What is Church (part 2)

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”

Next Wednesday at 3:30PM *send*.

This is me, setting up my annual performance review.  I’m a little uncomfortable with the whole idea. I do great work! I show up every day. I’m fast with the computer. My patients and staff LOVE me. Why should I sit down with my medical director for an hour and talk about who-knows-what?

Prior to Wednesday I must complete a mandatory self-evaluation. Let’s look at the three goals I made last year. Hmmm, I cannot remember what they were. A big part of this is my quality scorecard. The numbers don’t lie: my through-put time has been below sixty minutes only ONE month the entire past year. There are goals for cancer screening and control of Diabetes and Hypertension. I see red boxes in several columns: FAIL!

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Am I that bad?

Can I objectively gauge my own performance?

It takes an hour Wednesday afternoon, a profitable hour. We talk about the successes and failures of the past twelve months. We set three office goals to accomplish in the coming year. It’s a healthy mix of encouragement and exhortation. As I drive home, my mind is stirred up. What a privilege to be part of this team! I’m excited to make every office visit and every staff interaction a little better.

Do you want to grow?

We read the verse at the top of this post and we think about the time we were sitting around a campfire, just a few of us. Someone had a guitar. We started singing hymns. It was REAL. It was DEEPLY MOVING. Jesus was in our midst!

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And that’s TOTALLY valid.

And that TOTALLY takes this verse out of context.

The context of this verse is accountability.

Jesus tells us how to resolve a disagreement. Matthew 18:15-20 records the multi-step process. First, have a one on one meeting, second, a meeting with two or three others. The final step is to take the problem before the whole gathering. If our brother who is in the wrong will not listen to the group, he is excluded from the fellowship. Jesus concludes this teaching with the statement that if two or three of us are together in his name, his power and presence are there.

We are saved by grace, through faith and NOT of works, so that NONE of us could boast. This is NOT works-based salvation or legalism.

Accountability faces the truth with love. The truth that I need to walk in community. The truth that many of my goals are uncompleted, even forgotten. The truth that I am not as good as I think I am. The truth that I am NOT able to objectively look at myself. Without input, I’ll get stuck in dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns for decades.

On the other side of the difficult conversation is renewed love for the gathering, fresh goals, and deeper motivation to live intentionally. What is church? Accountability.

What Translation?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

God’s Word is amazing! Through it we understand His character and plan of Salvation. Our goal is to be perfect, mature, complete. Scripture provides us with everything we need to accomplish that.

What is the best English translation of God’s Word?

It’s a fair question.

A more important question: are you reading the translation you have? It could be the ESV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV(1984), TNIV, ASV, The Living Bible or the Message – if it is unread, it will do you no good. What if there are FIVE Bible apps on your phone, all unopened since the day they were downloaded?

Paul cautioned Titus about foolish controversies that are unprofitable and worthless (Titus 3:9). Paul recommended that Titus avoid the person who “stirs up division”. Division of the body of believers because of debating which Bible translation to read is a loss for the kingdom of God and a win for the evil one.

We will investigate the origins of the English Bible, specifically looking at the King James Version, contrasted with more recent translations. We will ask and answer this question with the love of Christ as the backdrop. It is of utmost importance that you read the Bible you have - far more important than reading this post.

James became the king of England in 1603. In 1604 he convened the Hampton Court Conference and requested a new English translation of the Bible. Fifty-four translators were appointed and divided into six groups. Five of the groups were assigned to translate the inspired scriptures and one group worked on the Apocrypha.

The Hampton Court group of translators had multiple sources to compile their translation. Existing English translations included the Tyndale Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Bishop’s Bible (1). The Bishop’s Bible was the starting point. It was compared, word by word, with Greek New Testaments compiled by Erasmus, Stephanus and Beza (2). The job of a translator is to evaluate the source material and carry forward the words and phrasing best established as valid. The incredible responsibility of handling the Word of God was not lost on these fifty-four men.

A list of fifteen specific requirements was given these translators. They were instructed to avoid marginal notes. They were to translate all terms of Ecclesiology as “church” and not “congregation” or “gathering”. The state church of England considered the concept of lay leadership, independent gatherings of believers and even individual Bible study to be somewhat subversive.

Acts 1:20 is an example of word choice unique to the King James version (KJV).

For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. (Acts 1:20, KJV)

For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’ (Acts 1:20, ESV)

Judas abandoned his position as one of the twelve disciples and killed himself. After the ascension of Jesus, Mathias was chosen and numbered with the eleven apostles. In Acts 1:20, Luke records a quote from Psalm 109:8. The early gathering of believers felt God leading them to fill the position of authority. The Psalmist would not have described a vacant leadership position with a term (bishoprick) specific to the seventeenth century Anglican church.

The King James translation of the Bible was completed in 1611. As is true of each new Bible translation, it was slightly different from every English translation and Greek manuscript that preceded it.

Initial reception was not great. King James banned the printing of the Geneva Bible in 1616, allowing his “Authorized Version” to be distributed without competition. The KJV became the most common English translation, having a huge impact on both the church and the English language. It is the only book in the history of the world to have over a billion copies printed.

Erasmus completed and published a Greek version of the New Testament in 1516. The next hundred years brought minor changes to the Greek New Testament. Elziever printed a total of seven versions of the Greek NT. Their second edition, dated 1633, has the following sentence in the preface: Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum, in quo nihil immuta-tum aut corruptum damus”. This is a statement by the publisher to the reader, that nothing has been changed or corrupted. All the text that was received has been passed on (3).

The term “Textus Receptus” emerged from that 1633 preface and is used for all Greek NT from Erasmus through the mid 17th century.

Accurate transmission of the Word of God is an ongoing pursuit. Discovery of manuscripts has happened almost constantly through the centuries. The four hundred years since completion of the KJV have not been without discovery of ancient scrolls and papyrus containing scripture. The KJV translators used the best and oldest manuscripts available to them to compile their translation.

We have about 50 manuscripts that date to prior to the fourth century. The church fathers from the same time period often quoted from God’s Word. When we compare the Textus Receptus with early manuscripts we find about 98% consistency! God has accurately and completely transmitted His words through the centuries to us.

We should pause and note that there are differences between the KJV and newer translations. Multiple verses are present in the KJV which are not supported by the earliest manuscripts. Recent Bible translations will typically leave the verse out of the text, but include a notation. John 5:3-4 is a great example of this. John tells the story of the lame man who is healed at the pool of Bethesda. The ESV leaves out verse four of the chapter but includes the following note:

Some manuscripts insert, wholly or in part -  waiting for the moving of the water; (4) for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had

The description of the angel stirring the water in the pool and the mad rush of bodies into the water is accurate. John 5:7 tells us as much. The helpful information seems to have been added at least four hundred years after John wrote it. Revelation 22:18-19 speaks to the gravity of adding, or taking away from God’s Word.

There are thousands of small differences between the KJV and the newer translations. These differences are the heart of the question of which translation is the best. You can find online resources which speak to these differences in considerable detail. If your curiosity is piqued, you could engage in hours of reading on this topic!

There are at least two current translations which deliberately paraphrase the original text: The Message and The Living Bible. We should be clear that these are NOT the inspired word of God. We do read books about faith which are NOT the Bible.

I love the King James Version. I grew up reading, studying and memorizing it. I have nothing but love and respect for brothers who choose to read and study only the KJV. The English Standard Version (ESV) is an accurate, word for word transmission of the Bible. The ESV includes detailed notes regarding passages for which the source material over the centuries differ.

Three points should be stated in conclusion. First, we have an accurate and complete transmission of the word of God. Second, love is vital to discussions which could become contentious. Jesus prayed (John 17:21) that his people would be one, just as the Father and the Son are one. Third, we are given God’s word to read and study. Whether it’s a physical book or an app, open it. Treasure this amazing gift every day.

 

1. Old Bibles – an account of the various versions of the English Bible, second edition, JR Dore, Vintage Archives, 1896

2. http://www.equip.org/article/is-your-modern-translation-corrupt/, accessed 5/7/17

3. https://www.dbts.edu/journals/1996_1/ERASMUS.PDF, accessed 5/8/17

4. https://bible.org/article/majority-text-and-original-text-are-they-identical, accessed 5/8/17

What is Time

The question is deceptively difficult to answer. We are better at measuring time than defining it. Time is measured by movement: sand through an hourglass, the shadow of a sundial, our earth circling the sun.

The great white Egret is motionless in the shallow water. Time stands still. But it really doesn’t. Even when we don’t see movement, it’s there – the beating of the Egret’s heart, her eyes watching for an almost imperceptible stirring of the water. The tiny fish swim in front of her, not knowing that she is the predator and they are a mid-morning snack to be snatched out of the water and swallowed whole.

Time is like money. Imagine your body is a home you are renting. The rent is withdrawn from a bank account every month. The money in the bank represents the time you have on this planet. You have no way to know how much is in the bank account. You can add funds to the account – regular exercise and healthy eating. You can take money out of the account – smoking, using a daily narcotic, or carrying 100 extra pounds. When the money runs out, you must move. It isn’t helpful to pretend you own the home, or that the bank account is unlimited.

The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Ps 90:10)

Moses made an estimate of how long you’ll get to stay in the rental home – 80 years. I don’t think he was joking when he said “Toil and Trouble”. Everything is touched by sin. Aging, loss, weakness and struggle mark the human experience. And then we die.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Ps 90:2)

We serve a God who is outside of time. He existed prior to the beginning of time and will continue into eternity after this universe is no more. Our hope cannot be in our ability to freeze time, to delay the aging process. Our hope is in our Almighty Father who is the owner of the rental home, and the source of every dollar in the bank account.

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90:12)

Moses' conclusion is that the path of wisdom is living as though our days are numbered - because they are. Let that free us to joyfully receive each day as a gift from above, regardless of how many are behind or ahead.

Wrestling

  

He looked across the river at the retreating figures. His brow furrowed and a tear traced down his left cheek. The uncertainty of the future sat like a five-hundred-pound weight on his gut. The last hours had been a blur of action, sorting the animals, sending the groups with specific instructions, saying good-bye to his children. Twenty years had slipped by, where had they gone? He was bent forward with grayish hair and beard befitting his middle age. The years had left him richer, yes, but wiser?

He closed his eyes for a moment and saw his brothers’ face. Jaw set, red hair, face flushed, eyes narrowed. “When dad dies, I’ll kill you”. He was almost frightened by how powerful and vivid the image was. He opened his eyes and was at the river again, the water quietly moved past. The bank opposite him was empty now. The sun hid behind the horizon. The messy clouds, drab gray sky and impending darkness were a metaphor of his life. Desperate loneliness silently enveloped him.

The man tackled him from behind. He landed hard, clawed at the ground, squirming to get away. The man pushed his face into the mud, trying to asphyxiate him. Panic lent him strength. He rolled violently, momentarily freeing himself. Up to his knees, hands ready, breathing heavily. For a moment he wondered if his uncle had sent this man, who must have followed all day and waited until he was alone. The collision of their bodies was almost silent. They were on the ground again, rolling, kicking, strangling. He was fueled by a mad desire to subdue his adversary. He understood that defeat could mean death.

The faint gray before dawn touched the eastern horizon. His rival was spent, yet attacked once more. Sharp pain seized his hip and coursed up his back. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to pass out. Sweat beaded his forehead. He couldn’t tell if the hip was dislocated or fractured.

“Let me go, for day has broken”

The stranger's voice was deep and calm, despite the exertion of the night.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

He wasn’t sure why he said it. What right did he have to demand anything from this man.

“What is your name?”

Such an obvious question.  Had this man not known whom he was attacking?

“I am Jacob.” 

There was so much packed into those three words, almost eighty years of struggle. He had fought with Esau in the womb and grabbed at his heel as Esau emerged first - the older son, ostensibly the son of promise. He had replaced Esau, taking his birthright and then his blessing. He bargained with God at Bethel, demanding safety, bread to eat and clothes to wear. He had taken advantage of Laban, building a fortune, then leaving. He had come to this river bank and sent ahead multiple groups of animals, lavish gifts to buy the affection of Esau. He was the deceiver, the supplanter.

The sky was pink; a new day was beginning. The stranger rose to his feet and looked down at Jacob. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” And the stranger blessed Israel.

The sun was bright and hot. He picked his way, haltingly, across the Ford of Jabbok. He couldn’t walk straight, his hip ached with every step. He was exhausted from the sleepless night. Wrestling had left him disheveled and dirty. He had a new name, a new identity. He thought of his meeting with Esau and hope filled him. He was blessed by God.

Risk/Benefit

“Beth, should I take the Motorcycle to work?”

Eight lanes of rush hour traffic, weaving around trucks, zooming past minivans, checking WAZE in real time to avoid a speed trap just north of the Hillsboro exit!

We don’t own a motorcycle. Almost every time we’re on I-95 in our Blue Odyssey a biker whips around us like we’re sitting still! Even if they’re wearing a helmet I worry about them, worry about the family they’ll leave behind. I wonder who would receive their donated corneas and kidneys.

We assess risks and benefits every day. It’s as natural as breathing. We collect information from parents, friends, our doctor, our pastor and the list goes on. The internet is, of course, an infallible source of data.

Some of the information falls into the category of anecdote. When I was about 12 years old my uncle Mike had a motorcycle accident. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and spent several weeks in the ICU. I remember praying for him. The danger of motorcycles was indelibly imprinted on my young mind.

You could pull up 2015 data on the number of motorcycles registered to drive in the USA (9 million) and the number of motorcycle fatalities (5,000). A fifth grade math student could crunch the numbers: approximately 1 out of every 1,800 motorcycle riders will die in a crash.

There are benefits to riding a motorcycle. Many bikers ride safely and wear helmets. If you own or ride a motorcycle you can describe the freedom of the open road and the wind in your hair. Motorcycles are cheaper than cars to own, insure and fill with gas.

My conclusion on the risk/benefit calculation for a motorcycle: I'll drive my car to work. And wear a seat-belt. You are free to do the opposite.

I bet you’re not standing in line this weekend to buy a jet black iPhone 7 plus. I bet if you are standing in line you’ll be disappointed. It’s no accident that iPhone 7 supply is inadequate this weekend creating the perception of high demand, but I digress.

Cell phones have transformed culture, media and relationships. As a tool for communication, information and learning they are revolutionary. You’re probably reading this post on your phone.

One of the perceived risks of Cell phone usage is brain cancer. The World Health Organization has classified cellular usage as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”(1).

I think the real risk of cellular usage is distracted driving, the “Red Light Prayer”. I see drivers every day with phones in their hands. Sometimes a phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. You've probably seen the bumper sticker "Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet Him"!

You calculate risks and benefits in your faith journey. Jesus pointed to this in Matthew 16:24 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Jesus described the reverse calculation in Matthew 16:26. “For what will it profit a man if he gains (benefits) the whole world and forfeits (risks) his soul”?

I’m not sure how that lands with you. There is risk with following Jesus. It changes how you view culture and how culture views you. You might follow Jesus to crazy places like south Florida, Haiti or a majority Muslim country adjacent to a war zone. You might die. People died on crosses.

There is benefit to following Jesus. Imagine life with purpose. What if you knew why you were made, what your goals were, and you got up every morning excited about turning them into reality! What if the God of love forgave your sins and loved you so much you could forgive others and love them especially when they don’t deserve it. Because you didn’t deserve it. What if you thought about death as the beginning of the best adventure yet, perfection, peace and glory for eternity.

Benefits?

Out of this world!

 

1. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/cellular-phones, accessed 9/16/16

Spirit and Truth

These are the words of Jesus to the woman at the well. I’d like to understand this better by building a concept under each of these three BIG words.

Deuteronomy is the final book of Moses. It starts with a lengthy speech by the elderly Moses to the gathered nation of Israel. After deliverance from Egypt and wandering in the wilderness, the new generation is ready to say good-bye to Moses and embrace Joshua as leader in the conquest of Canaan. Deuteronomy chapter 6 presents the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one”; followed by the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Worship is ascribing greatness to God, adoring Him, loving Him with ALL of our being. Deuteronomy 6:7-9 tell us WHEN to worship. We worship when we are teaching our children, sitting down, going places, when we lie down at night and awaken in the morning, when we do things with our hands and see things with our eyes, when we leave our homes and return to our homes.

When are we to worship? All the time!

How does it look to worship in the Spirit? Transformation and Fruit.

“Now the LORD is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the LORD, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the LORD who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV)

The setting of these verses is a discussion about the veil that was over the face of Moses which shielded the Israelites from the glory of God. Through Christ that veil is removed. Through the Spirit we behold the glory of the LORD and we are transformed. The King James version says we are changed “from glory to glory”; an amazing picture of what it means to worship in the Spirit!

The final ten verses of Galatians chapter 5 describe the results of “keeping in step with the Spirit”. Paul gives us this list: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That list is an inspiration and a challenge. I want each item listed to come out of me ALL THE TIME. I want the same for you, the same for every Christ follower. If we walk in the Spirit, worship in the Spirit, we will be people of love, people of joy, people of peace. Do you know how irresistible this is? What a witness!

What about worshiping in Truth? Study!

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV)

Paul gives leadership advice to his younger protégé, recommending a deliberate, workmanlike approach to the inspired Word. In place of “Do your best” the King James version uses the word “study”. This is work. Timothy was instructed to meditate on, understand, memorize the teachings of Jesus, Paul’s letters and the Hebrew scriptures. God’s word is an astounding gift to you, to me! You have this treasure on your tablet, your phone and multiple paper copies. You can worship God in truth by studying the truth. Know it, love it, live it!

Fish Eat Fish (Part 2): Runners

Two are better than one,                                                                                                                    because they have a good reward for their toil.                                                                                       For if they fall One will lift up his fellow                                                                                                       But Woe to him who is alone when he falls                                                                                               And has not another to lift him up!                                                                                                  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (ESV)

Finding Nemo features a clown fish named Marlin swimming from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney Harbor in search of his lost son. He encounters threats along the way from bigger fish looking for a snack. Life in a Fish-Eat-Fish world is tough if you’re the little guy. Marlin is joined by Dory, a bright blue fish with short term memory loss. Despite her handicap, Dory selflessly helps Marlin to successfully reunite with his only son. Imagine sacrificial love in the world of fish.

Tuesday afternoon, August 16, Rio Olympics, women’s 5,000-meter semifinal heat. This was not a high profile race, not on prime time TV. With 5 laps to go there was a tangle in the pack and two runners fell hard on the blue track. Abbey D’Agostino from the USA was up first, reaching out to Nikki Hamblin of NZ. “Get up. Get up. We have to finish this.”

A few steps later Abbey again fell. This time it was Nikki helping her to her feet. Something bigger than the race was happening.

Abbey had injured cartilage in her right knee and completely torn the ACL. Her knee was unstable and incredibly painful, yet she continued around the track – four more laps. She ran a mile with no ACL!  Nikki was there waiting when Abbey crossed the finish line, wrapping her in a hug.

Without a doubt this is one of the lasting images from the Rio Olympics. Not just gold medals and world records, but a girl with a torn ACL coming in last, finishing the race, someone she barely knew helping her get back on her feet and welcoming her across the line.

I had the privilege to sit in a room with a group of deeply committed Christ followers a few weeks ago. We shared stories of urban church plants with uncertain futures, barely seedlings. A common theme expressed was a sense of inadequacy – the task is too large, too complex. My collection of time, energy and ability falls short.

That sense of inadequacy is crucial. It puts me in a position of dependence on God and my church family. When I am not enough, God is able to accomplish the impossible and receive all the glory. He can change situations and change me. A fundamental means by which God fills my individual gaps is through my brothers and sisters. First Corinthians chapter 12 presents a beautiful picture of the church as the body of Christ. ONE body composed of many members.

In this race, you and I are going to fall. I hope you are part of the Body, that someone will help you to your feet and encourage you to finish the race. You might extend that hand of encouragement to your brother and sister. Look ahead, down the track. There is a crowd at the finish line, some you know, some you’ve never met, waiting to hug and celebrate. May we say with Paul:

I have fought the good fight,

I have finished the race,

I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV)

Prodigal Son

Give Me, Make Me” is a four-word outline of the Prodigal Son parable.  You can read the story in Luke 11. It’s the third “lost item” parable in the chapter. Jesus told a story about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son.

“Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me” (Luke 11:12). Picture a father with two adult sons. The Law dictates after the death of the father everything is split. The firstborn son would receive a double share (birthright). In a family with two sons, that means the younger son would receive a third and he wants it now. Does that mean he wants dad dead? Almost.

Give Me” is the humanistic part of the story. The younger son did not have everything he wanted. I can relate. For me to be happy give me:

·       Crisp khakis and a killer shirt/tie combo

·       Vacation at an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas

·       An EHR with a self-populating preventive health module

·       50 members and a church building for Regenerate

·       Happy wife and kids

·       Respect and admiration from my coworkers and patients

You might be assembling a short list in your mind. The concept is that we are unfulfilled because we are missing SOMETHING. Maybe it’s education, opportunity, money, time, health if we had it, we’d be happy.

Our sinful hearts are deceptively wicked: if I had everything on my list, it wouldn’t make me happy. I would want more. Solomon wrote about this in detail in the book of Ecclesiastes. He had access to EVERYTHING under the sun. His conclusion was there was no joy, only an overwhelming pointlessness, vanity, chasing the wind.

Back to Luke 11. The son wanted to travel, to party, to just have a good time.  Until he ran out of money. Hard times came. He ended up pouring coffee for minimum wage at a smelly truck stop, fighting addictions to alcohol and porn, struggling to pay an overpriced rent in an overrated town, lonely every evening and weekend, barely able to afford off-brand hot dogs and beans at Aldi’s.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants”. (Luke 11:18-19)

There is sadness and strange beauty in the release of reaching the end of myself. The problem is not what I don’t have. The problem is ME. I am what is wrong with the world and what is wrong with my life. Slowly, with trepidation, I approach the Father, knowing that I am not worthy to be called His SON, asking him to forgive my sin, give me a new identity, make me what I am not.

And the father comes running! He’s been watching the road EVERY DAY. He wraps his son in the biggest hug. Tears flow. His reaction communicates volumes. The joy is bigger than words!

“This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 11:24)

 

-Jim Metzler gave this basic concept (Give me, Make me) in his sermon last Sunday in Oakwood, MD. Thanks!