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Pulpit Freedom Sunday

A member of our church, away at college, messaged me on Facebook, asking what I thought about “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. The question was accompanied with the comment that this individual didn’t think that it was necessarily right for a preacher to endorse a candidate from the pulpit.

I thought other people might be interested in my response, so I’m putting it here.

In generations past, people looked to pastors for leadership on moral issues. Not only that, but they expected their spiritual leaders to take a stand. However, since 1954, preachers have been bullied into silence on many moral issues. As an example, prior to last week, I received a letter from an organization that warned pastors to be careful in our preaching leading up to the Presidential Election.

First, a little background. “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” seeks to challenge the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment to the Federal Tax Code 501(c)(3). In 1954, Senator Lyndon Johnson amended the IRS code in order to silence some of his critics. Basically the amendment says that nonprofit organizations (churches, etc.) cannot endorse political candidates. Since that time, nonprofits have been threatened with revocation of their status if they violate the provision. The amendment never been tested in court.

Since 2008, the Alliance Defending Freedom has encouraged pastors to preach messages on Pulpit Freedom Sunday that address moral issues, including speaking to where the candidates stand on those issues. They have encouraged the pastors to even record their sermons and send the recordings to the IRS in order to bait them into revoking the church’s nonprofit status. The next step would be for the Alliance Defending Freedom to sue the IRS, challenging the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment. The ADF has offered to represent participating pastors and churches pro bono for exercising their First Amendment Rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion.

I understand my member’s s concern about a preacher endorsing a candidate from the pulpit. After all, people go to church to hear what God says through His Word. But what should a preacher do if a political candidate or political party’s position differs from clear Biblical teachings?

It’s safe to say that everybody who attends our church knows who I’m voting for and who I think they should vote for — even without my saying his name. I have provided several resources that lay out the very clear differences between the Democrat & Republican platforms (and thus the candidates) on some key moral issues.

A week prior to Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I told the church that I would be no more and no less political than any other Sunday. In my sermon on God’s Name “Adonai” (Master, Lord), I emphasized that embracing the Lordship of God has consequences in life decisions, specifically in the voting booth. I didn’t need to come out and say “vote Republican” or “vote Democrat”. However, I did say that how one votes reveals one’s core beliefs about the authority of the Bible and the key issues in this year’s Presidential race — regardless of what one may claim otherwise.

The Democrat platform is in CLEAR opposition to the Biblical teachings of the sanctity of innocent human life, and marriage between one man and one woman. The Republican platform has denounced abortion on demand and “gay marriage”. Now, having said that, if someone says that they believe in the authority of the Bible, their choice for President has already been decided. If they vote otherwise, their belief in the Bible’s authority for their life can legitimately be called into question.

A preacher doesn’t have to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. All he needs to do is expose how the moral issues are addressed by the clear teachings of the Bible. Groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom have volunteered to come alongside churches if our nonprofit status is revoked by the IRS due to exercising our First Amendment Rights.

It’s time for preachers to boldly and confidently stand up to the bullies and speak to the moral issues of our day.

 

On Modern Bible Translations

A friend recently asked me what I thought of the King James Version of the Bible. He remarked, “I’m enjoying the Independent Baptist church that I’m going to. They only preach and teach the King James. The pastor said in one of his sermons that the King James is a translation and other versions of scripture are translations of what the writers of the scripture thought. What is your opinion about this?”

My initial response was, “Do you really want to know my opinion? You will probably not like it.” He said, “I think that I probably will agree with your opinion since most evangelical churches use other translations of scripture. I use the NIV myself. But why would my pastor believe what he does about other translations?”

I’m glad you asked that question!

My response: Part One

(Before reading further, let me say that I believe the New Testament documents are the most reliable in all antiquity. In over 26,000 manuscripts and fragments, there is not one single point of disagreement in doctrinal or ethical matters. The few differences that do exist can be explained by obvious scribal mistakes, spelling, word order, etc. For more in-depth information on “textual criticism”, check out Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict)

Many sincere Christians believe that the KJV is the most reliable translation of the Bible. This is common among “Independent Baptist Churches” and other groups. The belief is based on the assumption that the collection of manuscripts used to translate the KJV (the “Majority Text”) are superior to other collections. It’s called the “Majority Text” because there are more of those manuscripts than of the other collections of manuscripts. But does the number of manuscripts prove they are better?

In a popular party game people line up and the first in line whispers a sentence or phrase to the next in line, who passes the message to the next. When the last person in line gets the message, he or she will speak out loud what they heard. More often than not, the message fails to be transmitted intact through the entire line and everyone gets a good laugh.

An original message of, “Adam and Eve got married” could end up, “Adam and Steve got married.” The words sound somewhat similar, but the message is very different.

The fifteen people who heard, “Adam and Steve got married” may sincerely believe they heard and passed the correct message. One might assume that since fifteen of the twenty participants heard this message, it must be completely reliable. But when you find that the only five people who heard “Adam and Eve got married” were at the beginning of the line, then you know that Adam married a woman, not another man. The earlier version is more reliable, though fewer people heard it.

Such is the case with the manuscripts used for translating the KJV. Although there are more of them, the older manuscripts are often more reliable than the later ones, simply because they were closer to the original source.

My response: Part Two

Now, for the second part of my friend’s question. His pastor is partially correct on the question of the KJV being a translation the text and other versions being what the translators thought.

When translating from any language to any other language, you can either translate word-for-word, or thought-for-thought — or somewhere between. Some Bible translations (KJV, NASB, ESV) attempt to translate in a word-for-word fashion, while others like the NIV and NLT tend to favor communicating in a thought-for-thought manner, also called “functional equivalence”. The more the translators lean toward functional equivalence, the more the translators’ opinions can creep into the end result.

Obviously, there are dangers by insisting on either method to be “correct” way to translate from one language to another. If someone insists that you should *always* translate word-for-word, you will be confused as to why a man in France would call his wife his, “little cabbage”; to English speakers, it doesn’t sound very much like a term of endearment.

I find it interesting that the KJV translators didn’t see their translation a finished work; they recognized that as language changes, new translations of the Bible would be necessary.

What is the best translation of the Bible?

So what about the King James? Do I recommend it? I’ll answer the question by asking another question. “When speaking with a good friend, do you talk like William Shakespeare?

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. It was the language spoken by the people. The New Testament was written in Greek — but not just any Greek. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek — common Greek — the language spoken by the people.

God revealed Himself and His ways to people in the language they spoke and understood.

I don’t speak “King James” English. I don’t know anyone who does. I speak late-20th to early-21st Century (American) English. So why would I want to limit myself to a 400-year old translation when trying to grow in my relationship with God? And why would I want insist the same of others?

I once heard that the best translation is one that is understood by the one reading it … and that is applied to the reader’s life. I agree. If you and your spouse sounded like Romeo and Juliet on your last date night, the King James Version might be the best translation for you … so long as you apply what you read and study. Otherwise, there are a number of good, reliable translations available for you to choose.

Just make sure that you read it and apply what you hear!

Prov 22:17-18; Josh 1:8

 

An Easter Thought: A Meditation on the Ultimate Sacrifice

As I was preparing tomorrow’s sermon, a random thought came to my mind about Easter. It had nothing to do with tomorrow’s message.

Sacrifices, though bloody, were relatively clean and simple: plunge a sharp object into the heart or slit the throat with a sharp instrument…. death was very quick, lasting only a few seconds, if that long. If you’ve ever witnessed the slaughter of a goat, chicken, or some other animal, you know that there’s no suffering.

The ultimate sacrifice: Jesus Christ, however was very different.

Hours were involved from his arrest until he breathed his last breath on the cross.

beaten
beard plucked out
scourging with innumerable lashes
carrying the cross
stumbling under its weight
perhaps breaking his nose as he fell on the hard ground
nails driven into His hands
nail driven into His feet
cross dropped into the hole with a sudden stop at the bottom
hanging on the cross for hours in the hot sun
disgustingly nasty sponge with vinegar touching His lips
all the while, bleeding
struggling for breath

To ultimately atone for sin required the ultimate sacrifice. Rather than a simple slash of a knife in a ceremonial fashion, His death was carried out brutally by the forces of hell itself through perfected means, designed to inflict the most pain over the longest period of time. Sadism at its worst — on display.

I confess that I rarely consider the immensity of that sacrifice. And for that sin, His death also atones.

Thank God for Easter: an annual opportunity to remember.

 

Worship is Key

A friend posted this blog. He makes a great point about worship.

Unfortunately, many (most?) in the church miss the point that worship is the key. It’s isn’t just something that you do at the start of a church service to prepare you to hear a sermon.

Worship is the starting and ending point.

It IS the church service.

Our vision is far too limited. All too often, we think that our purpose is to evangelize … or to grow our church larger … or to defend the Bible … or to fight a moral issue … or to ___ (fill in the blank).

Worship is Key.

Worship is key to building the Kingdom. And it’s all about building the Kingdom. Yes, evangelism, church growth, defending doctrines, and fighting moral issues can be parts of building the Kingdom. But evangelism, church growth defending doctrines, and fighting moral issues are not, in and of themselves, building the Kingdom of God.

It’s all about building the Kingdom. And worship is key. Building the Kingdom of God flows out of worship.

Worship isn’t part of building the Kingdom of God. Worship is key to building the Kingdom of God.

 

New Post, New Opportunity: Bethel Baptist Church

It’s been a while since my last post. Please forgive my making up for it in this post. 🙂

A lot has happened. I’ve begun to do something I’ve felt God calling me to do since I was in Middle School: be a pastor.

A year ago, Bethel Baptist Church in Weatherford Texas asked me to lead them. I had already been their Interim Pastor, filling their pulpit until they found the one that God had for them. But God had more in store for me and for them. It has been a wonderful fit for everyone. Unfortunately, a few have moved to other churches, but a few have begun worshiping with us.

Being a “bivocational” pastor is something I swore I would never do. I got burned 14 years ago in another church and basically said that I would never let that happen to me again. In June 2007, while serving on staff on one of Fellowship of the Sword’s “Quest”, God broke some things off of me, including my vow to never be hurt that way again. One week later, I was in the pulpit at Bethel.

A year ago, we looked at the Names of God and how God progressively revealed Himself to His people. The series was very well received. Thanks to my friend, David Terry, for his CD message that was the basis of the series (“Giving God a Name”).

I recently began a study on the Old Testament Tabernacle. We moved through the Tabernacle Complex, looking at each part individually and how it fit in with the whole. I pointed out that far too often, when we look at the Tabernacle, we rush into the Holiest Place and talk about the Ark of the Covenant. We can’t do that. There is so much we need to understand before we get there.

It begins with an understanding of the holiness of God. The Outer Courts were surrounded by 7 1/2 foot tall curtains of pure white linen (in contrast to the earthtones of the other tents and desert environment). As you move from the tribe of Judah (praise) into the Outer Courts through a curtain with Blue (heaven/God), Red (earth/Man), and Purple (royalty/[a mixture of blue and red] embroidery, the first thing you see once you get inside is an altar. You realize that something has to die. You can’t go any further until that happens.

This past Sunday, without a working PowerPoint and without my notes and Bible (I had left them in my office) I pointed out that God never intended the Tabernacle to be about the sacrifices (altar) and the ceremonial washing (laver [basin]).

The Tabernacle was always to be about what happened in the Holy Place: fellowship (“table-ing” with God), being illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and being a fragrant incense to Him — things that only the priests were allowed to do, and what happened in the Holiest Place: seeing our sin (violating God’s commands [10 Commandments], rejecting His provision [gold pot of manna], and challenging His authority [Aaron’s Rod] being separated from God’s presence by the Mercy Seat. What a wonderful picture!

Sunday Night, God showed up! With a handful of us present, God showed up about 5 minutes into our church service. We sang, wept, sang and wept, and just sat in silence. An hour and a half later, we felt God was sending us out as embers to light fires where we went.

It was an awesome privilege to be graced with the presence of God.

We will spend some more time in the coming weeks studying worship in the Bible. I pray that God will continue to not only visit, but rest on our fellowship.

More posts to come! (And more visitations?!)