Category Archives: Topical

Post that focuses on one specific topic like marriage, the Holy Spirit, etc. These may or may not be focused on one Bible verse.

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 (which boasts almost a quarter-million questions) and did an advanced Google search on the site. Here are my results.

First, I searched 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.”

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.

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.

On Alcohol: Some Helpful Distinctions

Last week, we looked at the three most prevalent views that American Christians seem to believe about alcohol. We also explored the flaws with all three of those views and I promised to propose a 4th view that I think is more biblical. But before I do that, I want to take some time to make sure we’re on the same page by making some helpful distinctions.

The Gauntlet

First, any satisfactory view on alcohol has to be reconcilable with at least four different types of Bible verses (you may be able to think of more, if so please comment and let me know). I’ve nicknamed this group “the gauntlet.”

  1. There are verses like Proverbs 20:1 or Proverbs 21:17 that are very clearly against drunkards and those who idolize alcohol.
  2. But then you’ve got verses like Song of Solomon 8:2 or 1 Kings 4:20, which very clearly permit (and maybe even encourage?) alcoholic consumption during times of celebration.
  3. Next you find verses like 1 Timothy 5:23, which actually instruct the usage of alcohol (at least in small amounts). As far as I can surmise, these verses are extremely rare and the only other one I know of right now is Ecclesiastes 9:7.
  4. But, the most challenging for any view to incorporate is the account of Jesus’ first miracle in John 2:1-10. He essentially gave 120-180 gallons of wine to people who had already had “too much to drink” for them to be able to tell the difference between good wine and bad wine. In other words, Jesus gave more wine to people who were already drunk! He did this in a house in a small village in the middle of the desert. I’m going to guess there were, at most, 100 adults in the crowd (this is just a guess, but even if there were 500 that’s about 40 ounces of wine per adult). And, by the way, Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), so the burden of understanding how Jesus’ actions were not sinful rests on us.

Hear me clearly: no view is complete until it addresses all four of these different types of verses/passages. A failure for any “rule” to be flexible enough to apply to all four of these passages should cause us to reject it.

Getting Drunk vs. Being Drunken

Second, I think a distinction needs to be made between “getting drunk” and “drunkenness.” Food is the perfect example: there’s a huge difference between “feasting” and “gluttony.” We all feast on Thanksgiving, but if we were to follow an endless pattern of gluttony (i.e. Thanksgiving dinner for every dinner), we would soon find ourselves morbidly obese with a host of health problems. In the same way, I believe that occasional drinking (even to the degree of being drunk) is acceptable under certain conditions but a continual lifestyle of drunkenness is sinful.

The difference is essentially this: are you adding alcohol to something or are you going to alcohol for something? Is it a spice added to a celebration or is it an obsession that provides comfort? There’s a huge difference between those two mentalities, but few people I know have actually taken the time to consider such a possibility. We just assume that all forms of alcoholic consumption are the same, but they’re not. One is merry-making; the other is idol-making.

Why the hair-splitting?

The reason I make this distinction is because Jesus forces me to. As I mentioned earlier, the greatest challenge to any theology of alcohol is the miracle of Jesus turning water to wine. The way I understand this part of the Gospel is that Jesus was at a celebration in a culture that did not have the weird views on alcohol that we do. They were all celebrating (thus adding alcohol to something) and no one there had a troubled conscience by the drinking. Thus, I feel it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that an occasional indulgence is actually permissible, whereas a lifestyle of drunkenness is sinful.

Now, please don’t take this where I’m not taking it! I never said that a binge is a wise idea, nor do I plan on it. Also, I don’t honestly think anyone who is trying to honor God is going to take the drinking of alcohol that far. But, how else do you describe 150 gallons as the refill at a wedding?! So, now that we’ve laid down the gauntlet and made a few distinctions, I’m ready to propose my view on alcohol…next week!

On Alcohol: Modern Views & Their Flaws

In case you haven’t been a Christian long, let me let you in on a little secret: there’s a lot of disagreement over whether or not Christians can or even should drink alcohol. In fact, if you ask 4 Christians about alcohol, you’re likely to get 5 opinions! Recently a dear friend contacted me to share a 37-page PDF that contained every Bible verse relating to alcohol. It’s the fruit of a year of reading the Bible and he’s just now beginning to study the topic in depth! He asked me and another friend of his if we had any thoughts on the issue so here’s what I told him. I hope that you’ll read this with an open mind and let me know what you think of it.

Regarding the use/consumption of alcohol, the way I see it, there are essentially three stances in modern American Evangelicalism:

  1. All forms of alcoholic consumption are evil.
  2. Light moderation is acceptable, but getting drunk is a sin.
  3. My “Christian freedom” lets me do whatever I want, therefore all things are permissible.

I think all three are flawed and I’ll critique each in turn.

  1. All forms of alcoholic consumption are evil. This view is flawed because, as far as I’ve been able to discern, it’s rooted in 19th & 20th century prohibition-ism and is directly contradicted by the Bible. I’m going to assume we all agree with this, are aware of 1 Tim 5:23 and other similar verses, and can move on. (Truth be told, I don’t know how anyone actually defends this stance biblically, although there are plenty of places online where they try.)
  2. Light moderation is acceptable, but getting drunk is a sin. While this view might be the most prevalent today, I think it is actually more restrictive than the Bible and, for that reason I’m hesitant to adopt this rule. We should never try to be “more biblical than Jesus.” I’ll explain why I believe this in a future post, but first…
  3. My “Christian freedom” lets me do whatever I want, therefore all things are permissible. While it is true that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1), he did this so  that we would not fall back into slavery. I think everyone has seen too much “liberty” taken by far too many Christians, especially the doubting world. We all probably know at least one guy (read: young, restless and reformed) who drinks, smokes, and cusses…all in the name of ‘Christian liberty.’ Meanwhile, he has ambitions to go to seminary or to lead in some form of ministry in the future. Personally, when it comes to guys like this, I don’t think his conduct is above reproach (1Tim 3:2). I don’t think he is living in a wise, intentional way that honors God (Eph. 5:16). Nor do I think he cares that he is being a stumbling block to many of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 14:13, 1 Cor. 8:9). In the end, I think, when it comes to a guy like this, his testimony is tarnished and he is robbed of his credibility because he’s too busy having a good, carnal time. I think John MacArthur said it best: “one cannot be genuinely “Reformed” and deliberately worldly at the same time. The two things are inconsistent and incompatible.” Ironically, I believe guys like this are slaves to their freedoms.

As far as I can tell, those are the three predominant views that most modern Christians subscribe to. If you can think of any others that don’t fall into those three categories, please let me know. Of course, I’ll be writing more on this topic, so very soon you’ll see a 4th view!

Kill Sin. Grow in Grace.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… (Romans 8:28-29a)

All those whom God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s a mighty big undertaking: from sinner to saint; from wretched to righteous; from villainous to virtuous. It almost seems impossible! No wonder it takes a lifetime. But if you’re like me, you probably know the ultimate destination—to be conformed to the image of Christ—but aren’t sure what the path looks like. Well I think Colossians 3:5-14 provides some highly practical advice.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

There are two simple–simple, not easy–tasks in this passage!

  1. Putting off.
  2. Putting on.

While incredibly simple, this is a challenging process that, by the Grace of God and with the power of the Holy Spirit, will take you the rest of your life. In Christ Formed in You, Brian Hedges calls this two-step process ‘mortification’ and ‘vivification.’ Hedges devotes an entire chapter to the concept of mortification, and he defines it by saying, “Simply put, mortification is killing sin. This includes putting to death both sinful actions (deeds) and the sinful motivations (passions and desires) which produce them” (Pg. 135). He also devotes an entire chapter to vivification, but he very simply defines it as “a lifelong, active, imitation of Jesus” (150).

Thus, the idea is that we mortify—or put to death—everything that has to do with the flesh and we vivify—or bring to life—everything that is of the Spirit. With those two categories in mind, look at this list from Colossians 3:5-14:

  • Mortify or put off:
    • Sexual immorality
    • Impurity
    • Passion
    • Evil desire
    • Covetousness/Idolatry
    • Anger
    • Wrath
    • Malice
    • Slander
    • Obscene talk
    • Lying
  • Vivify or put on:
    • Knowledge of God
    • Compassionate hearts
    • Kindness
    • Humility
    • Meekness
    • Patience
    • Forbearance
    • Forgiveness
    • Love

Now, here’s where the idea of putting off/putting on actually gets practical. It starts with a simple realization: For every vice, there is an equal and opposite virtue. Here are a couple examples: lust vs. purity; greed vs. generosity; selfishness vs. serving others; gossip vs. discretion; anger vs. patience, etc.

A common problem is that many Christians only focus on their vices. We try over and over to ‘put off’ those vices only to find ourselves discouraged and backslidden. They become frustrated because they seldom (if ever) focus on the corresponding virtues, which is why they fail to see progress and become discouraged.

It’s as though their goal is to “not be fat.” They focus their complete attention on “not being fat” all the while forgetting that they should instead focus on proper diet and exercise. Jesus told a parable about this that used to really confuse me. Both Luke 11:24-26 and Matthew 12:43-45 record this parable and essentially Jesus tells the story of an unclean spirit that a person kicks out of their house. The spirit later returns to find the house has undergone some home improvement projects but is still empty. So he settles back in and the house is in a worse state than it was in the first place. This is how it is when we try to just kick out a vice without filling our house with the corresponding virtue.

So here’s a two-part challenge:

  1. Instead of only focusing on putting off impatience, also focus on putting on patience. Instead of focusing only on putting off lust, also focus on purity. Instead of focusing only on putting off being greedy, focus also on putting on generosity. Take the time to write down the name of a specific vice you’re struggling to put off, and then write down the specific virtue you hope to put on to replace it.
  2. Confess that struggle to a fellow Christian and seek their accountability. You have nothing to be ashamed of because we all struggle with our own sins. If you believe you’re the only one struggling, you are believing a lie. Destroy the power of the flesh by bringing it out into the light.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col. 3:15).

Selfish Ambition and Vain Conceit

It was the second half of 2005. I was 19, had just arrived at my first duty-station of Alaska, and had some big plans. First of all, I was going to sign up to go to the Air Force Academy. I had made this decision because, after listening to multiple general officers tell their stories, I realized that the Academy was my best shot at making general. I figured I would give the Air Force 30 or so years before retiring and figuring out what I wanted to conquer next. If I had to pick one word to describe myself, it would have been ambitious. I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure I was successful in my military career.

It was about then that I first read Philippians 2:3, which says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Uh oh. I had the sudden and horrifying realization that all my plans were nothing more than “selfish ambition.” Truly, at that point the only thing that motivated me was “vain conceit.” I was selfish and conceited; and I knew it. But, truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what else to do or how else to be.

But then it got worse! I made the mistake of joining a Bible study group that happened to be working through 1 John and I ran across this: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17).” Not only had I realized that all I cared about was myself, but now I realized that all my goals and plans were ultimately pointless because they were unlikely to outlive even my short life. I would never leave a legacy because I would never actually devote myself to a lasting cause. So what did I have to live for? What could be my purpose?

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, God delivered the death-blow to my pride when I decided to start reading through the Gospels for myself and was pierced by this arrow: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).” I realized that I had a choice: either build up God’s eternal Kingdom, or pour my life into building a castle of sand that would quickly be washed away by the waves of time.

My motives: selfish and conceited.
My plans: pointless and ephemeral.
My ‘kingdom’: short-lived and pitiful.

It all came to a head one night. It was a Saturday night in the Fall of 2005 and I was just a little drunk. I was looking at the second half of my strongly made Jack & Coke—mostly Jack with a dash of Coke, really—and I was trying to calculate how much of it I could drink and still be sober for choir practice the next morning (yup, you read that right). If I finished the drink, they’d probably be able to smell the alcohol on my breath and either way I would definitely feel terrible. So there I sat, 19 years old—which meant I was drinking underage, by the way—trying to figure out how drunk I should get when the Holy Spirit whispered three words in my ears. They were three words I’d ignored for at least 3-4 years up until that point but deep down inside I knew them to be true. In fact, those three words had bothered me ever since I started going to church in high school and claiming to be a Christian while still smoking pot, popping pills, drinking alcohol, cussing like a sailor, and messing around with girls. Those three words: “you’re a hypocrite.” Somehow I had managed to ignore those words while I pursued idol after idol: an Air Force career, impure dating relationships, worldly success. But at last, the Holy Spirit convicted me; I was “cut to the heart” as Luke said in Acts 2:37. I realized that I was on a path that would never lead me to an intimate relationship with God; I was on a path that would never make me the man I always wanted to be. I was pursuing idols, not God. It was time to try something else.

And so I did. And I haven’t looked back since. So what’s holding you back? Are you building your own short-lived kingdom or are you devoting your life to an eternal Kingdom? Are your plans eternal or vaporous? Are your motives selfish or selfless? I can’t answer those questions for you, but I promise you one thing: Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2)

Hate Sin.

Recently I ran across this Facebook status from a pastor friend of mine:

Yesterday, I ran across that age-old idea of “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” My response was, “Or just love the sinner?” I’m pretty sure the world doesn’t need anymore of my hatred, nor can I find any scriptural evidence where hatred trumps love.
So, here’s to Love!

First, I’ll say that it is completely possible I misunderstood the intention of that status update and that this blog post is a complete waste of time.

Second, I completely agree that Christians need to grow in love and grace. This is an area where we all fall short because we are imperfect humans. I know this to be true most vividly in my own heart because I know myself most truly. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!

I think part of loving others more truly though, is by helping them, not tolerating that which is most lethal to them. I love my daughter, which is why, if I saw her playing with a cobra, I would rescue her! I love my wife, which is why, if I saw my wife running across an interstate during rush hour with ear buds in and a blindfold on, I would rescue her!

There were a couple things that I thought were a little unclear in the status. Most specifically, what does the phrase “nor can I find any scriptural evidence where hatred trumps love” mean? Does that mean there are no Bible verses where we’re told to hate something? That’s not true (as demonstrated below). Truthfully, you won’t find something if you don’t look for it.

I’ve spent some time reflecting on this status update and have decided that I very strongly disagree for a couple of reasons (in no particular order).

  1. Not only is this statement unbiblical, it’s actually counter-Biblical (which is far worse). Scripture is replete with verses that either directly tell us to hate sin or show us that loving God leads to hating sin. Please allow me to demonstrate:
    • Proverbs 8:13: To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.
    • Psalm 5:5: The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong… (This verse actually makes it sound like God hates the sinner and the sin.)
    • Psalm 11:5: The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion. (Like the previous one, this verse also makes it sound like God hates the sinner and the sin.)
    • Psalm 97:10: Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
    • Psalm 119:104: I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.
    • Psalm 119:128: and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.
    • Proverbs 13:5: The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves.
    • 2 Chronicles 19:2: Jehu the seer, the son of Hanani, went out to meet him and said to the king, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, the wrath of the LORD is on you. (This verse makes it sound as though we shouldn’t love those who hate the Lord.)
    • Ezekiel 35:6: therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will give you over to bloodshed and it will pursue you. Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.
    • Amos 5:15: Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. (This is a direct command to hate evil.)
    • Romans 12:9: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Another direct, clear command to hate evil.)
  2. This statement doesn’t actually make sense when you plug specific sins into it. For example:
    • “Love the pedophile but hate pedophilia? Or just love the pedophile?”
    • “Love the hungry but hate starvation? Or just love the hungry?”
    • “Love the naked but hate nakedness? Or just love the naked?”
    • “Love the raped but hate raping? Or just love the raped?”
    • “Love the lonely but hate loneliness? Or just love the lonely?”
    • “Love the Godless but hate Godlessness? Or just love the Godless?”
    • “Love the idolater but hate idolatry? Or just love the idolater?”
    • “Love the sinner but hate sin? Or just love the sinner?”
  3. You can’t “love” a person and NOT hate that which is forever tarnishing and damning their eternal soul. It would be like someone finding out their spouse has an aggressive, lethal form of cancer and simply saying, “I love my wife but don’t hate the cancer that is destroying her body.” Love does not tolerate sin in others (1 Cor. 13:6), but seeks what is best for their soul.
  4. As my pastor so eloquently said, “GRACE and TOLERANCE are different. Grace points us toward truth (Tit. 2:11-14); tolerance let’s us run freely from it. Tricky.” Tolerating sin in someone’s life is not loving them. Loving them is helping them as they pursue holiness.
  5. Christ suffered for sins (1 Peter 3:18), therefore, if we love Christ, we must hate the thing which caused Him to suffer.
  6. Scot McKnight wrote an excellent article a while back. Here are some pertinent excerpts:
    • When we don’t see the gravity of sin, we won’t be reliant upon God for the grace of sanctification and transformation, and holiness won’t be our aim in life.
    • Humans ache to rule the cosmos. They want to be God. The ache to be God and acting as if we are God are what sin is all about.
    • Sin, at its core, usurps God’s place in this world and puts us there instead.
    • Sin damages our self-identity, changes our relations with God from love and trust to fear and mistrust, damages our loving union with one another to become a war of wills against one another, and sin also has cosmic effects—we find the world to be red in tooth and claw.
    • The Bible tells us not only that God is gracious and loving, but it reveals an unforgettable statement in Leviticus: “Be holy because I am holy.” Let us not forget we are summoned by God to make our pursuit in life a pursuit that is simultaneously after love and after holiness.
  7. Sin is toxic. James 1:13-15 and Romans 5:12 are clear where sin leads: death! How can we not hate that which kills everything it touches and alienates us from our Creator?
  8. This was posted by a pastor! A pastor who doesn’t hate sin is like an oncologist who doesn’t hate cancer, a fitness-guru who doesn’t hate obesity, a judge who doesn’t hate corruption, a teacher who doesn’t hate illiteracy, a policeman who doesn’t hate violence, or a fireman who doesn’t hate arson. In effect, what’s the point?

In conclusion, I think that a proper understanding of sin’s blatant affront to God’s character leaves us no option but to hate sin. Our love of God will produce a natural hatred of sin. Love of God is the point, but hatred of sin is an inevitable by-product. So, here’s to love!

If we would make it evident that our conversion is sound we must loathe and hate sin from the heart; now a man shall know his hatred of evil to be true, first if it be universal. He that hates sin truly hates all sin. Secondly, where there is true hatred it is fixed; there is no appeasing it, but by abolishing the thing it hates. Thirdly, hatred is a more rooted affection than anger; anger may be appeased, but hatred is against the whole kind. Fourthly, if our hatred be true, we hate all evil in ourselves first, and then in others. He that hates a toad would hate it most in his own bosom. Many like Judah are severe in censuring others but are partial to themselves (Genesis 38:24). Fifthly, he that hates sin truly, hates the greatest sin in the greatest measure; he hates all evil in a just proportion. Sixthly, our hatred is right if we can endure admonition and reproof for sin and not be enraged with him that tells us of it; therefore those that swell against reproof, hate not sin; only with this caution, it may be done with such indiscretion and self-love that a man may hate the reprover’s proud manner. In disclosing our hatred of sin in others, we must consider our calling; it must be done in a sweet temper, reserving due respect to those to whom reproof is offered, that it may be done out of true zeal, and not out of anger nor pride.

– Richard Sibbes (via Tim Challies)

Just Enjoying the Scenery

Imagine, for just one moment, that you’re sitting on the deck of an elegant cruise ship. You’re wearing a nice cozy bathrobe over your swim suit. The stars are out in full force and have perfectly framed the crescent moon. The lunar glow is reflecting off the waves and you’re pretty sure you just saw a dolphin gracefully leap into the air. Perhaps you’re smoking a cigar or sipping a nice cup of tea. You enjoy the warmth as it permeates you. You’re enjoying the briny scent of waves gently lapping against the hull of this mighty ship. The only problem is all the noise!

Apparently the ship–a ship even God couldn’t sink–had a bit of a side-scrape with an iceberg and now everyone is worried about dying. What’s that all about? Their fear is understandable, after all, there aren’t enough life rafts, are there? But you don’t mind because you’re way smarter than all of them. You found a spare life raft and have stowed it away for just the right time. When your time comes, you’ll nonchalantly climb right into your life raft and float to safety. Your real big concern is whether or not you’ll have to get your feet wet climbing into your raft, but hey, not everything comes easy, does it?

But for now, it would be nice if you could just enjoy your robe, cigar, and the evening. Sure, you could fit 8 people in that life-raft, but who wants to go through the trouble of getting to know those people? What if it’s inconvenient? You might have to give up some of your luxuries. What if one of the people you meet annoys you? Or even worse, what if they reject your offer? Surely better to let them perish than telling them you have a life boat.

“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6)”

Whether we like it or not, we have a very short span of time to make an eternal difference in the lives of those we encounter. Will you simply enjoy the scenery this world has to offer or will you be intentional about how you use this short life you’ve been given? This is a question you must answer every day.