To Be Holy Or To Love? #NextMethodism 

As the United Methodist Church continually grows more inwardly polemical towards one another surrounding theological and political issues, there seems to be a rise in a false dichotomy that puts God’s two defining characteristics at odds with one another. In this ever increasing hostile climate is this idea that if you’re too holy then you can’t love your neighbor, and if you’re too focused on loving your neighbor then you can’t be holy. However, as the Church, the Body of Christ redeemed by His blood, we are called to be both holy and loving. Therefore, in the Next Methodism, it is my hope that the Christian who call themselves Methodist would take seriously the charges of God to be both holy and loving.

In Mark 12: 28-34, a scribe asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” Now, Jesus had 613 commands from the Jewish law to pick from; however, there was one commandment that every faithful Jew repeated twice a day: “Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God, YHWH is one. You shall love YHWH with all your soul and with all you might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Side note: the New Testament writers more often than not quote from the Greek Septuagint, which is why the Gospels say, “…heart…soul…mind…and strength.” This doesn’t change the meaning of the passage since both are meant to encapsulate that a person loves God with their entire being.) Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to remember who God is, to put him first, and to love Him completely. However, Jesus doesn’t stop at the Shema, He continues by adding Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” By answering in this way, Jesus commands and affirms that those who love God will love their neighbor. The God who is faithful in keeping His covenant asks the objects of his love to love Him and other human beings too.

However, it doesn’t end there: “And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” There have been some who have taught that this means Jesus put relationships over rules every time. However, by picking two commandments, Jesus wasn’t dismissing the 611 other commandments. Rather, Jesus was summarizing the Law, including the Ten Commandments, into two categories. The Sacrificial Laws of the Old Testament kept us in the game until Christ came as the final and ultimate sacrifice. It is by the death and resurrection of Christ that we can be in right relationship with God. So we can’t just dismiss the Law as it no longer matters. 

John Wesley taught that the Law was used in two ways in a believer’s life. First, the Law was used to convince and convicted us of sin. In doing so, the Law opens up our eyes to our need of grace and drives us to the Gospel, which is Jesus himself. Once we are put into right relationship with God through faith in the works of Christ, the Christian is then driven back to the Law. But this time, the believer doesn’t view the Law as something that must be kept to be saved; rather, the Law becomes like wedding vows that lead to the flourishing of a relationship. Or as David puts it in Psalm 119:103: How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! For the believer, the Law is no longer a way to earn one’s salvation, but it is how we remain in this right relationship with God, and in turn with our fellow brothers and sisters. The Law is how we learn how to love God and neighbor.

However, aforementioned, there is this ever increasing dichotomy that either you can be holy or you can be loving. Normally, Progressives/Liberals focus more on love at the cost of holiness, while Orthodox/Conservatives focus more on holiness and seem less loving. I’m not saying this is always true, but it seems to be the perceived norm in most situations. As the People of God, we should be marked by both holiness and love. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice the one for the other, but our holiness should drive us to be more loving, and our love should drive us to be more holy. So how are we to be holy and loving?

The overarching story of the bible is that God created humanity in his image, followed by our fall from grace due to the first sin. Wesley argues that because of sin we have now been born in the image of the devil. The rest of the Bible is about God’s work in redeeming and restoring us back into the Image of God. Therefore, those who are born again are born into the image of Christ. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If we were created in the Image of God and redeemed into the Image of Christ, then we should be like God both holy and loving.

As many know, and as the Rev. Dr. David F Watson can attest, I toe the line of being both a Wesleyan and a Calvinist. Now, many would argue that it isn’t possible to hold to both systems at the same time, and I would disagree, but that’s not the point of this post. One thing we can learn from Calvinist is how we can hold both the Love of God and the Holiness of God in tandem. This point doesn’t really matter where you stand on predestination and reprobation, rather it is to prove that God is both holy and loving. Unless you’re a Universalist, you probably believe that God will save some and condemn others. Calvinism teaches that there is a point to the elect and the reprobate. The elect show the loving side of God to save us in spite of our sin and unrighteousness. The reprobate shows the holiness (or righteousness) of God by punishing sin. Together, the elect and the reprobate reveal the whole character of God that He is both loving and holy.

There is a growing belief in our culture that it is unloving and sometimes even hateful to disagree with someone. To tell them that they are wrong is a hateful act. Jesus himself wouldn’t have been politically correct in today’s culture. In Matthew 22, the Sadducees asked Jesus a ridiculous question about the Resurrection. They use this ridiculous example of 7 brothers marrying the same woman because the previous brothers died (in accordance with Jewish Law). First off, there no way if I was the third brother, let alone the seventh, that I would marry this woman. But Jesus answers: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Jesus straight tells them they are wrong for what they believe, and they are wrong because they do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God. Therefore, if Jesus tells people they have the wrong belief, then it is loving to do so. If someone believes in something that destroys human flourishing and relationship with God, it is loving to tell them they are wrong. The more that we become like Jesus, the more we begin to love people and hate the sin that has enslaved them. Too often we conflate the one for the other. We begin to hate the person because of their sin, or we allow sin to continue in their life because we believe we are being loving. 

The same issue arose in Corinth that led to Paul writing his first letter. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes about a man in the church who is sleeping with his step-mom, and the Corinthians are tolerating it. Not only are they tolerating it, but they are also celebrating how tolerant and loving they are of the situation! Paul despises what they are doing. Paul first tells the Corinthians that God has set certain boundaries to mark out his people as his own. The Corinthians need to maintain these boundaries by disciplining a man in their church involved in incest. Now there is a need for church discipline. Discipline just means treating an unrepentant believer as a non-believer until they repent, which means that every conversation should revolve around the Gospel. What this situation teaches us is that to tolerant doesn’t equal loving, but rather it can sometimes be hateful and destructive.

I want to conclude with two passages of Scripture. The first is repeated throughout the Scriptures. God commands over and over again: Be holy, because I am holy! (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 1 Peter 1:16). In this life, we as believers are called to resist the desires of sin; therefore, we are called to be obedient children, separated from evil in all that we do. We are to be holy because it aligns with the character of God, who is holy and has called believers to Himself.

Finally, in the John 13:34-35, Jesus tells his disciples: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus inserts this phrase into the commandment from Lev 19:18. The new part of the commandment is that Jesus’ disciples are instructed to love other people the way Jesus loved them—serving them like a slave would, as He does in this scene, even to the point of laying down their lives for others. By this, everyone will know that we are Christians by the way that we love and treat others.

In conclusion, my hope for the #NextMethodism is that the Christians who are called Methodist will be known for both their love and holiness. My prayer is that we would become more like Jesus who embodied both holiness and love by loving people and hating the sin they were enslaved to, never conflating the two. Finally, I want to be Holy because YHWH is holy, and I want to love like Jesus loved because as Christians that is what we’re called to.

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

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The Need for a Life-Verse

I am currently working through Robby Gallaty’s newest book, The Forgotten Jesus. Pastor Gallaty’s goal in this book it to rediscover the lost Jewishness of the New Testament. It’s a great book, and I highly recommend it for any Christian seeking to deepen their faith (both lay and clergy). In chapter one, Gallaty discusses what he calls, “Bloated Christian Syndrom.” Essentially, we often overload our minds with massive amounts of basic introductory information about the Bible, but we never go any deeper. Gallaty says, “Learning biblical information doesn’t automatically produce spiritual growth. Having the right information is necessary, but it is insufficient. True growth must also involve repetition and reiteration of deep spiritual truths and their application to one’s own life.” (The Forgotten Jesus, pg. 33).

I believe that Pastor Gallaty makes a crucial point; we never allow the weight of a passage to just speak into our lives for a prolonged period of time. A few months back, I was asked to preach at a chapel service for my Seminary, United Theological Seminary (Dayton, Ohio). It just so happened to be the chapel service in which all the perspective students would also be attending. Therefore, to be cliche, we went with the theme of being called by God into ministry, and I chose to preach from Isaiah 6.

For five straight weeks, I read this text multiple times a day and just let the weight of it rest on my soul. For weeks on end, this passage of scripture became the very breath of God in my life. It was the first time that I had allowed a passage of scripture to speak into my life for such a long period of time. At first, I thought it would become boring and stale; however, every time I read through it, it spoke much-needed life into my spirit. It was from this moment on that I realized what a life-verse was and the need for them.

I have three life-verses: Romans 1:16; Isaiah 6; and Matthew 16:18. Every morning, I wake up and preach these truths to myself. These three passages are what help me cling to Christ and not burn out of ministry. I have found the importance of having life-verses and allowing the weight of those texts to rest on your soul and drive you closer to Jesus. So for the remainder of this post, I just want to share with you why I have chosen these as my life verses.

Why Romans 1:16? Frankly, it is because of Lecrae and Trip Lee. Back in high school, I loved hip-hop; however, much of the popular hip-hop music didn’t help with my Christian walk but often was counter to it. Back in 2006, I was introduced to music by Lecrae. It wasn’t corny Christian rap music, but it was quality hip-hop music with a positive Christian message. Subsequently, because of Lecrae, I was introduced to music by Trip Lee, and the rest is history. (Sorry Lecrae, but Trip Lee has been my favorite artist…but don’t get it twisted, I love ya, and God used you to change my life). I’m sold out on the whole 1-1-Six clique, even have it tattooed on my arm (which has allowed me to share the gospel with numerous people).

But after being a pastor and reading the text more clearly, the reason Romans 1:16 is my life verse is because of Romans 1:15 & 17. Here’s what they say: “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:15-17, ESV).

Paul says that he is eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome. But why? Becuase “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” But how is it the power of God unto salvation? Because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed through Paul’s faith which then produces faith in others. It is because of the faith of Lecrae, Trip Lee, and those who discipled me who were eager and unashamed to share the gospel with me that faith was produced in me. Now, I too am unashamed and eager to share the gospel with others.

Why Isaiah 6? After working through that text for over a month, I came to a new realization about being called into ministry. Isaiah 6:8 is a pretty well-known verse that is put onto coffee mugs and t-shirts; however, it is often isolated away from its original context. We love to here: “The Lord said: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.'” The problem is that we stop reading. We don’t continue on and see to whom Isaiah is to preach and what his message is to be. God decrees that Isaiah’s ministry will have a have a hardening effect and that people will actually be driven away from God. He is to go and preach to people who will not listen to or understand what he is saying. I don’t know about you, but that is a hard message to hear as a pastor. You want me to go and pastor a church and pretty much kill it? I’m sorry God, I think I misheard you. Can you say that again?

Isaiah’s response is, “Um, how long do you want me to do this for?” And we think God is going to be merciful and encourage him, but then were surprised when God answers: “Until it’s a wasteland and only a tenth remain.” God doesn’t give Isaiah a length of time but rather how a sign of when he has accomplished his mission. I believe God does this so that Isaiah has to rely on the Spirit of God rather than himself to get through this time. It’s easier to make it through a set time frame than it is an indefinite period of time. Because Isaiah didn’t know how long this period of decline would last, he had to rely on the power of God to get him through day-by-day. He couldn’t count down the days because he never knew when it would end.

This passage has been one that I cling to in pastoral ministry. There will come days when you feel like an utter failure because people will walk away from the church and blame you. It is in those days that I turn to this passage and remind myself that successful ministry doesn’t always equate to growing numbers in the pews, but sometimes it’s the opposite. I love how the Rev. Mike Slaughter puts it when talking about his first year at Ginghamsburg: “I grew the church from 90 to 68 in my first year here.” And if anyone knows how it finished, Mike just retired from 38 years of faithful ministry at Ginghamsburg, and under his leadership, the church went from 90 to 68 to 5,000. Sometimes addition happens by subtraction.

That brings me to my final life verse. In the latter part of Matthew 16:18, Christ promises, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This verse takes a lot of weight off of the shoulders of pastors who believe in this promise. While we are the servants of Christ and his Church, it is ultimately Christ who builds his Church and not us. If your church doesn’t grow, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure. If your church does grow, it doesn’t mean that you are successful. Success is determined by how well you labor where you are. Do you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you share the Gospel? Those determine your success, and the building up of Christ’s Church is left up to Christ.

Finally, I love the line, “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” We often think of that as a defensive verse. That no matter what attacks the Church, nothing shall conquer it; however, we need to read the verse more carefully. Gates were used as a city’s security and defense mechanism. The Church is called to be God’s active and offensive force in the world that drives back evil and darkness and pushes forth God’s love and light. Therefore, the gates of hell will not be able to stop God’s active force in the world that brings forth his Gospel.

So do you have a life verse? Do you allow a particular passage of scripture to just weigh on you soul for a prolonged period of time? Every day I wake up, I preach these verse to myself. By doing so, my relationship with God is not affected by the highs and lows of ministry, but it is predicated on who He is and the promises He has made. I strongly encourage you to refrain from Bloated Christian Syndrom, and instead stay in a text for a month and allow it to speak to you over and over again until it is woven into your very being.

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with You!

Hymnology

Recently, I unknowingly started a controversy at one of my churches. A few months back, my seminary had just built a brand new chapel, and I was attending the dedication service. Now, I attended a United Methodist seminary, and as many know, Methodism was founded by John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield. All of whom had great hymnology, especially Charles. In his lifetime, Charles Wesley wrote more than 6,000 hymns. If you were to check any Methodist Hymnal, I am confident the first hymn would be: “O for a Thousand Tounges to Sing.”

It was much to my surprise when we didn’t sing a Charles Wesley hymn during the dedication service; especially because in every class I took with the Rev. Dr. Scott Kisker, we sang at least one Charles Wesley hymn every class. After the dedication service, two weeks had gone by, and we still had yet to sing a Charles Wesley hymn. On this particular day, we sang a really bad and simplistic contemporary song during chapel service. In my annoyance of how worship was going, I posted something along the lines of: “When it comes to worship music, just give me a good old Charles Wesley hymn.”

Now, someone took this as a shot at my worship band at one of my churches without understanding the context of why I was saying it.  I actually love contemporary music. It’s pretty much all my wife and I listen to in the car. However, there is a significant theological difference and reasoning behind hymns and contemporary worship music. So that’s the point of this post. I will be discussing the reasons why we need to rediscover hymns and what I meant by my Facebook post.

Since the beginning of the Church, hymns have been a major part of the Christian faith. Throughout his letters, Paul on multiple occasions included hymns in his writings to the churches he loved. Philippians 2:5-11 is often referred to as the “hymn of Christ.” Paul depicts Christ’s example of service in a stirring poem that traces his preexistence, incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God. In Colossians 1:15-20, we see another hymn from Paul about the preeminence of Christ. My point being, from the very beginning of the Church hymns played an important part.

Up until the modern era, illiteracy has played a prominent role in the Church. Not everyone throughout the centuries has had the access and ability to read the Scriptures like we do today. I have over 20 Bibles sitting on my bookshelf in different translations, plus all of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts at my fingertips with my iPad. We are very blessed with the resources we have today; however, the Church has never been so illiterate when it comes to the Bible. I would contribute, at least in part, to the loss of singing hymns in church.

Throughout the centuries, hymns were used as a way to teach theological truths found in the Bible. Hymns helped illiterate people become theologically sound in their knowledge of God without ever being able to read the Bible for themselves. It much easier to remember something when it’s put into a rhythmatic song. Example: sing Twinkle, twinkle little star; now sing your ABCs. It’s the same song. It’s easier to remember things when put to a song. So throughout the centuries people have been writing theological truths and then putting them to music in order that people learn these truths.

If you have access to a hymnal, at some time grab it and look up a hymn. More than likely, there will be two names at the bottom of the page. One name will tell you who wrote the words, and the other name is the person who wrote the music. In the UMH, many of Charles Wesley’s hymns are put to music composed by his grandson (some say illegitimate grandson), Samuel Sebastian Wesley. However, if you look at Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress, Luther wrote both the words and the music. Anyone who knows me knows that A Mighty Fortress is one of my favorite hymns, but many don’t know that my favorite version is a rock version done by Tim Bushong. Hymns were written to last the ages because God’s truth never changes. There is nothing wrong with updating the music or the instruments in which hymns are played to. It’s the words that matter most. Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee just put out a magnificent hymn album in which the hymns are played to contemporary style music.

In contrast to hymns, the relatively recent phenomenon of contemporary music in the Church has a theological difference in why they’re written (I do realize that’s a broad stroke and not true of everyone). Most contemporary music is written for an emotional response to the song, whether it be crying, happiness, energetic, or solemn. Contemporary Christian Music has become more about opening people’s emotions up before hearing the Word of God read and/or the sermon preached. For the most part, we have lost the art of using songs to teach biblical truths. One way in which I determine whether a contemporary song is actually a good song is by turning off the music and reading the lyrics by themselves. I ask myself, do these words by themselves teach me something about God and move me closer to Him, or are these words just shallow and when put to the right beat create an emotional response?

It would be my hope that there is a rediscovery of the need for hymns in our churches. Especially, for more Charles Wesley hymns in the Methodist Churches. If you want to become a better Methodist, start reading and singing Wesley’s hymns. They are saturated with great theological truths. I implore my musically talented brothers and sisters, please do not allow us to lose our great hymns of old, but give them new life. Hymns have been a part of our faith since the beginning, it is my hope that we never lose that tradition.

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with You!

Essentials For Church Camp Part 2: A Journal

Habits are important. They are important both to the normal human life and to the Christian life. Habits bring a sense of normality to our everyday lives. If I had to guess, you probably followed the same daily routine in getting ready for school this past year. From the time that I was in grade school all the way through high school, my morning routine in getting ready for school barely changed. It wasn’t until college that my morning routine changed, but even then, after my first semester my habit stayed pretty regular. My point being, as humans we are creatures of habit and for us to change either our situation has to change, or we have to be intentional about changing our habits.

I’m currently in a season of change, and every day I feel as though I’m lost and don’t know what to do. For the last three years, I have been working on my Master of Divinity at United Theological Seminary; however, now I am done with school for a very long time. There is no summer break that at the end of I will return to normalcy. The pattern of my life has had a definite change. My weekly and morning routine now look much different than they did just a few short weeks ago, but there is one thing that hasn’t changed, and that’s my alone time with God. My mornings consist of a prayer of thanksgiving, making coffee, diving into the Word of God, and finishing with an extended period of prayer.

The last time we talked, we began discussing what you need to bring to Lakeside for Youth this year to be spiritually fruitful. In all honesty, I was tempted to write on the necessity of coffee every day, but then I realized that’s a physical need more than a spiritual one (most days). Last time, we talked how important it was to bring a real (as in with pages, not an app) Bible to camp, which you can read here. The most important part of my morning routine is when I dive into the Word of God. I open my Bible daily with the same hope that David had in Psalm 119:18: Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wonderful things from your Word. However, while God may open my eyes to see these wonderful things in His Word, I am quick to forget them. Therefore, I write down everything while I’m studying God’s Word. So today, I want to talk about bringing a journal to church camp.

Why? I have never regretted writing something down because if I disagree with it later, I can always trash it. However, there have been many of times that I have regretted not writing down important thoughts, ideas, or lessons learned. I thought: “That is such a good thought that I’ll remember it easily.” I was greatly mistaken. Learn from my mistakes so that you don’t have to live with the same regret I do. Write down everything that you find important at camp, whether it comes from the impact speaker, interest group leader, youth leader, etc.

How? There are many different ways in which you can journal. Currently, I have four different journals, and I use every one of them. First, I have an interleaved journaling bible. Personally, I use it as my preaching Bible. I write down notes and insights that make the text become real and life changing to me, and then from those notes, I preach my sermons. My wife, Shelby, uses the same kind of Bible, but she uses her’s to draw in because she’s an artist. She remembers better when she illustrates her notes, whereas I remember better in an outline format.

Secondly, I have a journal in which I write down notes while listening to other people preach or give talks. In this journal, I write down everything that I find interesting. I write down everything I agree with, and everything I don’t agree with. Write down what Charlie Alcock (the impact speaker) says in all of his sessions. He’s saying it for a reason, and therefore it is important. Write it down so that weeks, months, and years after this year’s Lakeside Camp is over, you can go back and keep rediscovering and applying these truths to your life.

Thirdly, I have a journal in which I write down my daily devotions. I have large handwriting, and I tend to overwrite, therefore I don’s do my daily devotions in my journaling bible. Rather, I use a journal and then transfer the important information from my journal to my Bible. This helps me memorize what I have learned because I am writing it down twice. Furthermore, year after year I can go back to these journals and see where I have grown but also remember ideas I have long forgotten. In this journal, I use what is called the H.E.A.R. technique of reading and studying the Bible. It stands for: Highlight, Explain, Apply, Respond. I actually learned this technique from Mike Hurst’s pastor, Robby Gallaty in his book Foundations F260.

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Lastly, I have a prayer journal. When I pray in the morning, I write down what I prayed for and the date. I do this so that I have consistency in my prayer life, but I also do it so I can record when God answered it (whether that would be a yes or a no). A prayer journal is an awesome way to see how God has been working in your life. Looking back, I can see both where God has worked in my life to get me to where I am today, but I can also see what the passions of my life were during a particular time in my life. (I won’t share a picture of this as it also contains personal information about others and not just myself.)

Now, I am not suggesting that you have to be like me and keep several different journals. (I’m actually about to start a fifth journal for a separate project.) My suggestion is that you bring something to take notes in so that you can remember what you have learned. My hope and prayer is that years down the road when Lakeside memories start to fade that you can look back to a journal and read of what you learned and experienced, and by doing so you will grow ever close to our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

 

Essentials For Church Camp Part 1: The Bible

(This is a monthly blog that I write for Lakeside For Youth, a church camp that I help out with every year. This is part one of a series that’ll I’ll be writing until camp starts at the end of June.) 

When my wife and I travel, Shelby always makes a packing list so that we don’t forget anything. I’m the opposite. I procrastinate until two hours before we leave, and I try to pack everything I think I will need. Typically what happens is that Shelby remembers everything, and I will forget at least three things that I needed to pack. Here is the moral of the story: make a list of what you need to bring to camp.

My goal is not to write a blog about everything you need from enough t-shirts, socks, and underwear; rather, I want to write a list of the spiritual essentials you should bring with you to camp. So for the next few months, every time that I am writing I will be writing about what you should bring to help you experience Jesus in a deeper and more profound way.

If you were to ask me the one thing everyone should bring to Lakeside it would be a Bible. When I say a Bible, I do not mean a Bible app on your phone or iPad or any other electrical device. When I say bring a Bible, I mean bring a Bible that has pages made of paper. Here’s why: when you use an electronic device as your bible, you will be tempted to check other apps or messages while you should be concentrating on God’s Word. Anytime that I have tried to use my iPad or Phone to study God’s Word, I always find myself distracted with messages and notifications scrolling on the top of my screen. I promise if you eliminate the opportunity for distractions, you will get a lot more out of your week at Lakeside.

If you’re new to reading the Bible you may ask the question: what translation should I read? The best translation for you is the one you read and understand. However, the overflow of Biblical translations may leave you at a loss as to which one to chose. My hope is to help you understand the differences in translations and how to choose a translation that best fits you.

Translation committees essentially take two approaches when translating the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) texts to English. Some committees use a process called formal equivalence, which means they translate the Scriptures word-for-word from the original texts (i.e. ESV, NASB, KJV). Other committees use the process called dynamic equivalence, which translates more along the lines of thought-for-thought (i.e. NIV, NET, NLT). Recently, there have been two more approaches to language translation: paraphrase (The Message) and optimal equivalence (i.e. HCSB, CSB, NRSV).

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Many people prefer dynamic equivalents, such as the New International Version or New Living Translation, because they feel that they are easier to read. While they are easier to read, you have to trust that the translators made the right interpretation for you.

As a pastor and theologian, I prefer a word-for-word translation. The English Standard Version is my primary translation. I use it for personal study as well as the translation I preach from. I believe that as you grow in faith the more you want to move towards a word-for-word translation because you desire to know the exact words used in a particular passage you are reading.

If I’m not reading the ESV, then I will be reading the HCSB/CSB (the CSB is the updated version of HSCB, which was released this year). The CSB uses what is called an optimal equivalence approach, which means in the many places throughout Scripture where a word-for-word rendering is clearly understandable, a literal translation is used. When a word-for-word rendering might obscure the meaning for a modern audience, a more dynamic translation is used. If you’re someone looking for a translation, I highly recommend the CSB.

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When it comes to paraphrased translations, I really try to avoid them altogether. A paraphrase is a version in which the author expresses the Scripture in his own words. The most popular paraphrases are the Message and the Living Bible. While paraphrases can be helpful or inspirational, it is best to read them alongside an actual translation of God’s Word.

Ultimately, there is no perfect translation as all have their strengths and weaknesses. Something I have come to realize in learning Greek and Hebrew is that you still have to interpret the text in some form when translating it into English. Again, the best translation is the one you read and the one that helps you know God in a deeper and more profound way.

Let me make some recommendations. If you have never read the Bible or have found it difficult, try reading the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), New International Version (NIV), or the New Living Translation (NLT). If you have been reading a dynamic equivalence for a while now, try switching to a word-for-word translation such as the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the CSB, or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Most importantly, just get into the Word of God. You’ll never be able to hear from God if you never open His Word.

I can’t wait to see you at camp, and remember to bring your Bibles!

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

 

Guatemala Mission Trip, Final Day

I am both happy and yet reluctant to say that we made it home safely to Mt. Victory, Ohio and that I am currently writing this from my kitchen table with my trusted sidekick, Sampson, beside me. I really enjoyed this last week by serving the Lord and others in Guatemala. Both Shelby and I have grown to love that country so much in such a little time (coffee and coffee jelly really helped). Last night, Shelby asked me if I could see us living there, and I could (a church on a coffee plantation sounds like a dream come true for me). While I don’t see ourselves being full-time foreign missionaries, it is one place that I would love to serve for a small portion of my year every year.

We finished up our last day in Guatemala by building the beds for the family, setting up a kitchen for them, and building a water filter. We took the kids for popsicles one last time before playing with them for a few hours, which included throwing rocks into a bucket and using Gary and me as a jungle-gym to swing them around. It was such a life-giving opportunity to be the people who put so much joy on these kids’ faces. We ended our time with the family with a dedication ceremony of the house and giving them the keys so that they could enter their house for the first time and call it home (you can see a video of the dedication here).

I think David Platt says it best in his book, Radical, that all people are called to be missionaries and not just domestically, but internationally. I would really encourage you to go serve internationally if you can because it will change your perspective on what is important. Jesus + Nothing = Everything, and I was reminded of that this week. If you want to serve Jesus in an awesome country and just love on these families like Jesus does, we will be going back at the beginning of next year, and I would invite you to come with us.

While I must now turn my attention back to my own flock, the people of Guatemala will be in my prayers until I am with them again. I want to say that the people of CRI, especially Fountaine and Edgar, are people of the cross who serve out of their love for Jesus and for the people of Guatemala. Thank y’all so much for having us, and I can’t wait to be back next year!

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

P.S. We didn’t have to worry about a crosswind when landing, because the wind would never dare cross Gary Brill.

Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 6

Well it’s Sunday, which means it’s the Lord’s Day here in Guatemala. I began my Sunday a little differently than most weeks since I didn’t have to preach today. Instead, I got to sleep in for a little longer than I normally do on Sundays. Once I finally crawled out of bed, I spent time in prayer for both Steve and my churches as they headed into worship today. As for our worship, we worshipped at the local church on the CRI compound, known as Iglesias Acceso. While I had the Sunday off, Shelby was asked to lead the music part of worship today, and it sounded amazing. I am really proud of how much my wife has grown in the last year. Coming to Mt. Victory and Ridgeway has been one of the biggest blessings in our lives, which has caused us to grow stronger both personally and as a couple. The sermon was preached in Spanish, but we had a translator speaking into an ear piece so that we could understand the message. It was a message on doubt and staying connected to the Father; preached out of Psalm 13, which is a beautiful text that I would love to come back to and preach on myself. 

After Church, we headed off to eat lunch at Burger King and pick up another group that was arriving at the airport today. Are initial plans were to pick them up and head to Antigua for shopping, site-seeing, dinner and desert; however, the other group had to stop by the compound first, unpack, and have a meeting. So instead, Edger took us four to Antigua for the afternoon. We started off by going to see a massive cross that overlooks the whole city. It was a marvelous site really, but also a really steep hill to climb. After seeing the beautiful scenery, Edger took us to the market place where we shopped and bartered for about two hours getting souvenirs. We then traveled to an old monestary that was active from 1547-1997, but was closed do to damage sustained by 3 different earthquakes. The monestary is now a fancy hotel that “many famous” people have stayed in. It was a georgious place to go and see. Ancient architecture never cease to amaze me. Even where the old sanctuary used to be, the alter remained and they have made it into a beautiful semi-outdoor space for mass and weddings. 

After the monestary tour, we went and ate at a Texan BBQ place, and I must say that it was fantastic. The best part was the BBQ sauce was made with coffee! Someone needs to find me that recipe. We then finished the night with desert at a crepe place with coffee. We got the luna moka crepe, which was filled with chocolate and had vanilla and coffee ice cream on top. We stopped on the way out of town to see a beautiful cathedral and made our trip home in the dark. 

It was a great day that I got to spend with my beautiful bride and friends, deepening our relationship. I am very thankful that this trip has happened. God never ceases to amaze me. We have one day left, and while I enjoy a day off from preaching every now and then, I can’t wait to get back in the pulpit and share God’s Word with the people I love to serve!

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

P.S. No Gary Brill joke today. Even he has to take a rest on the Lord’s Day 🙂

Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 5

I’m sorry I didn’t post last night. Shelby had to use my iPad for band practice last night because she is leading worship this morning. We woke up nice and early yesterday to make sure we could see the sun rise over the mountains; however, it was really hazey and cloudy, and so we were unable to see it. So we took off on a day full of adventures. After getting stuck in traffic for awhile and stopping off at a superstore, we may our way to the coffee plantation of Cafe Azotea.

This was a dream come true for me. As many of you know, I am a huge coffee fanatic! I was finally able to see how the process of coffee from seed to cup happens. Our guide talked us through the history of coffee, the varieties of coffee, how different regions affect the flavor of coffee, and finally how they process it. After a history lesson, we were able to go outside and see the beans drying. Not only were we able to see them, WE WERE ABLE TO TOUCH THEM, HANDLE THEM, AND THROUGH THEM IN THE AIR!!! It was so much fun. It took everything in me not to start rolling around in the beans. After playing in the beans, we went over and watached the fermentation and washing process. We then were able to try the different roast of beans they had (by eating them, not drinking), and we also tried some local cocoa. We then traveled through the plantation to see the coffee cherries growing on the trees. It was such a beautiful scenery. Shelby has plenty of photos that I’m sure she will allow me to share. We finished the tour with a coffee tasting, and it was a great cup of coffee (Shelby even said it tasted good black). Shelby and I bought a bag of medium roast coffee, a jar of coffee jelly, and of course Shelby got her routine mug (I think she’s more obsessed with mugs than I am with coffee). What I am most excited about is the green coffee I bought! I am so excited to start roasting, and if it turns out well, I would be glad to share with y’all. 

After leaving the plantation we drove towards the volcano of Pacaya. We stopped of to eat some of the famous Pollo Compraro for lunch. We had been hearing about how good the chicken was all week, and it didn’t disappoint. We then embarked to the top of the volcano. We drove up as high as we could before embarking on horse back. Here’s a Gary Brill joke for you: “Gary Brill doesn’t ride a horse; He carries the horse between his legs.” But seriously, Gary hates horses and only made it about 40 minutes riding the horse before opting to walk the rest of the way up and down. However, I enjoyed riding the horse because it made me reminisce about how John Wesley rode thousands of miles praying, reading, and writing on the back of a horse. As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, it was a really cloudy and hazey day. The top of the volcano was covered in a cloud. We were literally riding horses up an active volcano in a cloud. It was so dense in some parts that I couldn’t see the person 10 feet away from me, at best they were a shadowy figure. It was also chilly and wet (we were in a cloud). In my mind I was picturing us going to Camelot or a scene in Lord of the Rings. It was eerily exhilarating. When we got to the top of the volcano, we stopped at the Lava Store, which has been featured and advertised by National Geographic. Everything they sell is made by local artist and encorporates lava rocks within the jewelry. We then went further into the volcano and roasted marshmallows and made s’mores over hot rocks. We didn’t get to see actual lava flowing because of the cloudiness, but it was an amazing experience. To pick up rocks that are hot or finding pockets of hot air all around the top of the volcano was intriguing in and of itself.

I am very thankful that Edger and Fountain spent their day taking us two these two amazing places, and I’m also thankful that Gary and Jeannie allowed us to do this. I can cross of 1 1/2 things of my bucket list (I still want to see flowing lava). I will soon be able to cross off another when I start roasting coffee. What a great God that we have! 

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you! 

Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 4

It was another rough start to the day as we found out that Keegan McKee, a senior from Ridgemont, passed away from a car accident. It is hard being a pastor of a community that is in pain and being so far away. I want to be there with y’all, and pray with you, and mourn with you, and cry with you, and minister to you. I hope the Ridgemont community knows that my heart greives for you and that I am praying for you. If I can provide three source that can help you while I’m gone these would be it:

1. Shane & Shane – Though You Slay Me

2. Timothy Keller – Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

3. John Piper – Where is God?

I believe all three of these engage the questions we have when we are in pain and suffering, and all three answer these questions with the hope of the Gospel. I found myself listening to Piper’s sermon earlier this week, and the thing I love most about Piper is that in the midst of tragety, he never fails to preach the Gospel. I hope these resources can help comfort you and minister to you while I am away. I long to be home with the community that I love and serve. 

Apart from the tragic news that we received this morning, we arrived at the work site surprised to see the roof already on. It was nice that we didn’t have to fuss with it or worry about anyone cutting themselves on the metal. So Gary and I began our day by leveling out some dirt and putting down stone for a walkway, while the girls began to stain the house. Now, let me tell you about this stain. It was water mixed with powder that we we’re trying to put on wood that still had sap on it. The stain didn’t go on very well, and it ran and flung everywhere. The group told us that last year Gary got more on him than on the house…well the same was true today. Gary was flinging it every where and just slapping it on the building. Although, he was definitely putting it on the fastest. But by the end of the day, Gary didn’t have a spot on him that wasn’t covered by brown stain. That man is one of the hardest workers I have ever met in my life, and it has been a joy to see him work this week. Here is a Gary Brill joke for you: “Gary Brill doesn’t put on sun block; the sun puts on Gary Brill block.” (Okay, that one was cheesy). 

After staining the house and taking a lunch break, Shelby and Andy, our translator, took kids down for ice cream. They began with only 10 kids, and Shelby said that just more and more kept coming as they walked to the ice cream shop. By the time they arrived they had to buy ice cream for 20 kids. Seeing the kids light up over such a little thing really puts your life into perspective. In America, we are bombarded with consumerism. “You need this, and you need that to make your life complete.” While these kids down here are completely content with ice cream and playing soccer with some Americans. These kids faces light up when you give them a high-five or just say, “hello, how are you?” While I know building the house is important, it’s the moments that we have had with these kids, building relationship, walking to get them ice cream, playing soccer and jump-rope with them that have really made me fall in love with the Gospel all over again. While there is a language barrier (sorry Ms. Smith I’m not fluent in Spanish anymore), we have this connection of Gospel-driven joy. I want to pray for these kids, and I want to love them like Jesus does for as long as I am here. I’m really proud to serve a church that comes here and serves people they don’t know and love those people like Jesus does. 

We finished the house by putting in the door and windows, and I must say we built a pretty good-looking house. As the girls took the kids for ice cream, Gary tightened up the frame of the house and cleaned out the inside with Ever, while Carlos and I built a stone stove. Y’all, I built a stove today! Carlos taught me how to do masonry work, and it was actually both hard and enjoyable, but I think I’ll stick with wood working. With the completion of the stove, we were completely finished with the house. We took pictures with the kids and the family after we were done. We will dedicate the house on Monday, when we will give the keys to the family, and they will unlock the house and enter their new home for the first time. I’m so excited for this moment. 

As for tomorrow, since we are done building the house, we have a free day. So tomorrow we will be crossing off two of my bucket-list items. First, we will be going to a Coffee Plantation, and as all of you know, I am a HUGE coffee fan! Shelby has already agreed to allow me to get into the roasting business! So I’ll be bringing greens back and roasting them. Hopefully, if I am successful, I will sell some roasted coffee to raise funds for youth mission trips and other church functions. After the coffee plantation, we are going to ride horses up to the top of an active volcano! We also made a new friend tonight named Jenny. She is a missionary teacher here in Guatemala from Troy, Ohio. We had a great conversation at dinner sharing each other’s stories. Then we found out that she is a coffee lover too! So she invited us over for some cold brew at here house and had a long conversation about coffee. Shelby and I invited her to come with us tomorrow, and so we added another friend to share in our adventures. God has really been moving this week, and it has been such a blessing. 

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 3

Well today didn’t start out well for me. I woke up at midnight running a fever, and I had to wake up to put sweats on and sleep under 3 blankets. I woke up this morning still feeling horrible and skipped breakfast. One of the highlights of this morning was that it was finally clear skies and we were able to see the active volcano. After finally dragging myself out of bed and seeing the volcano, we left for our second day of construction on the house. 

We had a bit of a rough start with a piece of wood jamming up the miter saw, which actually became a blessing. I had to use the hand saw to cut the siding for the house, which actually made the process go fast than the miter saw. We flew through siding up the house as I cut the boards and Gary, Shelby, and Jeannie all nailed the boards to the frame. Here’s a Gary Brill joke for y’all: “Gary Brill doesn’t hammer in nails; the nails run away from his hammer.” We all worked hard to finish up the siding of the house before lunch time. 

After lunch, we decided to have a little fun and get to know the children a little better. We asked their moms if we could take them down for popcicles. So we traveled down a massive hill to a shop where we bought popcicles for everyone. The problem was that as we were walking down and while we were in the store more kids began to show up and the shop ran out of popsicles. So we traveled up the hill to another house that sold them and bough the rest of the group popsicles. It was such a great privelage to see the joy on these kids’ faces and know we were the ones who put them there. 

The fun continued after lunch as all the kids wanted to play soccer. While Gary and I continued working on the house, Shelby and Jeannie continued to put smiles on the faces of these sweet little children (who were finally coming out of their shells; sugar rush maybe?). As we were finishing up the inside of the house, Jeannie came and asked if i could square off 4 pieces of 2×2 so that they could make seats for the kids. Soon I found myself on the ground cutting wood for these seats for the next 30 minutes. My initial reaction was: Jesus, please make them stop! But then I remembered the saying of Jesus: 

“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” – ‭Mark‬ ‭10:13-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I was able to find the joy in that moment, where we were putting smiles on the faces of these little children. I am super excited to say that we are building a house for a family in need, but it fills my heart with joy to be able to see the joy on these kids’ faces.

We finished the day with the house’s frame and siding completely done, along with the rafters for the roof. We should finish building tomorrow with putting on the roof, staining the wood, and putting in the windows and doors. We will also be building a stove for them. While I’m excited to finish, I am really looking forward to seeing these kids again tomorrow. Mission trips are always ironic in the fact that we come to be a blessing to others, but it is often the people who we’re helping that are the biggest blessings to us. Until tomorrow…

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!