Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How the Apostle Paul Got Zapped

It was sort of like a personal lightning strike. But it was much more than that - much more powerful in more ways than one, as you'll see. The light was so intense, so bright, that it actually blinded Saul as he fell to his knees. Not only was there a blinding light, there was a loud voice - a voice from Heaven!

Saul, who was later called Paul after he became an Apostle, was a fierce persecutor of Christians. “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities." (the words of the Apostle Paul in reflecting on who he once was - Acts 26:9-11)

It wasn't that Saul was an evil murderer or a madman. His intentions were actually good, at least that's what he thought. It's just that he was such a zealous Jew, an expert in Jewish law and customs, he thought he was honoring God and defending God's chosen people against those who were supposedly blaspheming God. Actually, Jesus thought Saul's qualifications were perfect  - perfect for the type of man Jesus had in mind for him to become. 

That's why Jesus stopped him in his tracks. As Saul was on the road to Damascus to find followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains, he had an encounter with the King of kings. First, Jesus blinded him to get his attention. Then Jesus spoke directly to him, in Aramaic, in a loud audible voice. Jesus identified himself and told Saul that he was His chosen instrument to take His message to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. 

Saul's transformation was a total and perfect 180. He is the ultimate example of someone transformed by Jesus. For the remainder of his life, he was totally sold out, converted, committed, and devoted to the call that Christ gave him. "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." (Acts 20:24)


Paul's life as an Apostle, his perseverance and faithfulness, is proof of his loyalty to Jesus. "Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm." (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

In addition to his amazing life-accomplishments as an Apostle, Paul has influenced an innumerable amount of people for nearly 2000 years by writing the majority of the New Testament letters. Incredible. 

Even though we, as Christians, are certainly not Apostles, we can correlate some important principles found in Paul's life that can serve as models for our own lives. 

THE LORD EQUIPS
Every human is born with some ability or talent - with a specific personality and passion. Paul's ability was in speech, in law, in debate, all with a zealous spirit. He fully developed his talents, although they weren't initially used for God's ultimate purpose. It reminds me of myself. Although in my early rock and roll days I wasn't using my talents to glorify God, it certainly equipped me to be the worship leader I am now. Of course, ideally, and what I hope for my children, is that people use their God-given abilities right from the start to glorify God - that's the correct way. Regardless, the Lord equips each of us with talents and abilities, desiring us to use them to glorify Him. 

THE LORD CALLS
We may not be zapped like Saul was. We may not hear the voice of the Lord, literally. We may not be blinded by a light from Heaven, but we are certainly called. I love the simple plea of Jesus, "Follow me." It's probably the most general and basic call, but perhaps the most powerful. We are also called once we hear the basic Gospel message. And we are called through the Word of God, the Bible, through the influence of the Holy Spirit. The question is, do we listen, and do we respond? It's up to us. It makes you think...is the Lord choosing you to do specific things for Him? Small things? Lifelong things?

THE LORD TRANSFORMS
Just like Paul turned his life around 180 degrees, that's how it is with many who have become Christians. It's called repentance and reformation. The Lord is able to totally transform lives. That's what Christianity is all about...new life, a transformed life, a resurrected life. And for those who were brought up in a Christian home, transformation may not be so dramatic as Paul's. Instead it's an ongoing process for all of life because, for Christians, we are continually transformed, becoming more spiritually mature, by the renewing of our minds through the Word. 

THE LORD COMMISSIONS
Paul had a special, specific commission - to preach to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. For us, we have a mission also. It's basically the same as Paul's, although maybe not on such a large scale. Our mission essentially is, In Paul's words, "the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." All of us are ambassadors for Christ. Maybe even some are called to more specific tasks as well. If we sincerely follow Christ, such tasks will be revealed as we go. 

So...thank you Paul, for your teachings, for your example, and for your life.  May we echo your words when our time here is up, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful." (2 Timothy 4:7)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Healed By The Touch Of His Robe!

"Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone." (Luke 6:19)

Jesus obviously had incredible miraculous powers. He healed without failure. And when He healed, the result was total healing, not partial healing, or temporary relief of an issue. When He made the blind see, you  can be sure they had 20-20 vision as a result. And when he made the lame walk, you can be sure they didn't walk with a limp once they were healed. And when He casted out a demon from someone, you can be sure that demon was long gone.

Early on in His ministry, when people got word of His healing power, great crowds gathered around Him. After all, wouldn't you? Some were just curiosity seekers. Others wanted to hear what He taught. And many came who were sick, or brought those who were sick, with the purpose of being healed. It all started soon after Jesus was baptized and went into the wilderness for 40 days, being tempted by Satan. But when He returned from that ordeal, right away He starting picking His disciples, and began to teach and perform healing miracles. 

"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people."  (Matthew 4:23)

Of course, He used the miracles to His advantage. They helped to establish that He was sent from God (they didn't realize yet He was God in human form). Miracles gave credibility to His teachings. And teach He did. And miracles He did. As a matter of fact, the Bible gives us only a brief snapshot of the things Jesus did.

"Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:25)

So many of His miracles are absolutely stunning, but there is one that really has always amazed me. It's the one where a sick woman has a belief and a plan that if she simply gets close enough to Jesus and is able to just touch His robe, she will be healed completely and permanently. Quite a plan. And probably a common plan since people often crowded around Him. "As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him." (Luke 8:42)

So she goes for it. She somehow works her way through the crowd, getting closer and closer to Jesus. If she can just get close enough to reach out and touch a piece of His garment, just the fabric itself, she is convinced she will be healed from a sickness, a bleeding that had not stopped for 12 years! And for 12 years, nobody was ever able to heal her. At least, no one until now. 

She managed to work her way up behind Jesus, and without Him even noticing, and without Him even seeing her, she reached out as far as she could, and for an instant, was able to make contact with the fringe of His robe. The fringe was most likely the hem, or the lower border of His robe. Could she have been stooping, or even crawling? 

In my mind, her fingertips just brushed against it. And guess what? Immediately the bleeding stopped! She was healed at that instant, completely and permanently, and without Jesus even seeing her or knowing she was there behind Him! That's power!  

"Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped." Luke 8:44)

Jesus knew something had happened though. He sensed it. He didn't know who it was that touched Him, but He knew this - He felt His healing power go out! Yes, Jesus not only had the same 5 senses we have, He had an additional one, and probably a few more. When He asked His disciples who touched him, everyone denied it, and then Peter responded in sort of a dry, matter-of-fact way, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.” (Luke 8:45)  

But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed." (Luke 8:46-47)

I love the response Jesus gave after hearing her explain her story, her sickness, and her belief in who He was, and her confidence that if she just touched Him, she would certainly be healed.

“Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:48)

Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Take The Narrow Road

Early on in His ministry, Jesus gave this crucial piece of advice, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)

I've always loved the imagery in this passage - a narrow gate, a wide gate, a broad road, a narrow road. Jesus is the master of lessons by illustrations. There is no teacher greater, no professor smarter, and no lecturer with more skill or authority than the Lord. He can deliver a simple, brief lesson using everyday, common terms understood by all, but yet have a double meaning. Such is the nature of His many parables - short, simple stories describing a physical scenario but having a spiritual message. 

When we read the above passage, we visualize two contrasting gates, each the entryway to a path or road. Each gate is the same width as the road that follows, however, the two gates are very different. One is wide, and one is narrow. It's interesting how the one that is wide and spacious, and perhaps more inviting, is the one that leads to destruction. Yet, it is the road that more will choose. 

But isn't that the nature of Satan and his ploy? After all, sin is enticing at first. But then it leads to all kinds of consequences. It destroys. It ruins. So it is with those who choose sin and unrighteousness. 

On the other hand, the road that is narrow is the correct road to take. It may be more difficult to walk, it may be more challenging, it may be a more disciplined walk, and certainly it is less popular, but it's the destination in the end that counts. You've probably heard the term, "walk the straight and narrow." Most likely this is where it came from. It means to do what's right and honorable, and avoid what is evil and wrong. We must stay on course and not waver. "Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path." (Proverbs 4:26)

In both the wide road and the narrow road, the reward is not the journey, but what's at the end of the line. However, it is a journey, it is a road, and it is a path to an end. For those who choose the more attractive wide road, it may be short-sightedness that influences their decision. After all, the wide road appears easier and smoother. As for those who choose the narrow road, wisdom and Godly conviction prompts their decision. It's another story of instant gratification verses eternal reward. 

What's interesting about this particular teaching of Jesus is that it basically consists of one simple piece of advice, just five words that guide us, "Enter through the narrow gate." That's really it. Enter through the narrow gate! We may not know what's on the road ahead, and we may not know how long the journey takes or what it entails, but we know one thing for sure, we know it is the gate we are supposed to choose. And we know why. It leads to life. And you know what the opposite of life is. 

Unfortunately, the ratio of good to bad in His illustration is not good. Most people do not choose the road that leads to life. The majority head toward destruction. Less find life than those who find destruction. Since the words and truths that Jesus teaches will never change, this ratio will never change either. Sad.

The bottom line is this - we have a choice. We must choose which gate to enter - which course to take through life. The journey is up to each one of us. The good news is this - we are able to choose wisely because Jesus tells us which way to go. And He will guide us all the way. "The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you." (Psalm 32:8) And for those who don't know the way, who are lost, guess what? We need to guide them into the correct path.

The teaching that Jesus gives regarding the wide and narrow gates is surely an important and essential life lesson. And it's one we should take to heart. I'm always reminded of it every time I hear the words of the famous poet, Robert Frost, from his poem, "The Road Not Taken". He talks about two roads as well, and his concluding thought is one I fully share. 

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." (Robert Frost)     -  Amen!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

To Everything There Is A Season


"To everything there is a season
a time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace."

King Solomon, son of David, brilliantly contrasts the good and bad experiences of life in the above passage (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). There's a time to grieve, but there is also a time to dance. There is a time to be quiet, but there is also a time to speak. There is a time to scatter stones, but there is also a time to gather stones. There's a time to be born, and ultimately, there's a time to die. It's the big picture of our lives. It's the good times, and it's the bad times. It's simple, but it's perfect. And in the grand scheme of things, it makes us realize one very important truth - we are all alike. 

Life involves change, constant change. Nothing stays the same and one thing always leads to another. These words of Solomon are timeless. They apply to everyone, past, present, and future. His words are just as true today as they were thousands of years ago. They transcend culture, race, and gender. They apply to those who are rich and those who are poor. They describe the basic human condition of every mortal who ever lived and whoever will live.

I find that every time I read this passage, I get a feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia is both pleasure and sadness that is caused by reflecting on something from the past. And as I read this, I reminisce on things in my life and see that there really is a time and a place for everything. And the older you get, the more you see how the words of King Solomon hold true. No one can dispute them. But how can something so simple be so profound? I suppose because it hits on the basic undeniable experience of life itself.

There is much value in this passage. First of all, I think it brings us hope in bad times. How? Because it makes us realize that during a rough season of life, better times are coming - that the bad times will pass. It makes us understand that bad times are temporary. 

Secondly, I believe it brings appreciation for the good times, that we should enjoy them while they last because they are fleeting. Everything is fragile in life. When we are in a good season of life, we should savor the moment, thanking God for the blessings.

And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, these words of Solomon should make us acknowledge God's sovereignty regarding the seasons of life. "God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time." (Ecclesiastes 3:11a). God's timing is perfect. He is in control, and He has ordained an "appropriate" time for all things.

To everything there is a season - a time for every purpose under heaven."

That's just the way it is.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lessons From Simon The Sorcerer

There was a sorcerer named Simon who once lived in ancient city of Samaria. For many years he claimed to be someone great, and amazed people with his magic. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, called him "The Great One - The Power of God." The problem is, the title was not true. The people may have thought Simon the Sorcerer had the power of God, but in reality, he didn't. However, they would soon meet someone who did - Philip. 

Philip was one of the 7 "helpers" that the Apostles chose in the early days of the church (Acts 6). They were "well respected and full of the Spirit and wisdom." What's significant about these 7 is that the Apostles "prayed for them as they laid their hands on them." It's evident, based on the things Philip did, that this type of laying on of hands by the Apostles transferred miraculous Holy Spirit powers. In those early days, this type of a special supernatural gift was to help jump-start the infant Church. 

This early church was basically centered, at first, in and around Jerusalem. That is, until they were scattered. This happened when another one of the chosen 7, Stephen, was stoned to death (Acts 7). This rattled the church because he was the first disciple to be killed. Some men lied about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God." (Acts 6:11) So they arrested and executed an innocent man.   

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the Church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the Apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. The good thing is that the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. This is how Philip came to be in contact with Simon the Sorcerer. He ended up in the same city as Simon. "Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city." (Acts 8:5-7)

Now, a sorcerer may sound fascinating, but to put it bluntly, sorcerers are no-good in the eyes of God. As a matter of fact, any similar types of people face condemnation by God: mediums, fortune-tellers, psychics, as well as those who practice divination and witchcraft are all considered evil in the eyes of God (Deuteronomy 18:10b-12a). That's because God wants people to put their trust solely and exclusively in Him alone, not in some false-prophet or false-god.

Because of Philip's preaching and his miracles, people began to realize that Philip was really the one who had the Power of God, not Simon the Sorcerer. Philip's miracles were the real deal, no tricks, magic, or illusions. This proved Philip's authenticity - that he was truly of God - resulting in many people believing and responding to his message of the Good News of Jesus.

"But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized." (Acts 8:12)

Even Simon the Sorcerer was baptized! "Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed." (Acts 8:13)

However, something happened next that revealed some major doubt about Simon the Sorcerer's conversion. It started when Philip wanted some of the believers to have the same special gifts of the Holy Spirit as well, so when he left, the leaders in Samaria could be empowered. The problem was that Philip couldn't lay hands on any believers to transfer special Holy Spirit power to them. Only the Apostles could do that. Therefore, the Apostles Peter and John had to come from Jerusalem to Samaria for that very reason. What happened next revealed Simon's true heart.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 8:18-19)

Simon still wanted to be "the Great One - the Power of God" - the same title he had as a sorcerer! He was jealous, he was covetous, and he would try to do anything to get his way, even bribe an Apostle of Jesus Christ!

Peter's response to Simon's sin was severe. Fortunately for Simon, not as severe as when Peter uncovered the lies of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), resulting in both of them dropping dead at Peter's feet. Peter exposed Simon's sin, and thus his true heart.

But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin." “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!” (Acts 8:20-24)

That's the last we hear of Simon the Sorcerer in the Bible, so we'll never know from scripture if he repented and prayed for forgiveness. What we do know is that we can learn some lessons from this story.

#1 THE OBJECT OF OUR FAITH NEEDS TO BE JESUS
What was Simon really attracted to? - the miracles of Philip or the Good News of Jesus? Simon was fascinated by the signs and wonders, when he should have been overwhelmed by the cross of Christ.

#2 THERE'S A PROPER ORDER OF THINGS
Simon missed some important steps in the process of becoming a Christ Follower. Someone seeking to be made right with God (RECONCILIATION) starts with acknowledgment of sin (HUMILITY), believing Jesus is the Savior who takes away sin (BELIEF). Then a sorrow for sin and a turning away from sin (REPENTANCE). This leads to uniting with Christ in BAPTISM, and then faithfully following Christ.

It seems Simon's first steps were questionable.  Did he even acknowledge his sin? Did he lay down his pride? Was his belief founded on Jesus? And it seems he missed the very important step between believing and being baptized....repentance. (Acts 2:38). Was he really baptized for the right reasons or was it all a trick, an illusion, a facade?

#3 CHRISTIANITY IS ALL ABOUT DEATH, BURIAL, AND RESURRECTION
Just as Jesus died, buried, and resurrected, we unite with Him in our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection at baptism. That's when Simon's old self should have been put to death, and he should have been raised up to start a brand new life, not continue in his old ways.

"Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin." (Romans 6:3-6)

ONE LAST THOUGHT
For those of us who are baptized believers, Peter gives us some really good advice of what to do when we stumble and sin after baptism - repent and pray for forgiveness. If our hearts are sincere, we will be forgiven.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Which Bible Translation Is The Best?

Picture this - someone decides they want to start reading the Bible for the first time. So, they go into a book store, find the Bible section, and whoa!!...all type of Bibles, several sizes, several styles, and most confusing of all, several different translations. They will most likely see King James Bibles, New King James Bibles, New International Version Bibles, New American Standard Version Bibles, Good News Bibles, Holman Christian Standard Bibles, New Living Translation Bibles, The Message Bibles, and on and on and on and on. Just to give you an idea, the YouVersion Bible app on my phone, one of the ones I use, has 42, that's right, 42 different English translations of the Bible to choose from! Mama Mia!

For someone who is trying to pick out their first Bible, their obvious question is most likely, "What's the difference between all these Bibles?" Hopefully, the store clerk would know, but I wouldn't count on it. They might just point you to the "most popular" ones, or to the best selling ones, and not have a clue. But, everyone, not just someone new to Bible reading, should really know the difference. 

First of all, what is a "translation"? By definition, it's the process of converting the text of one language into another. What's the challenge in translating one language into another? It's trying to be sure the exact meaning of one language can be related accurately to the other. And the danger is the possibility that a word, phrase, or thought in the source language has no precise corresponding word in the language it's being translated into, making it difficult to express true meaning. 

The source languages of the Bible- the original languages the Bible was written in - are mostly Hebrew (Old Testament and Greek (New Testament). They are, in original form, very precise languages. Every word has exact and intentional meaning. Every word was meticulously written. Not only that, the Holy Spirit inspired and guided the writers - brought to their minds what and how to express the writings. 

The problem for us who read, speak, and write English is this......the English language stinks! At least when compared to the accuracy of the Hebrew and Greek languages. We have too many words that are spelled exactly the same, but have different meanings. The word "love" for example. I love pizza, I love my dog, I love football, I love my friends, I love sitting on the beach, I love palm trees, I love my wife, I love God. We have one word for different types of love, but the Greek language has a different words for different types of love. So you can see, English Bibles, and for that matter, any language other than the original, will lose something in a translation. But, hey, which one of you can read Hebrew and Greek? No one I know.

So, back to the person in the book store trying to decide what Bible to buy. Well, here is the KEY....understanding that there are 3 general types of Bible translations. You can categorize all Bibles into these 3 types of translations:

1. Word for Word
These types of Bibles are those in which the translators are trying their best to accurately take a word in the Hebrew or Greek to a corresponding word in the English (still considering the limitations of the English language of course). Many call these 'literal' translations. 

Examples: Young's Literal Translation, the King James Bible, the New American Standard Version Bible, among others.

2. Thought for Thought
These types of Bibles are those in which the translators are more interested in the meaning of a phrase or thought in the Hebrew or Greek, expressed in a corresponding phrase or thought in the English language. These types of Bibles are much easier to read because they are written in a modern style. 

Examples:  the New King James Bible, the New International Version Bible, the New Living Translation, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and more.

3. Paraphrase
These types of Bibles are those in which the translator takes a passage in the Hebrew or Greek, and expresses it in his own words, sort of rephrasing it in the English language. Many times these are written by one person, and is not written by a team of scholars as in most of the other types of Bible translations. 

Examples:  The Living Bible, The Message, among others. 

THE GOOD AND BAD..................

1. Word for Word
 POSITIVE:    Accurate; excellent for study; closest to the Hebrew/Greek
 NEGATIVE:  Sometimes difficult to read

2. Thought for Thought
 POSITIVE:    Much easier to read and understand. 
 NEGATIVE:  May use wording that is more general in meaning, although still accurate. 

3. Paraphrase
POSITIVE:    Very easy to read 
NEGATIVE:  May be too wordy and somewhat watered down; sometimes verses are grouped together. Not a good 'study' Bible.

Again, back to the person in the store. My recommendation if I were the salesperson? For a first time Bible reader, I would recommend choosing a "thought for thought" translation. Easy to read, but still retaining the general meaning. The New International Version (NIV) is probably the most readily available, although the New King James Version  (NKJV)and The New Living Translation (NLT) are popular too.

And as far as the question of which Bible translation is the best, it depends. Best for who? For someone who wants to accurately and seriously study, giving up an easier read,,,,,,, a word for word. For someone who wants and easy to understand read......a thought for thought. For someone who wants almost a fun read, but still understanding it's shortcomings..... a paraphrase. 

My current personal choice? I usually read from the New Living Translation, using the New King James and the New American Standard as a reference, and just periodically using The Message just to see what it says. But remember, none of the English translations are perfectly matched to the Hebrew or Greek simply because of the shortcomings of the English language. That doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit can't work through our English translations. So, read and read daily, even if just a couple of verses at a time.

And what if you come across a passage doesn't quite make sense? Then compare translations! It will help. Different translations may use different words, but the meaning should be the same.

EXAMPLES OF THE 3 TYPES OF TRANSLATIONS:

1. Word for Word Translation (King James Bible) - Psalm 6:1
"O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure."

2. Thought for Thought Translation (New Living Translation) - Psalm 6:1
"O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage."

3. Paraphrase Translation (The Message) - Psalm 6:1
"Please, God, no more yelling, no more trips to the woodshed."

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Bible's Two Most Terrifying Creatures!

Each time I lead a beginners' Bible study, inevitably, instead of some serious theological inquiry, someone will ask, "Does the Bible speak about dinosaurs?" I don't mind their questions, really. I suppose it is a legitimate question. So, does the Bible actually mention dinosaurs?

Well, if you do a search for the word dinosaur, you won't find that word in the Bible. That's most likely because it's a relatively new word, coined in the mid 1800's by Sir Richard Owen. However, even though you won't find the word dinosaur, if you look closely, you will uncover some very intriguing facts - some descriptions of creatures that will raise your eyebrows - huge creatures. Were these creatures that the Bible describes really dinosaurs? Perhaps so! Or perhaps even more dangerous than dinosaurs. Let's look at some really interesting scriptures. 

The book of Job is considered to be the oldest book in the Bible - even written before the book of Genesis. This book reveals some astounding details of what could be dinosaurs. In Job chapter 40, God, in sort of a "who do you think you are, anyway" tone of voice, describes to Job some of His largest living creations. One of them is the called the "Behemoth".

The first time I recall hearing the word Behemoth was way back in the 1970's. It was the name my brother called his well-used, run down, old Chrysler (I think it was a Chrysler). He bought it for $50. It must have weighed a couple of tons, but had a big V-8 engine. If there is one similarity between my brother's Behemoth and the one described in Bible, it's power. 

“Take a look at Behemoth, which I made, just as I made you. It eats grass like an ox. See its powerful loins and the muscles of its belly. Its tail is as strong as a cedar. The sinews of its thighs are knit tightly together. Its bones are tubes of bronze. Its limbs are bars of iron." (Job 40:15-18)

Some have speculated that the Behemoth was simply an elephant. But wait. Look at the description of its tail. Does an elephant have a tail as "strong as a cedar"? No. In the Bible, cedar trees were huge and used for lumber. An elephant's tail is small. As a matter of fact, any large land animal that we know of has a small tail. Think about a hippopotamus, or a rhinoceros, or a giraffe - all tiny tails. There is no large animal I can think of with a large, strong tail - except maybe a brontosaurus!

The Behemoth sure was huge and powerful, but it's nothing compared to another creature that God calls the "King of Beasts" in Job 41. The entire chapter is devoted to this terror called the Leviathan. Unlike the land dwelling Behemoth, the Leviathan seems to be a sea monster of some sort. And could also travel on land.

“I want to emphasize Leviathan’s limbs and its enormous strength and graceful form. Who can strip off its hide, and who can penetrate its double layer of armor? Who could pry open its jaws? For its teeth are terrible! The scales on its back are like rows of shields tightly sealed together." (Job 41:12-15)

The Leviathan seems to have been so dominate that man could do nothing to harm it, let alone kill it. I suppose humans could only do one thing when confronting a Leviathan...RUN!

"When it rises, the mighty are afraid, gripped by terror. No sword can stop it, no spear, dart, or javelin. Iron is nothing but straw to that creature, and bronze is like rotten wood. Arrows cannot make it flee. Stones shot from a sling are like bits of grass. Clubs are like a blade of grass, and it laughs at the swish of javelins." (Job 41:25-29)

The prophet Isaiah apparently knew of such a creature, and even describes it in detail.

"In that day the Lord will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea."  (Isaiah 27:1)

To me, the most interesting description of the Leviathan reveals that it was a sort of dragon! Is that possible? I sure would like to think so. It would be really cool if a dragon that breathed fire really existed long ago. 

"Lightning leaps from its mouth; flames of fire flash out. Smoke streams from its nostrils like steam from a pot heated over burning rushes. Its breath would kindle coals, for flames shoot from its mouth." (Job 41:19-21)

Whatever it was, the Leviathan was the biggest and baddest when it comes to a terrifying creature.

"Nothing on earth is its equal, no other creature so fearless. Of all the creatures, it is the proudest. It is the king of beasts.” (Job 41:33-34)

What ever happened to these guys? I don't know. I sure wish they were still around to see in person though. At least from a distance. But so far, none have been discovered, alive at least. Maybe they died off and became extinct because of some disease. No one knows for sure. One thing we do know....there were some scary monsters back then. 

However, if you think these are scary, they're nothing compared to the one who is the most terrifying of all time - a spiritual being - called Satan. But he's too scary to talk about for now. Maybe another time.