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Monday, October 31, 2011

Righteousness - convinced of it

Yesterday my pastor based his message on this passage, which quotes Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit, from the New Living Translation:
But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. - John 16:7-11 (NLT)
Verse 10 ("Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.") caught my attention, because it seemed subtly different in the New American Standard version I was reading:
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. - John 16:7-11 (NASB)
It occurred to me that the NLT makes explicit something that the more-literal NASB leaves you to figure out: that Jesus meant that the Holy Spirit's lesson about righteousness is that it is available because Jesus made it available by going to the Father. But as I read it, it seemed to me that what Jesus meant was that because He was the model of perfect righteousness while He was on Earth, when He left and that perfect model was gone, the Holy Spirit would have to reveal perfect righteousness to people instead! This seems to be the way the ESV Study Bible leans:
"Because I go to the Father means that Jesus will no longer be in the world to teach about true righteousness, and so the Holy Spirit will come to carry on that function, through illumination (v. 13) and through the words of believers who bear witness to the gospel." (ESV Study Bible)
Both of these statements are true: 1. Righteousness is only available because Jesus provided it; and 2. The Holy Spirit reveals that availability to us. Which did Jesus mean? Well, I still think in context it makes more sense to assume that Jesus meant that He wasn't going to be around to show us righteousness, so the Holy Spirit would have to take up that job. The NLT (which, by the way, I generally do enjoy reading because it's very comfortable English) doesn't leave you that option. It assumes that it knew what Jesus meant, and in this case, I disagree. Does it mean that the New Living is not a valid translation? Of course not! But it does highlight why it's a good idea to take a look at a number of translations and commentaries when you're studying the Scripture. Sometimes the insight in one version is different than the insight in another. Isn't it a blessing that we in the English-speaking part of the world have such a wealth of great information about the Bible available to us?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

YouVersion - download NIV and NLT online for free!

Check it out... the NIV and NLT are free to download for offline use with YouVersion for the next 24 hours! From the YouVersion email newsletter:
NIV and NLT Available for Download: 48 Hours Only!

Some of you have let us know that you lost your offline Bible versions after upgrading or replacing your phone without having offline translations backed up. Most versions in the Bible App are available to download anytime. However, a few are not, so we reached out to our friends at Biblica, Zondervan, and Tyndale, and they have graciously allowed us to offer the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) for a limited time.

For just 48 hours next weekend—from 12:00 AM October 30 through 11:59 PM Central Time U.S. (GMT -5) October 31—you’ll once again be able to download the NIV and the NLT for offline use. (When you download a version, that means you can read it in the Bible App even when you’re offline—that is, when you can’t connect to your service provider or to the Internet.) Special thanks go to Biblica and Zondervan for making the NIV available, and to Tyndale for the NLT.
Get 'em while you've got the chance! Hey, can you believe that YouVersion's app for Java phones is still in active development. How many mobile apps can say that?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Friend of God

'Jesus is on Facebook' photo (c) 2010, Loren Sztajer - license:
Who am I that You are mindful of me,
That You hear me when I call?
Is it true that You are thinking of me,
How You love me... it's amazing!

I am a friend of God! He calls me friend!
Back several years ago when my wife and I were in the worship choir at church, this song was the new thing, and we sang it quite frequently. It's a joyful, upbeat song; it's a fun one to sing. We sang it this past weekend at a marriage conference I went to with my wife, and it brought back some fun memories of those days. I remember we used to joke that the actual lyric is "...He calls me Fred" ...but we never sang it that way in church (not intentionally, at least!)

I also remember once our worship leader saying that she had actually received flak for the lyric. "Friend," the objection goes, is apparently too familiar of a term to use for God. When I heard her say that I immediately recognized that as a ridiculous objection which stems from a lack of actual knowledge of what the Bible says. What? That was what you were thinking? Let me show you from the Bible that God actually does call human beings His friend. I can think of an example from each testament right off the top of my head.

Old Testament: Abraham
    But you, Israel, my servant,
        Jacob, whom I have chosen,
        the offspring of Abraham, my friend... -Isaiah 41:8 ESV

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 2 Chronicles 20:7 ESV
Obviously it was common knowledge back then that God said Abraham was His friend. It should be common knowledge to Christians now, because there is also a New Testament verse that says so (probably the inspiration, along with Psalm 8:4, for the song):
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. -James 2:22-23 ESV
Bonus Old Testament friend of God's: Moses. "Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent." -Exodus 33:11 ESV

But, weren't Abraham and Moses special cases? Surely not just ANYBODY can be a "friend of God," right? Just those special people. Is that what you think? Well, let me remind you of:

New Testament: Disciples
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." -John 15:12-15 ESV
In His farewell speech to His disciples, Jesus very specifically told them that they were His friends. Not His "servants," He told them, but His "friends." The disciples were far from special; they were a bunch of miscellaneous fishermen and other laypeople that Jesus had gathered around Him. And it's pretty likely that you believe, as I do, that Jesus' discourse here was intended not only for those present, but for all of us disciples of Christ which were to come (apparently the Apostle John felt the same way, or else he probably wouldn't have recorded it in such length). If you read through the rest of the discourse, you will find things that Christians have applied to themselves throughout the centuries. The gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise of Heaven. Being branches of the True Vine. Hatred of the World for Christians. All of these things we have applied to ourselves through the years; why not the simple friendship of God?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bible Closeout Sale is having a closeout sale on some great Bibles... including audio Bibles, teen Bibles, Study Bibles (my favorite), and many more! This is a great chance to get some early Christmas shopping done! Could you use a new NIV Bible before the 1984 version goes completely out of print? How about an NIV Study Bible? Or maybe an NIV/The Message Parallel Bible? Do you need an NLT divided into 365 chronological readings? What about a new NAB Gift & Study Bible for a Catholic friend (or yourself, if you're Catholic)? Does your child need a new Adventure Bible, or does your college student need a new HCSB Student Bible? Check out the huge discounts here! Bible Closeout Sale

Friday, October 14, 2011

Heroes: Fictional, Past, and Future

I've been reading a story about a bunch of monsters.

Well, technically, I wasn't reading it; I was listening to an audiobook. And technically, it's not about the monsters; it just has a lot of monsters in it. It's called The Lost Hero, and it's the first book in the second series of books about Percy Jackson.

Well, technically, Percy Jackson's not even in it, so I guess it's not about Percy Jackson, either.

Anyway, I've been listening to the audiobook version this time (I read it last year) because now I have about a 40-minute drive in to work, and I don't have as much time to read now as I did when I rode the bus for the same amount of time. But I wanted to refresh my memory on where the series had left off, because the sequel (The Son of Neptune) just came out and I wanted to remember where the plot was going when I get around to audiobooking that one.

The Percy Jackson novels take place in a world where the gods and goddesses from Greek and Roman mythology actually exist, along with lots of other beings, some nice and some monsters. As in those old stories, the gods and goddesses sometimes get a little bit hot and bothered, and wind up producing children with human mortals; these children are called "demigods" because they are half-god, but they are not immortal. (Remember Hercules? In the ancient myths, he is a demigod whose father was Zeus.) The demigods in the Percy Jackson stories are teenagers, but they go on quests, battle monsters, and generally do a bunch of heroic stuff, just like the demigods in the legends. It's a very exciting fantasy world, and the books are quite popular.

A key plot point in this second story arc is that the gods and demigods find that they have to work together in order to defeat their enemies. In one pivotal scene (mild spoiler here, BTW, in case you haven't read the book), one of the demigods is able to defeat an almost invulnerable enemy by praying to Zeus and then attacking the enemy, knowing that if Zeus doesn't back him up somehow, he will be killed. Zeus does send lightning to assist him, and the enemy is defeated. Isn't that interesting? The boy prays to a god, acts in faith even though he cannot see his solution yet, and then the god backs him up. Isn't that so much like what the Bible asks us to do? Pray in faith and don't doubt, knowing that what you are praying is God's will and not just yours, and God will do His part and the answer will be there when you need it.

The book series that begins with The Lost Hero is called the "Heroes of Olympus" series; a demigod who goes on quests and succeeds at them is known as a Hero. When I've been between audiobooks lately, I've been listening to a music CD called Music Inspired by The Story which is a series of songs performed by a pretty amazing group of Christian rock, pop, and even rap artists, sung not about Bible characters, but in their voice. These songs imagine what thoughts might have gone through the mind of David, or Paul, or Moses, or Mary the mother of Jesus, or about a dozen more Bible characters. Characters? Let's call those guys what they are: they are also Heroes. Except these Heroes didn't battle cyclopes and storm spirits; the Heroes in the Bible fought the fight that each Christian faces every day. They trusted, and they doubted. They succeeded, and they messed up. They got confused, nervous, frightened. They didn't understand what was going on sometimes. But ultimately, when their lives were done, the Holy Spirit saw fit to inspire someone to write their stories out for future generations to read. And because of that, I can have Joshua or Daniel or Esther or Joseph, who lived thousands of years ago, as an inspiration. A role model. A Hero.

Do you ever wonder if somewhere, God's still writing our stories into the Bible? What if the Acts of the Apostles actually isn't finished, and won't be finished until this world ends and all of us who follow Christ cease to do our "acts"? What if what we have in our Bibles is the very first few pages of a scrapbook God's been keeping about His children ever since? What if thousands of years from now, someone gets to read in the Bible about... me? What if God is recording my quests... I mean, my "acts"... in a sequel to the Acts of the Apostles? One day I might get to be a Hero!

You know, though, if you let God speak through you, you are a Hero. When I lead my household in a Godly way, I am a Hero to my family. When I share something from the Word with someone by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I am the Hero that person needed to deliver that message to them. When I pray in faith and God adds His power to the situation, incredible, impossible things happen. It's not because I'm a powerful human; it's because He is the powerful God.

I'm not a demigod. Both of my parents are human beings, and I'm pretty sure yours are too. Mine aren't from Olympus; they're from Louisiana. Demigods aren't real, but Heroes of the Faith are. And today is your chance to be one! Accept the quest you are offered today, and be the Hero God has created you to be. Like Esther, you were created for just this time, just this situation. The challenge isn't too hard, because God equips you. Get out there and do something worthy of God's scrapbook! Maybe one day, weeks or years or decades or centuries or eons from now, your acts will be an inspiration for others!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Passages in Oklahoma City

Today we drove to Oklahoma City for the second-to-last weekend of the Passages exhibit. It's a positively huge collection of ancient manuscripts, manuscript fragments, Bibles, and artifacts related to the Bible. The exhibit is arranged more or less chronologically, starting with some incredibly old Torah scrolls and some ancient oil lamps (Because the Word of God is "a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path") and following the Bible down through history. It's a fascinating story; to see it unfold right in front of you is an experience that you won't soon forget.

There are dozens of rare, precious copies of the Bible in the exhibit. They have a collection of early 1600s copies of the King James Bible (including a first edition or two), not to mention many translations that preceded it in English, Latin, and a few other languages. There is a copy of a letter written by Martin Luther shortly before his execution, complete with his signature. There is an actual fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls; I was surprised at the emotion that I felt looking at a piece of a page of a copy of the Old Testament that was in existence when Jesus walked the Earth. There's a working printing press like Gutenberg's (which is demonstrated every few minutes). There are video presentations that take place between characters that are in separate physical "windows" having a conversation with each other, which is very unique and fun to watch. There's even a room with a number of interesting misprints; I got to see the "Wicked Bible" I've always heard about (the one that says "Thou shalt commit adultery" in the Ten Commandments), one that says that Judas called the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane (it should say "Jesus" instead of Judas), and several others.

We got to see a Bible which is printed in ink made of real gold. We got to hear the stories of Jerome, Tyndale, Luther, and other important people in the history of the Bible, dramatized and told in their voice using animatroincs. It was an amazing ride; three or four hours had gone by before we knew it. My eleven-year-old son said, as we were leaving, that it had changed his life (wow!) If you have a chance to get to Oklahoma City in the next week or two, come on out and spend a day. If you love the Bible, you'll be glad you did. We were moved.

Here's a quick video about the exhibit:

The Web site is; there are some other great videos about the exhibit on the Passages YouTube channel. The Oklahoma City exhibition ends on October 16th; after that the exhibit goes to the Vatican for an engagement. The Vatican! That's how important this thing is historically. We would have gone months ago ourselves if we hadn't had such a hectic summer; I almost wish now we had, because I'd like to go back!