Remodeled or Recreated?

How major was Christ’s makeover on you?

My favorite pastime is to dig into a remodeling project around the house.  I love the smell of sawdust, fresh paint, varnish, and the sight of completing a work of art.  (Betty would be happy simply with a different look.  I protest that I want it done “right” but what I’m really after is a masterpiece.)

I’ve added closets, a basement bedroom, refinished oak floors, added crown molding, replaced light fixtures, given the bathroom a facelift, and painted, painted, painted.  And some day, I’m going to build that kitchen I’ve got on the drawing board!  For now I’m redoing our bedroom.

Initial plans were modest: replace all the yesteryear luan doors, close up a window (thanks Dave!), install new carpet, and paint (get this: Buddhist temple scarlet and gold).  Oh yes, and refinish the furniture I made 37 years ago. 

I started with the furniture.  I’d come in from the garage covered with sawdust and declare, “I’m having the time of my life!”  I was.  I had planned only to re-stain the pieces and replace the hardware.  But hey, why not do it right?  Let’s replace the pathetic excuse of a baseboard, add some profile to the square top, and…, oooo, chamfer the corners of the face!  Within a few short years of building the set I had been unhappy with the original design.  It had been pretty basic since at the time I was a novice woodworker.  


Anyway, the craziness continued.  Since I was replacing the entry door anyway, why not widen the opening so we could someday get a wheelchair through if necessary?  (No giggling if you’re under 45.  Age does odd things to the mind!)  So I did.

The door bottom wouldn’t clear the old carpet so I cut it away on a curve just beyond the sweep of the door.  Seeing the oak floor beneath, Betty said, “That looks nice.  Are you going to let it like that?”  If you’d like.  But first I’ll have to sand it and refinish it.  So I did.

The room is not very large so every door that comes out into the room complicates arranging furniture.  So I replaced bifold closet doors with bypassing doors, and the bathroom door with a pocket door. 

I’ve been chipping away at this project for 4 months now and still have a few ahead of me (redoing the half bath too).  But when it’s done it’ll look good and be functional.

I think.

It’s all surface stuff, a facelift to the 40 year-old ambiance.  Nothing’s changing behind the walls, ceiling or under the floor.  It will improve the appearance and make things more convenient, but won’t improve the nature of the house or its structure whatsoever.

Is that how you view what God did in you through Christ?  A makeover, a remodel job?  A change in future destiny and that’s it?  Now it’s time to pull myself up by my bootstraps and grind out this Christian life.  My effort.  
It’s true, in the Christian life we certainly aren’t passive.  The Bible is full of action commands like speak, do, do not, strive, forget, take up, make every effort…  Nevertheless this is neither a solo job nor even one we start which God only joins once He’s convinced we’re really serious about it.
Do you understand the magnitude of what happened to you when Jesus’ blood was applied to you and your sins?  The effect was as drastic as if God had turned you from a plant into a lion.  God doesn’t do remodeling projects; He’s more into creation.  When He regenerated you, he created a new man, a new woman.  He didn’t just add paint and accessories, your structure is brand new.  …if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

That’s why Paul talks so much about the “new man”.  Why he says that Christians no longer live but that Christ lives in them.  It explains the language that we’ve died and now our lives are hidden with Christ in God.  The gospel does not come upon a person merely to change his/her philosophy, but to change THE PERSON.  The gospel comes upon us–not just with words, but with power.

By the power of the gospel, God has made us holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Colossians 1:22).  You’re no longer a sin house but a God house.  You’ve gone from totally depraved to totally saved.  From a mess to blessed.  From condemned to redeemed.  Not just a makeover, but a new creation.

Our position before God has changed, our position with the world and Satan has changed, our future has changed, but so have we
Because you’re now a child of God, you have all the rights and privileges of His sons, His daughters–including ’round the clock support.  Because your heart’s been changed from stone to flesh, that old carelessness about your sin has been replaced by a sensitivity to it and sorrow over it–even if you don’t immediately see full victory over it.  Yet because you’re new–and newly related to God who now lives in you, you can hope for victory over your seemingly unyielding sin.  Because you’re new, you can be confident that even when you mess up, God moves in to convict and restore and show love through it all.  Because you’re new you believe the Scriptures will make sense to you in a way they couldn’t possibly before.  Because you’re new you know Satan has no more claim on you–and his accusations are all bluffs.  Because you’re new, God will use you, and because you’re new, you are marked by hope, not despair. 

A makeover is nice; new is better.

For parents going nuts

Parenting 001
([click on the faint ‘Parenting 001’ link above to read.] This is too good not to reproduce for all you parents out there who are going crazy–not just with your kids, but with your assessment of yourself as a parent. I spent most of my parenting years feeling like a failure and know I wasn’t unique. Maybe this will be a little blessing from heaven for you. Funny doesn’t hurt either. KR)

Is Obedience Legalism?

Last fall Charisma magazine published a letter to the editor from a gay reader who objected to an earlier article lumping homosexual behavior together with other sins like adultery, fornication, and infanticide.  

The reader was incensed, claiming the article in essence “rebound [him] by a spirit of legalism”. He scolded the author for forgetting that “Jesus and His cross replaced that law for me.  And I doubt that He would consider my God-given sexuality as a sin since it does not violate God’s law of love for self and others.”  He then referenced Matthew 22:36-40.

My TV fare is pretty boring: movies, an occasional sporting event, and reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.  In last night’s episode, Ray’s police brother Robert toyed with arresting him and his father for gambling.  The two had been playing poker with some of Frank’s cronies.  Not wanting to seem led by his father who warned him against playing too aggressively, Ray bet big and lost $2300 to his dad.  What he couldn’t understand was Robert’s dismay at the fact that they were gambling.  “Nobody got hurt!”  To which Rob replied, “Oh, so if no one got hurt, it’s not against the law?”
Increasingly that is what people without a religious framework think: no harm, no foul.  However God identifies sin not just as something that hurts another, but something that offends his glory.  Worshiping other gods doesn’t “harm” in the sense we usually think, but it is the most grievous of all sins, the first one God gets to in the 10 commandments. 

Furthermore, no professing Christian can sweep aside God’s self-revealing 66 books–or even 39 of them–and replace it with a bite-sized Bible called “Christ’s law of love”.  First, this so-called law contains no specifics.  What one person decides is love will undoubtedly be disputed by numerous others.  Who decides?  Me?  Based on what?  A word from God?  A subjective inner voice that overrules the Word from God He’s already given?  
And then there’s the legalism piece.  Many Christians would rather be called “scum” than a “legalist”.  It’s the scarlet “A” in the church, even worse than being called a fundamentalist.  Seems like nowadays you’re a legalist if you call for righteous obedience to God’s law.”  Really?  Au contraire, there is no legalism in obedience.  
A common use of legalism is to describe mandates and no-no’s that groups and churches require of their people which cannot be found in God’s revelation: such as forbidding women to use makeup or wear shorts.  But legalism is actually banking on my words and deeds (doing good ones and avoiding bad ones) to save me. Over against that, biblical obedience is the glorious and thankful response of believer who has been saved. 
The same Jesus the letter-writer pointed to for his defense is also the one who wondered, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord, but do not do what I say?'” (Luke 6:46).  The Word of the Lord insists that homosexual behavior is sin that is part of the old life–not the new (Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  Like my pride, my lies, my cursing, it is something to repent of–not rejoice in.  
I agree with Chuck Colson that when we teach grace we make it so free it is dangerous; dangerous in that a hearer might misunderstand and abuse grace.  Yes, that’s the independently operating nature of God’s grace.  But today’s licentious, antinomian [people who are “anti-law” or anti code] environment requires that we be just as forthright that obedience is not simply optional for the Christian. Jesus died so that those who by faith receive the benefits of His work on the cross, might be a cause for praise to their heavenly Father for the “…obedience that accompanies [their] profession of the gospel…” (2 Corinthians 9:13). 

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.