A high-profile college athlete at a top-ranked university is arrested. A mega-church pastor confess to a series of “moral failures” and resigns in shame. Not far away a high-powered politician is suddenly ensnared in a scandal that threatens to end her political career.
Or … a walk-on athlete at a small college is arrested while the pastor of a tiny church is caught “borrowing” from the church offerings, and a nobody politician in a bland, anonymous suburb resigns after being caught accepting bribes from a contractor.
Did I take these cases from this week’s news? No, but I suppose I could have. It seems like these sort of things happen often enough.
I’ve been camping out in Proverbs lately, and I think there may be a connection between the very visible figures in the first paragraph and the “invisible” ones in the second paragraph. It just could be that, no mater the level of their power or influence, that they just flunked life’s greatest test.
Proverbs 27:21 lays it out clearly. Just as the refining pot reveals the purity of genuine silver and the furnace does the same for gold, the great test of a human being is the praise that he or she receives, not the obstacles and opposition that one overcomes.
Some think that life’s greatest tragedies, hurts and challenges are what reveal one’s true character. I’m sure there is some truth to that, but this proverb advises that how one responds to praise and adulation is what reveals the authenticity of our moral makeup.
We’ve all been through those intense times of trial when we hunker down, hold on and make it through. I’m beginning to think, however, that the most dangerous moment of life is when all is going well and people are telling us how wonderful we are. Is praise a turn-on for you?
What do you think?
I believe the Bible. I believe every word of it. I also believe that the first and most important truth to properly understand the Bible is to read it in its proper context. There is a biblical context, historical, cultural, grammatical and literary context. The Bible does not say what we want it say, or what we think it says; it means what it was written to say in its original context.
When I came to faith as a young man I was fortunate enough to find a church that knew to ground me in the essentials of the faith and exposed me to some of the finest Bible teachers of that generation. I suppose that is where my passion for making disciples comes from and the motivation to provide materials for spiritual growth such as the Directions study. Through decades of walking with God those essential biblical truths remain unchanged in my life like an anchor. With maturity, however, the more I have learned about culture, history, language and literature in biblical times has led me to a far better understanding of many details of the scriptures. I discovered that the way I approached some details of scripture was based more in tradition, ignorance or what I had always heard or supposed than on what the passage truly says within its proper context.
Take biblical proverbs for example, both those in the Book of Proverbs and those found elsewhere. In the Western world we often approach proverbs as though they were absolute, unconditional promises or case law. The reality is that a proverb is a wisdom saying, a pithy piece of sage advice, a generalized principle to guide us along the path of life. When we grasp them too tightly, we are in danger of squeezing the truth out of them. They were written as wisdom guidelines, not as law or unconditional promises.
Proverbs 22:6 says to Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Some people see this proverb as an absolute promise that proper child rearing without question results in proper adult behavior. Culturally, the Hebrews would have understood this proverb as sage advice on child rearing, not as a promise or legally binding. The proverb extols good parenting that focuses on instilling good values and practices in the child, not as a promise that would short-circuit the child’s free will to choose good or evil.
We all know cases where a family faithful raises several children in the same environment with the same training and values. Often, one or more the children make poor choices that set their lives on a problematic course. Does this mean that the good parenting has been worthless? Of course not! The same training that guides some children on the right path through life is still resident in those who choose differently. Perhaps later on that good training will be remembered, applied and result in transformation. Perhaps not, but the training is still there as a constant witness of truth and righteousness.
In English culture and language you may have heard your grandparents say an English proverb, A stitch in time sames nine. The point of the proverb is to avoid procrastination, not whether a single timely stitch saves nine others. It might save six, or 90. The point is not the literal meaning of the words but to warn against procrastination. Do it now and it will save you later.
A final example is Proverbs 10:27 saying, The fear of the LORD prolongs days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened. Is this an absolute promise that people who fear God will live longer in every case than those who are wicked? If that’s the case then God is not very faithful to keep this promise. We have all know God-fearing people whose lives have been (to us) cut short. It’s better to understand this as it was meant to say that those who fear God will live the full course of their intended days and in the fullness God intends, instead of cutting short God purposes in their lives as a consequence of wickedness.
I think of a wonderful couple in our church who lost a beautiful little daughter to a tragic accident. They had adopted this little girl and loved her with a love that few could even comprehend. To see that young life ended before anyone could expect was devastating. Nothing can totally soothe that pain or erase those memories. Did God not keep this promise n Proverbs 10? Those of us who know this family know that no one could have done a better job of loving, raising and savoring every moment of her short life. Together they lived a longer, fuller, more complete life than many families could do in decades. That doesn’t answer all the questions, of course, nor does it replace the void left by that little life. But, I believe it far better to see this proverb for what it is rather than to see it as an absolute promise that God failed to keep.
Seen in their proper context, the proverbs take on a richer, fuller meaning and offer far more application to any culture and time. Proper understanding also avoids false expectations and the disappointment that inevitably results.
Just some stuff that was rolling around in my head as I have been reading through Proverbs.
Last week I was in Monterrey, Mexico video taping a module hermeneutics for our Spanish-language institute by extension Qué Dice la Biblia. This is one of our basic courses, but I was made aware that we taped it about 20 years ago. Ouch! It was definitely in need of an update.
One day I was reflecting while enjoying lunch with the pastor of the church where we were doing the video. He is both a successful pastor and successful businessman. On top of that he has a beautiful family. I’ve know him since he was eleven! I’ve watched him grow up. We’ve traveled and partnered together through Europe and the Middle East.
Last Thursday night I was honored to perform the wedding ceremony for Emily, my faithful executive assistant for many years until January. Same thing – I watched her grow up to become the wonderful woman she is today. Her husband is from Tunisia.
Marco just returned from a trip and was telling me of a young woman who is the daughter of one of long-time partners in Latin America. She told her story of having grown up listening to me preach and teach and sharing how that helped shape her life. She is now an M.D. and soon to be headed to Asia as a Bible translator.
Wednesday night a young woman and recent college grad told me she was going to Paris and Amsterdam with us this year for the seminar I’ve done for years. As she told me this I remember holding her in my arms when she was an infant.
Sometimes I go so fast life begins to blur. So, as I was in this reflective funk (a good funk), I paused to allow my mind to reflect back on relationships and friendships that have endured for many, many years. God made us to be social beings. He made us so that it is not good for us to be alone. Dealing with people always results in misunderstanding and hurt. But the benefit of long term relationship far outweighs any difficulty.
You know, it’s amazing what can happen when you commit to something for the long haul. We all make mistakes along the way, but a lifetime of commitment has amazing power. Relationships are a treasure. Don’t move so fast that you fail to leave footprints and fingerprints. Learning to love well is well worth the effort.
What’s a Namkeli and why would I be interested in an update? Namkeli is a fictitious name for a very real people who live in a dangerously contentious area of western Africa. They are a tribal group almost 200,000 strong who have never had a single verse of scripture in their language. Last September Graceway raised approximately a quarter of a million dollars to crank up Phase One of the Namkeli translation, beginning with Luke/Acts.
Here’s the update: The first two chapters of Luke have been completed and audio recordings are being distributed (many are illiterate). Chapters 3-7 are scheduled to be checked by consultants in March. Drafts of chapters 8-11 are waiting. Momentum is building among 20-30 Namkeli churches. The chief translator is still divided 50/50 between being pastor of a church and translating, and is praying about devoting full time to the translation. A Norwegian mission is interested in coming online and sending a couple to assist. Through this process the resources and accountability have been good.
Our partner in this project is The Seed Company, an offshoot and partner of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Taking the wonderful experience, legacy and knowledge of Wycliffe, TSC utilizes mother tongue speakers as translators, training and equipping them to translate the scriptures into their native language rather than depend on foreign workers to come and spend years learning usually at least two additional languages to even begin translation. By doing this they dramatically cut costs and time and also deliver what is normally a better end product. Instead, foreign translation specialists do the training, supervision,coaching and editing. Great concept!
You might remember that during September we used the book of Jonah to speak of what I called the ultimate injustice issue – that many people hear the word of God repeatedly while millions have never heard it once. Almost 2,000 languages are still waiting to see a single verse of scripture. Meanwhile, with all of our obscene resources in America, we sit on a pile of over 900 different translations of the Bible and portions, obsessing with ministering to ourselves in every way possible. We see an endless proliferation of hip, boutique churches of every size, color, shape, smell and persuasion imaginable. When not obsessing with ministering to ourselves, we argue and divide over things like Calvinism and Reformed theology versus everything else, nuances of spiritual gifts, tweaks of methodology, how we “do church” and which Bible version is the best, while almost half the world’s population sits in darkness. (Go ahead. Ask me what I really think).
Good doctrine and good Bible translations are obviously important. And as Jesus followers we should be committed to doing justice in a world of injustice wherever God grants opportunity. But, what of the almost 2,000 languages that cannot even enter into the discussion because THEY HAVE NO BIBLE – not a single verse!
Graceway is part of the same materialistic, consumer-driven, superficial culture as other Americans. I do not want to pretend that we are better than anyone else and immune from these serious issues. However, I pray that we can move in God’s direction and against the direction of the world system. We can’t do it all and we can’t even do as much as we would like all at once. What we CAN do is take good, solid steps in the right direction one at a time. Thanks, to your giving and prayers, Graceway, last year the New Testament in a tribal language of Mexico was dedicated and is in full loving use. Another Mexican language has been finished and awaiting dedication in the near future. Yet another Mexican language sponsored in part by Graceway is progressing strongly toward completing their Old Testament. We are also partners in working toward the completion of the New Testament in one of the Kurdish languages.
I call the lack of scripture in so many languages the ultimate injustice because without God’s truth all of our valiant efforts to confront all the other injustices from poverty to human trafficking to various forms of oppression are simply not sustainable. We can put forth amazing efforts, but only God’s truth can transform lives from the inside out.
Finally, to call the absence of scripture in so many languages the ultimate injustice does NOT mean that we simply ignore everything else. It also does not mean that we have to struggle to achieve some sort of balance between one and the other. The mandate of scripture is clear. We have the obligation to do both. Period.
Toward this end, I am going to spend the entire month of March on Luke’s depiction of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We will do our best to educate the assembly in the biblical responsibilities involved in learning to love our neighbor well and make everyone aware of some of the wonderful partners we have in our own community to address issues of injustice and need. And, we will roll out some very exciting new initiatives and opportunities that have some pretty astounding potential impact. Pray with me about all this. And, if we would do this, we need all the help we can get. Use your social network to get the word out.
And they are both necessary and good. One type is in the classroom; the other type takes place in the context of relationships.
I have taught expository preaching for many years. When I did my PhD, my research revolved around using a workshop method to help experienced Latin American pastors advance in their expository preaching skills. My research and data suggested that such a workshop can indeed offer significant improvement. Fortunately my academic committee agreed and granted me my degree. I’ll never forget a question that one of the committee members asked during the oral defense of my thesis.
“So, now that you have earned your degree are you finished with these workshops, or do you plan to continue them and continue to learn?”
Well, the answer to that question has been to continue similar workshops for many years. Almost yearly we invite a hand-picked group of experienced pastors to a spot somewhere in Latin America to spend a few days honing our preaching skills. This involves each of them preaching a message followed by loving and positive evaluation by myself and the others present in the spirit of learning from each other. We share common needs and weaknesses and almost every suggestion has some application for each of us.
The greatest learning by far, though, is what occurs the rest of the time as we share meals together and just hang out. What a blast!
You know what? This is really the same principle as a small group. It is a safe place among friends where we learn and grow together. Even leaders need small groups! Or should I say especially leaders!
This last week several of us from 6 countries hung out together along the Panama Canal and had a fabulous time! We laughed, shared stories, ate some good food together, shared pain and insecurities and also ministered to each other. Good times!
One of the pastors, a former world class soccer player from Chile, brought me the best souvenirs ever. He informed me that I have a following among some professional Latin American soccer players (thanks to him). Two very high caliber players sent me video/photo greetings and each sent me one of their jerseys. Very cool!!! Here’s some pics below, front and back. If you follow soccer and know who these brothers are, you can pray for them and cheer them on. One is on the current Chilean World Cup Team.
Remember Cheers? You know, the place where everyone knows your name. Well, Cheers really exists and it’s right here in Kansas City.
Many of you know that I love the arts and that Cheryl and I have been subscribers to the Kansas City Symphony for many years. You probably also know that I love to patronize local eating establishments. Going out for dinner followed by a symphony concert is a favorite date night. When the Symphony moved into the new Kauffman Center a couple of years ago we faced the challenge of finding some new places to eat. Typically, we grab a good parking spot and then walk somewhere for dinner.
We found Coda early in the first season about a block and a half south on Broadway. Dan and Annie have worked in some of the finest restaurants in the city. About 5 years ago they teamed with a friend to become owners/operators of Coda, dedicated to great pub food with reasonable prices. Basically Dan and Annie run this little spot by themselves most of the time, Dan does the cooking while Annie tends tables. As small as it is, several nights a week they are a venue for local musicians. We are always there before the music, so I can’t comment on that.
The food and reasonable prices impressed us on the first visit. Something else caught our attention. Have you even dropped into a small neighborhood bar and grill only to have the regulars give you the stare? Or, maybe the service is pretty basic without much of a smile? Well, from the moment we walked through the door of Coda we felt like we belonged. Annie is a never-met-a-stranger type, as personable as she is efficient.
We didn’t return for about two months. When we did, Annie immediately called us both by our first names, knew where we sat the first time and what we ordered. She remembered that Cheryl had recently had a knee replaced and asked how she was doing. We were flabbergasted. This lady simply does not forget anything. We observed as she similarly interacted with other customers. Over the past couple of years we have verified that this is no fluke – she really does remember just about everything.
Wait! There’s more. What happened last night set a new standard.
Symphony season doesn’t last all year and to say we eat at Coda maybe once a month would be a stretch. So, it’s not like we make a huge investment to their bottom line. Keep this in mind.
Last night traffic was horrendous downtown for whatever reason. Getting off the loop and onto Broadway there was no way to turn left for my usual parking spot. So, the plan was to drop Cheryl off and I would double back around, park and hoof it back down to Coda. I couldn’t believe it! It took me almost 20 minutes to go back the block and a half to park. Complicating things was the decent snow we had earlier in the week and that a couple of business owners had not yet cleared their sidewalks. No biggie. I finally made it.
Annie was all over it. Cheryl said she had even gone outside at one point to see if she could see me coming. She asked me about the sidewalks and how I had made it. Knowing that our timing was off a bit, they got our food right out. As I was laying down my credit card, Annie announced that Dan was out front in their car and was driving us to the hall. What!?
Keep in mind this is a two person operation we’re talking about. There’s no backup. Annie wouldn’t hear otherwise. “Look,” she said, “Dan’s out at the curb.”
We felt so awkward. “You’re not the first people we’ve done this for, you know,” was her answer. OK, I believe her.
So, if you’re looking for a south of the loop eating spot, First Fridays, concert or just hanging out, try Coda. Tell Annie that Jeff and Cheryl sent you. She’ll remember. And, she’ll remember you.
For those of you that think someone like me ought to writing about some great ministry insight or biblical truth – I just did. You figure it out.