation that seeks to translate every word! It’s true that God communicates thoughts to us in the Scriptures. But those thoughts come to us in specific words. And the only way to be sure we have translated God’s thoughts accurately is to translate each word that makes up the thoughts!

Second, I prefer word-for-word translations because I assume that, if God included in His word certain challenging matters, He must want me to understand them. Thought-for-thought translations seek to do away with the difficulties that sometimes come upon Bible readers by re-working or smoothing out the rough parts. But I believe that if God included in His word unusual, technical terms (like propitiation), He must want me to understand them. And if He included Hebrew poetry and imagery in the Bible, He must want me to learn how that imagery works and what it means. In other words, to seek to smooth out what the Hebrew and Greek Bible actually says is akin to assuming that God didn’t give us exactly what we needed when He infallibly guided the writing of His word. I prefer to think that God knew exactly what He was doing when He included some of the more challenging vocabulary of the Bible, and that He has good reason for requiring us to sometimes work hard to understand certain words, or metaphors, or ancient customs that the thought-for-thought translations skim over.

Third, I believe that thought-for-thought patterns of translating are dangerous because the translators end up interpreting the word of God instead of simply translating it. As I mentioned, the process of thought-for-thought translation requires a translator to look at a particular Bible phrase, figure out what it means, and then render what it means in modern English. Do you see the problem? Thought-for-thought translation requires the translator not only to translate the passage, but to interpret it. Instead of simply translating the word “propitiation”, and trusting you to master its meaning, he tells you what he believes propitiation means! But that is not the province of a translator. It is the reader’s job to figure out Bible meaning, not the translator’s!

The problem is not usually that, when interpreting the Bible for us, the translators get it heretically wrong. Most of the time their understanding of what a verse means is not off-the-wall crazy. The problem is that, when you and I read our Bibles, we are led to believe that we are reading exactly what God said through Paul or Jeremiah two or six thousand years ago … not what a team of Americans in Grand Rapids believe God meant. But suddenly, under the influence of this faulty theory of translation, a whole generation of Bible readers is left believing that God actually said X, when, in fact, X was simply the translator’s way of explaining what he thought God meant. Nuances of meaning are lost this way.

For instance, as Leland Ryken points out in his excellent work The Word of God in English, there is a great difference between a word-for-word translation of Psalm 16.6 “the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places” (NASB) and a thought-for-thought version of the same verse: “You make my life pleasant” (CEV). You can immediately see how the latter translation leaves out (and adds in) whole words. But there’s more missing than just a few words. The idea of “lines” is probably the psalmist’s way of making allusion to the boundary lines by which God had divided the promised land when the children of Israel had entered it after forty years of wandering. What a blessing that had been. And now the psalmist is using the language of that time period to say to God: ‘My life is just like that. Just as, in times of old, You apportioned Your people's lots in such a good and kind way, so You have done with my lot in life.’ But that reference to the book of Joshua, and all the imagery it invokes, can be completely lost when a translator chooses not to translate every word.

So what do I want from my translator? Not that he tells me what he believes the Bible means; and not that he simplifies it for me. I want him to give me the whole enchilada, to put in simply. Let me taste and see every single word that God has for me. I don’t want to miss a single flavor or spice!

September 28, 2011

Word-for-Word ... or Thought-for-Thought?

I concluded yesterday’s article by saying that the largest reason, by far, for the discrepancies in our Bible translations is because different Bible translation teams have differing theories on exactly what it means to translate the Bible. Some teams are very concerned to precisely translate every word of the Greek and Hebrew text, even if those words require modern readers to put on their thinking caps. Other translation teams, in the name of readability, seek to take whole Bible phrases or sentences, figure out what they mean, and then put the entire phrase or sentence into modern English.

Which theory is right? The aim of the next two articles is to help you think it through. Today, let me further define (again, in my limited, layman’s terms*) the two basic theories of Bible translation.

On the one hand, there are the essentially literal translations. These are English versions of the Bible whose translators have sought to translate each word of the original Greek and Hebrew. That means, of course, that they even end up translating words that we do not use in our everyday vocabulary (propitiation, mercy seat, eunuch, and so on). The theory is that, if God really inspired these Greek and Hebrew words, then we want to make sure we translate every last one of them … trusting God (often through pastors and teachers) to help people understand the parts that are more difficult for modern English-speakers. Representatives of this school of translation include the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, and the New King James Version.

On the other end of the spectrum are what are often called dynamic equivalent translations (like the New International Version, Today’s English Version, and the New Living Translation). Rather than translating word-for-word, these translations espouse a thought-for-thought way of rendering the Bible into English. In other words, the translator looks at a given Greek or Hebrew phrase, discerns what that phrase says and means, and then renders it into an English phrase that means roughly what the original means. Sometimes this requires explaining a word like “propitiation” instead of simply translating the word itself. Sometimes it means explaining a Hebrew metaphor instead of simply translating the metaphor and leaving the reader to figure out what it means that “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”*  The advantage of doing this, according to proponents of this theory, is readability. Their goal is to spare modern readers many of the Bible’s more difficult portions, and to make the Bible as accessible as possible.

Now let me say that men and women in both camps love the Lord. Men and women on both ends of the translation theory spectrum want to provide people with the best English Bible possible. But, given the wide variation in their theories, and in the subsequent translations they produce, both cannot be right.. So think it out. Word-for-word, or thought-for-thought? Which theory do you believe is best? Why so? Tomorrow, Lord willing, I’ll give you my considered opinion on this matter. Stay with me!

*for more detail on the differences between these two theories, see Leland Ryken's excellent book The Word of God in English.  The "lines" metaphor mentioned above comes from Ryken's observations.

September 27, 2011

"But MY Bible says ..."

Yesterday we began asking the question of why our English Bible translations differ in various places. The first part of our discussion centered on the fact that we are, in fact, reading translations of the original Greek and Hebrew. And translations involve translators – men and women who, hopefully like you and me, are trying to do the best they can possibly do in their work for the Lord; but who, like you and me, have limitations and foibles and so on. This is one reason our translations differ – because different men and women sometimes translate the Greek or Hebrew in different ways.

In this article, let me mention some of the reasons why that may be so.

First, the fact is that the English language is quite sophisticated in its vocabulary and flexibility. In layman’s terms, that simply means that our language has a great capacity for saying the same thing with several different words. So, for instance, one translator may render a certain Greek word as “patient”, while another translator may render the exact same Greek word as “longsuffering”. Both translations are accurate because both “patient” and “longsuffering” have the same basic meaning. And it is this breadth and flexibility of our English vocabulary that accounts for some (though not most) of the variations in our translations.

Second, our Bible versions sometimes differ because, as we said last week, translators are fallible. One translation team may have a better grasp on a given Hebrew word or syntax pattern than another translation team. And thus, while neither team’s translation radically transforms the overall meaning of the verse in question, team B may be able to render the wording just a little more lucidly than team A. And yet, on the next verse, with a different set of vocabulary or syntax, team A may do just a little better job.

Let me say again that, as far as our mainstream English translations go (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, NIV), both team A and team B almost invariably get the translations basically right. So these differences will not be a matter of bad versus good … but of good versus better.

Thirdly, the fact that we are reading translations rather than the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts requires us to understand that there are different theories of how the Bible should be translated. How exactly literal should a translation be? Should we translate word-for-word, or phrase-for-phrase? When a given Greek or Hebrew sentence is difficult to understand, how much license does the translator have to smooth the wording out and make it readable, even if he has to change the wording up just a bit?

These are questions over which Bible translators and scholars disagree widely. And it is largely because of these differing theories of translation that our Bible versions differ so widely. This is, by far, the biggest reason for the discrepancies in our various translations. There is much at stake at this point – much more than in any issue we have covered so far. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll give an entire article to explaining translators and their theories … and how it affects what, for us, lies between Genesis and Revelation. Stay tuned.

September 26, 2011

Bible Translation 101

Did you ever wonder why your Bible sometimes reads slightly differently than the preacher’s? Or how you can be in a Bible study, and two different people can read the same verse in such vastly differing translations? It’s an important question to ask. After all, if God has really spoken, we want to be sure we have His words in our hands exactly as they should be! And the difference between the translations can sometimes leave us wondering if we really do.

So what accounts for the difference in Bible versions? And why do some Christians see this as a fighting matter? Is it that important? Why or why not? These are valuable questions to consider.

Over the next several days, I am going to attempt to answer some of these questions – to take you on a layman’s tour of Bible translation, explaining the ins and outs of why our English Bibles are the way they are, and even why they sometimes differ slightly. I’m calling it a Bible Translation 101 (or, as I said, a layman’s tour) because that’s exactly what I am when it comes to these things – a layman who understand these things at a roughly introductory level. I am not an expert in Greek, Hebrew, linguistics, or translation theory – just a local pastor who wants his people to be confident that the Bible they read is an accurate English rendering of what God actually said in Greek and Hebrew. In order to be thus confident, it would be good for us to know how we got our Bible, why some translations are better than others, and so on.

Let me start with an introductory point, before moving on to some more challenging matters in the days ahead.

First, at the risk of stating the obvious, let me remind you that the Bible was not originally written in English! No, the Old Testament first came to us almost entirely in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek. So, unless you read one of those two languages, your encounters with the Bible are always in translation. And, of course, it was the original Bible authors (and not later translators!) who were specially inspired by God (2 Peter 1.21). So, when we speak of the infallibility or inerrancy of the Scriptures, we are saying that the Greek and Hebrew words of Peter, and Moses, and Luke, and Nehemiah were infallibly inspired by God … not that their English-speaking translators were infallibly inspired by God!

Does that make sense? The Scriptures are inspired in their original autographs; in their original languages. English (or Swahili, or Japanese, or German) translators are not protected from error in quite the same way. Surely we trust that God superintends our translators’ work. But He does not promise to make them infallible like He made Peter, Paul, Moses, and the rest of the biblical authors. And what that means is that we have taken a wrong turn if we seek to enshrine one particular English translation as ‘inspired’, and label all the rest as perverted. In point of fact, none of the translations are inspired, in and of themselves. They are inspired only insofar as they accurately translate the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts which are inspired!

In this regard (as I will go on to point out in the days ahead), not all translations are equally faithful to the original Greek and Hebrew, it’s true. So I am not saying we should not prefer one translation over another. I am simply saying that none of our English translations or translators were protected and guided along in quite the same way as God protected and guided the original Bible authors! And therefore none of them should be enshrined as the Bible for English-speaking people. It’s not the King James or New American Standard translations that were infallibly inspired by God, but the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts!

That’s the whole reason why this series of articles exist. Since we are not reading the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts; and since our English translators (excellent and faithful as they almost invariably are) are not infallible, it is worth asking which translations of the Bible render the original Greek and Hebrew most accurately and faithfully.

There are answers to that question. And there are accurate, faithful translations! In the posts ahead, I hope to help you know how to find them.

September 22, 2011

To Play, or not to Play ... on the Lord's Day

A stirring article, from the BBC, on Scottish rugby start Euan Murray ... who will miss his country's world cup match this week because he believes in keeping the Lord's Day set apart for rest and worship.

"It's basically all or nothing, following Jesus" said Murray (pictured on the left). "I don't believe in pick 'n' mix Christianity. I believe the Bible is the word of God, so who am I to ignore something from it?"  Read the whole article here.

September 19, 2011

"Your wagon tracks* drip with fatness"

“You have crowned the year with bounty, and your wagon tracks* drip with fatness.” Psalm 65.11

David’s words, here, are to me some of the most delightful in the Bible. Not for their theological precision or doctrinal clarity. Psalm 65.11 is not that kind of verse. What it is, though, is a marvelous picture of the goodness of God to His people.

Picture what David is saying in the latter verses of Psalm 65. It has been a year of abundant rain (v.9). The soil is soft and blackened with moisture (v.10). And the grain, the grapes, and the flocks cover the hillsides like a cloak (vv.12-13). Every stalk of corn is in full ear. The grape vines are heavy and weighed down with fruit. The sheep are fat, and their coats are thick and white. God has “crowed the year” with His “bounty”!

And here comes the farmer with his wagon, trundling along the dirt road that runs through his farmland, harvesting all God’s goodness into the back of the cart. Indeed, the cart is so overloaded with corn and grapes, with wool and lamb chops; and the freshly watered ground is so soft and pliable, that the wagon wheels are furrowing ruts into the soil as the farmer rides along! “Wagon tracks” are being created by the weight of the blessings piled high in the wagon! Indeed, says David, the wagon is so full that wine and kernels of corn and fat from the mutton are actually running over the sides of the wagon and dripping down the sideboards into the “wagon tracks” below. That’s how bountiful the harvest has been – the wagon is bursting at the seams!

And that, says David, is how bountifully God deals with His people … and in so many ways! His wagon tracks drip with fatness! His blessings to us are pressed down, shaken out, and overflowing! God has spread an absolute feast of blessings before His people!

Sometimes the feast is literally comprised of grapes and corn, of wool and mutton. How blessed we are to be able to sit down to the kind of meals to which we are so often privy? Indeed, church fellowship meals, with all their bounty spread on the long tables, ought to remind us of just how good we have it. God’s wagon tracks, so often, literally drip with fatness and fruit of every kind!

But God’s bounty is even more profound when we consider how He forgives our transgressions (v.3), and brings us near to Himself (v.4), and makes us members of His household. What a blessing that we should be called the children of God; that we should sit at the table of all His spiritual delights; that we should have the new wine of the Holy Spirit living within us; that we should have the grain of the Scriptures to nourish our souls; that we should even be able to feast on the meat of the Word! Truly we have been given, as Paul put it, “every spiritual blessing.” Truly God’s wagon tracks drip with fatness!

And let us not forget that this cornucopia of blessings; this filling up of our spiritual wagons comes to us at the cost of God’s dear Son. It is because He died for us that we are adopted into God’s family. It is because of His great love that we have the privilege of prayer. It is His blood that has sealed our pardon and brought us into this life of blessing! O, there are a great many blessings piled up in the carts of God’s goodness to us. There are a great many things that we find so abundantly supplied that they are practically dripping down the sides of our wagons. But the greatest thing that ever dripped down the sideboards of God’s wagon was the blood of His Son! And if God has given us His Son, then we have bounty indeed!

*The NASB translation is "Your paths drip with fatness", but the NASB footnote says that "paths" is "I.e. wagon tracks".

'How-to' ... Eight Sermons from Romans 12

We recently finished an eight week study of one of the great "how-to" chapters in the Bible: Romans 12. Listen in with us:

Romans 12.1a - "Therefore"
Romans 12.1b - "A living sacrifice"
Romans 12.2 - Renew your Minds
Romans 12.3-5 - A Sober Look in the Mirror
Romans 12.6-8 - "We have gifts"
Romans 12.9-13 - "One another"
Romans 12.9-13 - Holy, Hearty, Hopeful
Romans 12.14-21 - "How to respond to each person"

September 12, 2011

From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same

“From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same The LORD's name is to be praised.” Psalm 113.3 (KJV)

It occurred to me, as I read this verse recently, that it could be interpreted in two different ways. I’ve always read these words as geographical description – God’s name is to be praised from the east (where the sun rises) all the way to the west (where it sets). And I still think that is probably the main thing the psalmist had in mind in Psalm 113.3 – geography. ‘Let the Lord be praised from east to west,’ he seems to be saying … ‘because the Lord is above “all nations”’ (v.4).

‘Let God’s name be magnified’ in other words, ‘from the rocky coasts of Maine, where the sun first dawns upon the mainland Unites States each morning … all the way the sandy beaches of San Diego, where the light leaves our shores at the end of the day. Indeed, let the name of the Lord be praised from Auckland, New Zealand to Honolulu Hawaii, and everywhere in between – “from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same.”’

“The Lord’s name is to be praised” in every geographic location! And that means that God’s people have work to do! Because that name is not yet praised with the geographic pervasiveness that Psalm 113 calls for. Less than one in ten thousand people praise His name in Afghanistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, and the tiny European enclave of San Marino. Additionally, there are still 15 languages spoken by over a million people among whom exist no known Christians. And the statistics could go on. There are all sorts of places that exist between the geographic rising and setting of the sun where the name of the Lord is not being praised through Jesus Christ! And so Psalm 113.3 means we have work to do. It is not enough just to sing and read the psalm. We must pray, and give, and go so that its mandate might be fulfilled!

“From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same The LORD's name is to be praised.” It’s a geographical description, I think … producing a missionary mandate!

But, as I say, it occurred to me that some people might well read Psalm 113.3 with a slightly different twist. It is possible to read the psalmist’s words and think time rather than geography. It is possible, in other words, to hear the psalmist saying something like this: ‘From the time the sun rises in the morning, until it goes down at night, you should be praising God’s name – all day long!

In the psalmist’s time, sunrise to sunset framed many a person’s waking hours. They got up and went to bed with the sun. We’re a little different, of course. We might phrase the idea like this: ‘From the time the alarm clock goes off in the morning, until the time when the lamp goes off at night, “the Lord’s name is to be praised.” A tall task indeed!

As I said early on, I think the geographic, rather than the temporal, is what the psalmist had in mind when he wrote Psalm 113.3. But the previous verse does bring into play the idea of time. The Lord should be praised, the psalmist says in Psalm 113.2, “from this time forth and forever" (NASB®).  So it is possible that verse 3 carries that theme along. We ought to praise the Lord at all times!

But whether or not that’s exactly what verse 3 means, it’s certainly true that we should praise the Lord all day long. From sun up to sun down we ought to magnify the name of the Lord. And we ought to do so whether the sun comes up for us in Cincinnati, OH, or north Mississippi, or New Zealand, or Hawaii, or Turkmenistan, or anywhere in between. “The Lord’s name is to be praised” … in every geography, and at all times!

September 11, 2011

My most Vivid 9/11 Memory

Today is, of course, a day to give thanks. The destruction could have been much worse on that never-to-be-forgotten morning ten years ago. And we should thank God it wasn’t. We should also thank God for the thousands of brave souls who made it so, and who have ensured that our lives have been much safer these last 10 years than we may have then dreamed. We should thank the Lord, too, for souls who may have been awakened to eternity by the events of that awful day, and who are now trusting and serving Jesus because of it. God really did work for good that which was meant as inestimable evil – the half of which working we may never fully know. So today is a day for giving thanks. 

But it’s also a day to remember. We remember, today, the many people who lost their lives that day, and mourn over them. We also remember, in light of their loss, that eternity may be much closer than we sometimes think, waking up in the mornings and heading off to the daily routine. But perhaps, especially, on this tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, we who are old enough will vividly remember where we were when we first heard the news. We will remember exactly what television set first broadcast those horrible pictures before our stunned eyes. Some of us will clearly remember certain other events that took place on and around that day, too. Sudden tragedy has a way of permanently searing certain normally forgettable circumstances into our memories. 

Let me tell you what I remember most about September 11, 2001. Most vivid in my mind is actually what happened on September 13. That night Tobey and I attended a Passion collegiate conference with Louie Giglio. Yes, we were well past college at that point, but he had made such a profound impact on us that we went to the event anyway, just down the road from my seminary. As you can imagine, there was a different atmosphere in the air than might have normally been the case with several hundred college students in the room. It was sober, weighty. And, of course, the events of recent days were addressed prominently. Here is a paraphrase of what I remember Louie Giglio saying that night:
In the days ahead there is going to be a great deal of discussion about what should be done with the country of Afghanistan. Our government will have some decisions to make. And it’s not for me to speculate about what they must do. But I know this – the likelihood is that thousands of Afghan people, with no access to the gospel, are probably going to go out into eternity in the months ahead. And, before that happens, some of God’s people are going to have to risk their lives in order to walk into that country and take Jesus to them. I wonder if it will be anyone in this room.
I was stunned. I did not do much singing the rest of the night. Was it me? Did I need to go to Afghanistan – at the time the least Christian and most vehemently anti-missionary country on the earth? It was hard to sleep that night thinking about what I might need to do, and what might become of those thousands of people – indeed, what has, now, become of many of them ten years later. 

After talking with my missions professor the next day, we determined that, given the political situation, there was no way on earth any American was going to walk into Afghanistan without military credentials. I took that as God’s ‘no’ to the question of whether I was called to that country. I hope I was right. Thankfully, in the ten years since, the country has opened up significantly. The breaking of Taliban power has allowed the gospel to at least trickle into the country in tiny streams here and there. A few dozen believers before 9/11 have blossomed into several hundred. Not many in a country of 29 million people, I know. But exponentially more than before! That is one of the great Romans 8.28 victories of 9/11. 

So when I think of 9/11, I grieve for America. I hope we never see a day like that until Christ returns. And I pray that our nation might be much more ready for that day of terror than we were for the one ten years ago. Right now we are scarcely prepared. 

But I also grieve for Afghanistan when I think of 9/11 – because, even with all the opening up over the last decade, it is still the least Christian country on earth. Ten years later, there is still great need for workers sent out into the harvest. Would you pray that the Lord of the harvest would send them? 

Finally, when I remember September 11, 2001, I also rejoice for the people of Afghanistan. Although still far behind the rest of the world, the people there are now at least somewhat more politically free. And some of them, having met the Son of God, are (as Jesus says in John 8.36) “free indeed”. I hope you are too.

September 9, 2011

Personhood Mississippi

This just in from CNN: This November, Mississippians will have the privilege of voting to enact a new state law that would define human life as beginning at conception.  Lots of friends have been at the grassroots of making this happen for a number of years.  Bravo Les, Steve, and your mighty band of petitioners!

Visit Personhood Mississippi's website to find out more.

September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11.28

May the Lord grant you rest today - body and soul.