Jesus in the storm

I learned this morning that the storm system which spawned over 200 tornadoes across 6 southern states Wednesday and Thursday, is the next to worst system ever recorded in the US.  Although the death toll has reached 342, the hundreds unaccounted for are sure to drive the final tally horrifically higher.  I suspect the projected insured loss figure of $2-$5 billion won’t even be in the ball park when the aggregate loss numbers are eventually added up.
Yesterday Kevin Watterson and John Horst–Keystone Missionaries with CrisisResponse who are based near New Orleans–loaded trailers with equipment and gear.  Last night they arrived at Hope Church in Madison, Alabama which will be their operating base for now.  If you can break free from your job next week, they could sure use your help.  Teams are already en route from Wisconsin, Montana and Texas.  Just give Kevin a call at 610-637-0202 to get directions.  Lancaster, PA folks are about 11 hours away.

Hurricane Katrina graphically taught us that disasters can be opportunities to show and speak the love of Jesus Christ.  Even if you can’t come, you can pray in these kinds of ways:
  • Comfort those who have lost loved ones
  • Provide food, water, shelter for those who need it
  • Heal the injured
  • Activate local churches to serve for the glory of Christ
  • Provide financial help
  • Open hearts of those devastated to the glorious gospel

Present with the Lord

Yesterday David Wilkerson and his wife were in a head-on crash in Cherokee County, Texas.  Gwen was injured but Pastor Wilkerson was killed.  Absent from the body, present with the Lord.  As a servant of God, visionary, mover and shaker, David Wilkerson was a lion among cubs.  Even many who’ve heard of the wonderful work of Teen Challenge to rescue and serve drug addicts, do not know the Spirit-driven life of the evangelist who founded it.  Way back in the late 1950’s, he brought the hope of the gospel to hardened gang members like Nicky Cruz.  (Grab a copy of Cross & the Switchblade.)
In 1987 this small town Pennsylvania native founded Time Square Church in New York City, today a church of thousands.  Someone once said last words are lasting words and you might well find that to be the case in his final post of a daily devotional on the World Challenge website.  
To believe when all means fail is exceedingly pleasing to God and is most acceptable. Jesus said to Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen, but blessed are those that do believe and have not seen” (John 20:29).
Blessed are those who believe when there is no evidence of an answer to prayer—who trust beyond hope when all means have failed.
Someone has come to the place of hopelessness—the end of hope—the end of all means. A loved one is facing death and doctors give no hope. Death seems inevitable. Hope is gone. The miracle prayed for is not happening.  That is when Satan’s hordes come to attack your mind with fear, anger, overwhelming questions: “Where is your God now? You prayed until you had no tears left. You fasted. You stood on promises. You trusted.”
Blasphemous thoughts will be injected into your mind: “Prayer failed. Faith failed. Don’t quit on God—just do not trust him anymore. It doesn’t pay!”  Even questioning God’s existence will be injected into your mind. These have been the devices of Satan for centuries. Some of the godliest men and women who ever lived were under such demonic attacks.
To those going through the valley and shadow of death, hear this word: Weeping will last through some dark, awful nights—and in that darkness you will soon hear the Father whisper, “I am with you. I cannot tell you why right now, but one day it will all make sense. You will see it was all part of my plan. It was no accident. It was no failure on your part. Hold fast. Let me embrace you in your hour of pain.”

Beloved, God has never failed to act but in goodness and love. When all means fail—his love prevails. Hold fast to your faith. Stand fast in his Word. There is no other hope in this world.

a gentile remembers Passover

I don’t think I would have enjoyed being a slave.  Duh.  Who would?  Not the girls snatched, duped or forced into the sex trades today, not the kidnapped Africans Europeans brought to America a 150 years ago to work as household slaves and field hands, and not Abraham’s descendants in Egypt.
For the people, it had started out well.  Abraham’s great grandson had risen from a slave to Pharaoh’s vice president in Egypt.  When famine brought Canaan and much of the region to its knees, Jacob’s starving sons sought food in Egypt.  Long story short, the whole family was reunited in Egypt, given land and a place of honor.

The Israelites had a lot of babies and subsequent pharaohs feared the mushrooming Israelite population would one day make them a military threat.  So they made their invited guests slaves. 

After 400 years of that, God tapped a man of Jewish blood who had been raised in the palace, to be prophet-leader of His suffering people.  It could have been so simple.  Seeking an audience with the pharaoh, Moses demanded their freedom.  No way.

Offended by the negativity God began flinging plagues one right after the other at the Egyptians.  Let my people go, or else.  Let them go.  Let them go!  At times, the pharaoh would capitulate, only to go back on his word.  

After nine plagues the final showdown was at hand.  God was going to gain glory, free his people, bend an unbendable king.  This is your last chance: release your slaves or I will kill every firstborn son in every household.  Be he young or old, slave or prince, he will die at My hand.

Driving home to the pharaoh the point that He makes distinctions between His people and those who oppress them (Exodus 11:7), God said no Jewish children would die that night.  But it wasn’t automatic.  God instructed the Jewish people to kill a lamb, smear its blood around their doorframes, and stay inside the house.  Every time He saw a house with blood, He would pass over it and no one there would die.

Which is exactly what happened.  During the night this most sophisticated north African culture became a screaming horror with a death in every household.  Young men in their prime, the elder sons who would carry the family name, defend the family’s honor, receive the largest inheritance, died.  All of them.  Only Egyptians.  The Israelites were saved by the blood.

This, the oldest–and most important of the Jewish holidays, Passover started this past Monday evening.  Just one day, then followed by the seven day Feast of Unleavened bread.  In Passover God revealed from generation to generation, that it is blood that frees from death.  

Tomorrow is Good Friday.  Commemorating the once-for-all Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) who on a cross, freed us from the judgment of God by His blood just like Yahweh did for the Jews 3500 years ago.  

Randy (a man from our congregation with cancer) spoke with me after worship Sunday, though obviously weakening.  Yesterday I visited him at home and his words were much fewer.  A few hours ago he died.  Not even 60 yet.  Left two young girls at home and a grieving wife.  That’s the tragedy.  Then there’s this victory: by the blood of the Passover Lamb, he has entered into his eternal home, into the glorious presence of the Lord bearing not one spot or wrinkle.  Not because he was the best man possible, but because Jesus was the best substitute possible for Randy’s sin.  Glory to God!  Shalom!

Where the main thing was the main thing

[Note: broken audio links at end of post have been replaced by working video links]

The waiter was pushing a large stainless steel cart loaded with plates and glasses down the corridor.  At McCormick Place corridors can be–I don’t know, maybe 80-100 feet wide, which made the conferee traffic look sparse.  When several glasses from the waiter’s cart slid off and exploded, I looked for some place to set my belongings out of the way and help clean up.  But by the time I turned around, three brothers were on their knees demonstrating the gospel we’d all assembled to rejoice in.

I meant to blog from the Gospel Coalition Conference in Chicago last week but alas, no time.  What an incredible 3 days of worship, wonder, and fellowship with like-minded believers.  I’m very grateful to the church for this privilege–especially to enjoy it with my wife.
We came–over 5000 strong, from varied denominations, varied states and countries, various races and people groups, all in love with God’s gospel of Jesus Christ.  The theme was preaching Christ and the gospel from the Old Testament, but there were many there who were not preaching pastors.  As my wife testified yesterday, everyone benefited from the plenaries and workshops–pastor or not. 

You could do worse than spend an hour watching one of these messages.  Here are links to several. 
Tim Keller on Exodus 14 (“Getting Out”):

Alistair Begg on Ruth (“From a Foreigner to King Jesus”):
James MacDonald on Psalm 25 (“Not According to our Sins”):

One of the most invigorating things I witnessed was a mass of young pastors–the 20-30 something crowd, who clearly love the gospel and biblical preaching.  The new church is in good hands with such men.


After visiting some friends on the west coast, Betty and I will be in Chicago next week for the Gospel Coalition Conference.  I hope to blog from there but you can also check our their website where I assume sessions will be posted as soon as available.

Until then, enjoy a sample of a wonderful gospel-centered, gospel-driven song.  Begins a little eerily but it’s worth waiting for what comes.  

on Bible translations (#1 )

In January I’m going to switch from preaching from the NIV to the ESV.  Keystone’s ESV fanboys and girls who have to translate on the fly while I read couldn’t be happier, but some of the NIV loyalists may need therapy.  Even my daughter is distraught because of the new NIV her mother and I gave her last year for her birthday.

The 2011 NIV has replaced the 2005 TNIV (Today’s New International Version), but I suspect it will also eventually replace my 1984 version.  Since I’m not wild about what’s just been published, I thought it might be a good time to make a change.

The new NIV did not swing the ax on all the masculine wording like the TNIV did, but it did enough to land it more in the gender-neutral class of translations (such as NLT and NRSV) than those which stick to the original rendering (ESV, NASB, HCSB).  Opting to regularly alter words from the original text is to interpret the text rather than merely translate it.  Admittedly, no translations can avoid some interpretation in what goes to print, but it’s a problem when a translation team brings an agenda to their efforts.  The result is an end-around play that violates the reader’s own interpretive conclusions and spoonfeeds him/her what the translators think. 

I’ll have numerous posts on the NIV and the ESV over the next few months, some of which will be articles by others.  The one below is by Dr. Russell D. Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who is also preaching pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.  His 2005 article–originally published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood*, is about the TNIV.  Some of the same concerns appear to remain in the new NIV.

I Want My NIV: Gender Issues, Bible Translations, and the Rise of Evangelical Individualism
by Russell D. Moore

A gender-neutral Bible translation would never have flown in my home church. Actually, no Bible translation would have made it long, except one.  I grew up in a KJV-only church. It is not that my congregation defended the King James Version as the only inspired text. Nor did we disparage other translations as deficient. In truth, we did not really know there were other translations. Everyone had always used the old King James, from the five-year olds memorizing verses for “Sword Drills” to senior adult ladies crocheting texts to hang in their living rooms.

There were, of course, many drawbacks to this one common text, drawbacks that explain the need for contemporary translations. But in moving beyond this era, we must admit that we have lost something. A pastor could say “and the glory of the Lord shone round about them” in virtually any context, and the congregation would know exactly to what he was referring. As teenagers, we read and meditated on the same texts our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents had worked through in the generations before.

That era is now long gone, and I do not really want it back. I do not usually preach from the King James Version (although I love it), largely because we now have translations that are more accurate, translating the original words of God into contemporary language that unbelievers and believers can understand. What I do want back, however, is the sense that the Bible forms the church, and, thus, that the Bible belongs to the community—not just to the individual.

My Own Personal Bible
This evangelical individualism explains much of what is going on in the current debates over “gender-neutral” Bible translations such as Today’s New International Version (TNIV) and The New Living Translation (NLT). For too long, we have assumed that the Bible is primarily about individual Bible study and personal devotion. Thus, our publishers give us niche Bibles in every possible variety—Bibles for sportsmen, Bibles for teens, Bibles for middle-aged women, even Bibles bound in leather, the color of one’s favorite sports team.

It is perhaps not insignificant that many of the more “gender-accurate” Bible translations originated in attempts to produce a children’s Bible version. For generations, evangelicals have sought to mediate the Scripture to children via “story Bibles” and even animated videos that convey the “important” nuggets of the Bible—often by robbing children of the narrative flow of Scripture itself. When this happens, the result is most often a Christian moralism tailored especially for children: “Jesus shared; you share.”

This phenomenon is grounded in an even deeper contemporary evangelical commitment to the individual as the locus of God’s saving purposes. Our understanding of the church so often seems simply like a place where individuals can learn how to be a better Christian, and where individuals can pool their money together for missions.

And so, supporters of the TNIV make the case that a “gender-accurate” translation is necessary so that little girls can see that the text is written to them—and not just to “men.” It is tempting for those of us who are opponents of such translations to focus only on translation principles, or on the theological implications of tampering with the meaning of the texts. But, beyond this, we must ask a more basic question: Where is the church in this discussion?

Reclaiming the Bible for the Churches
As evangelical Protestants, we do not believe that the Bible is formed by the church, but that the church is formed by the Bible. That is, the church does not invest the Scriptures with their authority. Rather, the church recognizes and is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20 ESV). Nonetheless, the church is given the responsibility to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15 NASB). Christ Jesus has given to his church pastors and teachers who are to guard the church from error and to protect the flock of God from dangerous wolves.

Contemporary evangelicalism, however, looks too often to parachurch ministries and publishers for this function, often corporations with accountability to donor boards rather than to churches. Thus, publishers flood churches with curricula—and the Bible translations to go with them—often then shaping the “personal Bible studies” of church members, with little or no accountability to the larger Body of Christ. The Christian individual then makes decisions about doctrine, and the words of the Bible itself, not on the basis of faithful teaching from the pulpit, but from the recommendation of a local bookseller. It is in this context, and only in this context, that the TNIV could emerge.

Thankfully, there is in some segments of evangelicalism a recovery of the church’s role in teaching and preaching, including in the arena of Bible translation. When the TNIV was released, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) immediately expressed concerns about the translation philosophy behind the new version. The SBC messengers, sent from churches all over the country, moreover, directed its LifeWay Christian Stores not to sell or recommend the TNIV.

This is a healthy development—and not only because it takes seriously the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures and, thus, the importance of accurate Bible translation. It is healthy precisely because pastors and church leaders are talking about Bible translation. What must come of this, however, is not just a general denunciation of “gender-neutral Bibles.” Instead, we must get at why our people want gender-neutral Bibles—because we live in a gender-neutral society.

That means that churches must do more than simply warn against bad Bibles. We must instruct our people what the Bible is all about—what Jesus told us on the road to Emmaus: It is all about Christ (Luke 24:27). This is the reason, after all, that the apostle Paul speaks of the Roman, Galatian, and Ephesian believers—both male and female—as “sons” of God. They are “in Christ”—and find their identity in him. There is a reason why passages about the righteous “man” in the Psalms should not be translated in the plural—because there is no plural group of righteous ones, only one righteous Son of Man.

In order to drive our people back to the glorious truth of the Bible’s focus, we must stop treating our Bibles and our biblical sermons as though the individual believer is the sum and substance of Scripture. We do this with endless “how-to” sermons and moralistic lectures from Scripture. Instead of pointing believers to their identity in Christ, we point them right back to their personally tailored Bible translations with a personally tailored message for them. In this context, a gender-neutral Bible is inevitable.

If, however, churches take seriously the task of instructing believers in the importance of all the words of Scripture—and applying its meaning to the whole body of believers—then perhaps our churches will be less susceptible to whatever fads blow in from Grand Rapids or Downers Grove. This might mean that the Christian seeking a Bible might go first to his pastor’s study, and only then to the bookseller. And that would be a very good thing.

[*additional articles on gender issues from a biblical perspective are available at]

do you “feel” the Spirit… sense Him?

There’s an vast body of beliefs that circulates among Christian circles, and many are held precious by some believers despite having little or no biblical base.  I call them part of Christianity’s “folk religion”.  Over time, like mold, some beliefs morph or develop additional growths which distort the original error even more.  An example I’ve written about is the widely believed “generational curse” (see church website).  Some people are personally stuck–even held captive by this folk teaching that is not fully biblical.

Praise God for the Holy Spirit!  At regeneration, God flooded your soul with His very own Presence.  It is wonderful!  From His internal control center, He guides us, He corrects us, He empowers us, He sustains us, He refreshes us, He sanctifies us and He illuminates the Word of God to us.  These are things we’re sure of because God tells us they happen.  

But there are some folk beliefs about the Spirit too.  For example, have you ever said you “sensed” (or “felt”) the Spirit?  When a disgruntled member was leaving the church, he insisted he no longer “sensed the Spirit” at Keystone, seeming to imply that the Spirit had beat him to the door.  Yet others in the church would gush after service, “Pastor, I really sensed the Spirit today!”  I squirm at both kinds of comments.  You sense that…, on what basis?  Good music?  Good message?  The message was especially relevant to me?  Everyone was enthusiastic?  Vancouver, Washington Pastor Cole Brown offers some great insight. 

Lies My Pastor Told Me CH4 from Humble Beast Records on Vimeo.