Friday, October 31, 2014

Don’t hit me! Resurrecting real grace & giving faith more than a ghost of a chance

When I was a kid I loved to go to the local YMCA. My dad’s boss, Mr. Meek, would buy memberships to the Y for the families of his employers, an incredibly kind gift. As a member, I could get my buddies in for a small fee. We would head there many weekends and weekdays over the summer.

Besides swimming, there was a room full of table games like foosball, ping-pong, and whatnot. One day while standing idly in the game room, someone tapped me on the shoulder saying, “Hey, buddy!”

When I turned around -- Pow! -- I was punched firmly in the jaw and went down. I think I may even have been out for a couple of moments and saw a star or two.

The kid who hit me took off with his buddies, laughing. Kind of like Scut Farkus and his sidekick Grover Dill in “A Christmas Story,” minus the humor.

I didn’t know the kid, but had seen him around and knew he had an air of “ill repute.” He wasn’t the kind of guy I would have chosen to hang with.

The experience drained a little of the fun out of going to the Y. From that moment on, I was always on my guard.

The Y lost a good bit of its attraction.

Grace misspelled as O-U-T-R-A-G-E-!

A few days ago I was scrolling through posts in a Facebook group consisting of people who grew up as I did in the Assemblies of God (AOG). Someone shared a link to an article posted in an AOG online magazine asking if this article was “concerning to anyone.”

The article was titled, “Desires in conflict: Hope and healing for individuals struggling with same-sex attraction,” and subtitled, “Practical tips for those who find themselves in a position to help people struggling with same-sex attraction.”

The conclusion of the article issued a call for gentle grace:
“In closing, it is important to remind ourselves that sin has damaged and broken everyone’s sexuality — not just those who struggle with same-sex attraction or a disordered sexual identity. The sin of Adam and Eve affects every aspect of our creation and existence. No one escapes the effects of the Fall. No part of the human existence remains untouched....When defending our scriptural stance and interpretation regarding serious issues, let us be careful to not further damage the hurting and broken seekers and instead offer the good news of Jesus Christ with compassion and love.”

How did those in the Facebook group react to this article?

Most were certain Satan was at the helm of the AOG. A comment by a woman named, ironically, Joy, sums up the general consensus of responses: “Yikes! ‘Concerned’ sounds like such a mild reaction in this context! I need something more like ‘outraged’!”

So much for grace.

I don’t mean to beat up on the AOG or any specific group who adheres to biblical Christian faith.

We all have skin in the blame.

A person walks into a church and...

Church, religion, Christians, evangelical are all becoming bad words, and we who fit these labels wonder why.

We shouldn’t.

In his new book, Vanishing Grace: Whatever happened to the Good News?, Philip Yancey references  surveys by Ellison Research of Phoenix that indicate 36% of Americans have no idea “what an evangelical Christian is,” a mere 35% believe they know “someone very well who is an evangelical,” and  51% are certain they don’t know any evangelicals at all.

But these same people still have a clear opinion about evangelical Christians. Not that we Christians would hold opinions about others we don’t know.

Yancey quotes the president of the research company who stated, “Evangelicals were called illiterate, greedy, psychos, racist, stupid, narrow-minded, bigots, idiots, fanatics, nut cases, screaming loons, delusional, simpletons, pompous, morons, cruel, nitwits, and freaks, and that’s just a partial list....Some people don’t have any idea what evangelicals actually are or what they believe — they just know they can’t stand evangelicals.”

Frankly, a lot of evangelicals can’t stand evangelicals, but that’s fodder for a different blog post.

A lot of believers are certain we possess “sin-dar” as we attribute a plethora of bad thoughts and behaviors onto those around us.

Or we stand inside the doors of our churches as if the entrances are equipped with sin scanners waiting for them to beep as “those” people walk in. When the alarm sounds -- Bam! -- we knock them down by the power of the Spirit and beat the hell out of them, figuratively speaking of course. They’re not sure what hit them, or why.

Somehow this just doesn’t fit with Jesus’ invitation to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV).

Seek first to understand


So what do we do to fix this?

Yancey says, “To communicate to post-Christians, [we] must first listen to their stories for clues as to how they view the world and how they view people like [us].” We need to find a way to move beyond being “perceived more as guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers.”

He found a clue for doing this when he spent a day with Henri Nouwen who had spent time in San Francisco working in hospitals with AIDS patients.

“I’m a priest,” explained Nouwen, “and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories.” As he heard story after story recounting promiscuity, addiction, and other self-destructive behavior, what Nouwen picked up on was a theme hinting of a “thirst for love that had never been quenched.”

He told Yancey that his perspective changed and his prayer for others became, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

Yancey’s new book is rooted in a prior book, What’s so Amazing About Grace, that concludes with this thought: “The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.”

Given that the labels above (psychos, racist, bigots, delusional, freaks, etc.) applied to evangelicals are often applied by evangelicals to those “outside the fold,” sitting down at the table together is going to be tough.

As one person stated, “We’re suspicious of one another. So we start off with a grudge.”

Still, explains Yancey, “For true dialogue to occur, we must cut through those stereotypes and genuinely consider the other’s point of view. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Smacking people upside the head with a Bible is not grace. Being outraged toward others is not loving them. These are failed and polarizing tactics, to say the least.

As Yancey says, “I’ve yet to meet someone who found their way to faith by being criticized.” Or, we can add, by being bludgeoned.

Moving from overt obnoxiousness to subversive grace


Yancey’s book consists of 13 chapters broken out into four parts. There is a separate study guide with a DVD available that covers the book in five sessions.

After laying out the problem of being guilt dispensers in part one, Yancey challenges us in part two to become instead dispensers of grace as pilgrims, activists, or artists.

We are all pilgrims. That is, we must view our faith walk as a process, not as having “arrived” and “holding all the answers.” Viewing others from a self-righteous sense of holy superiority or “knowing it all” is not attractive. We follow Jesus as we walk alongside others.

The activists are those who are probably more extroverted. These are the change agents wading into the fray, engaging in politics, doing missions work, engaging in international relief activities, handing out hot meals to the homeless, hanging out with friends and being salt and light in unlikely places.

The artists are most likely more on the introverted side of the equation, those who tend to be a little quieter in their evangelizing. Instead of crowds, they share faith quietly with one or two at a time. They are the writers, teachers, hospice workers, bloggers, painters, sculptors, musicians, and behind-the-scenes workers.

In part three, Yancey lays out a practical and personal theology of sorts, addressing the God question, the human question, and the social question. He provides tools and reasoning to show that faith does matter, that God is there and He cares, and that the purpose of holiness is to lift us up to our full potential. “Somehow,” he states, “we need to communicate to the uncommitted that God wants us to thrive, to live in joy and not repression, trust and not fear.”

Part four addresses how to live out faith in culture. Given that politics is such a big part of our culture, even “a sort of substitute religion” for some, Yancey offers five suggestions for safely engaging politically: (1) Clashes between Christ and culture are unavoidable, (2) Christians should choose their battles wisely, (3) Christians should fight their battles shrewdly, (4) In engaging with culture, Christians should distinguish the immoral from the illegal, and (5) The church must use caution in its dealings with the state.

You say you want a revolution

Finally, in the last chapter, Yancey suggests, “Rather than looking back nostalgically on a time when Christians wielded more power, I suggest another approach: that we regard ourselves as subversives operating within the broader culture.”

“Subversively,” he continues, “we act out our beliefs as they go against the grain of surrounding culture. When parents discard unwanted children, Christians make a home for them. When scientists seek ways to purify the gene pool, Christians look for special-needs babies to adopt. When politicians cut funding for the poor, Christians open shelters and feeding stations. When law enforcement confines criminals behind barbed wire, Christians run programs for them.”

Yancey also states that “Art may be the most effective subversion tactic,” citing that the books he read as a younger man “subverted the fragile world of fundamentalism” he grew up in.

Whether through activism or art, he explains, “Gradually, like the melting of a glacier, change takes place and what first seemed subversive becomes an accepted feature of the landscape.”

It’s only through selfless love and the power of grace that we can win the world over to faith, not through criticism and outrage.

In other words, we Christians need to stop punching our neighbors in the jaw, no matter what names they call us.

They're thirsty. Let's offer them the thirst quenching Living Water. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do?



NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255): I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Additional resources:

SIDEBAR 1
How I encouraged Phil Yancey by embarrassing him.


In 1982, I wrote a review of another Yancey book, Open Windows:
“This is a select collection of articles, essays, and interviews some of which appeared in Christianity Today, Leadership, and Christian Century. They represent the remarkable breadth and depth of thought of one of the best living Christian journalists. Yancey writes with clarity, conciseness, and craftsmanship seldom found in most Christian writing today. He infuses factual reporting with honest, unaffected humanity and emotion....This is a gem of a book. It should be read for its content -- what it has to say; and for its style -- how it says what it says.”

I was stunned when Yancey responded to my little review with letter that said, in part, “I know authors probably aren’t supposed to do this, but I wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the embarrassingly positive review of my book....[I]t arrived on the day when I really needed it.”

What I wrote then still applies today. So blush on, Mr. Yancey. Blush on.

You can click the image below to enlarge it and read more. 



SIDEBAR 2
Wow! This is one expensive book!
 


You may have seen this slightly over-priced edition of Vanishing Grace on Amazon listed for more than $2,000:


Not that you would, but don’t buy this one! Yancey’s book is good but it’s not exactly worth $2,000. This is an example of what’s called “bookjacking.” Click here to read more about this practice.


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In his book Yancey offers one person’s observation that “When Christians talk to you, they act as if you are a robot. They have an agenda to promote, and if you don’t agree with them, they’re done with you.” How do you engage with those around you, especially those who disagree with or disregard your faith? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


    

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On death, taxes, committees & meetings: 10 great tips for improving your posse’s email communications.

Everyone’s got a gang, is part of a posse, kicks it with a clique, or serves some unheralded role on a church, school, community, or work committee.

Ah, yes, the dreaded “c” word -- committee (C1)!

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes -- and participating in committees, groups, clubs, organizations, projects, and the meetings they entail.”

Of this reality there is only one thing more arduous than actually planning and managing the meetings -- the second most dreaded “c” word -- communicating (C2) about them!

C1 always requires a good dose of C2.

Think about it.

Whether it’s work meetings, your coffee klatch gatherings, or PTA planning sessions, keeping everyone in synch as to what’s happening where and when can be a challenge. One that’s often overlooked or not taken as seriously as it should be.

Common excuses for failures to communicate are that it’s just so much work, too time-consuming, that using email is too hard...

Blah blah blah....

Enough with the excuses, already!

The result of flailing in your communication efforts is chaos, confusion, and the collapse of your group.

Communicating well and keeping your group members looped in and clued up isn’t that difficult.

Here are ten tips for keeping your committee communication copacetic by using email effectively to administer a healthy dose of vitamin “C2”.

1. Have a point person.


Clearly identify one person as “the” single point of contact for all communications. Don’t assume someone will do it. Don’t pass the responsibility around. Pick a person and give them the reins to your communication. They may wish to recruit a back-up, but leave that to them. Once they are in place, funnel all group communication through this one person.

2. Learn how to use email. 

It isn’t hard. No matter if you use Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, or whatever, there is plenty of online help. If hands-on help works better for you, phone a friend (but not me ;-) to come over and walk you through the steps. Write them down and keep them handy as needed.

3. Always include a pithy subject line.


Always! Never, ever send an email with a blank subject line. Doing so annoys your recipients. A lot. The subject line is how recipients can readily see that your message is one they must open and read. Don’t waste it!

4. Use BCC for all recipient emails. 

I’m sure you’ve received emails that were top-heavy with long lists of the email addresses of every recipient. You have to scroll and scroll before finding the message. To avoid this, use BCC. If you don’t know how, then learn! Put your own email address in the TO section, and everyone else’s email in the BCC. Doing so keeps everyone’s email address private and eliminates accidental and embarrassing “reply all” messages.

5. Never assume anything.

Never ever! Except to assume your recipients don’t know everything. This doesn’t mean you view them as stupid, but that you understand not everyone knows where to find “the best restaurant in town,” or “the big bookstore with the free meeting room,” or “the back room in the church.”

Never assume your recipients know anything and so tell them everything. There will always be someone who doesn't know or has forgotten. Plus, people move! It can be dangerous to direct people to a meeting at “so and so’s” house when the “so and so’s” have moved.

6. Keep emails simple & use lists.

Put key information on separate lines in an easy-to-scan list below a short, to-the-point explanatory narrative. The list can be bulleted or even numbered if appropriate.

For example, like this:
The Holy Berries will be meeting at Bob and Carol’s house this week on Wednesday to plan our holiday outings. Ted and Alice are bringing snacks. You are welcome to bring a friend.
WHAT: Meeting to discuss holiday outings.
DATE: Wednesday, November 19, 2014
TIME: Starting at 7:00 PM and wrapping up around 9:00 PM
WHERE: Bob and Carol Hinkley, 909090 West Palm Avenue, Lakeford, OH 48998
PHONE: Bob’s cell is 216-888-1212, Carol’s cell is 216-888-2121
OTHER: New members are welcome.
People are busy. Formatting the message with lists allows for a quick scan to gather all the essential information. Keeping the message short also allows for it to be easily copied and pasted into electronic calendars.

7. Offer complete contact information. 

In every communication you send out, always include the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of appropriate contacts. Never send an email that doesn’t include at least one phone number for recipients to call if they have questions, or get lost while trying to find your meeting place.

8. Include a GPS-friendly address. 

It’s maddening to be a newbie and receive directions that rely on local landmarks, complicated directions, or assume detailed knowledge of the area.

Gah! If you’re expecting people to show up somewhere, always include a complete address they can punch into their GPS. This means they’ll need the number, street name, and city at a minimum.

If you’re sending the message and you don’t know the address then look it up and verify it! Don’t assume your recipients can figure out where the “dark red house three blocks south of the corner of Elm Street and Nightmare Avenue” is. Especially if the dark red house was just painted blue!

9. Add a concise signature to all of your email.  

This is something everyone who uses email should do. Whether you use an email client on your computer or use email located in the mystical cloud, every email application includes somewhere in the settings the ability for you to add a “signature” that will be appended to every email message you send. A signature is not an opportunity for you to include a cute little saying, but rather a way for you to always share your essential contact information without having to re-type it.

What should usually be included in a signature is your full name, your primary email address, your phone number, and sometimes your mailing address. Other bits of useful info could include the URLS of your websites or blogs, or for your Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, and Google+ accounts.

But don’t get carried away and clutter your signature with useless stuff that makes it more annoying than useful.

10. Send your messages early, later, and just in time. 

When it comes to communicating, the adage about “once and done” does not apply. The best times for emailing your team are:

  • Right after a meeting: This way you can recap what happened in a written record.
     
  • Halfway between meetings: If you meet monthly, about two weeks out from the next meeting is a good time to send a meeting reminder. Use a slightly different subject line than you used in your previous message.
     
  • Within 24-48 hours prior to a meeting: Again, never assume that because you sent one or two messages that everyone read them or remembers there’s a meeting coming up. Simply re-send the prior message and include any new information. Again, use a slightly modified subject line so recipients understand it’s a new message.

11. Bonus tip! Be consistent. 

This tip applies to your communication as well as managing your meetings.
  • For Messages: Send group messages from the same email address using readily recognizable words in the subject line, and format your emails the same way each time. Create a template for building each new message.
      
  • For Meetings: When holding meetings, always have the same start time. When possible, keep them at the same location. If they are monthly, aim for the same day every month (for example, the second Tuesday of each month). 
Consistency in meetings and messages reduces confusion and keeps chaos at bay.

Let all things be done decently and in order!

The old tried and true guideline for creating effective communication is to always include who, what, when, where, why, and how, and doing so in a manner that is complete, concise, and clear. (Ooh, three more “c’s”-- C3!)

Following these guidelines coupled with the 11 tips listed above, your messages will be on target and well-received.

You see?

¡Sí!

Here's an example of an email. Click on the image above to view it larger.


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Do these tips make sense? Do you have any communication horror stories you can share? How about additional tips? Any pet peeves about serving on or leading committees? Don't be spooked! Sound off in the comments! 

For daily tips, always read "Dilbert"!











12. Another Bonus Tip!

What's the one secret that rules over all the other tips?

Never assume!   


When crafting any communication (email, memo, letter, announcement, etc.) never assume your recipients know anything about what you are going to tell them. Don't assume they know what your last meeting covered. Don't assume they know when and where the next meeting will be held. Don't assume they know the agenda. Don't assume they know your phone number. Don't assume they've read past messages. Don't assume they fully understand all that's been explained to them before. Every time, tell them everything they need to know as if they've never been told before.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Let’s have some wholly holy fun by putting the “hallow” back in Halloween!

In Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional short story, “The Masque of the Red Death,” a wealthy prince, Prospero, gathers his friends into a sealed abbey, determined to hide from the “red plague” ravaging the country outside.

Believing they are safe from a disease that kills quickly and brutally, Prospero and his guests party on. After some months, someone new shows up and, well, things go opposite of what was intended.

In other words, they circled the wagons against the “evil” they perceived in the world but it still got in. And it killed them.

Kind of like a lot of Christians do when it comes to Halloween.

These fretted believers behave as if this is what Paul admonished in Ephesians 6:
“Finally, be hidden in the Lord and in his mighty power. Circle your wagons so that you can avoid the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is against our ungodly neighbors, as well as scary things going bump in the night and against the spiritual forces of evil who come trick or treating at our doors. Therefore bunker down, so when the day of evil comes, you’ll be clueless as to what’s happening, and after you have cowered in fear, you can point to how the world around you is going to hell in a hand-basket.”
No, no, no! That’s all wrong!

Halloween’s tainted muddled history

As a kid I loved Halloween. So did my friends. We dressed up as friendly spooks, good witches, silly pirates, and raggedy little beggars.

Our goal was candy.

The decorations on the doors we knocked on were of cute hunch-backed kittens, smiling little witches, toothy Jack-o-lanterns, and dancing cardboard skeletons.

Besides trick-or-treating, there were the Halloween parties --many hosted by our churches -- with games, bobbing for apples, costume judging, apple cider, donuts, and more candy.

It was fun. Innocent fun. I’ve captured the mood in a poem called “Rounds” (click here to read).

But, even then, there were those who were beginning to insist, because some were claiming Halloween had some dark roots, the holiday was an anathema event for real believers.

There are always the party poopers.

Yes, I know, there are the claims of our modern Halloween having origins in the Celtic fire festival called Samhain, a celebration related to the end of the harvest season. That it was picked up by the Druids, Wiccans, and other pagan groups and made one of their prime “religious” days. And that now there are those who make it a day of evil.

So what?

We shouldn’t care! Or at the least we should not be fearful.

The claim is that by participating in Halloween in any way, Christians are somehow worshiping the devil or yielding themselves to that evil.

Really?

Again, no, no, no!

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Halloween is also tied to All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. In the day’s title is the clue to a better response from Christians. Halloween is merely a shortened version of All Hallow’s Evening. The definition of “hallow” is “to make or set apart as holy; to respect or honor greatly; revere” (American Heritage Dictionary).

Just as people can be made new and holy in Christ, so certainly can man-made holidays. We don’t need to hide from a calendar event.

Instead of ceding ground to the enemy and letting evil rule, we need to recognize that what Paul was really admonishing in Ephesians is this:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NIV).
In other words, put on your costumes and let your light shine! It’s time to stop running, come out from hiding, take a stand, and put the “holy” into Halloween!

Fostering whimsy and joy over horror and fright

There are some churches who have grasped this truth and offer events such as “Holy Ghost Parties” or “Boo Bashes” or the semi-lame “Harvest Happenings.”

While these are moving in the right direction, they do so hesitantly by labeling these events as “alternatives” to Halloween.

It’s time to get over the skittishness and start having truly “Blessed Halloween” events.

The focus is to have fun not promote fright. Keep things light and point to the “hallowed” aspect by dressing and decorating appropriately.

A simple rule of thumb here is to aim for whimsy and not horror. If anything depicts cruelty, it’s over the line and not appropriate. This eliminates blood, gore, and worse, including “Christian” haunted houses that depict horrible accidents and the like.

I miss the days of truly “Happy” Halloweens. I abhor what’s become mostly a giant horror-fest.

It’s time to push back the darkness and light a candle -- and put it inside a happy Jack-o-lantern.

Have a happy, holy, and blessed Halloween!



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Agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Do you enjoy or hate Halloween? What's your favorite Halloween memory from childhood? What's your biggest complaint about Halloween now? Don't be afraid! Sound off in the comments!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Found Remains (#PoetryMonday*)

They leave home
their dorm rooms
apartments

       whole
with faces, hands,
mouths spouting laughter,
       watering cans of glee
sprinkling the air with joy
and silliness
carefree

       happy

going to a party
looking for a party
heading home from a party

and then
       not

nothing

vanishing brings panic
searching
       questions
as paths are retraced
friends queried for clues
surveillance reviewed for images


speculation fills the newsfeeds
       for days, months, years

and then
       discovery

remains

in some overlooked corner
a shaded mossy crevice
       beneath silent watching trees
or the basement of an abandoned building
or a shallow grave

or a trash bin
 
the remains are found

they leave
       whole

are found
       bones

this is not how any parent
should have to retrieve
a lost child

merely bones

       found remains.

 




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  * It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

 The impetus for this poem was the headline (
Missing nursing student Holly Bobo's remains found in Tennessee) and first sentence (After three years of searching, the remains of Holly Bobo have been found in Tennessee.) of a CNN report posted on September 9, 2014, and was fueled as well by the more recent case of Hannah Graham. Hearing and reading these stories always evokes a tremendous sense of sadness, particularly as the parents and families of those murdered come to mind. While there is no easy way to lose a child, to have a child abducted and killed has to be especially horrendous to bear.

This poem is included in this collection:

Friday, October 17, 2014

God authors new version of old book! Includes charts & graphs in full color! Eschews shews & cankerous obfuscation! Endorses the use of the series comma!*

Once upon a time, there were bookstores in every mall. When my mom dragged me out shopping, once I was confident she’d selected appropriate clothes for me (which was something I had to keep on top of to avoid being beaten up at school for looking like a sissy boy), I then holed up in the nearest bookstore. It was heaven.

One of my favorite bookstore haunts growing up in New Castle, Indiana was the only Christian bookstore in town. The Heritage Center, as it was called, was on S. 18th Street, a world away from my house but just down the street from our church. I could usually get a ride or bike it until I finally got that coveted driver's license. The store was run by a somewhat odd family, not particularly well organized, and always held a surprising item or two on the dusty gift-oriented shelves.

While others saved up allowances to buy the latest hit 45RPM record at Horney’s Music Store, I saved mine, as well as some lunch money, for books.

Well, and a few records, too. But it was easier bringing books home than it was rock ‘n’ roll, which is another story.

I bought books by the dozens. Especially books on faith.

While what we learned at church was interesting, I wanted to know more than what the over-simplified Sunday school stories offered. So I read books and I read my Bible.

Let it be noted that even though I was a nerd, I didn’t dress the part. Thus, the management of mom when buying my clothes. Although there was the pocket-protector period I'm not proud of...but I digress.

King James is still king & this has nothing to do with LeBron

I still own the first two “real” Bibles my parents gave me. The first, published by Cambridge, was given to me on Christmas in 1960.

The second, given to me on a birthday when I was in high school, is “the marked reference Bible” published by Zondervan featuring “the finest chained-reference system for Bible study.”

It was color coded with topics on salvation, the Holy Spirit, temporal blessings, and prophetic subjects highlighted in red, green, tan, and blue. Included were a concordance, some articles, and a series of color maps.

Both Bibles are well-worn. I carried them to church twice every Sunday, once on Wednesday nights, and every year to church camp. And I read in them regularly. But, unlike the Bibles I favor now, these two bear almost no underlinings or margin jottings.

While I read them, I wasn’t able to fully engage with them.

Both Bibles were King James Version (KJV) from 1611.

For decades, the KJV was the de facto Bible translation for nearly every church in America. For many, that is still the case.

Up until recently, the KJV was the bestselling version of the Bible in the U.S.. In sales, it’s been surpassed by the NIV (New International Version). But, in popularity, it still ranks as #1.

And that’s a little sad.

In an article I wrote for the July 1983 issue of Bookstore Journal, I stated,
“The King James Version (KJV) is the most prevalent Bible translation used. It always has been and probably always will be the most popular version. But its popularity has nothing to do with the clarity with which it communicates God’s message to modern man. While majestic and musical in style and cadence, the language of the KJV grows more archaic every day. The message is timeless, and God’s Word to us is changeless, but the language of the KJV has become foreign to modern man.”
The vagaries of our ever-changing language combined with ever-improving translation makes the KJV somewhat arcane.

When it comes to the Bible, if all you’ve ever read is the KJV, it’s time you upgraded to something a little fresher. You’re missing out on a lot.

Pick a version, any version, as long as it’s something new

In 1961 my sister hosted a New Year’s Eve party in our basement, inviting all of her high school and church buddies. One of the exciting bits of trivia buzzing around the sober crowd was that even when you turned 1961 upside down, it still read 1961!

1961 was also the year that the New Testament portion of the New English Bible was released. A few years later, this would be the first non-KJV New Testament I would acquire, discovering it one day while browsing at the Heritage Center. The full New English Bible was released in 1970. Reading it was a delight.

My next non-KJV acquisition was the New Testament portion of the New Berkeley Version in Modern English. The NBV was a 1969 update of the Berkeley Version that had been first released in 1945. For years, this was my favorite version because of its very literary style and affinity with the KJV.

Next, along came The Living Bible, released in portions before the entire Bible was published in 1971. For the first time I was able to read through the entire Old Testament and enjoy doing so.

In college, I discovered the J.B. Phillips New Testament and it knocked my socks off!

These four versions -- two translations and two paraphrases -- thoroughly changed my appreciation of Scripture. Finally, I could read the Bible, understand it and enjoy it, just as if it were a captivating modern book.

No more tripping over thee’s, thou’s, and -eth endings. All four are well-underlined and marked with many margin jottings.

Over the years, many more new versions have been released and gained space on my bookshelves.

Pooh-poohing the naysayers

Among writers and editors, conversations can get very heated when the topic veers toward using the “series comma” (aka serial comma, Oxford comma, Harvard comma) versus AP style which rejects it.

Among readers of the Bible, even more heat can be generated in discussions of which translation is the best, as well as whether paraphrases, such as The Message, are of any value at all.

Strong advocates of KJV-only will insist that the King James is the only truly accurate translation of the Bible. I’ve known some to go as far as to insist that Jesus spoke in King James English.

Um, no. He didn’t.

Still, different versions will be accused of representing liberal or conservative theology, being laced with gender-neutral language, containing specific errors of interpretation, or advocating wrong ideas.

The reality is that no version -- translation or paraphrase -- is a totally perfect representation of the original manuscripts, many of which are incomplete. Further, I am not aware of any single mainstream, reputable version that will lead a reader into heresy or spiritual dissolution. They are all solidly the word of God.

In fact, many “Christian” cults use only the King James and still teach horrendously twisted ideas and false doctrine.

The problem isn’t the version. The problem is the heart, mind, and soul of the person reading.

But don’t limit yourself to reading only a single version. Feel free to enjoy your trusted KJV, but also read in at least one other translation and one paraphrase.

I have a friend who buys a new Bible in a new version every year, then reads through it, underlining and jotting notes. Even though very familiar with Scripture, he always encounters lots of new insights.

Thanks to technology, every mainstream, reputable translation and paraphrase of the Bible can be read for free online from your computer, tablet, or phone.

According to the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) below are the current top 10 bestselling versions in the U.S. based on dollar sales :
1. New International Version
2. King James Version
3. New King James Version
4. English Standard Version
5. New Living Translation
6. Holman Christian Standard Bible
7. New International Readers Version
8. Common English Bible
9. New American Standard
10. Reina Valera 1960
These are not the only good versions available either.

But if you’re stuck on the KJV, and insist you’ll only give it up when it’s pried from your cold, dead hands, keep reading.

Something old, something new, something not inscrutable, something really cool

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language first came out in 1969, just before I headed to college in 1970. Me and my fellow English majors were enthralled with the new dictionary. Not only were there words, but also pictures! Lots and lots of great pictures! It was so exciting! This took boring text-only dictionaries to the proverbial next level.

In 1985, the same kind of excitement came to Bibles. One of the first truly modern “study Bibles” was released by Zondervan, the NIV Study Bible.

Unlike the old KJV’s that included a concordance, cross-references, and some maps, modern study Bibles put multiple, instantly accessible references right in the palms of both of your hands.

Study Bibles offer more readable fonts, better page layouts, commentary notes along the bottoms of the page, extensive introductions to each book, helpful sidebars, as well as useful concordances, maps, charts, illustrations, and cross-references.

I still favor my NIV Study Bible, while my wife leans toward the newer ESV (English Standard Version) Study Bible.

But there’s a brand new edition of one study Bible well worth considering, especially if you’re still clinging to your old, rugged, black-leather-clad KJV.

The New King James Version (NKJV) was introduced to the world with a “1 1/2 hour multi-media show featuring words and music, plus live appearances of renowned celebrities and performers” on Monday, July 19, 1982 in Dallas, Texas, during the annual CBA Convention (Christian Bookseller Magazine, June 1982).

I was there. Having to be in more than one place at a time, I missed much of the multi-media hoopla, but did snag a free copy of this new version. I and others were impressed, even though there were no pictures or maps in the free edition.

Not merely a de-thou-ing of the KJV, the NKJV represents a fresh word-for-word-leaning translation that updates the language while retaining the literary style and structure of the KJV.

For KJV readers, the NKJV it is both understandable and familiar.

A study Bible version of the NKJV has been available at least since 1997, formerly known as The Nelson Study Bible.

Now, a souped-up version of the 2007 second edition NKJV Study Bible -- The Full Color Edition -- has recently been released.**

It’s simply gorgeous, packed with all and more you’d expect in a study Bible. For example, you will find inside it...
  • full-color page design
  • Bible-land photos and graphics
  • in-text maps and charts
  • cross-references with textual notes
  • word studies and indexes with Strong’s numbers
  • Bible times and culture notes
  • book introductions, outlines, and timelines
  • reader-friendly notes and articles useful for extended study
  • concordance including proper names
  • articles on key biblical doctrines
  • harmony of the Gospels.
     
But wait! There’s a little more!

On the slipcover, an offer is made for a “free Bible study tools download.” To access the download, you’ll need to input your name, email address, and the ISBN.

The “tool” is a somewhat unwieldy 221 page PDF containing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John from the Modern Life Study Bible, another NKJV-based study Bible. There is no table of contents included in the PDF, and no explanation of how to use this “tool.”

Given that it’s the same biblical text, I’m not sure if many will find it particularly useful. My impression is that Thomas Nelson is offering it in hopes that it will entice some to buy the full book version of the Modern Life Study Bible. It would have been nice if it had actually been a real study tool rather than a marketing device.

Also referenced on the slipcover is an offer of a lifetime guarantee for which you must register online to activate.

Before opening and using your Bible, you may also want to check out the care tips located online and addressed in How To Care For Your Bible.

Shew me thy money! Or, their word will eat as doth a canker: A Final appeal

2 Timothy 2:15 admonishes those of us who follow Christ that, when it comes to faith and God’s word, we must “Study to shew thyself approved unto God.”

Shew?

You mean like when Ed Sullivan used to announce that the night’s program was a “really big shew”?

Or do you mean like the archaic variant of the word “show”?

Arcahic meaning “no longer current or applicable; antiquated.”

Even putting this KJV passage into context doesn’t really make things truly clear:
“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker...” -- 2 Timothy 2:11-17a (King James Version)
Doth a canker? Like a canker sore? What? Forsooth, alas and alack, I needeth some helpeth.

Let’s look at the same passage in the NKJV:
“This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer.” -- 2 Timothy 2:11-17a (New King James Version)
Oh, cancer!

That’s much more serious than a canker sore. And the approval part isn’t just about “studying” about faith, but about “being” faithful.

The NKJV Study Bible offers additional commentary and notes further clarifying the passage (click on the image at right to see the two-page spread larger).

Released just in time for Christmas gift-giving, the “full color edition” of the NKJV Study Bible is the perfect gift for friends, family members, and yourself.

Regardless if you are merely curious about the Bible, are a new believer, or a seasoned person of faith, this is the perfect addition to your Bible study bookshelf.

Additional resources:

NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255): I selected these books to review and received them free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


* Okay, the headline was nothing more than a bit of a tease. Sorry about that. Please forg
ive me.
** Technically it's not available until 10/21/14.


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What’s your preferred Bible version? What versions do you avoid and why? Do you read in both translations and paraphrases? The first time you read the Bible in a version other than the KJV, what was that experience like? Do you have a favorite version or study Bible? Share your thoughts in the comments!.

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