Five Minute Challenge: Persecuted Church

This week I’m at Moody Founder’s Week. It’s a Bible conference put on by Moody Bible Institute that I’ve come to for several years, especially since my son Nate is a student here. One of the underlying themes this year has the persecution of Christians around the world. I’ve read recently that Christians are under more persecution today than any time in church history.

Then, my friend Tami Heim tweeted that she was praying for the Christians of Uzbekistan. I’ll be honest, I don’t know that I ever prayed for anyone in Uzbekistan. Then I followed the link she provided and realized it’s part of an initiative called the Five Minute Challenge. I signed up. You can too. In fact, I think you should.

HERE is a list of the 50 most-watched countries for church persecution.

Watch this video and then go HERE.

Do you ever pray for persecuted Christians?

5 Questions to Discern God’s Will

I am often asked how to know if the plans we make are God’s will for our life. This is a common concern. Most of us want to do God’s will, but God seems to give us a tremendous amount of freedom. If you’re like me, you’re fully capable of making a mistake. I’ve made many.

Here are 5 Questions I often ask myself to help discern God’s will:

Does what I’m doing (or planning to do) conflict with Scripture?
God’s will never will. God is always true to Himself and His Word is the best place to start. We may differ in interpretation of a passage, but if it’s clearly spelled out in Scripture, then we clearly know His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with the counsel of others?
God uses others to confirm His will. I am thankful for the people in my life, including my wife and sons, who have helped shaped the path of my life. Often they see things I can see or believe in me when I can’t believe in myself. God sends the body of Christ to encourage, challenge and strengthen the body. (Don’t be confused, however, with times God calls us to go against the grain of life and walk by faith when everyone is saying we are crazy. See Noah about that one.)

Does what I am doing conflict with the spirit within me?
God sent the Holy Spirit as a helper. He guides us with an inner peace or a holy unrest. If Christ is in you, He will not leave you to make a decision completely alone. Often God provides a peace or a lack thereof when He is trying to confirm His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with my life experience?
God uses our experiences in life to teach and mold us to His will. Often it isn’t as unusual of a path when we look back over our life experiences. Again, don’t be confused, because He usually stretches us out of our comfort zone also.

Does what I am doing conflict with my passion for life?
God tends to work with the things that fuel our fire. He loves when we are energized for the tasks He calls us to. When I look at Bible characters like Joseph, David, the disciples, Abraham or Paul it appears their calling matched their wiring. Paul was zealous for whatever he did. God used that passion for good. What’s your passion? God may work within it to confirm His will.

Try those 5 questions together and see how they line up to help discern God’s will as it relates with your plans.

Here’s some good news.

I fully believe God works all things for good even when we miss His will in individual decisions. You can make a bad decision, but God retains the right to finish your story His way. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Do you ever struggle as to whether your plans are God’s will? Tell me your current situation and I’ll pray with you.

You may want to read 7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

We launched a new series at Grace Community Church this week called “All In“. This year, we want to give God access to every part of our life. In this message, I addressed the issue of our minds.

Are you worried about many things?

How can you stop worrying?

Maybe Paul has an answer for us.

Think About These Things from Gcomchurch Sermons on Vimeo.

One Measure of Effective Friendship

How effective are the friendships in your life?

One measure of an effective friendship, in my opinion, is that the people in your life are becoming more like Jesus, partly because of their friendship with you.

“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 Do you have friendships that sharpen your relationship with Christ?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Follow me, as I follow the example of Christ“. Could you say that to your friends? Could they say that to you?

Here’s one measure of an effective friendship: At the end of a year together as friends, could either of you say your life is more like Christ than before the year began, because of that friendship?

I know. Hard question, right? The encouragement in this post is to:

  • Consider your friendships closely
  • Examine the purpose of those friendships
  • Bring some intentionality into your friendships
  • Together, encourage each other to be more like Christ

Let’s make better friendships.

  • You could do a Bible study together
  • You could change the focus of your conversations
  • You could hold each other accountable
  • You could pray for and with one another

Do you have friendships in your life that help you in your walk with Christ?

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.