Hey Bert!

Yesterday, Bert was our guest preacher...

No, not that Bert, this one...

Rev. Bert Neal is planting a new church in our district.  The plant that he is working on is what is commonly referred to as a "parachute drop".  These are different from a mother church "birthing" a new church.  When a pastor is "dropped", he or she is appointed to an area with a little financial support.  They spend a few months gathering contacts, forming a launch team, usually beginning some sort of regular meeting schedule, and preparing for a "launch Sunday." 

Bert has been at it since July 1st and is already ahead of the curve.  He's got a solid launch team and is prepared to begin meeting regularly with them for Bible Study and outreach opportunities.  Yesterday, Bert, his wife Denise, and several of his launch team members came to worship with us.  Bert brought the sermon and it was a powerful one that obviously came from the heart and touched several people.

Mt. Bethel has been growing, not just in numbers, but in spiritual maturity.  We have begun to reclaim our identity as a church that reaches out to the world.  In a time that so many churches seem to compete with each other for prominence, bringing Bert and his people is an effort to partner with another church to reach even more people for Christ. 

We don't have a ton to offer a new church start.  We couldn't make a $20,000 commitment to Bert, but we could do two things:  we could pray, which we did, and we could bring more awareness to the area of this new ministry and more exposure for Bert to the community.  Some folks did make financial commitments and every little bit helps.

Bert has given this new church a name: Sacred Praise United Methodist Church.  It will be in Lovejoy, Georgia (if you're close by, give it a try) and they're planning to launch sometime in March of 2011. 

Bert anticipates having close to 200 people committed to God's vision for this new church on his launch day, which will be more than we have at Mt. Bethel altogether.  It's exciting to know that such great efforts are being made to expand the Kingdom of God and I'm elated that I, and Mt. Bethel, can be a part of it all.

You can support Bert and Sacred Praise UMC too.  "Like" them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/sacredpraise) and get connected. 

Meanwhile, our North Georgia Annual Conference is working intentionally to birth new Christian communities every year.  For more information on what they've got going on, read on HERE.

Other friends of mine that are planting churches (support them too):
Stephen Walters - Connection Church (Suwannee, GA)
David Walters - The Vine (Braselton, GA)
Carter McInnis - The Way (Lawrenceville, GA)
Ken Hagler - Crossroads UMC (Acworth, GA)
Kenny Ott - Fellowship Church (Dallas, GA)
Andy Postell - The Well (Cartersville, GA)
Olu Brown - Impact Church (Atlanta, GA)
Kyle Smith - Life Springs UMC (Zebulon, GA)


Version, Part 3

Here's another version to bookmark: The Cotton Patch Gospel.

This version has been around for decades and you can still buy it from Koinonia Partners if you want it in print.  Clarence Jordan, who started the Koinonia Movement in Americus, Georgia during the Civil Rights Era was a New Testament Scholar (a farmer with a PhD) who also wrote a paraphrase of the New Testament, but in South Georgia language.  Koinonia Farm and Clarence Jordan are also the influences that led to Habitat for Humanity and many other great mission movements.

This is a fun version to read.  City names have been changed and the language is very much adapted to a specific audience.  For instance, when Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, here's how it reads:

It happened in those days that a proclamation went out from President Augustus that every citizen must register. This was the first registration while Quirinius was Secretary of War. So everybody went to register, each going to his own home town. Joseph too went up from south Georgia from the city of Valdosta, to his home in north Georgia, a place named Gainesville, to register with his bride Mary, who by now was heavily pregnant.
When Jesus went to John to be baptized, it says that Jesus went from Albany up to the Chattahoochee.  For a South Georgian (I grew up just outside of Valdosta), I love this version, though it holds no historical or academic authority.  For a native of the South, it will cause you to read a text you thought was familiar and say, "Oh, I never saw it that way before!"  Just wanted to share.
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Version, Part 2

What version of the Bible are you reading?

I've asked that question a few times lately to newcomers to the church.  I've found that many people who struggle to keep a routine of reading their Bibles or struggle to understand what they are reading have a translation that isn't doing them any favors.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)Image via WikipediaRemember, as a high school student, being required to read Romeo and Juliet or Twelfth Night or even A Tale of Two Cities?  I do.  I remember how it felt essentially like learning a new language.  I remember having to momorize the prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in it's original, old english form.  Oddly, I still remember some of the lines, but couldn't tell you what a bit of it means - not sure how that prepared me for life beyond high school.

I mentioned in my last post that I own a King James Bible.  To be honest with you, the only two occasions I use it are at Christmas Eve when I read from Luke 2 and at a funeral when I read the 23rd Psalm because the old reading is like comfort food to some more traditional Christians.  Even those instances are becoming fewer and fewer.  Why?  Because the KJV is in Shakespearean English and it's hard to understand for the average person.  I'm waiting for the day that the Gideons wake up to this fact and start diversifying their use of translations in hotel rooms and other public places.

 So what do you do if you look at your shelf and all you have is a KJV that you haven't dusted off for some time?  You go shopping.

That process can be just as daunting as trying to understand parts of Leviticus in 17th Century English.  Stand in any Cokesbury, Lifeway, or Family Christian Bookstore and you'll find a plethora of versions and enough book covers to accessorize for the formal occasion all the way down to an early morning in the deer stand.

In some cases, it may be easier and more useful to bookmark Bible Gateway and Oremus on your web browser and have all of them at your fingertips.  But what if you want the good 'ol print copy that you can write in the margins of and overstuff wth old bulletins?  Here are some of the translations that I've found most useful:

New International Version
I'll begin here because this is the translation that I have the most copies of and one that I preach from regularly.  The NIV was created in the 1970's and is a translation of the oldest texts.  The language is easy to understand (mostly) and you can get this Bible in just about any form, from the slimmest, easiest to carry to the bulkiest, most-note-filled version.  You can find one that will meet your needs, or like in my case, 5 or 6 that meet your needs.  

These are the versions that we usually hand out to those who need a Bible and Zondervan sells them pretty cheap.  The NIV is older than I am and is hardly "New" anymore.  It's been revised a couple of times with the tNIV and others, but never successfully.  There continues to be talk of further revisions.

Growing up, my church gave Bibles to rising third graders.  The Revised Standard Version (RSV) was my first "big boy" Bible and I still have it on my shelf.  The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is the one that every United Methodist seminary graduate has at least one copy of.  It's in the same family as the KJV and is essentially the RSV with minor revisions and updated language. 

The NRSV is commonly a study Bible.  It's the one that most academics turn to for a solid translation.  It's also one of the most gender-neutral translations you will find.  When speaking of God, it reads "God."  (the Hebrew language doesn't have any gender-neutral words - even inanimate objects have gender)  They've also taken the liberty to add "and sisters" wherever Paul writes to the brothers - making sure that we understand that the message is clearly for all people.

I like this version and preach from it just as much at the NIV.

The Message
I keep a copy of this one on my shelf to, but it's like having a very specialized tool in your toolbox.  The Message is a paraphrase of the old texts, written by Eugene Peterson.  In the early 90's, Peterson was teaching a class on Galatians and saw a need for a new "translation" that would capture the emphasis of what Paul and others had written.

If you go out and buy one of these, (they tend to have the coolest, trendiest bindings) you need to understand that this is a paraphrase of Scripture and not a translation.  Peterson has taken his interpretation of the text and put that down on paper. 

Like I said, it's a specialized tool.  It's great for meditating on scripture.  It's horrible for study.  It's great for getting through difficult passages, but it's not sufficient for deep analysis.  If understanding scripture was like washing dishes, think of The Message as a good pre-rinse before putting the dishes in your dishwasher.

New American Standard Bible
This is a new one on my shelf (even though it's been around since 1971) and I haven't preached from it yet.  This is a good version for scholars that are seeking a very literal translation of the old Greek and Hebrew.  Every copy of this translation comes with standard notations.  Italics show up where they have used a word not in the original Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, but implied by it.  All caps are used where an Old Testament text has been quoted in the New Testament and an asterisk is used where the verb tense has been changed to conform to modern usage.

If I want a decent idea of what the original Greek or Hebrew says without having to learn those languages, this is a good version.  The translators have taken very few liberties with the text and, when they have, they've made every notation posssible.  With that, this translation doesn't do much to enlighten us on some of the more entangling texts of the Bible or to break up Paul's run-on sentences.

So what about versions to avoid spending money on if you're looking for a new Bible?

The King James Version - Don't buy this one unless Shakespearean English does something for you.  This translation won't do you any favors.  The New King James is better than the original, but you can do better than the NKJV.

The Living Bible - This one is a paraphrase like The Message, but with even more liberty taken.  This was the Bible that my seminary professors strictly forbid.  The New Living Bible is ok, but if you want a paraphrase, I would trust Peterson more.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible - This Bible is the unofficial Southern Baptist Bible.  Not that being Southern Baptist is bad, but having a denominationally biased Bible is dangerous.  This version annoys me because certain parts of scripture are highlighted, simply because the editorial board felt that some scripture is more important than others.  It's scripture with a political twist, if you will.

The Common English Bible - This one is just coming out and I wrote about it in my last post.  In reading parts of this new translation, I believe that the translators ventured away from traditional language to make it more readable in some cases, but in others, it feels like they did it just to be different.  I won't read this one without a more trustworthy version readily accessible.

There are dozens of different tranlations out there and you have to form your own opinions eventually.  If you already have any of these versions, don't throw them out.  Each has it's own merit, but I would suggest getting something that will serve your needs for understanding scripture so that it will inform your faith and serve as "a lamp unto [your] feet and a light unto [your] path" (Psalm 119:105).

What's in your library?

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Version, Part 1

What version of the Bible do you read?

My church has NRSV's in the pews.  I have these on my shelf:

I've preached from five of those versions and the rest I use for reference and study.  I ask the question because there is great debate in some circles over the authority of scripture based on the translation.

The cornerstone of fundamentalist belief is that the only Bible is the King James 1611 Version.  It's also referred to as the Authorized Version because translation was authorized and commissioned by King James of England.

I would have to question that "logic" since there are canonical versions much older than the KJV.  The Masoretic Text and the Latin Vulgate being the two primary versions.  And, of course, there is also the Septuagint that goes back to the time of the Ptolemy II.  Secondarily, the KJV bears thousands of translation errors.  While most of them are minor, our ability to translate ancient copies of scripture has improved many times over since the 17th Century.  To demonize another translation of scripture because it's not the KJV 1611 is simply irrational and if that's your take on the matter, you should consider just how ridiculous you sound.

A new translation has just been released.  The Common English Bible is the newest translation on the market.  In fact, it's so new, only the New Testament is available for purchase right now. 

It's not a revision of an existing translation, but an all-new translation geared to be more contemporary and more accessible.  Translation was an ecumenical effort, primary among Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Presbyterian scholars.  It's supposed to be simple enough for a fifth grader to read easily and still be a true translation, as opposed to a paraphrase like The Message.

But I have concerns.  I'm not sure if those concerns are valid or not, but there they are. 

Some of the translation decisions bewilder me.  Take, for instance, Matthew 5:1-11 - the Beatitudes.  I'm preaching from these right now and many of us know them by heart.  Each of the eight beatitudes begins with "Blessed are..."

The CEB translates these verses to begin with "Happy are..."  Technically speaking, that translation is accurate.  The original greek word is "makarios".  It means happy or fortunate and in a religious context, it means blessed.  I can't tell if it's just my own bias, but despite the fact that one greek word covers all these english words, there is a difference in english between "happy" and "blessed."  Happy means "delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing."  Blessed means "divinely or supremely favored."  I guess in a technical way, they mean the same, but the connotation for each is different for most of us.

Over and over, this translation makes the decision to be different, apparently so that it can simply stand out from other translations.  While there is merit to creating a new, contemporary version that will be applicable and engaging to modern readers, I suspect that I'm going to spend more time explaining the differences in the translations to people than I've ever had to with the versions we already have.

I personally know some of the people on the editorial board for this new translation.  One of them was the OT professor that I learned an immense amount from and is one of the worlds foremost experts on the prophets.  I'm still concerned about the usefulness of this version and, if it does survive in print, what kind of challenges it will present.

What version do you study from?  If you're a preacher, what version do you preach from?  What's your reasoning?

Tomorrow, I plan on posting on things to look for when shopping for a new Bible.
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Imagine riding a motorcycle.  Not just any motorcycle - a drag bike like this one.

You begin going through the gears...First...Second...Third...Fourth.  Your speedometer tops 100...then 150...then 200.  The engine on your bike is whining.  The stripes on the pavement have gone from dashed to solid.  The objects to your left and right are indiscernable blurrs. 

You're holding on for dear life, right?  Your knuckles are white - you feel like your hair is on fire.  You don't even taste the bugs that you're eating and you swear you can feel the skin peeling off your face.  Can you relate to that?

For all the youth directors and counselors out there, maybe a better analogy is driving the church van full of teenagers on the interstate...

In either case, you're holding on for dear life, praying that a deer or other obstacle won't run out in front of you.  You keep the throttle maxed out and hope for the best.  There is very little opportunity for maneuvering or braking.  You find out just how long you can hold your breath.

This is an accurate description of what ministry is like for me right now.  We have had seasons like this before, where so many things seem to come together at once and it all seems a little overwhelming.  The rush is indescribable - it's a combination of joy, excitement, and sheer terror.  If I had hair, it would surely be on fire.

I posted a few weeks ago about our success at inviting friends, neighbors, and family members to church.  I've served a larger church and if attendance fluctuated by 50 or 60 on a given Sunday, it was hardly noticable.  In a smaller church, adding half that amount still adds up to 20-30% of your worship attendance.  That's a shock to the system!  Since July 18th, many of the people we invited have stuck around and become regulars with us.  Very exciting.

A new school year has begun - the youth and children's ministry are getting back in the swing and we're gearing up for Confirmation to begin next month.  At the same time, we're trying to figure out how to get the new kids and their parents plugged in.  (now accepting creative ideas)

We're doing something that many churches aren't doing and we're actually expanding our Sunday School to add one or two classes.  At the same time, we're beginning to make preparations to add a second Sunday morning worship service in hopes that we can spark even more growth.

The sanctuary is about to get some renovations with the addition of a video system.  A new projector, screen, and the expansion of our A/V booth.  Our capabilities in worship will increase exponentially. In fact, worship will probably morph somewhat with that capability.  We're even exploring whether or not we will need a weekly bulletin as we go forward, or if we can just create a monthly newsletter.

As if that wasn't enough for our trustees, there is some talk about taking advantage of the housing market and shopping for a new parsonage.  *If you're a member and you're reading this, don't be alarmed - it's still just talk.  If it's a feasible possibility, we'll report to you later and you'll be a part of this decision.

Two and a half weeks from now, we'll have a guest preacher.  Rev. Bert Neal will bring our Sunday message and hopefully we will have several people from his launch team as our guests as well.  Bert is new to our district and is a "parachute-dropped" church planter.  As Bert brings the sermon and leads our worship, the plan is that our church will become a partner in this new expansion.  It's exciting to think that our small membership church can help build a new congregation in the next county that will launch with more people than we already have.  Join us in praying for Bert and Sacred Praise UMC, set to launch in March of 2011.

There is so much going on that I'm sure to be forgetting something.  (Oh yeah, we're doing a new church directory for the first time in six years, and we're beginning work on nominating next year's church leadership)  Things are at the edge of control and in some cases, out of control - for us that is.  I just keep holding on tight and trusting that God will keep things moving in the right direction and keep my head above water.