Thoughts on Greek from Not-So-Greek-Scholar

greek text
I have been immersed in the study of the Greek language for the past year and, by God’s grace, I will continue to be immersed in it over the years. In light of that, here’s a few short non-technical thoughts about what I have learned outside of parsing words, verbal roots, and examining sentence structure.

  1. Greek, just like any other language, isn’t something you master after reading a textbook or hearing lectures. It takes time. A long time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Because biblical Greek is just that–biblical–the goal is not to master it. Read that again. If my identity is in learning a language, even an important one, I will be severely dissatisfied  The point of studying a biblical language, just like any other spiritual discipline, is to be mastered by the Master. Greek isn’t an end in itself. It is a means to being conformed into Jesus’ image.
  3. Greek scholars are smart. I appreciate their hard work, devotion, and endurance in their translating and teaching.
  4. Leap-frogging from that, your New Testament–ESV, NIV, TNIV, NASB, NLT–is highly reliable (your Old Testament is reliable as well, don’t worry). So, don’t be that guy or gal in a Bible study that says, “Well, the Greek really says…” There may be some nuances here and there that should be emphasized. Yes, we can draw out things in preaching and teaching to give a richer sense. But by and large, the Bible within arms reach of you right now is gift. Enjoy it.
  5. One more leap: because this is true (#4), be thankful if you have a Bible in your own language. What a grace of God that people can read the Bible in their own language and do not have to rely on “experts” to do it for them! That should elicit worship and awe in our hearts to God.
  6. Greek is beautiful and you can learn it. Audit a class at your local Bible college or seminary. If you like learning at your own pace, try out the new Bible Mesh Biblical Languages courses (they offer Greek and Hebrew). If you are in the Omaha or Lincoln area, check out Miqra, where I took my classes.

A Few Thoughts on R-Rated Movies

A friend and co-worker asked me today if I had any thoughts on R-rated movies. Since I have an opinion on everything, I gave my opinion to him. I probably don’t think about this as much as I should, and with a baby in the house, we simply don’t have the time to watch as many movies as we used to. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s what I told him:

  1. The first thing I research is the amount of sexual activity, innuendo, or nudity that a movie has. I want to keep that to a minimum, or have it non-existent, to honor God, keep my mind and body pure, and honor my wife. If an unexpected racy or sexual scene pops on the screen, I do my best to literally close my eyes or look at my wife (she looks at me too).
  2. I do not mind vulgar language, so long as it is not an extreme amount of taking the Lord’s name in vain. That really bothers me. Now, vulgar language doesn’t need to be in a movie to make it good, but sometimes without it the reality of the movie would be lost (e.g. Training Day or Saving Private Ryan).
  3. Violence normally isn’t a factor for me when picking a movie. I am not the kind of person who will watch The Dark Knight and then want to go out and beat the pulp out of somebody. That said, I’m not going to see a horror-filled, blood-bath flick. Neither will my wife, thankfully.
  4. There are some R-rated films with particular actors that I know will be raunchy, embarrassing, or just plain bad stories. Some of those include actors are Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Will Farrell, and anybody who has been in Hangover or Hangover 2 (yes, they did make a sequel). These men have been in good PG and PG-13 movies, but for some reason, when the rating turns ‘R,’ the movies are not worthy my $9 or $1.20 at a RedBox. There are other actors I’m sure who immediately turn me away. These three just happened to be on the top of my mind.
  5. Above all, if the movie is about a good story, it will probably make a good movie even if it’s R-rated. The Shawshank Redemption is a beautiful, moving, passionate, emotion-jarring story. It draws you in. On the other hand, Step Brothers is not a story that (most normal) people want to be engaged in.

So I don’t just reject a movie because it’s R-rated. It basically comes down to this: every story, whether good or bad, R-rated or G-rated, points to the ultimate story, the story of God and his redemption in the world. We attribute this to the common grace of God, for he even uses non-Christian filmmakers and actors to point to his story. Every story, then, is a faint picture of good, evil, guilt, redemption, restoration, forgiveness, judgment, heaven, hell, and a thousand other biblical themes. Every story points us to the story that we all want to be apart of, even if we don’t believe it’s true. Every story is a reflection of human brokenness and the need for a Savior. Some movies just do a better job than others of telling it.

There’s a few raw thoughts. What about you? Do you watch R-rated movies? If so, do you have any “filters”? If you don’t watch them, why not?


Preaching This Sunday on The Gospel and Suffering

This past week a pastor that works at Beam Development Center kindly asked if I would be willing to preach at his church before I leave for home.  I graciously accepted.  I’ll be speaking there this Sunday, October 25 at 10am (3am American Central Time).

I’ll be preaching from Romans 5:1-5.  The title will be “The Gospel and Suffering.”  The health and wealth mindset reigns down here, and I would miss a great opportunity if I didn’t try to dispel this false teaching by speaking on what the Bible really says about God’s sovereignty and suffering.  As you finish reading this post, please take a minute to pray for these things:

  • That God would say “Let light shine!” and that the blinding work of the devil would be overcome so that people would see Jesus and believe the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
  • That God would work mightily so that the demonic “prosperity (false) gospel” would be exposed.  It is held tightly by so many poor, black, African congregations.  I want to preach “Christ and him crucified” and not a gospel of comfort and convenience.
  • That God would speak clearly through me and the pastor, Ludwig, who will be translating my message.  It doesn’t take a linguistic expert to know that speaking with a translator is never easy.  And no matter what your view on speaking in tongues is, no one can deny that, in fact, I’ll be speaking in a tongue (American English) and Ludwig will be interpreting my message to the congregation’s native tongue (Tswana).  We know that the Bible says this is difficult and so we should pray for power to interpret (1 Cor. 14:13).  Pray for clear, powerful, Christ-centered exaltation of the word of God.

Thank you!


Personal Reflections on the Balance of Love and Truth

The last few days I’ve been thinking about how Jesus lived out this thing we call “grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Here are some raw thoughts, as they come to mind about this command we are to follow:

  • I know that personally I lean more toward truth than love.  But with certain people, I can tend to be too loving and I fail to speak truth into their lives.  So, I’m not always loving.  But, I’m not always truthful either.  I’m striving, by the Spirit, for a proper balance.  I want to live in this tension according to the biblical standard, not the American Christian standard.
  • There is no good news of the gospel if there is no terribly bad news that I need to be saved.  We need to preach to people that Christ came to justify sinners.  Not justify sin.
  • Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The same eye that discerns the transcendent beauty of holiness, necessarily therein sees the exceeding odiousness of sin.”   In other words, the more we come to see and experience the glory and holiness of God, we will become more truthful about our own sin, because we can be truthful about God’s acceptance of us in Christ, that he is our righteousness.  And if we are honest about ourselves, the truth about us is pretty bad.  But Jesus, hallelujah, offers us very good news.
  • The Bible is the most brutally honest book ever written.  At the same time it is filled with more hope than any other book ever written.
  • True love for people doesn’t mean we make much of them so that they feel accommodated and well-liked.  It does mean that we make much of Jesus and point them to his majesty and splendor and the righteousness he offers.
  • Being too loving might look like this: overlooking sin, ignoring/speaking against a truth claim because you are offended by that truth, making sure everyone gets along while the elephant is in the room, not speaking up when someone has incorrectly interpreted Scripture, accommodating unrepentant sinful lifestyles among believers, ignoring key parts of the gospel, such as a pastor avoiding God’s wrath or anger, penalsubstitutionary atonement, hell, etc.  The joyful and loving aspect of these sermons is that they end with the glorious news that God’s anger and our sin have been removed because of Jesus’ person and work.
  • Being too truthful might look like this: continually raising your voice in debates, ignoring an argument because you don’t believe the person has credibility, harboring bitterness and resentment, not having the proper tone for a particular person/gender/audience, not taking into account a person’s intention or motive, never forgiving, never granting mercy and grace.
  • I think that the majority of Christians lean more toward love (particularly in America).  I think this is because Christians, at large, want to be liked, loved, and at peace with others and they do not want to create conflict in relationships or make people feel uncomfortable or convicted.
  • In any conversation or discussion about theology, practical living, relationships, and morals or ethics, either man or God will be offended.  It’s inevitable.  The biggest fear in my life is that I would do something to offend God — and I fail at that daily.
  • Some Christians think love always trumps truth.  Other Christians think truth always trumps love.  Instead, Paul wrote, “The aim of our charge is love, that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).  John Piper has written, “Notice the order: ‘instruction’ [or ‘charge’ in the ESV] is the foundation and leads to ‘love’ through purity and faith. Or again consider the order in 1 Peter 1:22, ‘You have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren.’ Again, truth precedes and transforms the soul for the sake of love. Even in the spectacular revelation of 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love,’ ‘God is‘ provides the foundation for ‘God is love.'”  Love is the overflow we experience from learning truth.  If you do not have truth, there will be no love.  If you do not have love, your truth is actually false.
  • Disagreeing with someone or saying, “You’re wrong,” is not always unloving, though it can be depending on the motive and intention of the heart.  I feel that in the Church in America, disagreements have been made to incorrectly seem as unloving acts.
  • Mark Driscoll has said, “Hard words produce soft people.  Soft words produce hard people.  I want you to be soft people.”  Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”  Psalm 141:5a says, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head.”  The Bible seems to affirm this.  Your best friends are those who are able to lovingly wound your soul so that you might become more like Jesus.
  • Being rebuked is not considered a “loving” thing, nor does it have a positive connotation, in our relativist, post-Christian culture.  Though, we must do it so that the man of God may be competent and well-equipped (2 Tim. 3:15).  By God’s grace, I’m learning how to accept rebuke, reproof, and correction.
  • Jesus mocked the self-righteous “religious” people of his day, represented by the Pharisees (see, among others, Matthew 23 and Luke 11).  Jesus was frequently abrasive and harsh with these people who thought they didn’t need him.
  • Jesus extended compassion to those who understood their total depravity and need for God’s righteousness and not their own (e.g.Zacchaeus in Luke 19; the woman at the well in John 4; the adulterous woman in John 8; the one grateful leper in Luke 17).  Jesus was not abrasive and harsh with these people who knew they needed him.
  • Martin Luther said, “You can never be too gentle with the sheep, and never too harsh with the wolves.”  The sheep are all those who profess Christ and live a life of repentance.  The wolves are all those who live legalistic, self-righteous lives and profess their own righteousness before God while preaching the same to others (see Isa. 64:6 and Phil 3:1-11).
  • God frequently disciplines his sheep in harsh ways.  Hebrews 12:5-6 says, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”  Sometimes this means cancer for your mom.  Sometimes this means a fatal car accident for your spouse.  Sometimes this means a tornado ripping through your town and destroying a neighborhood.  Sometimes this means losing your job or failing to find a new job.  People ask, “How can a loving God let (insert trial here) happen?”  The very short answer is: “Because he loves you and he wants you to grow through suffering.”  In the same way, parents discipline their children.  Spanking appeared as if it was the most unloving thing that my mother could have done to me.  As I cried and sat in my room and had to think about what I did, I knew that in the long run, it would turn out for my ultimate good.  I was rebuked and led to repentance.  God disciplines his children, very truthfully, but it is done with a Fatherly love.  It doesn’t always seem “nice” and appear “loving” to us, but that’s because God has a better plan and purpose and his highest pleasure is to glorify himself.  He does not operate according to our pleasures.  “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3).  He makes much of himself, his glory, and his purpose, and in turn, it turns out for our good (Rom. 8:28).  In the same way, we reproof and correct our fellow believers, not as disciplinary parents, but as loving friends who may notice doctrinal errors, sinful patterns, self-righteous attitudes, relational problems, or other hindrances to living the abundant life that Jesus offered.
  • In addition to this, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Our heavenly Father often draws us with the cords of love; but ah! how backward we are to run toward Him…But it is a love which takes no denial.  If we obey not the gentle drawings of His love, He will send affliction to drive us into closer intimacy with Himself.  Have us nearer He will.”
  • The gospel is not only about kind and loving words from Jesus toward sinners.   It is that.  But that’s not all it is.   C.S. Lewis said, “Love is something more splendid and stern than mere kindness.”  This gospel of love comes with hard demands of repentance and self-denial.  The gospel is about repentance.  Bonhoeffer says that grace without discipleship (i.e. repentance and self-denial) is cheap grace.  Cheap grace is grace that justifies sin and not the sinner.  It’s the attitude of Paul’s “questioner” in Romans 6:1-4.  This means we need to be honest with ourselves.  This means we need to be honest with others.  Christians both practice this and preach this.  In John 8 concerning the woman caught in adultery, Jesus spoke very gently and compassionately to her, because she didn’t believe herself to be self-righteous like the Pharisees.  Nevertheless, he gave her the hard command, “Go, and from now on sin no more” (v. 11).  There is grace and truth.  Forgiveness with the call to a lifestyle change.  That is not a command the American Church likes to heed.  Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:35).  This is a call to a different mindset, worldview, and lifestyle.  Most churches do not teach discipleship this way.  We love the comfort of our den in America, not the long, cold nights on the battlefield.  Two verses before that, Jesus called Peter “Satan” when Peter tried to stop Jesus from suffering and dying (v. 33).  Instead of glossing over Peter’s giving in to Satan’s temptation, Jesus confronts him nose-to-nose.  I’m sure Peter was a little freaked out at this because calling someone “Satan” certainly doesn’t appear loving.  But Peter repented, after many other falls, and became one of the early church fathers.  Finally, Jesus lovingly rebuked the disciples, sometimes avoiding their questions to get to the deeper matter: sin.  This happened on many occasions because of their pride, immaturity, and failure to understand his teachings.
  • Finally, let’s consider pastors.  Jesus is our Prophet, Priest, and King.  Pastors (“elders”) in the church reflect this.  Prophets shepherd the flock in that they teach sound doctrine, warn against false doctrine, call people to repentance both publicly and privately.  These pastors love doctrine, theology, apologetics, preaching, teaching, etc.  Priests shepherd the flock in that they comfort the hurting, give biblical counsel, and extend mercy and grace to those who are in need.  These pastors lead community groups, meet one-on-one with people, visit the sick in the hospital, etc.  Kings shepherd the flock in that they organize, select leaders, delegate, and create and oversee policies.  These pastors love administrative duties, job descriptions, performance reviews, handling finances, meetings, etc.  Some people may consider the prophets unloving because they point out sin and do it from the pulpit.  Some say the priests are not truthful enough because they give practical biblical wisdom over a cup of coffee.  Some argue that the kings are unloving because they focus too much on policies and finances instead of people.  Prophets want to protect the flock from error in belief and behavior.  Priests want to protect the flock from doubt and depression.  Kings want to protect the flock by making sure that the church is above reproach with finances, personnel, and policies.  Different pastors have different roles, and true pastors who follow Jesus, though not perfect, do what they do because they love God’s people.  It simply looks differently for different pastors in different roles.

That’s a lot.  Thanks for reading.  For more on this, and to hear from men who are older and wiser than I am, I would recommend this article by Piper as well as this conference message by Driscoll.


Pitfalls in Communication: Differing Interpretive Filters

Part 2 of a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

Cultural (Environmental) Filters
Everyone has their own culture.  Culture is a shared system of values, beliefs, attitudes, and norms.  Culture is not simply an ethnicity thing.  It’s not just “Irish” culture and “Indian” culture and “South African” culture.

I grew up in Omaha.  People from South Omaha (like me) have a different culture than people from North Omaha or West Omaha or Downtown Omaha.  Neighbors living on the same block can have completely different cultures.  “Come on over,” for one family means the door is literally always unlocked.  “Come on over,” for another family means, “Call before you come.”

We tend to communicate the way our culture has conditioned us to communicate.  This means we view time, relationships, contexts, privacy, and methods of communication (that is, direct or indirect) differently than other cultures.  When we talk to people using words or concepts about our particular values (that even might be ambiguous to someone in a different culture), we must be extremely intentional to define what we our meaning is.

Gender Filters
Let’s be honest here.  Men and women are different.  I’ve long said, “Men might not be from Venus, and women might not be from Mars, but they certainly could be from opposite sides of the earth.”  Now communicative rules concerning gender aren’t without exception, but for the most part, you know what I mean.  I won’t go into specifics because I don’t want to get an email that says, “That’s untrue!  We aren’t like that!” and then I get railed on.  (By the way, an email like that — from a man or a woman — might just prove my point.)

Nevertheless, when men and women communicate, whether in marriage, in a family, as friends, or in a work relationship, we must have it on the forefront of our minds that we are different from each other.  Men and women are created equal — no question about it.  But anyone who says we are the same has some serious issues.