31 May

My Walk with King James

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, I committed to put aside my preferred translation, the New American Standard Bible, and solely preach from the KJV for the month of May.  That commitment is now over.  So, I thought that I would share with you some of my reflections.

I want to say up front that the King James translation is a very accurate translation.  As I said at the beginning of May in my article honoring the KJV’s birthday, “As for translating philosophy, on the Word-for-Word and Thought-for-Thought continuum, it is very much a Word-for-Word translation.  Therefore, when you read the KJV, you’re getting a precise translation of the original text.”  I appreciate that trait of the KJV so much.  We must be wary of translations that fall on the Thought-for-Thought end of the continuum like the New Living Translation (NLT) and paraphrases like The Message.  Zondervan has an excellent resource here to help you understand translation philosophy and where each Bible translation falls on the translation continuum.  When I read the KJV, I knew that I was getting an accurate translation of the actual words God inspired the authors of the Bible to write.  For that reason, I love the KJV.

However, the overwhelming reflection that I have is that the King James translation is translated into antiquated English.  Of course, that’s obvious, but it raises some considerations for contemporary readers.  Although produced in 1611 and updated a few times over the last four centuries, you still basically have 17th-century English with spelling updates.  Indeed, you have an accurate translation of Scripture, but it’s an accurate translation into antiquated English.  On one hand, the antiquated English gives a certain poetic air about the Scripture, making it feel very Shakespearean.  That’s because William Shakespeare was a contemporary of the men who translated the KJV.  Shakespeare wrote and spoke like the KJV translators.  However, on the other hand, I find the antiquated English burdensome and even a barrier to comprehension.  I hate to say that because I appreciate the KJV so much, but I can’t get past this conclusion.

As for being burdensome, some of my perception of this reality very well might be due to the fact that I’m not used to reading the KJV.  However, over the years I’ve noticed that even those who exclusively use the KJV stumble regularly when reading it aloud, even those who are good readers.  The reason is that the syntax (the way words are put together to form sentences) and the vocabulary of today are just different from 1611-English (not better or worse, just different).  We don’t think within the language parameters employed by the KJV, and it adds difficulty to the text, making it burdensome.

As for being a barrier to comprehension, here is what I mean.  In order to read and understand the KJV, one must add an extra step to the process that isn’t necessary in contemporary translations.  You see, in order to read and understand the KJV, one must first figure out what the text is actually saying before one can figure out what the text means.  In other words, one must take the older English and translate it into contemporary English first.  Granted, one doesn’t have to translate into a whole new language, but it is basically another dialect.  This necessity just adds a step that many potential Bible readers are unwilling to endure, causing I suspect many great frustration to the point of simply putting the Bible to the side.  Hence, it can become a barrier.  In fact, at times when I would read aloud from the KJV while preaching, I found myself having to concentrate so hard on just reading the Scripture that when I was finished, I had no comprehension of what I had just read.  Therefore, although I appreciate the legacy of the KJV, I would never recommend it to anybody if I was asked what translation to use.

Even more, and I don’t mean to overreach here, I would even encourage those who exclusively use the KJV out of habit or tradition to consider moving to a contemporary English translation.  If you are committed to the KJV, that’s fine.  Don’t switch.  However, if you simply use it because that’s the translation you’re used to, I recommend trying a modern translation and see if it doesn’t help you understand the Bible better.  Friend, I believe that God desires for you to have a copy of the Word of God in your exact tongue.  I pray that you’ll consider trying a contemporary English translation.

Overall, I’m so glad that I challenged myself to preach from the KJV.  I pray that it honored the men that God used to produce it and brought attention to the great legacy of this translation.  God has used it mightily over the last 400 years and continues to do so even today.  Furthermore, I hope that in some way, I connected to my spiritual forefathers who used the KJV—men like Charles Spurgeon, George Whitfield, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, and many others.  May you honor God for the gift of the King James Version of the Bible and hold tightly to the Scripture no matter which solid translation you choose!

I’m really curious to hear some of your reflections on the KJV.  With a nod to Shakespeare:  to use or not to use, that is the question.  What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of using it in 2011?

26 May

The Hound of Heaven

This poem is one of my favorites.  It has two characters.  One is a person fleeing from and resisting God–His love, His leadership, His salvation.  The other is an incessantly persuing God who will not rest until “all the ransomed Church of God be saved to sin no more,” as the old hymn goes.

The author is Francis Thompson, a 19th-century poet who lived a short and sad life filled with many struggles.

I hope you enjoy “The Hound of Heaven” as much as I:

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;  
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;  
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways  
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears  
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.         5
      Up vistaed hopes I sped;  
      And shot, precipitated,  
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,  
  From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.  
      But with unhurrying chase,        10
      And unperturbèd pace,  
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,  
      They beat—and a Voice beat  
      More instant than the Feet—  
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’        15
          I pleaded, outlaw-wise,  
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,  
  Trellised with intertwining charities;  
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,  
        Yet was I sore adread        20
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside).  
But, if one little casement parted wide,  
  The gust of His approach would clash it to.  
  Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.  
Across the margent of the world I fled,        25
  And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,  
  Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars;  
        Fretted to dulcet jars  
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.  
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;        30
  With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over  
        From this tremendous Lover—  
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!  
  I tempted all His servitors, but to find  
My own betrayal in their constancy,        35
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,  
  Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.  
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;  
  Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.  
      But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,        40
    The long savannahs of the blue;  
        Or whether, Thunder-driven,  
    They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,  
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—  
  Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.        45
      Still with unhurrying chase,  
      And unperturbèd pace,  
    Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,  
      Came on the following Feet,  
      And a Voice above their beat—        50
    ‘Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.’  
I sought no more that after which I strayed  
  In face of man or maid;  
But still within the little children’s eyes  
  Seems something, something that replies,        55
They at least are for me, surely for me!  
I turned me to them very wistfully;  
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair  
  With dawning answers there,  
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.        60
‘Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share  
With me’ (said I) ‘your delicate fellowship;  
  Let me greet you lip to lip,  
  Let me twine with you caresses,  
    Wantoning        65
  With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,  
  With her in her wind-walled palace,  
  Underneath her azured daïs,  
  Quaffing, as your taintless way is,        70
    From a chalice  
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.’  
    So it was done:  
I in their delicate fellowship was one—  
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.        75
  I knew all the swift importings  
  On the wilful face of skies;  
  I knew how the clouds arise  
  Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;  
    All that’s born or dies        80
  Rose and drooped with; made them shapers  
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;  
  With them joyed and was bereaven.  
  I was heavy with the even,  
  When she lit her glimmering tapers        85
  Round the day’s dead sanctities.  
  I laughed in the morning’s eyes.  
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,  
  Heaven and I wept together,  
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;        90
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart  
    I laid my own to beat,  
    And share commingling heat;  
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.  
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.        95
For ah! we know not what each other says,  
  These things and I; in sound I speak—  
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.  
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;  
  Let her, if she would owe me,       100
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me  
  The breasts o’ her tenderness:  
Never did any milk of hers once bless  
    My thirsting mouth.  
    Nigh and nigh draws the chase,       105
    With unperturbèd pace,  
  Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;  
    And past those noisèd Feet  
    A voice comes yet more fleet—  
  ‘Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me!’       110
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!  
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,  
    And smitten me to my knee;  
  I am defenceless utterly.  
  I slept, methinks, and woke,       115
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.  
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,  
  I shook the pillaring hours  
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,  
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—       120
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.  
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,  
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.  
  Yea, faileth now even dream  
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;       125
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist  
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,  
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account  
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.  
  Ah! is Thy love indeed       130
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,  
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?  
  Ah! must—  
  Designer infinite!—  
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?       135
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;  
And now my heart is as a broken fount,  
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever  
  From the dank thoughts that shiver  
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.       140
  Such is; what is to be?  
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?  
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;  
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds  
From the hid battlements of Eternity;       145
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then  
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again.  
  But not ere him who summoneth  
  I first have seen, enwound  
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;       150
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.  
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields  
  Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields  
  Be dunged with rotten death?  
      Now of that long pursuit       155
    Comes on at hand the bruit;  
  That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:  
    ‘And is thy earth so marred,  
    Shattered in shard on shard?  
  Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!       160
  Strange, piteous, futile thing!  
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?  
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),  
‘And human love needs human meriting:  
  How hast thou merited—       165
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?  
  Alack, thou knowest not  
How little worthy of any love thou art!  
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,  
  Save Me, save only Me?       170
All which I took from thee I did but take,  
  Not for thy harms,  
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.  
  All which thy child’s mistake  
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:       175
  Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’  
  Halts by me that footfall:  
  Is my gloom, after all,  
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?  
  ‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,       180
  I am He Whom thou seekest!  
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’  
25 May

Invest in Others

One of the most memorable quotes I remember from Dr. David Puckett at Southern Seminary is this:  “We are like dwarves sitting upon the shoulders of giants.  We see more, and things that are more distant than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”  This quote from John of Salisbury, a 12th-century theologian, has stuck with me because it reminds me of the mass of people I’m indebted to in every aspect of life—some living, some recently dead, and others long dead.  Indeed, I am who I am because people by God’s grace have directly and indirectly invested into my life.

We see this truth illustrated well in the lives of Barnabas & Saul in Acts 9:26-27, When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.

Here we see Barnabas reaching out to the newly converted Saul.  Knowing Saul’s recent ambitions to stamp out the upstart Christian faith, it’s understandable that the early Christians in Jerusalem didn’t cozy up to him.  They thought he was trying to trick them so he could arrest them, but Barnabas took a risk.  He advocated for Saul before the apostles and helped Saul into the fellowship there.  In fact, Acts 9:28 tells us that after Barnabas came alongside Saul, Saul was with the apostles, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.  Isn’t that amazing?  The very man that sparked intense Christian persecution in Jerusalem, causing many to flee to other cities, is now back in Jerusalem proclaiming the very thing he had persecuted others for.  Amazing!

One of the crucial aspects of this passage is that Saul was trying to get into the church, but the church wouldn’t let him in until Barnabas came alongside him.  Are there some people who are trying to join in to your fellowship but are being kept at a distance?  Perhaps they’re coming out of a very sinful lifestyle and are not yet as holy as others in the church.  Perhaps they’re a bit different from the majority of the church.  Perhaps your fellowship has become so comfortable and inward-focused with the group you already have that you’re really not looking to bring others in.

We constantly holler about wanting people to come to church, but what I’m afraid we often mean is that we want to people to come to church who are just like us.  We want them to think like us, live like us, and have the same level of sanctification as we have.  However, we forget that we were once rank sinners on the outside looking in, but someone graciously took us under their wing and brought us into the fold.  They challenged us, rebuked us, taught us, were an example to us, and loved us, and for that reason, we are who we are today.

You are not a giant.  You’re a dwarf standing by the grace of God on the shoulders of giants.  And this question remains:  Who are you going take a risk on and put on your shoulders?  Who on the outskirts of the church needs you to advocate for them to give them standing in the fellowship?  Imagine with me for just a moment if Barnabas hadn’t put Saul on his shoulders.  Eventually Saul might’ve said, “Forget this whole thing.  It’s not worth the trouble.”  How great a loss to the church that would have been!  May we not make that mistake.

-This article first appeared in the May 25 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the May 29, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3851.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

19 May

Pursue God’s Agenda

Focal Passage:  1 Cor. 4:1-5; Gal. 1:6-10; 1 Thess. 2:7-12

“Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master,” (Matthew 25:21).  That’s what we want to hear when we stand before God.  That judgment comes out of Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents.” Literally, a “talent” in that parable is a measure of money, but I believe, parabolically-speaking, it represents anything that God has made us stewards over —  time, money, aptitude, family, position, etc. We’re to be faithful with what He’s put us over, and the entire point of that parable is that God will hold us accountable for our stewardship.

One of the most precious things God has entrusted us with is the gospel, which is the Good News that all who believe on Jesus will be saved from God’s wrath by grace through faith in Jesus. Think about the weightiness of God making us stewards of the gospel. God has determined to use us in His work to save mankind such that our gospel proclamation is necessary. Paul says it so clearly in Romans 10:12-14:  

  • For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

Notice what Paul is teaching here:  every person who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved, but no one can call on the name of Jesus and be saved until they hear the gospel from a preacher.  That truth means that regardless of your stance on the doctrine of election as to whether it’s conditional or unconditional, you must believe that nobody is saved unless they hear the gospel and that all who want to be saved will be saved.  Furthermore, it’s important to realize that “preacher” isn’t talking about just pastors.  It’s every saved person who’s obedient to proclaim the gospel. Nobody will be saved if you and I don’t preach the gospel, which means other people’s salvation is dependent at least upon our proclamation. No proclamation = no salvation. That’s a weighty stewardship, and we’ll be held accountable for it.

Unfortunately, many think they are proclaiming the gospel when in fact they are not. Let me briefly point to three of many I could list that gospel proclamation is not.  First, gospel proclamation is not your testimony. Your testimony can be a powerful addition, giving credence to the gospel’s power, but it’s not the gospel.  Second, gospel proclamation is not inviting somebody to church.  I know what you’re thinking, “If I can get them to church, they’ll hear the gospel and get saved.” What if they won’t come or the gospel isn’t clearly given when they do come?  You’ve simply invited them to potentially hear a gospel proclamation instead of proclaiming it yourself as God has commanded you.  Finally, gospel proclamation is not simply saying, “You need to be saved.” It’s true that lost people do need to be saved, but why? Saved from what or whom? How? Sometimes we assume people know these things, and increasingly they don’t. I recently shared the gospel with a young man right here in Middle Tennessee who said, “I’ve never heard that in my life.”

So, what is faithful gospel proclamation?  It has three parts:

  1. Demonstrate lovingly through the Law and Scripture that the person is a sinner deserving of and destined for Hell when they die.
  2. Proclaim emphatically that God has made a way through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for the person to escape Hell and have life everlasting in Heaven.
  3. Invite them passionately to receive the gospel by repenting of their sin and believing on Jesus until they die so they’ll be saved.

May you and I be faithful stewards of the gospel as we pursue God’s agenda, bringing many to glory with us!

-This article first appeared in the May 18 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the May 22, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3836.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

17 May

Jeremy Vanatta’s Call for SBC Unity

If you’re Southern Baptist, you really need to check this out!  Dr. Jeremy Vanatta is beginning an important series he’s calling The Ephesians 4 Project.  The purpose is:

to seek unity among Southern Baptists around the fact that our doctrine is mostly uniform, though our practice may be less so.   It seeks to highlight the unifying principles of the Baptist Faith & Message, while allowing for diversity among Southern Baptists.  It also seeks the fulfillment of John 13:33-34 in the SBC.

The goal is to walk through each article of faith of the BF&M and demonstate how these doctrines should be enough to unify the SBC.  It’ll be a long series (around 18 articles), but it’ll be very worthwhile and helpful I believe.

Check it out at http://jeremyvanatta.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/the-ephesians-4-project-a-call-for-sbc-unity/ and join the conversation.

11 May

Walk with God

Focal Passage:  Ezra 7:1a,6-10,25-28; 9:4-6; 10:10-12

Meditate on the following word and concept for a moment:

con·tam·i·nant kən-‘ta-mə-nənt noun : something that soils, stains, corrupts, or infects by contact or association.

It sounds alarming, doesn’t it?  It certainly is.  In fact, it’s potentially fatal.  Therefore, we must take contaminants seriously and vigilantly guard ourselves against them.

My wife works one shift a week as a registered nurse on the Progressive Care Unit of one of the middle Tennessee hospitals in our area.  During the thirteen or so hours she’s there, she sees a cornucopia of nasty biological contaminants.  So, we have a strict policy when she comes home from the hospital in the morning:  she cannot touch our three children, who are between 5-years-old and 10-months-old, until she’s showered and changed out of her scrubs.  We do everything we can to control contamination.

We as a culture certainly take germs seriously, but how seriously to we take our sin?  Sin is soiling, staining, corrupting, and infecting.  Nevertheless, as if sin was contained in a pool, we often toe up to the edge of it.  From time to time we splash in it or worse, dive on in and immerse ourselves in it.  Would you do that with a pool filled with the dreaded Ebola virus?  No way!  You’d do everything in your power to not come within a country mile of that place.  Yet, sin’s infinitely more dangerous with ramifications stretching into eternity.

When Ezra, the learned and godly scribe, arrived in Jerusalem around 457 B.C., he saw a people soiled, stained, corrupted, and infected.  Not with a virus or bacteria mind you, they were contaminated with the sin of worldliness.  They’d been exiled in the pagan nation of Babylon for the greater part of a century.  They had swum in their ways and dived in their customs.  At first, they probably resisted, but progressively, eventually, they were covered with ungodliness and continued in it once they’d returned to the land of Israel.

They were to be a “peculiar” people for God (Dt 14:2, KJV), but there was no difference at this point between them and the world.  At this discovery, Ezra was dumbfounded and grieved.  The epitome of their contamination was the fact that from the common person up to the princes and rulers, even the priests and Levites, the men had married pagan women who introduced pagan ways to the Jews.  It grieved Ezra so much that he tore his garment and robe, pulled some hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled and in grief until the time of the evening offering (Ezra 9:3-4).

Those who trembled with fear for God gathered to Ezra, and he began to pray, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens,” (Ezra 9:6).  As he prayed, the Holy Spirit began to move in the midst of the people, causing them to feel the weight of their iniquities, guilt, uncleanness, abominations, impurities.  Ezra began to weep and prostrate himself before God; the congregation began to weep bitterly too (Ezra 10:1).  They finally began to see their sin as sin.  That day they began to repent of their sin and be cleansed of contamination.

Oh, that we would be leaders in our own circles of influence like Ezra.  I would that God be gracious to us so that the numbing effects of sin would be reversed, that sin would sicken and truly grieve us.  I pray a fresh falling of the Holy Spirit on our people and especially our leaders so that we would take sin seriously and seek God’s cleansing from all contamination.

May it begin with me!

-This article first appeared in the May 11 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the May 15, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3824.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

04 May

Use Your Influence

Focal Passage: Esther 4:13-17; 8:3-8

One of the great joys I’ve had over the past three springs is being the head coach of my oldest son’s tee ball team. In fact, the season’s already a fourth of the way done. What a combination of challenge and real joy it is leading 3- to 5-year-olds to learn and love the game of baseball!

While I have many responsibilities as coach, one of my key roles is to put players in position to make plays. I must look at each player’s ability to play the game and desire to excel in the game. Then I put them into position accordingly. As the inning begins, I’m even on the field with them, coaching before, during and after the play. They must make the play, but they wouldn’t make the play unless I put them in the right place. That’s why the sports world honors coaches so.

God acts similarly in the lives of humanity. Please don’t misunderstand me. God is so much more than a coach! But, like a coach, He puts people in position to make a profound impact. God’s careful, sovereign oversight of history and humanity is called His “providence.” History, although seemingly random at times to us, is always thoroughly in the control of our God and progressing as He has planned for His good pleasure and unsurpassed glory and for the good of believers. Therefore, you are where you are not by chance. You’re in that position for a purpose — God’s purpose.

We see this biblical truth so beautifully illustrated in the life of Esther, who was put in position by God in His providence to make a profound impact.

Esther was a young, beautiful, Jewish virgin who lived in the kingdom of Medo-Persia, which ruled over the land of Israel in those days. A century earlier, Esther’s people in Judah had been conquered by the Babylonian Empire and taken away from their land into exile. However, near the end of the 6th century B.C., Babylon fell to the Medo-Persians (see Daniel 5), and soon thereafter, King Cyrus of Medo-Persia allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. However, not all Jews returned, evidenced by the fact that Esther and her family lived in Susa, the capital city of Medo-Persia, which is in modern-day Iran and almost 800 miles from Jerusalem. It was there in Susa that God providentially moved to put Esther into position.

In Esther’s day, Ahasuerus (a.k.a., Xerxes) was king of the empire and became irreparably disgruntled with his queen. Therefore, he decided to search to find a new one, and through God’s providence, Esther prevailed and was crowned. God now had her in the position He desired so that when a plot came about to commit genocide against the Jews in the land, she was able to use her influence with the king to thwart the plot and save the Jews, God’s chosen physical people. God put Esther into position, and she acted accordingly.

I wonder what God desires to do with you in the position in which you find yourself. You’re not there by chance. God’s placed you where you are for His purposes, and every ordinary day provides an extraordinary opportunity to be a godly influence. Perhaps He’ll use you in a dramatic way to put a stop to some wicked plot like Esther. Perhaps He’ll simply use you to encourage somebody who’s depressed, to share the gospel with somebody who’s lost or simply be a living sacrifice to Jesus before others.

Whatever the purpose turns out to be, know that God has providentially placed you there so that you can use your influence for His good purposes. May you act and lead with boldness because of your confidence in your sovereign God!

-This article first appeared in the May 4 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the May 8, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3813.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

03 May

To the Fountain: Weighing Scripture and Tradition

Around the dawn of the fifth century A.D., a scholar of the church by the name of Jerome did something that was rather controversial in his day: He produced the official Latin translation of the Bible, which become known as the Vulgate. That in itself wasn’t controversial. The controversy lay in the fact that he ignored the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint and instead utilized manuscripts in the original Hebrew that he had at his disposal.

Many of Jerome’s contemporaries thought this action unwise, but he desired to go to the sources, demonstrating a philosophy that in the Renaissance became known by the Latin phrase “ad fontes,” which means “to the fountain or source.”

Throughout the course of church history, we’ve seen by the grace of God the spirit of ad fontes rise up intermittently in the church as needed. Each time, I believe God has been drawing His church and the watching world back to the only true repository of knowledge and truth, the Scripture.

At the dawn of the 16th-century Reformation, it rose up in Erasmus and carried over into Luther, giving rise to the cherished principle of sola scriptura, Latin for “Scripture alone.” This principle affirms that the Bible is our only authority for faith and practice.

I would argue that the Southern Baptist Convention had an ad fontes moment of its own through the Conservative Resurgence of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. I believe those men and women of God who sacrificed greatly and stood strongly time and time again at convention after convention realized that without the Bible the church is powerless and adrift and cannot please God. They led the SBC back to the Source, namely the Word of God, the Bible. What a fountain it is!

Due to our fallenness, we must continually and intentionally anchor ourselves to this Source. Like gravity pulls us from the lofty ledge down into the pit, sin pulls us from the Scripture. If we are not careful, over time we can find ourselves wandering, becoming increasingly ruled by our own desires, traditions, reason and institutions.

Perhaps we are at this point and on the verge of needing another ad fontes moment in SBC life. There is much debate over the condition and direction of the SBC and its churches, but I believe a large and vocal portion of the discussion is pushing from the wrong source.

Instead of pushing from Scripture, they are pushing from denominational identity and brand loyalty. In fact, on many occasions I’ve read “Presbyterian” used almost as a slur when talking to or about other brothers who are daring to question the current majority Southern Baptist understanding, for example, in the area of church leadership. The implication is that you’re not really Baptist if you believe or do something that resembles what some non-SBC denomination has traditionally believed or done.

The logic goes like this: We shouldn’t go that way because that’s how the Pentecostals or the Catholics or the Presbyterians or the Methodists or fill in the blank go. On the affirmative side, it goes like this: We go that way because that’s how Baptists go.

It reminds me of a time back at an SBC church I served in Kentucky as associate pastor. The Lord’s Supper was coming up and the senior pastor and I were planning to serve it by having the people come up front to receive the bread and cup instead of the traditional way of passing them from pew to pew. When we approached the deacon body with the plan, their response was basically, “No way! That’s too Catholic.” Never mind whether the plan would have been biblically permissive or not, it wasn’t traditional Baptist enough.

To insinuate or explicitly say we should avoid a belief or practice because it doesn’t square with traditional or current majority Southern Baptist approaches is painfully illuminating. It reveals that in some circles, Scripture has been replaced by tradition as the authority.

Tradition and majority are not infallible. Certainly, majority doesn’t automatically mean right, à la Numbers 13-14, and tradition can take us amiss as Jesus noted in Matthew 23. To go even further and judge people, churches and parachurch groups based on their level of traditional Baptist identity is reprehensible. That, my friends, is tribalism instead of biblicism. It’s letting the cart pull the horse.

Scripture is our sole source and fountain of authority. It’s the norm of norms that is not normed. In other words, it’s the inerrant, infallible, sufficient Word of God that is the sole rule of our faith and practice. Therefore, denominational tradition and identity must bow down to it. Wasn’t that the ultimate goal of the Conservative Resurgence anyway?

I desire to be biblical more than “Baptist.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m decidedly and confessionally Baptist and proudly Southern Baptist, but upholding Baptist tradition is not my goal. Upholding the Word of God is. Where the two intersect, I gladly cling to the tradition, and where they diverge, I gladly jettison the tradition. Nevertheless, I gladly stand next to any brother in this convention who upholds the Baptist Faith and Message and maintains biblical Baptist distinctives, such as the inerrancy, sufficiency and authority of the Bible; the necessity of Gospel proclamation to every person; the salvation and security of the believer by grace through faith in Jesus; believer’s baptism by immersion; the priesthood of the believer; congregational polity; and cooperation. I long for SBC unity around such things for the sake of the Gospel and God’s glory because it’s so good for brothers to dwell together in unity, even denominationally (Psalm 133).

Perhaps the SBC is at a serious crossroads as some prognosticate. There’s certainly extremism on both sides, but whether we are or not, the key question for the SBC, state conventions, regional associations and local churches remains the same as we seek to move forward: Should we seek to do the most “Southern Baptist” thing or should we seek to do the most biblical thing? Some want to push us back to the tradition. I pray we’ll have an ad fontes moment and be pushed back to the Source, the Fountain, the Scripture.

-This article appeared originally at Baptist Press on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 and can be accessed at http://bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=35204.

02 May

Happy Birthday, KJV!

Today, May 2, 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the Bible translation known as the King James Version (KJV) or the Authorized Version (AV), which was first published in 1611.  Although I very rarely read or use it because of its outdated language, it has been a great gift to the church over the last four centuries.  I highly regard it and am thankful for it.

Undoubtedly some take their love for the KJV too far.  No, Jesus didn’t use the KJV.  My friend’s grandmother actually used that argument.  No, it’s not the divinely-inspired translation.  The Bible autographs, which are the original documents delivered to us by God through the biblical writers, are divinely inspired, but no translation fits that category.  Nevertheless, the KJV has been a very important blessing to the church.

It is a solid translation.  As for textual basis, it’s based primarily upon the original biblical languages.  So, for the most part, it’s not a translation of a translation as some other Bible versions are.  The New Testament was translated from the Greek manuscript known as the Textus Receptus.  Where the Textus Receptus was incomplete, the Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate was used.  The Old Testament was translated from the Hebrew manuscript known as the Masoretic Text.  However, the Old Testament portion of the Vulgate and the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint influenced the translation of the Hebrew into English.  As for translating philosophy, on the Word-for-Word and Thought-for-Thought continuum, it is very much a Word-for-Word translation.  Therefore, when you read the KJV, you’re getting a precise translation of the original text into 17th-century English.

Of course, keep in mind that the KJV we have today is not exactly the 1611 version.  It’s been updated a few times to reflect changes in spelling and a few instances of word-choice.  These changes are undeniably a good thing because if you think reading the KJV you’re familiar with is hard, you ought to try reading an actual 1611 KJV.  For instance, here’s part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:12-16 in the actual 1611 edition:

  • If I haue tolde you earthly things, and ye beleeue not: how shall ye beleeue if I tell you of heauenly things? And no man hath ascended vp to heauen, but hee that came downe from heauen, euen the Sonne of man which is in heauen. And as Moses lifted vp the serpent in the wildernesse: euen so must the Sonne of man be lifted vp: That whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue eternall life. For God so loued ye world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.

The history leading up to the work of the KJV is very interesting.  It’s hard for us to imagine today, but sometime between the 4th century and the 16th-century Reformation, it became illegal to translate the Bible into the vernacular or common language of the people.  Through those centuries, the primary and official translation was the Vulgate, which again is a Latin translation of the Scripture.  This reality actually made sense since Rome ruled the Western world, and Latin was the official language of the empire.  However, as Rome dissolved, various languages and dialects began to sprout up all over Europe along with new nation-states to the point that Latin became a dead language.  Virtually nobody could speak it or read it except religious officials, leaving the common person unable to read the Bible.  Just imagine your life if you couldn’t read or understand the words of Scripture.

So, why didn’t they just translate the Bible into French, Spanish, German, English, or whatever vernacular?  Remember, it was illegal to do so.  John Wycliffe, a 14th-century English scholar/theologian/preacher, disregarded the law and translated the Latin Bible into English in 1382, an act which the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) decried to the point of burning all the copies Wycliffe’s translation it could get its hands on.  He died of natural causes two years later, but his disciple John Huss suffered a martyr’s death in 1415, being burned at the stake by the hands of the RCC.  The RCC had such contempt for Wycliffe and the type of men he spawned that in 1415 they posthumously charged him with heresy and in 1428 had his bones exhumed and burned in a symbolic act of judgment by order of Pope Martin V.

William Tyndale translated the New Testament into English in 1525, which made him an outlaw.  In 1536, he fled from King Henry VIII of England to the mainland where officials of the Holy Roman Empire (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church) arrested him and by the order of the emperor strangled and then burned him at the stake.  So, translating the Scripture into the common language of the people carried very stiff penalties.  Nevertheless, people continued to do so or utilize the surviving English works of these martyrs.

Fast forward now with me to 1603 when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, making him the first king of the United Kingdom.  In 1604, he saw a need for a new English Bible translation.  As one expert said, “He was generally scandalized that there were all these different Bibles going around. And when somebody said, you know, I refer to the Bible, the first response was, well, which Bible? My Bible says this, your Bible says this. So he was trying to create a standard version that everyone could agree on… You know, you’ve got to think of a very different kind of society, very different way of thinking about religion. The idea that we have today of, you know, we choose our own way to God, there are different denominations and different groups. What sounds to us, you know, sensible easygoing tolerance would have to him been just the rankest kind of heresy. As far as he was concerned, he was the king of a country. And if it was to be one country, one church, and it was based on the Bible, then there had to be one Bible,” (Philip Jenkins, professor of Religious Studies, Penn State University, quoted from here).  So, in 1604 at the Hampton Court Conference, King James authorized a new translation into English, and on May 2, 1611, it was published.  We know it today as the King James Bible.

The KJV has had a huge impact on the world.  Most importantly for 17th-century English-speakers, it standardized the English Bible and put the Word of God into their contemporary language so that they could easily read and understand Scripture.  Given the influence of Imperial England throughout the world, it has been widely spread as the English Bible and in so doing, has helped regulate and promote the English language globally.  It’s certainly a literary treasure, excelling in capturing the poetry of Scripture, and has been embedded in the subconscious of the American culture.  Even if you don’t regularly use the KJV, quote some Scripture from memory, and I bet the KJV comes out!  That’s because in almost every church setting up until the last few decades, it has been basically the only translation used.  This situation unified the church around one translation, which I believe is a good thing.  Please don’t hear me advocating we all use the KJV, but it would probably be good and helpful if our churches decided on one contemporary translation to do for us what the KJV did for the church in the previous four centuries.  For all these reasons, the KJV is still a beloved translation.

So, as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the KJV, may we give thanks to God for the blessing of the King James translation of the Bible!