Musings and Ramblings about Preaching, Pastoral Ministry, Sports and Life in General

Month: June 2019

The 3am Test

One of my mentors, Dr. David Allen  has been known to quip, “A mist in the pulpit creates a fog in the pew.”  In other words, if a pastor doesn’t know what he is teaching, then his people certainly will not understand it.  I have endured many sermons (and admittedly  preached quite a few) where it was painfully obvious the preacher did not have a full grasp on the subject he presented to the audience.  For this reason preachers must be diligent to determine the central idea of the text that they are preaching.  Once they have this idea down they are able to pass what Dr. Bryan Chappell calls the 3 a.m. test.

“If your spouse or roommate were to roll you out of bed at 3 A.M. and ask, “What is the sermon about this Sunday morning?” if you cannot answer in one crisp sentence, the sermon’s not ready to preach.

Preachers, I challenge you, as well as myself, to not ever preach a sermon when it won’t pass the 3 a.m. test.

Is Reading important for a pastor?

Is it important for a pastor to read?  I would argue it is a necessity for a pastor to read and to read widely.   Here are two quick reasons.

  1. I believe that reading in order to learn is an essential characteristic for those who desire to “Love God with all their minds.”
  2. I agree with Jim Shaddix.   While doing some research, I ran across this quote:  “The development of a working knowledge in various fields will not only sharpen your intellect but enable you to engage the church and the culture from an informed perspective.”[1]

Never forget the old maxim, “Leaders are readers.”

[1] Jim Shaddix, “How to Build a First Rate Library,”  The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, 576.

How to Pick a Bible Translation

One of the questions I am often asked as a pastor is “What is the best Bible translation?”  Typically, I reply, “It depends.”  You may be thinking, “What a great help you are, pastor!”  A number of factors go into selecting the right Bible translation.  This post attempts to simplify the process.  The next few paragraphs, we will examine the following topics:  how the Bible was originally written, why each translation reads differently, how to choose a translation, and finally, my personal choice of translation.  We begin, however, with a brief anecdote from my ministry that I pray is an anomaly, but I fear is more commonplace than anyone wants to admit.  The name and translation has been changed or withheld to protect the innocent.

Early in my pastoral ministry I participated in a meeting regarding one of the church’s most prominent ministries.  Everything went well, and it appeared that all of the “i’s” were dotted and the “t’s” were crossed and that the church was well prepared for the event.  As I was gathering my things to depart, I noticed a look of concern on the ministry leader’s face.  After a little prodding, Charlotte said, “Preacher, I don’t know why we have to use the translation you want to use in this ministry.  After all, if God gave us the Bible in “translation X” shouldn’t that be enough for everybody?  If God spoke to Jesus and Paul that way, then we need use it too.”  I tried to mask my shock and horror at the innocent ignorance.[1] However, I have been told I do not hide my emotions well.  (It’s a genetic curse passed down from both sides of my family, what can I say?)  The ensuing conversation included much of what is discussed below.  I hope it will serve you well.

Primary Consideration

The Bible did not originally exist in any of the modern translations that we have today.  In fact, the Bible was written over the course of thousands of years in three languages.  The majority of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew.  A few portions are written in Aramaic.  The New Testament was written in Greek.  Thus, any English version of the Bible is a translation from the original biblical languages.  Different translators translate those languages in slightly different ways based upon translation philosophies agreed upon by the scholars overseeing the version.

Translation Philosophies

When an organization starts working on a new Bible translation, the first decision made is which translation philosophy to use.  There are three primary translation philosophies.  The first is formal equivalence (hereafter designated F.E.)  Herein the translators strive to translate the Bible in a “word for word” fashion from the Greek and Hebrew.  The second alternative is known as dynamic equivalence (hereafter D.E.).  These translators aim for a “thought for thought” rendering of the text.  A third category often used in Bible translation is known as a paraphrase.  Paraphrases try to sum up the Bible in the translators’ own words.  The three philosophies explain the differences in most modern translations.

Before proceeding, it might help to loosely sort the most popular translations according to these philosophies.[2]   It is not an exhaustive list.  The most common F.E. translations are the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), the English Standard Version (ESV), the Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSB), and the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).  The most common D.E. versions are the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).    The most popular paraphrase is The Message.

Formal EquivalentDynamic EquivalentParaphrase

What should I buy for myself or my loved one?

Now it’s time answer the question posed at the beginning of these posts.   You will remember, of course, that the most oft given answer is, “It depends!”  There are three primary factors to consider when answering that question.

The first factor is comfort.  Most individuals who grew up in church, have used a particular Bible translation for most of their lives.  They have used it for scripture memory and devotional reading for years.  If they have a translation that they are most comfortable with, whether it is a formal equivalent or dynamic equivalent, I recommend that they continue to use it.

A second factor is the ability to read and understand the translation.  This is often most discussed when someone is asking about the King James Version.  Let me issue a disclaimer:  I think the KJV is a beautiful translation.  I grew up reading and using it. Many adults who grew up in church did the same.  However, many younger adults and children in my pastorates have expressed to me a difficulty in reading and understanding the Old English idioms used by the King James translators.  I experience a similar phenomenon when I try to read anything by William Shakespeare.  It often takes me a few pages to catch the flow of the poetry and prose.  This might cause discouragement for a reader.  They may abandon any Bible reading effort.  My advice is to select a translation that they are able to read and understand easily.  I know that the enemy certainly doesn’t want God’s people reading the Bible.  If Satan can establish difficulty as a roadblock to reading then he has succeeded.  Therefore one must consider readability and understanding when selecting a new Bible.

The third and final factor is what translation do you desire to read?  This sounds simplistic, so let me expand.  I have, at one point or another, in my life and ministry been a proponent of several different Bible translations.  This has occurred for a variety of different reasons.  The most prominent is that I have opted to read alternative translations in my personal devotional life.  This helps me see the scriptures with a fresh set of eyes.  For example, several years ago, I used a CSB my daily quiet times.   It so stirred my heart that I adopted it as my translation of choice.

What translation should a person choose?  It depends!  Consider these factors and choose.  You can’t go wrong with the Word of God!

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow.  It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12 (CSB)

[1]I felt a gentle reminder here of the definition of ignorance was in order, lest I be stoned for the harshness of my comment.   Ignorant is defined as “having little knowledge, education, or experience; lacking knowledge.”  I certainly meant no disrespect to the godly woman who sat before me, but she either didn’t know any better or didn’t care.

[2] The adverb “loosely” is chosen since both F.E. and D.E. translations employ the other philosophies in various places throughout their composition.

My Story (Part 2)

This is the continuation of my previous post found here.

A few weeks and an internal defibrillator later, I returned to school to pick up some make up work.  In the hall I bumped into my math teacher, Rett McGowin.  After exchanging pleasantries he asked an innocuous question, “Did the experience bring you closer to God?”  Unnerved by the question, I do not remember the answer that I gave.  For days I could not escape his query.

The subsequent summer was a difficult one.  I spent my evenings coaching a baseball team that I was supposed to be a key player upon.  During the day, I stayed at home by myself.  The solitude allowed me to process my anger towards God.  My fifteen year old brain did not understand why God gave me the ability to play a sport I love and then take it away.  For days I raged at him.  The turning point occurred one morning while cleaning out my desk.  Buried amidst the loose papers, drawings, and scribbles, I discovered an unused devotional.  A year before I’d purchased it at a Bible club meeting sponsored by Rett McGowin.  As I leafed through the pages, Rett’s piercing question echoed through my head.  In the middle of the book there was a page entitled Taste and See.  It was a 31 day verse list for quiet times.  I grabbed a nearby Bible and read a few verses, and as I did, the Holy Spirit began to work on my heart.  For the first time I recognized that God had a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11-13).  He loved me (John 3:16-17).  I was a sinner (Romans 3:23).  In spite of my sin sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for my sins (Romans 5:8)  I realized that if I had died in the gym classroom, my eternal destination would have been hell (Romans 6:23).   I understood that I now had a 2nd chance. Forgiveness for all of my sins was available (Colossians 1:21-22).  All I had to do was to turn away from those sins and place my faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9-10, 13).   There in my bedroom kneeling on the hideous orange shag carpet, I made the greatest decision that I ever made:  I trusted Jesus as my savior.

I  cannot tell you what day it happened. I cannot tell you the hour.  What I can say is, I have never regretted the decision I made that day.  My life has not been perfect.  I did not magically stopped sinning or making mistakes.  I am still a work in progress, but I am thankful every day for grace unmeasurable and a relationship with Jesus, my Savior.

My Story (Part 1)

Some time ago I referenced my testimony to a friend.  She admitted that she had never heard my story, and then indicated she would love to hear it.  Since that moment, I felt I should share my story here.  Due to its length, I will divide it into two entries.

I grew up in rural Alabama.  We went to church on a semi-regular basis.  One Sunday morning after church (I believe I was about 9 at the time) I left the church in tears.  In truth, I don’t remember this, but my mom  does.  Our small church’s pastor seemed to think that my tears indicated that I wanted to come forward during the invitation but was not allowed.  He visited our house the next week and received my parents’ permission to talk with me.  The pastor asked me a series of gospel related questions, which I answered easily after years of Sunday school.  A few weeks later, I was baptized.  This was problematic for me at the time since I did not understand that I was lost and needed a Savior.

Not much changed for me after that. Life rocked on as usual.   I grew up and got serious about sports.  At different stages I was involved in karate, football, and baseball.  I gave up karate after one too many punches in the nose.  Football was something to do between baseball seasons.  Of the three, Baseball was my greatest love.  I poured all of my time and effort into it.  There was nothing I wanted more than to “make it” as a ball player.  Soon this passion assumed first place in my life.  It was my idol.  Everything was going according to my plan.

The funny thing about plans is they sometimes change unexpectedly.  On Wednesday, March 22, 1995, I went to school just like any other day.  I had a baseball game scheduled that afternoon.  The previous night, the water pipes in our high school main building froze and burst.  Several classes were displaced, including my science class.  We relocated to a classroom in the gymnasium.  My teacher for that period was one of my coaches and since the day was already disrupted, he gave us a free day.  Several other athletes and I went into the adjacent weight room to work out.  As I prepared to spot a teammate’s bench press, I was overwhelmed by a sense that something was not quite right.  I excused myself from the spotter position and immediately went to see if I could go call my mother to come get me.  Coach glanced at his watch and told me that if I would wait about ten minutes, he’d let me go.    I walked away from his desk, sat down in a nearby chair and immediately went into cardiac arrest.  A teacher and another coach started CPR.   Our principal, who was an EMT and had his crash cart in his car was called over and he ended up having to shock my heart back into rhythm.

I remember nothing from Wednesday until Friday.  As evidence of my idolatrous devotion to baseball, my first question upon discovering what happened to me was, “How long before I can play baseball again?”  Tears flooded my hospital room when I was told that my athletic career was over.  What I did not know was my spiritual journey was just beginning.  Check back tomorrow for part two.

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