It was always about this point in December when I just knew I was going to crack under all the pressure. Christmas is still three days away. Three more days I have to be kind and courteous. And, of course, three more days of trying to concentrate enough to finish school! And if I crack and do something bad there’s a good chance I’ll find a lump of coal in my stocking and no presents under the tree. It’s a terrible strain to be a kid three days before Christmas!
Don’t complain about each other, brothers and sisters, so that you won’t be judged. Look! The judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of patient resolve and steadfastness.Look at how we honor those who have practiced endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job. And you have seen what the Lord has accomplished, for the Lord is full of compassion and mercy. -James 5:9-11 (CEB)
Growing up doesn’t remove the impatience from life, especially when we are suffering. And many people find the Christmas season actually seems to increase their suffering. These issues include sickness, depression, grief, and being misunderstood by the people we care about.
That’s what happened to the prophets who spoke in God’s Name before Christ came into this world. They warned the people of their sins, and they called them to turn and repent. But the people of Israel didn’t want to hear what they had to say. They rejected God’s messengers, mistreating them, beating them, imprisoning them, and even putting some of them to death.
Still the prophets faithfully warned the people about God’s coming wrath and punishment. But Israel continued its stubborn rebellion. The prophets kept preaching and nothing happened. Days turned into months, months turned into years, and yet sinners kept on sinning and everything remained the same. The prophets were ridiculed because their message didn’t seem to be coming true.
But the prophets learned patience. Though they suffered they knew God was true. When His time was right, all their prophecies would come true-both the warnings God had given in patience and the promises of a Savior God had made in love for His people.
We can learn from their patience. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God has given us many great promises. These include a final victory over sin, death, and hell and an eternal life with Him in the new heavens and the new earth. Christmas is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness. He keeps every promise He makes. God grant you patience through your sufferings, especially this Christmas.
I woke up this morning to hear rain falling on the roof. Then I couldn’t fall back asleep and I found myself pondering a great paradox. Our world versus God’s world. Curious?
We are surrounded by a culture that requires us to be happy. All the time. We are also surrounded by a self-help culture which assures us that by following these five easy steps, or discovering that secret, we can eliminate struggle and pain from our lives. Some of this can be helpful. Most of it is dangerous. To the degree that we can move out of sad self-obsession into the freedom of joyful giving, to the degree that we can benefit from overcoming certain bad habits or achieving more order in our daily living, we can be thankful. But the danger inherent in the implicit promises made by these surrounding cultures is that having reached the end of whatever process or achieving the “enlightenment” of whatever gnosis that is being sold, we will enter a state wherein the struggle is over.
Long before cognitive therapy, by more than a millennium and a half, the desert fathers practiced the examination of thoughts. A disciple would disclose to his abba the thoughts which filled his mind, and his abba, with the gift of discernment, would help him to see which thoughts were delusional, which were of the enemy. A brother who was troubled by what others said about him, was told to go into a cemetery and curse and revile the dead. When he reported back to his abba, his abba asked him how the dead responded. The disciple of course replied that they had said nothing. The abba then told his disciple to go into the cemetery and to praise and compliment the dead. Again he reported back in answer to his abba that the dead had said nothing. They had not been impacted or influenced in any way by his praises or his curses. His abba counseled him to be as the dead.
A brief examination of the thought that life can be without struggle will show similar results. It is a delusion. We will always have struggle. This struggle will not always be traumatic. Sometimes it will simply be in the myriad daily irritations that reveal our true characters. Nor will it always be continuous. We will have periods of respite and relief. But what we need to come to grips with is this simple and unadorned fact: for the Christian, struggle is normal.
Struggle Is Normal
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. -Philippians 2:12-13
This working out our own salvation with fear and trembling is the normative experience of the Christian. “Work out” here is a word connoting labor, an intensification of “work” so as to produce something. It can also mean conquer, overcome, prevail upon. This is not something one does without mental focus and an intensive exertion of the will. I say it again: this is the normal life for the Christian.
It is nice and wonderful to sing about victory in Jesus. We do well to remind ourselves that we are indeed “more than conquerors” by his Holy Spirit. But we ought not to think of our life in this world as the long and uninterrupted after-effects of being crowned on the victor’s stand. Rather, we would do well to think of our life in terms of a long march through many opponents to the final victory. Our latest victory is only a precursor to more struggle and, by God’s grace, more victories.
We have only to look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith.” Jesus did not simply suffer one temptation from Satan. He endured three. And though when he had finished that round of testing Jesus did indeed return “in the power of the Spirit,” nonetheless, his struggles were not over: “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Jesus was tested again and again by the religious leaders of his own people. He was rejected by the people of his hometown. One of his own disciples, whom he had chosen, betrayed him to death. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus again faced the Tempter. If Jesus was made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10), that is to say, in that the partaking of flesh and blood was required to conquer death, then how much more are we so made perfect as well? If Christ learned obedience through the things which he suffered (Hebrews 5:8), how much more do we so learn obedience?
In a world of ease and comfort that is twenty-first century North America, this reminder disturbs us:
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. -Hebrews 12:3-4
The primary meaning here is, of course, the Hebrew Christians had not yet resisted in their trials to the point of death. They hadn’t shed any blood. While we would not be wise to pull down a flagellum and start whacking ourselves about the neck and shoulders with it, the point remains: our struggles are minimal, comparatively speaking, to what Christians have faced throughout history and are facing in our present world. And yet, if Christ’s life is normative for us, and if he faced such struggles, then we will not escape them–if we want to be like him.
So, let us then accept this truth: for the Christian, struggle is normal. Our goal is not the easy, carefree life. Though we may be richly blessed by God with few cares. Rather, our goal is faithfulness. All struggle is a test: we will be faithful?
Struggle from the Outside
There are two kinds of struggles that we face, external and internal struggles. We cannot clearly draw impermeable boundaries, because sometimes our failures in our internal struggles lead to external struggles. If we do not maintain a healthy manner of living, we will experience illness. Gluttony leads to obesity; the internal gives way to the external.
Nonetheless, we do face external struggles that come upon us unbidden and even unjustly. We live in a fallen world. Disease and natural catastrophes come upon us whether we will it or not. Friends and co-workers betray us. We can be caught in financial disasters brought on by the greed and deception of others, no matter how fiscally soundly we attempt to manage our lives.
One of the dangers we face in our modernist world regarding these external trials is that we may simply attempt to relegate them to material cause-and-effect. We may fail to see that these things could very well be instances of spiritual warfare.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12
I do not mean to suggest that every external trial is from the devil. There is not a sin behind every sneeze. And it doesn’t take a legion of demons for people to act sinfully. Sometimes we just get sick. We live in a fallen world. Most of the time, people just sin, without infernal inducement.
But it is also the case that we are called to sober watchfulness because our
adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith. . . –1 Peter 5:8-9
We must always be mindful that we are part of a larger universe than that of which we are aware. The circles of our lives are small, but they are part of a much larger history. Satan has only one focus: to kill and to destroy. Again: We must be mindful that often external trials are brought on by our own lusts and passions (James 1:13-15). But that is not to say that our various external trials are not brought about by Satan so as to destroy our peace and faith, and to bring us into discouragement and faithlessness.
Let us speak more prosaically: If we are confronted with a flat tire on the way to work, and we know we are going to be late for an important meeting, it may well be that this is simply a flat tire. It might well be simple chance that we ran over the metal object and punctured our tire. Satan may not have caused the flat tire. But it now becomes a temptation for us. Do we lose our peace and joy in Christ as we fret and become anxious over the cost and time of repair, the lost work time and scrapped meeting? Or do we in peace reaffirm our trust in the sovereign God who takes notice when a sparrow falls to the ground and has numbered the hairs of our head? Do we look for the blessing in this struggle? And perhaps it is one piece in the adventure of faith as the cascade of interlocking events unfold to new pathways? Or maybe that blessing is nothing more than the uninterrupted peace and trust in Christ?
The key here is to have a constant awareness of and attentiveness to the presence of God in our lives. If we are constantly seeking his guidance, constantly orienting our hearts to his will, then we may confidently confront these external struggles. And if we are constantly attentive to Christ, we will face our internal struggles with more wisdom and strength.
Struggle from the Inside
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. -James 1:13-15
Even when faced with external trials, in reality what is the trial is the internal wrestling we undergo as we experience those trials. Even the physical sufferings of illness and injury are small compared to the mental anguish we face. It is not the flat tire itself, but the anxiety in our soul with which we wrestle.
This is because we have within us many inclinations and desires which turn us away from the Kingdom of God, and, giving them our attention, it is painful when these inclinations and desires are frustrated. Perhaps we are placing our faith in our job and fear losing it and this is productive of the anxiety our flat tire brings up from within our hearts. We do not rest in God’s promise of provision of our daily needs. We lie about certain matters because in our pride we would be embarrassed if the truth were known. We criticize and condemn others, killing them with our tongues, because we see in them the very sins and failures within us that we do not admit to ourselves.
The point of all temptation and testing is that we are faithful to Christ. But the effect of the successful struggle against our internal trials, those things brought about by our own sinful inclinations and desires, is that over time we are more and more cleansed of these inclinations. We put away lying and criticism because we have in humility learned to confess our sins and failures and to seek forgiveness, thus coming to a more honest and real appraisal of ourselves as “first among sinners.” We put away anxiety about our well-being and future, remembering God’s constant past provisions, and trusting him for today’s.
This struggle, to state the obvious, is not easy.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. -Matthew 11:12
One of the common interpretations of this passage throughout the life of the Church is that Christians “take” the Kingdom “by force” through the discipline of the body. That is to say, we resist our bodily inclinations and channel them through faith and reason along the pathways set by God. Christians deny themselves certain foods on Wednesdays and Fridays. We abstain from sex outside the bonds of marriage. We tithe of our income. We honor and revere the body, because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But, in the words of the Apostle Paul
Therefore I run not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified -1 Corinthians 9:26-27
But this bodily discipline is only a means, it is not the end. It is a means to conquer, by grace in the Spirit, the sinful inclinations and desires which well up from our mortal flesh and bring about the testings we experience. We struggle against flesh and blood, to be sure.
This is why the internal struggle is so important and primary. If we conquer pride, we will not be vexed when others criticize us, knowing that their mere words neither reflect reality nor have any impact on our true identity. If we conquer vainglory, we will not be tempted to such self-focus that we create strife and friction in our relationships by ignoring the needs of others and how we can serve them. If we maintain peace and joy in our hearts, the external struggles will not stir up the internal passions. If we conquer the internal passions, we will meet the external struggles with peace and joy.
Struggle Brings Joy
Here is the paradox: it is through struggle that we know peace and joy. More: it is instruggle that we can know deeply that peace and joy that are ours in Christ, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Trouble and pain focus our attention. Attention to our hearts and to Christ help us to uncover those places within us that need healing. Like any athlete, struggle makes us stronger. Resistance provides us the motivation for forward progress. No, struggle is not pleasant. Cleaning an oozing wound is smelly and painful. It is hard to admit how bad off we are.
And yet, here is the opportunity for great freedom. By acknowledging the constancy of our struggle, that such is normal for us, we are free to see in every moment God’s amazing providence for us. We are given the ability to interpret our life’s events with a new paradigm; not one of sorrow, vexation and frustration, but one of adventure, anticipation and joy. Yes, we will sorrow. Christ himself shed tears. Yet there is joy and peace for us.
Our task is simple. Pay attention. Be faithful. God will provide everything else we need. Strength to endure. Escape when temptation and testing is too much (1 Corinthians 10:13). Most of all joy and the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. –Matthew 5:16
Christianity is a religion of works, but not works leading unto salvation. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
We are saved by grace, but because of grace we are prone to say that there are no works in Christianity. But we cannot escape our Lord’s words in Matthew 5:16: let your light shine so that others may see your good works.
What we do demonstrates the truth of what we say. Christianity is a religion of words as well as works – we tell people about our faith, we study the Scriptures, we discuss the teachings of the Bible. But words alone are not enough. James tells us this in James 2:14:
What good is it, my brothers [and sisters], if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him [or her]?
If our claim is not demonstrated by our actions, is there any validity to our claim? When we tell people the truth about man and God, but we proceed to live as though there were no God, what will they think of our words? But when the world sees people who put their faith into action, it gives validity to our claims. The result in our lives is obedience and growth. The result in the world is people giving glory to God. So get out there, let your light shine.
‘I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay!!’ Do you remember that song from Sunday school as a kid? It kinda went on and on as you could just keep adding verses. As an adult, I look at those words and wonder do I really have the joy in my heart? Way down deep…to stay? The real kind of joy. The kind that you had when you were that child singing the lyrics to a song? What a question! How do I know if I have true joy or the fake pasted on kind?
That question started me on the hunt for the definition of JOY:the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; Delight. Don’t you love that? What is it that your heart desires? Is it God or something else? To possess true joy our only desire has to be for God. Our delight should be for God alone. Not our spouse, children, worldly possessions or success. The joy that only God can bring is indescribable, boundless, unending…I want that in my life, don’t you? Of course, things often get in the way of our true desire. Dreams. Hopes. Life in general. We find ourselves looking for the source of delight and joy.
So how do I get it this delight? Is it just an emotion or is it a choice? It can be both. I can feel joy when I am happy and things are going my way (don’t we all?), but what about when my world goes crazy and things are upside down? Am I still joyful? Do I still delight in God? My honest answer would be no or at least maybe…my emotions wouldn’t be ‘happy, happy, joy, joy”. But I could make the choice to be joyful in God regardless of my circumstances. That is where pure joy comes in. No matter what happens around me I choose to remain joyful in God.
My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. -James 1:2-3 (CEB)
Surely after all that he had gone through for the gospel and he still counted it as joy-we can to! Make the choice today to be joyful no matter what your circumstances. It is hard to do, but Jesus never promised us an easy road, did he?
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. -Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)
When Jesus tells us in Luke 11 and in Matthew 7 to ask, seek and to knock there is an element of persistency contained within these words. We can read them with the understanding that Jesus is expressing a sense of urgency that should not be let up on lightly. All who believe in God should keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking. Not to persuade God to come to our side over God’s will or win God’s favor by our persistency and dedication but to continually come before God’s presence until our souls are satisfied with His glorious response.
We ask with persistency to be heard and receive the desire of our petition. We seek with persistency to find God who which is not far from us and desires those who seek God. We knock with persistency to see the door that God has prepared for us to walk through. The door that God has opened to share the gospel with our co-worker who has had all doors closed on her. The door of ministry to the hurting and broken in our city.
When we persistently come to God with the same request sometimes the Holy Spirit will show us that our request is for our desires and not for God’s glory and God begins to change our request by changing our vision and changing our heart.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. -James 4:3 (NIV)
When we persistently come to God where our passions need to be changed God changes. Where our vision needs to be changed, God changes. Where our ears need to be attentive God tunes.
Soul satisfaction comes to the man, to the woman who persistently asks, seeks and knocks the Lord.
Below are verses to guide and strengthen a father’s faith. Take a few moments and consider how these verses can be applied to your life as a father. If you have one you find encouraging, please feel free to add it in the comment box below.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the childrenof one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemiesin the gate. -Psalm 127:4-5
STRENGTH shows itself in self-control and patience:
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. -Proverbs 16:32
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. -Proverbs 25:28
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. -Matthew 5:5
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint. -Isaiah 40:31
Come unto me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. - Matthew 11:28
When we get discouraged:
I’ve commanded you to be strong and brave. Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the Lord your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go. -Joshua 1:9
Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. -Micah 7:8b
All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever. -Micah 4:5
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! -Psalm 84:12
Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. -Psalm 40:4
The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him. -Proverbs 23:24
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. -Philippians 4:13
To remember when tempted:
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. -Joshua 1:8
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. -Psalm 1:1-3
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. -James 4:7
…for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. -1 John 4:4b
Over the course of the semester, I have had the opportunity to reflect on holiness, hospitality, and justice. We looked at different people who worked tirelessly to bring holiness and justice to the world. Many of the people we read about lost their careers, friends, freedom, and some ultimately their lives. They struggled against the American dream and American ideals (for some) or their equivalent in their own country and they paid for it. I cannot help but think of proverbs:
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them. –Proverbs 22:8-9, 22-23
As I write this paper, I am watching people around the country celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. They are celebrating the death of a truly evil person yet we cannot fully blame bin Laden and Al Qaeda for terrorism. In many cases, we have sowed injustice and brought it upon ourselves. We have oppressed many people of the world and have failed to practice holiness and hospitality but instead practiced injustice. As the proverb says, we reap what we sow.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? Therefore, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. –James 2:14-17
Given the destruction caused by earthquakes and tornadoes over the past few months, I am reminded of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of the city of New Orleans in 2005. My memories of Katrina revolve around friends of mine from that city, as well as some of the people who fled to Nashville, Tennessee, where we were living. In fact, I will never forget one woman’s sobbing plea in our church during a time of prayers. Here was a woman who lost people she loved—and everything she had.
Some Christians at the time suggested that this horribly destructive storm and the suffering it brought were signs of divine judgment on a Godless America. In one interview, Pat Robertson blamed Katrina on abortion, claiming that God was causing “the land to vomit us out,” because our society permits the “slaughter of the unborn.” In another, John Hagee argued that God struck New Orleans because it was “planning a sinful…homosexual rally.”
Now, even if I agreed with these two men about Christian ethics—, which I DON’T — I would still, have trouble believing in their kind of God. I speak as someone who believes in the wrath of God. Wrath is what God’s love looks like to us when we are drowning in sin. We feel our separation from God, and it is terrifying. However, do we really believe in a God who would punish a whole city, including the innocent, for the sake of the imagined sins of a few? In addition, do we really believe in a God who manipulates the weather and keeps lists of enemies? That’s not the God I know and love.
Yet there’s truly a sense in which we reap what we sow. We can’t be sure in this case (or in any particular case), but I don’t think it’s farfetched to blame Katrina on the changes we are causing to our climate. Surely, this kind of extreme event is becoming both more common and more severe. Moreover, we can be certain that the disproportionate effects of the storm on the poor and on people of color are a direct result of choices we’ve made. We failed to heed the warnings. The people of the Ninth Ward in particular suffered from poor housing to begin with and a pathetic government response once the storm hit land. While Katrina was not divine retribution perhaps, it was a symbol of what we sowed – inhospitality and injustice. We did not practice holiness and we saw what happened when a massive storm hit the United States.
In a recent interview, Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana called New Orleans “the place where the façade of American progress has been washed away.” He went on to observe, “Many would be happy if we could again apply the ‘make-up’ to the wound that affects us all, but such will not be the case. This wound is evident around our nation, but in New Orleans it has been exposed as the flood washed away the veneer.” In the same interview, Bishop Jenkins cited remarks Martin Luther King made about the Parable of the Good Samaritan in a famous sermon at Riverside Church in 1967:
On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.
In that very sermon, preached exactly one year before his martyrdom, King also called for a “revolution of values” in light of the Gospel and the common good. When injustice and oppression become known, we often react and work to prevent it or correct. In the months after Katrina, and in the months after the earthquake in Haiti, and likely in the months after the recent tornadoes, we will fight for the poor work to make their homes a better place and feel good about it. Then something else will happen and the attention will shift away. Oppression and injustice will reign again and they will be forgotten.
Now, with the present economic crisis, we see it more clearly. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, and lost jobs. Failed businesses and a banking system that nearly collapsed have made it clear that much of our economy was a house of cards. Yet will we see any real restructuring? Will we move beyond well-intentioned efforts to relieve the symptoms to the real medicine it will take to cure the disease? Will we transform the Jericho Road, so that men, women, and children will not be beaten and robbed there and thrown into ditches? Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, in the book of Proverbs, we are warned:
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.
In ancient Israel, the city gate was where people went for justice. In a democracy, the responsibility to create justice rests with each and all of us. As a society, we cannot afford to build prisons instead of schools. We cannot afford to pay people less than it takes to provide for their families—and to force immigrant workers into the shadows. We cannot afford to keep buying cheap, disposable junk on easy credit. No, we can’t afford to deny healthcare to millions—and watch others are squeezed for every last penny. Nor can we keep relying on fossil fuels as the fragile lynchpin of our entire way of life.
As a nation, we used to want more. The reality often fell short, but we used to aspire, at least, to be a beacon of liberty—a bustling, creative democracy with broadly shared prosperity and a wide-open welcome to strangers:
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Now, it seems, that door is shut. Our gated suburban communities, with their private security firms, reflect the image of Fortress America and the mercenaries who help fight our wars. How is it possible for a nation that lives like this to seek justice and the common good?
To be honest, our churches are complicit in the problems. Too often, we preach what Dietrich Bonheoffer named “cheap grace”—grace that soothes our consciences without calling us to repent and follow Christ. We may not all have bought into the false Gospel of the prosperity preachers and peddlers of hate. However, which of us can say our faith is as alive and vibrant as it ought to be?
We are at the beginning of a new day in the church. The church has the ability to step out and call out a lifestyle that encourages this behavior. The church can step up and fight for justice and hospitality. The church can work to bring about the kingdom of God in a new and tangible way. People are struggling and are lost but the church seems lost as well. The church is searching for an identity rather than being the church. The church is reinventing itself rather than being the church.
It is easy to become cynical and downcast in a time when things seem to be at their worst. However, we read about shining examples of people who are willing to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for the cause of the greater good. Not all is hopeless; not all is lost. We need to look at the examples of these people and find our own way to follow their example and continue the work they have started. Perhaps we will sacrifice more than we expect but in the end, the greater good, the kingdom of God, will be advanced. Isn’t that what it is all about?
The Internet beckons us each day with all the information we could ever desire. Pornography seduces us. New “friends” are lurking to lead us astray. Before we know it, we are hooked, and our bondage has begun.
Long before the internet, James wrote:
“But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” (1:14-15 NRSV).
This description shows that the process of sinning has not changed much over the span of time. These verses make it clear that there’s no reason to say “The Internet made me do it.” We have only ourselves to blame.
With Paul, we confess, “Wretched [hu]man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). But then comes the message of hope for us all: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25). Our faithful, forgiving God will help us face Internet temptations and “provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When I get a new translation, I read three passages slowly and carefully, with a Green NT near at hand, to give me a feel for the translation and the translation theory: I read the Sermon on the Mount, I read Romans 3, and then I read James. Usually I can get a good solid feel for the translation from these three passages.
I did this recently with The Common English Bible (New Testament). I like what I see here and I’ll keep this translation near me on my desk.
- What do you think of modern translations? What is best for public reading?
- What do you do? How do you assess a new translation? Do you want something that sounds familiar or something that startles you by change and makes you to think anew about the text? Which translations do you find most useful today?
115 leading Bible scholars participated; ecumenical and mainline; field tested by 77 reading specialists in 13 denominations. It comes out completely in 2011, four hundred years after the KJB. The CEB will be useful and good for personal reading, public reading, and for classroom study. It will have the Apocrypha when completed.
Here are a few big summary thoughts, and I’ve only dabbled in other passages:
First, it sides in general with an NIV or TNIV approach: it aims at accessibility, clarity and avoidance of unnecessary misunderstandings. Thus, it has “brothers and sisters” instead of “brothers” throughout. While some call this “inclusive” there is a solid fact suggesting this isn’t “inclusive” so much as “accurate.” Very often a “brothers” means “everyone” and not just “male Christians.” So that it is not an inclusive view so much as an accurate translation.
It has “human being” and “the Human One” instead of “Son of man,” and whether you like the former or not, the latter is often misunderstood. So, this rendering will push the reader to read more closely.
Second, this translation sometimes adds expressions to make the Bible clear where a more literal translation will prompt some to misunderstand. Some of these clarifications will be disputed, but I’d rather have an attempted clarification followed by discussion than as assumption that we are right when we are dead wrong. Thus, Matthew 5:44 has “those who harass you because of your faith” instead of the Greek’s ending with “harass you.” The “because of your faith” is added in order to clarify that the harassment was generated by faith and following Jesus.
At the end of the same paragraph we have “your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone” instead of just “complete” or, as in most translations, “perfect.” (Be perfect as your Father is perfect.) Here the perfection/completeness is seen, on the basis of solid contextual information, in the Father’s love for all.
Third, there’s a little New Perspective flash at times when it cames to translating “faith of Christ” (often translated “faith in Christ”) and the CEB has “faithfulness of Christ.” Thus, Romans 3:22 has “God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” and here we see a clear emphasis on the obedience of Christ. In 3:25 we have “a ransom that was paid” for the typical “redemption.” And then we have “the place of sacrifice where mercy is found” and this has been often understood more in terms of propitiation.
James 2:1 has the “faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ” — and there again we have a “faith of Christ” taken to refer to Christ’s faithfulness and not our faith in Christ. But in the famous justification passage of James 2:14-26 they translated “showed to be righteous” instead of “justified.” Not all agree, but having a translation like this will yield to fruitful study and inquiry.
Fourth, there is variety: I’m happy to say the translators didn’t get too wooden. Sometimes the word is “righteousness” and other times it is “justice” and I’m not sure the rationale for each, but there’s two sides to the Hebrew term and therefore also to the background for the NT terms and I like this ambivalence and variety.
Fifth, everywhere the sentence structure is clean and clear; they’re doing their dead-level best to translate so that the Bible makes sense. I’m not sure I like “Happy” in the beatitudes, but I think as many will be helped by “Happy” as are led into confusion by “Blessed.”