Capacities for Joy

You have capacities for joy that you can scarcely imagine. They were made for the enjoyment of God.

John Piper, Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnohmah, 2011), 108.

The hidden life

In chapter 2 of Colossians, Paul sets forth a defensive strategy for the Colossians: resist captivity (Col. 2:8-15), resist judgment and disqualification (Col. 2:16-19), and resist the elemental spirits of the world and false religions (Col. 2:20-23). Colossians 3:1-4 serves as a transition-point before Paul teaches how to go on the offensive by mortifying the flesh (Col. 3:5) and putting on the new self (Col. 3:12). This passage has some very profound implications for Christian living, and one thing that really grips me is the security that we have in Christ.

For example, Col. 3:1 says that Christ is seated. The sitting position signifies the completion of Christ’s work. This contrast between Jesus and the Levitical priests is demonstrated in Hebrews 10:11-14: the priests stand because their work is never finished; Jesus offered one perfect sacrifice—Himself—and is now seated. His work is done, there are no questions about it; His sacrifice was accepted and Christ now enjoys a seated position of honor because He has earned it. Christians never need to question whether or not they are saved because they did not save themselves. As previously discussed, we have been raised by Christ and with Christ and now share His destiny. His work is completed and He is now seated in a position of honor and glory. Christ would have the seat pulled out from under Him—marking an incomplete sacrifice for sins and unfinished work—before a Christian would lose their salvation.

Another amazing statement is found in Colossians 3:3: “…you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The Greek word for “hidden” here (krupto) is the root of the English word “encrypt;” in the same way that encrypted data is considered safe, so the Christian’s life is safe because it is ‘encrypted’ with Christ. Through Paul’s use of the perfect tense, we know that this “hiddenness” occurred in the past—presumably at the time of our salvation—and has ongoing effects. In the same way that someone in the witness protection program is safe because they are hidden, so the Christian’s salvation is secure because it is hidden with Christ.

Did Alex Trebek say on Jeopardy! that the New World Translation is the most accurate translation of the Holy Scriptures?

Recently, upon finding out that I’m studying New Testament Greek (aka Koine Greek), my Jehovah’s Witness coworker gave me a pamphlet called “The Accuracy of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.” The article began with this paragraph:

Recently on Jeopardy on TV…One of the questions was…What is the most accurate translation of the Holy Scriptures? No one got the correct answer, so Alex Trebek said “The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, printed by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society…

Is this true? Did this really happen? And if so, what exactly does it mean?

1. I have looked online and have not found a shred of evidence that this actually ever happened. It’s a lie. The only corroboration I could find for this was from JW websites and forums. I went to http://www.j-archive.com/ (which boasts almost a quarter-million questions) and did an advanced Google search on the site. Here are my results.

First, I searched j-archive.com to see if “Watchtower Bible & Tract Society” shows up anywhere (click here to see the results for yourself). I got one result here. However, the hint was “More common name for The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society” with an answer of Jehovah’s Witnesses; it had nothing to do with translational accuracy.

Next, I decided to search for “New World Translation” and got 0 results using quotes (click here to see the results for yourself). There was one hit where “new world” and “translation” coincided, but not as part of the same sentence:

Finally, I couldn’t find a single clip on YouTube or any other video site of this being asked. I did find a blog post about this topic going back to August of 2007, and although there had been many hateful, unconstructive comments posted by some of the readers, there has yet to be any proof offered. That’s almost half a decade and no proof. That fact leads me to believe this is a complete lie.

2. On Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek doesn’t ask questions. He provides answers and the contestants ask the appropriate question. However, according to this story, Alex asked which translation is the most accurate and later revealed the answer. Not only is there no evidence this ever happened, but the story actually disproves itself. If I told you a story about how a guy bought vowel on Who Wants to be A Millionaire?, you’d know I was lying because that’s not how the game works. It seems like this lie was carefully fabricated because, caught off guard, most Americans are likely to trust the answers they get from Jeopardy. I say “caught off guard” because this story is likely told as JW’s go door-to-door. The fact that most people are unprepared for an encounter with JW’s means that they’re unlikely to carefully define terms either…

3. If this actually did happen, what did they mean by the word “accurate”? This word requires serious discussion and careful definition before you can even begin a discussion about the most “accurate” translation of the Bible. By accurate do you mean strictly literal, word-for-word? If so, then there’s not a single ‘literal’ translation of the Greek or Hebrew into English. It would be incomprehensible, especially when you get into books like Acts or Hebrews, which have very challenging word order. And even an exact word-for-word would be inaccurate if they always used the same word because the same word can have different meaning depending upon context. For example, read John 3:5-8; the same Greek word exists for both “spirit” and “wind” in that passage but the context determines which meaning is intended. Furthermore, there are numerous Greek and Hebrew words that don’t have an exact equal in our language, such as archegos.

Or by accurate, do you mean idea-for-idea? Once again, there isn’t a translation that goes that far in all places either. For example, read Isaiah 64:6 and notice how all translations keep the euphemism “filthy rags.” That’s because they’re afraid to translate that term for the graphic image it would have conjured up in the mind of the ancient Jews: “bloody menstrual rags.” The JW’s love to claim they have the most accurate translation of the Bible, but I don’t know of any Greek or Hebrew scholars that would agree to that claim. Which brings us to our final point…

4. If this actually did happen, since when did Alex Trebek become the authority on Koine Greek? This story, true or not, doesn’t prove anything because it doesn’t actually appeal to an expert in the field of Koine Greek. The rest of the pamphlet contains excerpts from Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. This book was written by Jason David BeDuhn, a professor who has his Ph.D. in “Comparative Study of Religions.” Once again, the JWs make the mistake of appealing to a non-expert to validate the accuracy of their Bible (aka false attribution). If you’re going to buy a house, do you seek advice from a realtor or a chef? If you want to prepare a good meal, do you seek advice from a chef or a realtor? If you want to know which translation of the Bible is the most accurate, do you seek the opinion of an expert in Koine Greek or do you ask a game show host and someone who got their degree in comparative religion?

But here’s the bottom line: whether this question was asked on Jeopardy! or not doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t prove a thing, other than the fact that it is a false attribution. The truth is, the New World Translation is not the most accurate translation of the Bible, which is why JWs have to tell lies and appeal to non-experts for their “proof.” If I were to recommend any translation, it would be the ESV for reasons I’ve mentioned before. I hope this has shed some light on a confusing topic. If you encounter this story, ask for some proof and ask how the JW’s define “accurate.”

C. S. Lewis on the importance of Christianity

Christianity
if false is of no importance
and if true is of infinite importance
but it can’t be moderately important.

C. S. Lewis

A Simple Idea for Christian Decision Making: Up or Down?

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).

At one time or another we all face major life decisions. If you’re like me, it often feels like God directs you to a point, but then He leaves you to take that final leap of faith. I often feel like I’m brought to a ledge and told to leap. Don’t worry, just jump and trust that God will catch me. Or perhaps it feels like He leads you to an intersection, where you have two or more possible choices and it’s up to you to make the right decision.

I’m not one of those people who receives a sense of deep, unshakable peace about a decision. Instead, I often feel the opposite: nervous, excited, and perhaps more than a little curious; almost like I’ve just been strapped into a roller coaster. And so, at life’s precipices, I prayerfully leap regardless of whether or not it makes sense. I do so because I know that God has called me to be faithful to Him, not successful in this life. The last thing I want is to finish this life and show up at the next one as someone who was very successful in the eyes of the world but completely unfaithful in the eyes of my Heavenly Father; a temporary success but an eternal failure.

Recently, I’ve been studying Colossians 3:1-4 and run across a new way to make decisions. As I’ve discussed before, in this passage we’re told to set our minds on the things above and not on the things that are on the earth. While it would be easy to just casually pass over that verse without much contemplation, I have slowly realized that this is one of the most practical Bible verses I’ve ever encountered. This verse separates all things into two essential categories: things above and things upon the earth.

How easy would it be for us to make decisions if we asked this simple question: “Am I seeking the things above or am I seeking the things upon the earth?” I’m quickly realizing that this framework can apply to virtually anything from dating, to marrying, to raising children, to buying a home, to choosing a college, to determining a career path, you name it. Sure, not everything fits into a simple up or down division; sometimes both decisions are ‘upward’ options, such as buying a home. Then you can simply determine which decision takes you higher. For example, which home would put you in a better position to reach out to neighbors and share Christ? Which home would give you an extra room to allow others to stay with you if they needed? Which home would be better for practicing hospitality? Or perhaps you feel God leading you to choose a house that would be smaller, but would allow you to be more generous with your money. Perhaps, by choosing a house that has one less room, you’re able to fully fund a well to be dug in Africa every other year. When there’s not a black & white, right or wrong answer, perhaps there’s a good and a better option. Perhaps there isn’t a clear-cut right answer, but perhaps there is an option that gives you more ability to seek the things above.

From now on, I think Colossians 3:2 is going to be one of the first Bible verses I share with people who are faced with big decisions and want to know God’s will. What does God want you to do with your life? Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. While this may not tell us what to decide, it certainly tells us how to decide. Our decisions should be made in light of eternity, not in light of the next 5, 10, or 50 years. We need to see this life as a short opportunity to make an eternal difference. I challenge you need to seek counsel from fellow believers and from the Holy Spirit to ensure that you are making decisions that seek the things above and not the things upon the earth.

Made to be prisms

We were made to be prisms refracting the light of God’s glory into all of life.

John Piper, Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnohmah, 2011), 56.

What does it mean to be raised with Christ?

“…you have been raised with Christ…” (Col. 3:1)

It’s really easy for us to get things twisted. We read a simple phrase like the one above and perhaps picture ourselves walking alongside Christ with our arm over His shoulder as He helps us along. Perhaps something like this:

But the truth is, this is a passive verb. It’s more like “you have been raised by Christ and with Christ.” Christ is the one doing all the work. Christians are raised with Him and by Him. We’re raised with Christ in the sense that, now that He’s picked us up, He’s taking us where He’s going. We’re along for the ride! It’s really more like this:

This word is used in the Greek Old Testament to describe someone getting a donkey off the ground with its load. “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. (Exodus 23:5)” The term used for rescuing the donkey is used to describe us in Colossians 3:1.

The most interesting thing to me is the fact that, in order to rescue us, Christ had to come down to earth to pick us up. His death on the cross was the ultimate falling down to raise us up. To save us from death, He endured death and conquered it. We are able to be raised because Christ was raised first. Acts 26:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20, and Colossians 1:18 all describe Christ as being the “first born.” Notice they all say “first” and not “only.” Christ is the first of many who will conquer death. Romans 8:29 describes Him as “the firstborn among many brothers!”

Praise be to our great Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for coming down to earth in order to lift us up to Heaven.

Heart and Mind

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Col. 3:1-2).

Notice something about the text I underlined? Looks like silly ol’ Paul accidentally repeated himself, right? Not quite. These are two completely different Greek words with similar but subtly differing meanings. In the context of this passage, the term used for “seek” (zeteo) means to want or yearn for something. In other words, we are to desire or yearn for the things that are above. We are to want them with our hearts. The reason why we are to want them is simple: that’s where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Why are we to yearn for the things above? Because they are worth wanting! They are naturally desirable; in fact, they are more desirable than anything else in existence!

If the first verse tells us what to want, the second verse tells us how to want. The term used for “set your minds on” (phroneo) means to maintain a sustained, intentional focus upon the things that are above. Paul is calling his readers to radically focus upon the things above, casting aside all the concerns and cares of this world; to ignore the things of this world so as to better see an eternal reality. The best way to grow in your desire for something is to think about it. If you’re craving pizza, the more you think about it the more you want it. If you want to go see a new movie, the more you watch trailers for it and talk to people about it, the more excited you get about the movie. The word in vs. 2 is used to denote a relentless focus upon a singular goal or purpose.

In simple but profound language, Col. 3:1-2 calls us to set our hearts and our minds upon the things above. In the same way that a compass always points North, our hearts and our minds are to be unwaveringly directed upwards, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.

On Alcohol: Honor your Maker.

If you’re just joining us…

The last few weeks we’ve been talking about alcohol. First, we looked at the three most popular Christian beliefs about alcohol in America today. I explained why I think all those views ultimately fail to be biblically faithful. Then, we looked at the 4 types of Bible verses that any biblical theology of alcohol has to satisfy (aka “the gauntlet”). Finally, we made the distinction between “getting drunk” and “being drunken.” It’s been really fun for me to finally express these thoughts and I hope they’ve challenged you to rethink your beliefs about alcoholic consumption.

My 4th View

Without further ado, and in light of all that, I’d like to propose a 4th view: “wisely exercise your liberty in faith for God’s glory.”

I’ll break that down into chunks. First, wisdom determines when, where, and how much you drink. When I said that drinking is acceptable under certain conditions I meant exactly that. I think, especially in our American culture, Christians need to be extremely careful how we treat alcohol because we have created a self-imposed standard of sobriety. Like it or not, we need to play by the rules of our culture in the same way a missionary would respect the rules of his culture. Therefore, if having too many drinks negatively affects our witness to the world around us, then we need to abstain for God’s glory. Wisdom is tricky, because sometimes we’re faced with decisions where there isn’t a clear-cut right or wrong. For example, is it sinful to eat at McDonald’s every day? Maybe, but maybe not. However, is it wise to eat at McDonald’s everyday? Similarly, is it wise to have a drink in your specific situation?

Second, faith is essential to how you engage alcohol. In Romans 14:23, Paul is addressing the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols and he says “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” I think it’s pretty easy to carry this same standard over to alcohol. Whoever has doubts is condemned if he drinks, because the drinking is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul is addressing the same issue of food and he’s warning Timothy that some people will “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). Marriage is good; the problem is in the heart of the recipient. Food is good; the problem is in the heart of the recipient. Paul continues by saying that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim 4:4). Can you have a drink with a clear conscience, or do you feel as though you would be stepping over limits that God has established for you?

Finally, our entire lives should be devoted to God’s glory. For example, we’re instructed to be “alert and self-controlled” (1 Thess. 5:8) and over-exercising our ‘freedoms’ can quickly interfere with that calling. Titus 3:1 tells us to “be ready for every good work” and an idolatrous preoccupation with alcohol will prevent you from honoring that call. There are dozens of other verses (many of which have nothing to do specifically with alcohol) that call us to be wise, intentional, live quiet lives, etc. As Paul stated, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Cor. 9:19)” What deliberate, intentional limits have you set upon yourself (if any?) in order to glorify God?

The focus of our lives shouldn’t be using our freedom to the maximum extent possible. That mentality leads to the question “How close can I get to sin?” For example, that would lead me to ask “How much can I drink?” That’s kinda like asking “How fast can I drive South but still be headed North?” It doesn’t make sense! Either you’re seeking to honor God, or you’re not. The focus of our lives should be honoring God and reaching out to those around us. That mentality leads to the question “How can I wisely use my freedoms to glorify God?”

The friend who sent me the message that sparked this blog series is a very godly man and a dear friend. We met in 2010 while we were deployed and became very close friends almost overnight. During our deployment he abstained from all alcohol for the sake of his testimony. His co-workers knew the pre-Christian, drunkard that he used to be, so he showed them the difference that God had made in his life. He wisely used his freedom for God’s glory. I urge you, if alcohol abuse is part of your past, then sobriety should be part of your present; not out of a sense of legalism, but because of the power and credibility it gives your testimony. Not because getting drunk is a sin, but because being sober is a chance to witness to those around you.

An Exception

I’ll also add that underage drinking is a sin. Providing alcohol to a minor is a sin. Why? Because it is a violation of the law of the land and Christians are commanded to obey the law. Romans 13:1-2 is abundantly clear on this issue:

1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

In Conclusion

So, can a Christian drink alcohol? Yes. Should a Christian drink alcohol? It depends; how can you best honor God in any given situation? Would having a drink be a wise decision? Can you have a drink with a clear conscience? Does a beer make your witness less credible or does it make you more approachable? In Portland, I anticipate there may be times when having a beer might make plenty of sense because it makes me more relatable; it gives me a chance to get to know people in the hopes of sharing the Gospel with them. In East Tennessee (where I grew up), I don’t think it would be as wise, because so many people assume that Christians shouldn’t drink ever under any circumstances.

One possible objection to this stance could be something along the lines of this: “You can’t possibly believe or teach other people that getting drunk is permissible.” I would simply reply that perhaps we should start treating people like adults and point you to Colossians 2:16. Perhaps it’s time to start pushing people towards making wise decisions and living according to a set of values, instead of trying to force rules upon them that don’t always work in every situation. Instead of forcing man-made rules upon people, point them towards the beauty and joy of honoring God with their lives. Christ has set us free (John 8:36, Galatians 5:1). But we should be sobered by the realization that our freedom is meant to glorify God, not satisfy the flesh.

Another possible response to this would be something along the lines of “heck yeah, I’m going to celebrate with a kegger!” If that’s you, then you’ve missed the entire point. Remember, the point of our freedom is to honor God, not serve ourselves.

So what do you think? Am I totally off base or does this make more sense than some of the other ‘rules’ floating around? I feel like this works in all situations; which is part of the beauty of Biblical wisdom. I hope that this view has challenged you to rethink your take on alcohol and, ultimately, increases your freedom to serve, honor, and glorify God.