Can’t Stop the Word

How many Bibles do you own?

Right now in my office I have sixteen, if I counted them all. Most of them are in English, but I also have Spanish and Haitian Creole. I even have electronic Bibles where I can look up the Hebrew and Greek words with one click. I could probably come up with that many again when I get home.

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According to Guinness World Records, “there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A survey by the Bible Society concluded that around 2.5 billion copies were printed between 1815 and 1975, but more recent estimates put the number at more than 5 billion.”

With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we’ve been studying some of the history of what happened back in 1517. Back then the Catholic Church had forbid anyone to translate the Bible from Latin into any other language. If you did translate the Bible, or were caught with a Bible in another language than Latin, Greek or Hebrew, you could be excommunicated or even burned at the stake. Indeed, there is a story of seven parents being burned at the stake for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English. Yet, when Martin Luther was hidden in the Wartburg Castle he translated the whole New Testament from Greek into German in about eleven to twelve weeks. Luther was adamant that the people needed God’s Word in their own language.

Imagine not having the Bible in your own language. I’ve done mission trips to Mexico eight times and I’ve been to Haiti four times. I can assure you that when I hear someone speaking Spanish or Haitian Creole I’m pretty much lost. I would be sorely disappointed if I had to give up my fourteen English Bibles and my comprehension would greatly suffer!

As of September 2016 the full Bible has been translated into 636 languages, and the New Testament alone has been translated into 1442 languages. Yet there is still an estimated 160-180 million people without access to any Scripture in their heart language. There are also still countries around the world where owning a Bible is illegal. North Korea would be at the top of that list. In North Korea Bibles are banned and those found in possession of one face imprisonment, torture and even death – as do up to three generations of their family. Other nations that are against the Bible tend to be Islamic states (e.g. Somalia, Libya and Uzbekistan).

John Wycliffe translated the Bible into the first English translation thus making it available to ordinary people. He had five decrees (Bulls) against him and the Catholic Church condemned him on nineteen different charges concerning his writings. Forty years after his death, John Wycliffe’s bones were dug up and burnt by order of the Roman church. About a hundred years before Luther, Jon Hus was “stirred by his knowledge of the Bible. He read the works of John Wycliffe and he started preaching in a chapel in Prague known as the Bethlehem Chapel. This chapel was established to allow people to hear the Bible in their own tongue.” Huss was burnt at the stake because he revealed this truth to ordinary people! Although Luther was not martyred, he believed that he would die a martyr’s death. Indeed, if the Roman Church could have caught him, he would have. William Tyndale became determined to produce an English copy of the Bible that “even a ploughboy could understand”. His translation of the New Testament was printed under the continual threat of discovery and persecution and had to be smuggled into England. The Roman church worked hard to stop the Bible being circulated. They burnt every copy they could and people found with them faced death. The Roman church eventually managed to capture Tyndale and he was burnt at the stake. The list of reformers and people that were willing to give their lives for the sake of the Bible is long.

The Bible itself tells us why the Bible is important. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 it says:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Isaiah 55:11-12 says,

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

It was true in Isaiah’s day, it was true 500 years ago, and it’s still true today.

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Talk, Talk, Talk

Recently I had to talk to a parent on behalf of his teenage child. The child needed money for school and wanted my help in reaching out to her distant father. After a few short moments of small talk I made the request. It was at that point when the father went into about a fifteen-minute recitation of his side of the story about the divorce that separated him and his wife, his recent financial obligations, his employment status, and on and on he went. In the back of my head I was asking myself, “are you going to help your daughter or not?” I was also quoting Jesus in my mind, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37 NIV)

Jesus said those words right after he was talking about taking oaths. Basically He said not to take oaths: not by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or even our own head. I don’t think he would have liked us saying, “I swear on a stack of Bibles that I’m telling the truth.” Look at the end of what He says, “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Talk, talk, talk, we love to talk. Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” Twitter asks us to “compose a new tweet.” News articles and endless websites scroll on and on with comments and ask us to put in our own two cents. In Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy he says:

And that’s what is so insidious about talk. Anyone can talk about himself or herself. Even a child knows how to gossip and chatter. Most people are decent at hype and sales. So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep you out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.

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I understand the difference between pointers and painters, and I am definitely a pointer. However, I think having the issue of a unrestrained tongue goes beyond those personality differences. The Bible would call it sin. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

As an example, there is one gentleman that I know who has this strange verbal pattern. When he starts pontificating on a subject he strings thoughts together one right after the other. But before he finishes a complete thought he starts in on a new sentence so that nobody can interrupt him or jump in with another thought. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard him finish a complete thought, let alone come up for a breath. I’m convinced he loves to listen to himself talk. Don’t be like that guy!

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James says that the tongue is a “fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6) I think James and Jesus are in agreement that the words of our mouth are not just idle words, but that even in this there is spiritual warfare. James also advises us, “if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)

And with those thoughts in mind, I’m going to keep this blog post short!

 

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Why Are You Downcast?

I just found out that a longtime member of our congregation passed away on Wednesday. I used to go visit this member and bring my guitar along with me because I knew that he loved the contemporary songs that we sing in church. I’d ask him what song he wanted to hear and he always requested the same song-“As The Deer.” I always found that a little humorous because he was a huge deer hunter.

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“As the Deer” is taken from Psalm 42.

   42:1* For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2* My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 3* My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 4* These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. 5* Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6* my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar. 7* Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. 8* By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life. 9* I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” 10* My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 11* Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (NIV)

Although he’s been in hospice care for a long time, I have to admit that I’m a little bummed to hear the news of his passing. I shouldn’t really be sad because now his long suffering is over and he is finally at peace with his Lord and Savior.

I’ll also admit that this news isn’t the only thing that has me a little bummed right now. I’ve described my recovery from elbow surgery as like walking up a sand dune on a hot sunny day. Every time I go to physical therapy we make some forward progress, but then by the next appointment I’ve sliden backwards some. It’s not to the same spot as before, but it’s also not as far forward as I want to be. Plus every appointment is pretty painful, like hot sand on the bottom of your feet (hence the analogy of walking up a sand dune on a hot sunny day). This week I also shot a nice eight-point buck and then couldn’t find him. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but to me it just makes me sick.

I know, I know. People like to tell me that it’s going to all be okay and that it could be worse. Of course it could, but I’m not exactly sure that that is a comforting thought. Imagine cutting your finger but saying to yourself, “I could have stuck my hand in the garbage disposal, so I guess it’s okay.”

Rather, I’d rather go with the thoughts in Psalm 42. “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,” (vs 5) “I will remember you,” (vs 6) and again “I will yet praise him.” (vs 11)

This Psalm foreshadows Christ’s suffering on the cross (which is worse than sticking your hand in a garbage disposal by the way) and yet Christ still praised and put his hope and trust in the Father. So in the end, it’s not so much about our circumstances as it is about where we put our ultimate faith and trust.

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The Things I Didn’t Know Thirty Years Ago

Thirty years ago today I stood at the front of a church in Green Valley, Illinois and looked towards the back as my father-in-law walked Cathy down the aisle. My heart was filled to overflowing with love and excitement for the future. However, I’m amazed as I look back at all of the things that I didn’t know then.

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I didn’t know that over the next thirty years we would live in three different states and seven different homes. It ended up being that every time we moved to a new state we had a short stay in an apartment, adopted grandma’s bedroom, or an old parsonage before we ended up in our permanent house. I didn’t know that we would end up living in the country and I didn’t know that we would spend the bulk of our years in Michigan (although Cathy says that she figured right from the start that we’d end up in Michigan).

I didn’t know that thirty years later we would have said goodbye to all of our grandparents and one father. I guess I just didn’t know at the time just how important it is to embrace the times with loved ones who won’t be with us forever.

As I listened to a sermon about Jacob, Rachel and Leah I didn’t know that God would bless our own marriage with three children. I didn’t know just how proud I would be of my wife every time she went through childbirth like a boss. I didn’t know just how much my heart would melt the first time I held Nathan, Ben, and Emily. I didn’t know just how much children would change the course of our lives. I also didn’t know how expensive kids can be or how allergic they can be to dirty dishwater. I didn’t know just how emotional it can be to watch your own kid stand before the altar and make his own marital vows, and how wonderful it is to welcome a daughter-in-law into the family.

When we promised to love each other in sickness and in health I didn’t know the trials we would have to go through. I didn’t know the surgeries we would have to endure, the time waiting in the hospital waiting room, or the slow nursing back to health that life’s journey would bring us.

I didn’t really know what God meant by the two fleshes becoming one. I didn’t know that a lifetime of loving one woman could be so fulfilling and that sex would be better thirty years down the road than on the honeymoon.

I didn’t know just how much I would learn about what love really means. I didn’t know very well how you could love someone and not really like her at the same moment. I didn’t know just how much you have to work on a marriage.

There are a million things that I didn’t know that day, but there are also a few things that I did know. I knew that my bride was walking down the aisle towards me and that she had said “yes!” I knew that we each loved the Lord and each other. I knew that we would stick together “till death do us part.” Somehow I knew we would grow old together. By God’s grace, that knowledge is stronger than it was thirty years ago.

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“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:6-9 ESV)

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Death of a Triathlete

Today a fellow triathlete passed away, one that I competed against many times. One that I think was stronger than me. I say that not because she placed ahead of me, or because she was faster than me. I say that she was stronger than me because the adversity in her life was way greater than mine.

McKayla and I weren’t in the same bracket, not just because she was a woman and I’m a man; and not just because she was decades younger than me, but also because McKayla competed in the Para triathlete class. When McKayla was a child she lost a leg to cancer. But that didn’t stop her! She swam the same distance as me with only one leg. Then she would move into her “cycle chair.” It had multiple gears, laid very low to the ground and she could really go fast. Her run consisted of a racing wheelchair that she still had to pump with her arms. She competed in many triathlons, plus “running” races, was pursuing a profession in health care and was a huge inspiration to everyone she met. Cancer ultimately came back, slowly wore her down and took her from this life.

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I’ll admit that McKayla’s death really has me sad and filled with existential questions. Like I said, McKayla was a strong woman! I know myself; I strive to be strong, even in the face of adversity. Even today I had a child say to me, “we all know you’re Superman.” The sarcasm was dripping from his words and had he just said what he meant, he would have said, “you’re being a stubborn ol’ hardhead, and you need to just take it easy and recover from your surgery!”

I don’t like admitting that I’m weak and need help. God might have put it this way (like he responded to Job), “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:3) Or maybe He would respond with the words of Psalm 147:10-11: “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, ‘but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.’”

Although “it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment,” Psalm 147 points in the correct direction-hope in God’s steadfast love. To quote Gungor, “This is not the end.”

This is not the end, This is not the end of this, We will open our eyes wide, wider

This is not our last, This is not our last breath, We will open our mouths wide, wider

And you know you’ll be alright, Oh and you know you’ll be alright

This is not the end, This is not the end of us, We will shine like the stars bright, brighter

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McKayla finished her race here on earth; you and I are still left running ours. Run well my friend, run well!

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Bringing Dead Bones Back to Life

I’ve said it over and over again, “I don’t believe in a god of chance.” So my attention was piqued when my devotional reading came up as Ezekiel chapter 37-the Valley of Dry Bones-on the very day of my elbow surgery. I kid you not!

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:1-14 ESV)

Can you picture the scene in your mind? It’s quite the spectacle. A whole valley of dead, dried up bones is very solemn, sad, and maybe even a little scary. At one point this must have been the scene where two armies clashed in battle. Men had struggled with each other and fought in hand to hand combat to the point of death. Swords had pierced, slashed and left victims to die. When the battle was over, the dead were not given the dignity of burial but were rather left out in the open to be picked apart by wild animals and ultimately all that was left was this valley of dry, dead bones.

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As Ezekiel takes this all in, God asks him a simple question, “can these bones live?” I truly wonder at Ezekiel’s answer. The clear answer would have been “no,” but that is not what Ezekiel said. Clearly Ezekiel had more wisdom and/or experience with the Almighty because he answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Every appearance to the contrary, Ezekiel knew that nothing was impossible for God and that if God chose to bring these bones back to life, then He could. Ultimately, through some more amazing scenes, that is exactly what God did. In Ezekiel’s vision He reconnected the bones, put flesh on them and finally put breath into them. Later in Israel’s journey God “brought them back to life” as He brought them back from exile in Babylon. Ezekiel’s vision is also a prophesy for the resurrection from the dead. One day Christ will return and the dead shall be raised. All the dry bones will live again!

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:50-55 ESV)

As I thought about my surgery on Monday I realized that there are things that man can do and there are things that man cannot do. Man can take away life (e.g. murder, war, killing), man can participate in the healing process (e.g. designing and installing titanium elbows), and man can participate by the Spirit’s power in what God desires to work here on our earth (e.g. prophesying to the wind, using gifts to further God’s kingdom). However, there are significant things that man cannot do. First and foremost, man cannot create life. Even in the making of a baby, we are participants and observers, but not the creators. Man cannot bring about his own resurrection, that’s God’s job. And as much as we participate, man cannot cause his own healing.

As thankful as I am for my new titanium elbow, and that I can now move on to the next step of this healing process, I think this reading from Ezekiel was specifically brought to me so that I can look beyond physical healing to a higher spiritual healing and the ultimate life and hope in the resurrection when these dry bones will truly live.

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Embrace the Pain

I can’t tell you just how many people have asked me how I’m doing this past week. I know people ask that all the time, but this week has been over the top since I broke my arm last week.

So how am I doing? Well, I haven’t taken any pain killers in a few days, however I do have a high pain tolerance. My broken elbow is protected by a hard splint so the irony is that my shoulder hurts more than the broken bone. The pain in my shoulder is either from the fall or from the resulting difference in my posture-probably both. Although it comes as a setback, a CT scan earlier this week revealed a “step” at the break which will require surgery next week to heal properly.

Enough about that, let me get to what I really want to talk about this week. As I was out for a walk I got to thinking about pain and what it does for us. I don’t think I was being masochist, but I was embracing the pain because it could teach me about what was going on in my body. It’s part of the reason that I don’t want to take any more pain killers than I absolutely have to take. For instance, the pain in my shoulder is teaching me that I need to keep my posture correct and that I need to pay attention to that injury and not just the broken bone. I know this may sound odd because we live in a society that runs from pain and can’t even stand being a little bit uncomfortable!

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As I was wondering about the role of pain in our lives, my thinking went to Christ’s suffering. For instance, this passage from Psalm 22 which prophesies about Christ’s sufferings.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:14-18 ESV)

I would encourage you to read the whole Psalm. This is the Psalm that Jesus quotes from the cross when he cries out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” That’s the start of this Psalm, and I think that if Jesus had had the breath he would have quoted the whole thing. It also impacted the writer of scripture so much that he wanted to write it down exactly like Jesus said it in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34 ESV)

I could go on about the physical pain that Jesus endured by quoting the Gospel accounts of his crucifixion and scourging, but if you read Psalm 22 you get the point. I can’t even imagine that much pain and it makes the pain in my arm no comparison at all.

But did Jesus “embrace” that pain? Check out these verses:

But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced;   therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. (Isaiah 50:7 ESV)

And that prophesy’s fulfillment in Luke 9:51: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. (Matthew 27:33-34 ESV)

Why did Jesus refuse to drink that wine? The Illustrated Bible Dictionary says this:

The drink offered to our Lord was vinegar (made of light wine rendered acid, the common drink of Roman soldiers) “mingled with gall,” or, according to ( Mark 15:23 ), “mingled with myrrh;” both expressions meaning the same thing, namely, that the vinegar was made bitter by the infusion of wormwood or some other bitter substance, usually given, according to a merciful custom, as an anodyne to those who were crucified, to render them insensible to pain. Our Lord, knowing this, refuses to drink it. He would take nothing to cloud his faculties or blunt the pain of dying. He chooses to suffer every element of woe in the bitter cup of agony given him by the Father.

Jesus embraced his pain because through that pain he was winning our salvation! Thank God I don’t have to endure that pain.

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