Joy IS Circumstantial

Joy is deeper than happiness, but like happiness, joy is always circumstantial.  Because the gospel is true, then, even when we aren’t happy we can know the deeper joy because of the circumstances of God’s goodness and love.  On the permanent condition of God’s unrelenting grace, joy is a permanent possibility.

- Jared Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 83.


Which Bible Translation?

I’ve preached from the NIV for 10 years.  It was the Bible of my youth, so I have sentimental attachments to it.  I’ve generally been happy with its balance of accuracy and readability.


But the NIV I knew is no more.  And we will have a decision to make.


In 2011 an update to the NIV was released.  All previous versions are no longer available.  The changes were not minor.


A recent event at our church illustrates this well.  Last Sunday the Scripture reading was from Romans 3:21-28.  I was following along in my NIV (1984).  The reader was reading from the NIV that he found on http://www.biblegateway.com.  Look at the differences:

NIV (1984)

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

NIV (2011)

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[b] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.


I won’t delve into the translation choices here.  My main point is just that these are two very different translations!


One major difference in the update is the shift to gender inclusive language.  I’m not entirely opposed to this across the board.  Two weeks ago I wanted to quote 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  In this famous passage on the inspiration of Scripture the ESV and HCSB and the NIV (1984) all say the Scriptures are useful so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped.  The word is anthropos, which is referring to humankind in general and not one specific gender.  So I checked out the new NIV to see what it did.  It had – “…so that the servant of God might be thoroughly equipped.”  It introduced into the inspired text a completely new word!  The Greek language had a word for servant, if that was what Paul wanted to use.  But, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he chose a different word – anthropos.  There are no textual variants that I am aware of.  The NIV translators, in an attempt to avoid the generic us of man replaced it with a word that’s not there!  This is a big problem.


I recently read the helpful book Which Bible Translation Should I Use?.  It compares the ESV, NIV, HCSB, and NLT.  None of these popular modern versions are perfect.  The NLT is definitely the weakest of the four.  Of the other three I believe that the ESV wins out.


But I wish the NIV (1984) was still an option.


40 Years, 40 Things

This July marked 10 years for me as a pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in the city of Chicago.  That’s nothing.  Charles Lyons has been doing it for 40 years.  He barely knows me, but I have a lot of respect for him.  I enjoyed reading his reflections on ministry over the last 40 years here:


40 Years, 40 Things

by Charles Lyons

This July I mark, celebrate, and praise God for 40 years serving my church family. I have been privileged to shepherd the Armitage congregation in Chicago for a generation. The wild rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, twists and turns, springtime and harvest, winning souls, baptizing disciples, organizing, administrating, leading, buying property, battling hostiles, capital campaigns, renovation, construction, and finding paths through times of transition and change has been extraordinary.

The year I began pastoring, Chicago saw a number of murders that has never been exceeded: 970 in the year 1974. Our neighborhood was a significant section of the battlefield. The number fell for a few years and then rose again to 943 in 1992. Since then, the numbers have steadily declined. Though Chicago street violence continues to command national headlines, our reduced murder rate has more to do with shifting demographics than with nicer people or better police work.

A striking shift in the spiritual landscape has occurred. In the 70s, the handful of non-black evangelical churches in the city was shrinking. The tiny number of non-black Baptist churches dwindled. In the last ten years, a wave of young church planters has arrived. Presently, there are at least 150 church planters in the Chicago area. Such a thing was unthinkable even a dozen years ago.

I have watched mayors come and go. Richard J. Daley, Michael Bilandic, Jane Byrne, Eugene Sawyer, Harold Washington, Richard M. Daley, and now Rahm Emanuel.

Four decades have changed our world radically. Chicago is a completely different city. Our neighborhood has gone from jungle to hipster-ville central. Our ecclesiastical ship has ridden crests and troughs in the deep blue sea of demographic shifts, political storms, and church life cycles.

As the years pass, one thinks he is learning lessons. Come to find out, many of those lessons have to be learned again and again, over and over. So I think the process is not so much “lesson learned, move on” as it is “lessons we are learning.” I wish I was learning more, but I think the following represents all I can handle.

40 Things I think I’m Learning

  1. God is on the throne. No, really!
  2. Jesus loves His church more than I ever can.
  3. The Spirit is at work even when you think He isn’t.
  4. The worth of an excellent wife is far above jewels.
  5. Mistakes, bad moves, and poor judgments are part of the journey.
  6. The local New Testament church on the march, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is a terror to Satan.
  7. In the city, everything is magnified, multiplied, and intensified — the good, bad, and ugly.
  8. God called me to do what I do.
  9. Everyone leaves — it’s just a matter of when.
  10. Encouragement at a low moment, PRICELESS.
  11. Being at the right place at the right time is just the best.
  12. Sometimes success is simply refusing to quit.
  13. The Spirit led Paul to plant churches in cities because cites are amplifiers and distribution engines.
  14. Ministry is brutal.
  15. Ministry is exhilarating.
  16. Some deacons are demon-free. Thank God ours have been.
  17. God’s people are amazing.
  18. Keeping the main thing the main thing takes relentless effort.
  19. Good people can disagree and be good friends.
  20. Not everyone who thinks he can, can.
  21. Often, the best man for the job is a woman.
  22. Men rally when RALLIED.
  23. Christ can change anyone, even me.
  24. If you’re not at the table, you have nothing to say.
  25. Urban ministry is like tent camping in a hurricane.
  26. Desperate straits are God’s set-up for a miracle.
  27. Preach the announcements.
  28. Loyalty is scarce stuff.
  29. It is wonderful and high drama when the church family declares forgiveness in response to public confession.
  30. Democrats are crazy.
  31. Republicans can’t be trusted.
  32. God brings unexpected allies.
  33. God may not come when you want Him to but He’s always on time.
  34. When God gives a vision, He’s serious.
  35. The rewards are in the long haul.
  36. Today’s surge doesn’t mean tomorrow’s a cinch.
  37. God’s Word is even more amazing than I had imagined.
  38. A vision can be realized even as dreams are deferred.
  39. Reach the city and you will touch the world.
  40. Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.

A Comment on Commentaries

It’s rare to find a biblical commentary that is well-written and engaging.  It’s even more rare to find one that uses poetic, imaginative language.  I’ve been enjoying Ronald B. Allen’s commentary on Numbers in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.  Check out this comment on Numbers 11:31-34 –


The scene must have been similar to a riot: people screaming, birds flapping their wings, everywhere the pell-mell movement of a meat-hungry people in a sea of birds.  Dare we picture people ripping at the birds, eating flesh before cooking it, bestial in behavior?  They must have been like a sugar-crazed boy in a child’s daydream, afloat on a chocolate sandwich cookie raft in a sea of chocolate syrup, nibbling at the cookie before drowning in the dark, sweet sea.

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 795.


Preaching Wisdom from Art Azurdia

Last week I was at The Legacy Conference and was ministered to in many ways.

One of the highlights was Art Azurdia’s message on Friday morning. That was preaching!

So I went to his workshop session that afternoon on “Spirit Empowered Preaching of the Text.” Here are some of the golden nuggets I got from it:

* In preaching we are not merely giving an ‘invitation’. An invitation is something you can accept or decline. Preaching the gospel is giving a ‘summons’ that to reject is to disobey.

* We have a foolish MESSAGE (the gospel), a foolish METHOD (proclamation), and a foolish MEANS (Spirit empowered preaching)

* A preacher is a butler, not a chef. You don’t make the meal, you just get it to the table without messing it up.

* Don’t share; declare!

* In determining your call to preach there must be three things present:
(1) Internal Compulsion
(2) External Confirmation – (a) gifts; (b) character
(3) Providential Opportunity

And he shared this quote from Spurgeon:

The gospel is preached in the ears of all men; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it could consists of the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.


The Utility of the Law

The utility of the law may be shown by this, that it obliges all whom it proves guilty of transgression to betake themselves to grace for deliverance… For it rather commands than assists; it discovers disease, but does not heal it; nay, the malady that is not healed is rather aggravated by it, so that the cure of grace is more earnestly and anxiously sought for.

–Augustine, “On the Grace of Christ,” in Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, vol. 1, part 2 (eBook: Kessinger Publishing, 2006), 589.


The Everlasting City

Listen to Augustine describe the eternal city of God. Don’t you want to go there?

Who can measure the happiness of heaven, where no evil at all can touch us, no good will be out of reach; where life is to be one long laud extolling God…. God will be the source of every satisfaction, more than any heart can rightly crave, more than life and health, food and wealth, glory and honor, peace and every good – so that God, as St. Paul said, ‘may be all in all’ (1 Cor. 15:28). He will be the consummation of all our desiring – the object of our unending vision, of our unlessening love, of our unwearying praise… in the everlasting City, there will remain in each and all of us an inalienable freedom of the will, emancipating us from every evil and filling us with every good, rejoicing in the inexhaustible beatitude of everlasting happiness, unclouded by the memory of any sin or of sanction suffered, yet with no forgetfulness of our redemption nor any loss of gratitude for our Redeemer…. And, surely, in all that City, nothing will be lovelier than this song in praise of the grace of Christ by whose Blood all there were saved…. On that day we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise – for this is to be the end without the end of all our living, that Kingdom without end, the real goal of our present life.

From Augustine, City of God: An Abridged Version, ed. Vernon J. Bourke (New York: Doubleday, 1958), 540-45.


Preaching Christ from the OT

This was a good reminder for me, especially as I’m preaching through Numbers right now:

Drawing lines to Christ is not preaching Christ. How does a line to Christ edify the hearers? A preacher’s task is not just to draw lines to Christ but to preach Christ in such a way that people will be attracted to him and put their faith, trust, and hope in him.

From Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 98.


Prayer and Preaching

From David Helm’s new little book in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches Series, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 68-69:

There is an intimate connection between the revelation of the identity of Christ – seeing him as the fulfillment of the Scriptures – and moments of prayerful quiet.

Luke makes this connection on a number of occasions. When Peter responds to Jesus’s question, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ with ‘the Christ of God,’ the readers had just been told that Jesus was praying alone (Luke 9:18-20). In other words, Luke wants his readers to know that Jesus was revealed to Peter in the context of prayer. The transfiguration, when Jesus was revealed in his glory as the Son, the Chosen One, follows Jesus taking Peter, James, and John to go to the mountain and pray (Luke 9:28-36). Back in the beginning of the Gospel, aged Simeon and Anna are both identified as pious people of prayer – statements that immediately precede God’s revealing Jesus to them (Luke 2:27, 37; cf. Luke 2:28-32, 38). Even when God reveals the identity of Jesus at his baptism, Luke records that the heavens were opened and that God spoke, claiming Jesus as his Son. Luke records that the heavens opened just as Jesus was praying (Luke 3:21-22).

Luke could not have been any clearer: God reveals Jesus to people as a consequence of prayer. And so, if we really want Jesus to be revealed in our preaching – if we really want to uncover Jesus as the very center of all the Scriptures – then we must begin with prayer in our preparation.


The Most Difficult Task in Urban Ministry

Robert Linthicum writes in City of God, City of Satan: A Biblical Theology of the Urban Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991):

The most difficult task in urban ministry is to remain optimistic, creative, hopeful, and full of humor. Ministry demands that you give out constantly – and city ministry makes that demand relentlessly. But you cannot give out what you do not have. If you are not replenishing yourself in order to continue the spiritual warfare of the city, then you are exposing yourself to defeat, burnout, and spiritual exhaustion. After all, you can lead God’s people only as far as you yourself have gone. If you have not paid attention to your soul’s interior journey, you do not have the resources nor the experience either to sustain yourself or to lead your church in sustaining the battle with the Enemy.


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