Ann Weems at Christmas

My 2 favorite poems by Ann Weems:

Yesterday’s Pain

In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia
rising from the souls of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.
If you watch, you will see
the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one
Yesterday’s Pain
Some of us walk in Advent
tethered to our unresolved yesterdays
the pain still stabbing
the hurt still throbbing.
It’s not that we don’t know better;
it’s just that we can’t stand up anymore by ourselves.
On the way of Bethlehem, will you give us a hand?

Not celebrate?

Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season?
Your tears have no end?

Not celebrate?

You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors, and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day,
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone,
for He is born this day to you.

Which Version of the Bible Should I Buy as a Gift?

(This diagram is attributed online to Zondervan.com, although I could not find it on their site now.)

Every year, especially at Christmas time, one of the most common questions I receive from people in my church and online is “What Bible version should I buy as a gift?” It’s a great question, so I decided to give my answer in a post. (You may want to read THIS POST first, so you’ll understand my philosophy in not answering the question with a single answer.)

Let me make this VERY clear. I am not writing to theologians or scholars with this post…mostly because I am not one. I have been a Bible student for many years, I am a seminary-trained pastor, I have a couple master’s degrees and consider myself well-read, but this is one subject that often divides the best of scholars, and that’s not my intent with this post. This is not written for scholars, but for the average person in my church or those just beginning to become a Bible student.

So, which Bible version should you buy?

First, you should understand that every Bible we are reading today, including the King James Version (KJV) is a translation from the original text. Most of us don’t read Greek or Hebrew very well. The translators of all the major Bible translations have each attempted to take the original language and write a Bible that helps us grow in our walk with Christ.

As you can see from the diagram in this post, there are different approaches to this, with the goal leaning either more towards making it readable (thought for thought) or making it as close in accuracy to the original text (word for word).

I like to explain it like this by adding another phrase. The translators have chosen one of these approaches:

Word for word – This is where every word is attempted to be translated from the original language to an English word. If you want to be a serious student of the Bible, you’ll want a Bible using this approach. While this makes the version more accurate, it may be harder to understand at times, because we have sometimes changed the order in which we say something as much as we changed the words. The original language, for example, did not always follow the same sequence of sentence structure you learned in English class. This is one reason there are newer, more “modern” translations, trying to remain accurate, but make it more readable. (The ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV would be examples of this approach.)

Phrase for phrase – This is the middle of the two approach. I don’t know who originate this term, but I like it explain this approach to translations. In this attempt, instead of word for word, the translators broke sentences down into smaller phrases in the translation, so they could adapt to more of the sentence structure we use. This approach makes the Bible easier to read and is still considered an accurate translation, but may not be as accurate as the previous approach. (The NIV or NLT would be examples here.)

Thought for thought – This is where the translators, more concerned that the translation be readable, took an entire passage and translated it into the most modern language they can find. This is often called a “paraphrase” of the Bible. It can be fun to read and help illuminate a passage, but shouldn’t be considered extremely accurate when trying to apply the Bible. (The Message is the most popular example here.)

In reality, all the translations use parts of each of these approaches, but, as the diagram indicates, most will fit somewhere along this continuum.

With that explanation, here are some common versions all of which I use on a regular basis:

ESV – In recent years, this Bible has been one of my favorites. It’s actually replaced the NASB as my “go to” for accuracy Bible. I read it almost daily and more than other versions at this point. I highly recommend this translation for those wanting to read and study the Bible.

HCSB – This is one of the newer translations and fast-growing in popularity in Bible schools and personally speaking. I am liking more each day and highly recommend it. They are limited in selection at some retailers, but if you find one you like, this can be a great choice.

KJV – The King James Version is the oldest and therefore best-selling version of all times. I love it for the beauty of the language and there are some passages that I simply want to read from this translation. I do believe it uses older and harder to understand words and so I don’t usually recommend it for people as a first choice. Also, ancient texts of the original language Bible have been found since the KJV was written which have helped define some of the newer versions accuracy. (I realize those last statements alone makes me discounted by many “KJV Only” people, but that’s a whole other argument and not the focus of this post.)

The Message – This is highly readable (aimed at 3rd grade level), but it is a paraphrase. That means it’s completely translated thought-for-thought and you will lose some of the original meaning. This can be a “fun” read and I love it for illustration purposes, but I never rely on this as my sole reading experience. It’s certainly not a Bible for serious Bible study.

NKJV – The New King James Version has attempted to take the beauty and accuracy of the KJV and make it more readable. It’s a good option for those who want to feel they haven’t strayed too far from the KJV. I have several copies of this translation, including one that sits open on my desk at the office, and I do read it often.

NIV – I have preached and taught from the New International Version almost since the 1984 version was released. I love the readability. In very serious study, I always refer to another version before concluding my understanding of a passage. This remains a good option in the 1984 version, but I am not a fan of the newest revision after several major verses, such as Philippians 2:5, lost significance in the revision. (I wrote about that in THIS POST)

NLT – This is still a fairly new translation and has become a favorite of many, especially it seems among college and youth groups. It is highly readable and credible in accuracy. This is a good choice for the beginning Bible student or someone who simply wants to read for pleasure and inspiration.

(Some will wonder where the NASB is on this list. I still use it occasionally, but not as frequently as I once did.)

My advice if you are going to give a Bible to someone:

Make sure it’s readable – Open it up to several passages you enjoy and read it. Perhaps read a little in the beginning, such as Genesis 1, then read a Psalm or Proverb, then read something from one of the Gospels. Is it easy to understand for you?

Make sure it’s accurate - In most cases, if I were buying a Bible for someone because they are wanting to grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures, I would stick with something at least in the “word for word” or “phase for phrase” category, as I’ve listed them above. If you are buying for someone who already has several Bibles and just wants something fun to read or for someone who thinks they’ll never be able to understand the Bible, then something such as The Message may be an option for them, but it wouldn’t be my first choice in gifting a Bible.

Make sure it’s practical – Make sure the Bible is easy to hold, that it has a cover that fits with the person’s personality, and that it is written in a font that the person you are buying for can easily read. Also, stick with a version where there are multiple styles on the shelf when gifting a Bible. Don’t buy one that is an obscure or “unique” translation, just because it’s on sale. There may be a good reason there is only one style available and it doesn’t appear as popular of a translation.

Here’s the bottom-line for me. Find the Bible you think the person will like, you can afford, in a reliable text, and that you think they will actually read! As a pastor, I personally care less about which version you choose and more than you are reading God’s Word on a consistent basis.

Any questions?

Which Bible version do you prefer?

You may want to include a copy of 7 Ways to Make Bible Reading Fun.

Note: I welcome the “scholars” input or for you to add your own versions I’ve not talked about here. As I said, this was not written for scholars, however, but for the average person in my church or those just beginning to become a Bible student.

Steve Jobs Contribution to Christianity

Steve Jobs was without question a brilliant man and an incredible marketer. Jobs had a brilliance as an innovator and presenter and could wow an audience or inspire a team. I’ve read that he was difficult (extremely) to work for, but turnover was minimal at Apple because people wanted to follow him.

I do not know anything about Jobs’ spiritual life or his relationship to Christ. I know, however, that Steve Jobs made an incredible contribution to the field of Christianity. God has used his efforts for good.

As I type this post on my MacBook Air, I’m reminded that today I used my iPhone and my iPad to communicate with people around the world. I read the YouVersion by application and kept up with the world through at least a dozen apps I used today.

As a pastor, I am directly benefiting in my ministry from the work of Steve Jobs. May God continue to bring good from the products his company created.

How is your life different because of Steve Jobs and Apple products?

You Can’t Even Imagine

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

1 Corinthians 2:9

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.

Romans 8:18

When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

John 14:3

Are you ready? 

Introducing: Open Church

Kent Shaffer is the mind behind Church Relevance and other online ministry resources. Kent is one of my early mentors for my blog and has since become not only a social media friend, but someone I’ve been able to hang out with a few times. I learned how to leverage influence by watching Kent online.

Now Kent has a new project and I’m excited to help introduce it to you here.

Introducing Open Church

Open Church is a nonprofit designed to empower global church leaders to equip each other with ministry ideas and free downloadable resources. You can visit http://openchurch.com to learn more about it, but consider this diagram to fuel some thoughts:

Be honest, did you know 80% of global church influencers are Americans, but Americans are only 10% of Christians? Have you even thought about learning from Christians around the world? Do you think they may have something they could teach us as Americans?

Social media has made the world a smaller place. I interact with pastors around the world everyday. Open Church is designed to allow believers to truly learn from one another.

Still want to know more? Check out this brochure for Open Church HERE.

What’s Your One Sin?

Disclaimer: This is an opinion post…not a doctrinal statement.

In my experience, many believers have one sin that causes the majority of problems in their life…

It could be:

  • Pride
  • Selfishness
  • Lust
  • Worry
  • Fear
  • Greed
  • Stubbornness
  • An unforgiving spirit

It’s not that they don’t struggle with other sins, but this one appears dominant in their life. I realize that ultimately our greatest sin is following our will over God’s will, but that one sin is at the center of many of the person’s problems. It keeps him or her from fully surrendering to God’s will for their life and from developing complete intimacy with others. It impacts their marriage and parenting, their work life, and their general attitude towards life.

Discovering that sin and dealing with it through discipline, repentance, and dependence on God, often helps a person move through much of the junk in their life.

Being totally transparent…I realized in my twenties, through some painful experiences, that my “one sin” was pride. I have MANY others, but if I’m not careful, pride can cause a multitude of problems in my life.

What’s yours?

(Keep in mind, I’m talking about believers in this post…for unbelievers the only sin to be concerned about is the sin of denying Christ in your life. If you need help working through that, please let me know.)

7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

How do you actually know God is talking to you?

Every believer wants to hear from God. Why would you follow God closely if you didn’t want to know His voice or hear what He has to say? We want to know…Is this God?…Is this what He is telling me to do?…or…Am I being swayed by the circumstances of my life?

One thing I’ve observed is that we often listen for the grandiose voice of God. Sometimes God speaks that way, but many times God is more subtle than that. Often God speaks through those quiet moments, through other people, and through life’s circumstances. In a crowded world of noise and life distractions sometimes it’s hard to understand what God is saying. How do we take the circumstance of life, as mixed up and confusing as they can be, and figure out what God could be saying to us?

Here are some guidelines to hearing God speak through the circumstances of life:

Mirror your circumstances with the truth of God’s Word – God will never contradict Himself. He will never speak to us through our circumstances in a way that will contradict His written word. I hear people at times claim God is telling them to do something that is in violation with what God has already said. That’s never God.

God uses people to confirm His voice – God often sends people into our path to confirm His will for our life. People who attempt to follow God with their life can help us to hear from God. Every time God has called me to something, there have been others to confirm they are hearing the same calling. I’ve often had to cycle through the naysayers to hear them, but they are there.

Recognize that God operates from a plan – Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Rick Warren has sold millions of books telling us that we should live our life with a purpose…God’s purpose. Looking back over my life, I could never have scripted it, but I see how God has used me according to an overall plan. He’s used my life experiences to shape me for where I am today.

Examine your circumstances in light of God’s overall plan – When trying to hear from God through the circumstances of life, we should not try to make a decision on one event or set of circumstances. Circumstances may or may not be God speaking to us. We should look at our life over a span of months or years. Jeremiah 29:11 indicates that God has a definite plan to proper us and give us hope, but it would take the people 70 years to get there. :) When we look at our life over time we will be able to see what God has been doing. When the circumstances of life consistently line up over time with God’s overall plan it is possible that God is trying to speak through those circumstances. Before God called me into ministry the voices speaking into my life were many. I was available, there were tons of confirmations and signs, and I had to view my life in the context of God’s master plan.

Don’t allow circumstances to keep you from hearing or obeying God – Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 (NIV) “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” The common sense thing to do when everyone opposes you would be to leave, but Paul knew the circumstances were not indicative of God’s will for his life. Sometimes our circumstances may look gloomy, but we haven’t heard the truth of our circumstances until we have heard from God. God has typically spoken to me clearest during my darkest days. (Read THIS POST)

Ask God to show you His perspective on the circumstances – You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV) As followers of God we will spend our whole life trying to discern the will of God for our life; listening for His voice. If we desire to hear from God through our circumstances we must intently listen for the voice of God. Hearing from God is not always easy. When life is coming at us we cannot seem to understand what is going on, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for clarification. We should feel free to ask, “God what did you mean by that?” Many times I think I know what God is saying, but it’s in the seasons of questioning that I am more intentional to go back to Him for clarification. I’ve even taken days away to intentionally listen during the confusing times.

Remember: God’s primary desire in speaking is for eternal purposes – We limit God to this finite world when we fail to remember He is an infinite God. When we are trying to discern God’s voice through the circumstances of life we should consider how what is happening around us fits into God’s eternal plan to save a lost world from destruction and to mold His children into the image of His Son. God’s primary activity will be in these areas of our life. I’ve always been able to see how God’s specific plan for me lined up with His desire to invite a world to know Him.

Hearing from God is critical for the children of God to know God’s will for our life.

Our mission is to learn how to hear His voice. We must listen intently and carefully for His voice through the crowd of noises in the world in which we live. Thankfully God has not given up on us, but is still speaking to His people today.

Are you in a season of trying to hear from God?

Share your story to help (This is a revised post from previous posts.