Slavery or Adoption

Sermon preached on July 12, 2015

Romans 8:12-17

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:12–17 NAS)

Questions for Reflection

What difference does it make to live according to the flesh or by the Spirit of God?

What is the biggest struggle I face in the war going on inside me?

Is freedom reflected in my life in the Spirit or is it reflected in just another avenue of slavery?


Loss and Loneliness

Loss and Loneliness in the Church

Loss is part of life, in some cases a significant part of life. But how does the Church play into this life of loss?

I think a fair assumption is that most pastors and most Christians recognize when someone experiences loss; and they offer help. Death, unemployment, job transfers, family separations, divorce, etc. Many times our fellow Christians come to our side, walk with us in the stages of loss. But how long does that last?

This is where loneliness follows on the heels of loss, and may not even be recognized by the Church as an added burden. This kind of loneliness is subtle, creeping into a person’s life slowly, silently.

Consider the death of a spouse. The shock and grief begin, usually mapped out in five stages. Of course, the stages can be mixed up and not in order. But the issue of loneliness is not even addressed in the stages of grief, often because no one thinks it’s an issue.


After the visits, hot dishes for the family, after family leaves, then a loneliness settles in as an unexpected and uninvited guest. The room feels empty, the bed stark, the morning conversations are only an echo of past times. Sometimes the phone call is a distant memory.

Obviously no one else can fill that void left by someone. The shared knowing moments, the slight smile, the hand slowly caressing the hand, never to be no more. And loneliness becomes more real.

What can the Church do?

We in the church can recognize the loneliness. Take a moment to speak with the person who has experienced loss. Share some thoughts, that may only apply to you, but you want to share with someone. Expand the circle of friends.

Obviously there is so much that can be done. If this is all new to you, then take halting steps in one way to be with the lonely person. The more you know this person, the more you will be able to tell what is helpful and what is not. Even if you “make a mistake” you can still care for someone. A mistake is that, not the end, but a turning point as the other person experiences your willingness to each out.

And don’t forget pastors. They, too, can be lonely, experiencing not only the the same losses as the rest of the congregation but their losses accumulate. They may not open up, but they need your love and support as well.

Personal loss and Loneliness

In the past six months four significant people in my life have died. The birth mother of our sons died two years ago, but we just found out at the end of April. Although we had never met her (being in Korea), she was very much part of our lives through our sons. My wife’s younger brother died in June. My mother died in August. And one of the most influential guitar players in my life died in October. Each played a major factor in my life (and my wife’s), and each was cumulative in understanding loss and loneliness.

For me my mother’s death was especially hard. She is the last of her generation. We were very close over the years, sharing memories and stories, many from her early life. I was so glad we spent time with her in June of this year celebrating her 88th birthday.Mother’s 88h birthday

But now the loneliness is setting in. I reach for the phone 2-3 times each week to call her, to remember a detail of some event or story. And that is now gone. The loneliness has begun in real. So many questions to ask, and now of my father who died in 1991.

This also changed the dynamics of my role in the story. Now I am in the older generation with the family stories. My younger brother was sorting through my mother’s photo albums recently. He described one photo and commented that it must be [name], who he knew through fishing trips. I realized that the man in the photo was not alive when he was describing the photo. The man in the photo was actually the father of the man he identified. And so I passed along another bit of family history.

Thus, I find these odd memories, photos, conversations are the things that increase the loneliness, and yet change the loneliness and my perspective. At the same time I am helping carry on memories, photos, and conversations to my brother, my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

My mother began hand-writing a partial biography in the late 1990s. Her purpose was pass on to her descendants elements of her life. I began putting that into the computer (writing, editing, page layout, etc.) in the early 2000s. Ultimately we published it in 2006, with enough copies for her family/descendants and her brother’s family/descendants (her brother died in 1974). We eventually published two more runs as people in the area (northern Minnesota) became aware of it and wanted their own copy.Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.32.45

Am I still lonely? Yep, and I suspect for a while. But I also realize that her stories in person and the selected glimpses in her book will be part of my life from now on.

And I am a little less lonely. But I still want to pick up the phone one more time…

When God’s Approval Isn’t

Background on GW

I have written before about the God’s Word (GW) translation. This includes my background as serving pastor of three different congregations that were test congregations for checking readability, oral comprehension, etc. For the most part it is a very good translation, especially as it was being published from 1988 to 1992.

The interim published translation was called New Evangelical Translation (NET) first in 1988 and then 1992); it covered only the New Testament. From 1992 to 1995, when the entire Bible was published under the name God’s Word, the translation team shifted emphasis. The biggest change in the translation was to translate δικαιοσύνη as “God’s approval” instead of the previous “righteousness.” I protested that change during the testing phase (1992-1995), and I repeatedly have sent letters/emails since 1995. All to no avail.

The reason for the change was defended by the translators, noting that in contemporary usage “righteous” and “righteousness” had lost any semblance to its usage in the New Testament, so an alternative had to be found, and they chose “God’s approval.”

My objection to such a change was two-fold. 1) It is better to teach the concept of “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη). Since teaching would be involved in understanding “God’s approval” why not teach regarding the use of “righteousness.”

2) The GW translators retained “righteousness” in the Old Testament for the Hebrew,  צְדָקָֽה , LXX (Greek OT) using δικαιοσύνη. So the supposed advantage of “God’s approval” fails in this inconsistency. Notice how this is problematic when looking at NT usage of an OT passage.

Romans 1:17 God’s approval is revealed in this Good News. This approval begins and ends with faith as Scripture says, “The person who has God’s approval will live by faith.” (GW)

Notice that it quotes from the prophet:

Habakkuk 2:4 But the righteous person (וְצַדִּ֖יק) will live because of his faithfulness. (GW)

So, how does a learning student of the Bible make the connection with how GW handles “righteousness” in Habakkuk vs. “God’s approval” in Romans? It actually leads to more confusion rather than clarity, because it makes a distinction between “righteousness” and “God’s approval.” Now, notice that when translating δικαιοσύνη as righteousness in Romans 1:17 the translation removes the additional layer of confusion, actually aiding the student in understanding.

Here is the NET (1992) translation of Romans 1:17

For it reveals the righteousness which comes from God by faith to bring people to faith, as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Thus, my theological and translational concerns about God’s Word choices still stand, and why the 1992 NET was far better. But now I have come across a practical reason to not use “God’s approval” as a translation for δικαιοσύνη.

Practical Implications

In Bible class recently this confusion caused by the use of “God’s approval” came to bear in a very personal way. One person has been caring for an elderly loved one for more than a decade. For many years the care was demanding but the elderly family member was her usual considerate loving self.

But in recent months the demeanor changed, and the burden on the caregiver with little sleep over the past few months (up every 1-2 hours). This meant the caregiver was working on the thin edge of care, and occasionally began to respond with less than kind words and attitude. The caregiver felt a heavy burden, because God was obviously not pleased (God did not approve of the attitude displayed).

The caregiver then was reading the usual GW translation Bible for comfort but kept running into “God’s approval.” The more the phrase appeared the more demanding it became, the more condemning it felt. The caregiver had come to the conclusion that God was not approving of the words and actions of the caregiver, leading to serious questions about God’s lack of approval. The person knew about righteousness but could never connect it to God’s approval. Other problematic texts in GW: Romans 3:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9.

Notice that in the process, the supposedly more helpful translation “God’s approval” was no longer speaking God’s approval, but the very opposite; “God’s approval” was not “God’s approval” for this person. The Good News of righteousness was replaced by the demands of a righteousness, earning God’s approval through performance that was flawed. And that was overwhelming. Thankfully this person asked the right question about that in Bible class. After the explanation of what righteousness is and what it means in many contexts, the tears of joy and relief flooded this person, the fear of not meeting “God’s approval” was gone.

For this person, “God’s approval” could only be understood in light of righteousness that is a gift from God. Thus the person is righteous by faith, not by performance. Others in the class began to understand the challenge and problem with GW’s use of “God’s approval.” Thus, the title, “When God’s Approval Isn’t.”

So I had to teach the concept of δικαιοσύνη, righteousness for the good news to sink in. How much longer it took than if the person had read “righteousness” in the translation GW?

What Next?

Of course, I realize that changing GW is impossible now. Twenty-three years have passed since I first opposed the use of “God’s approval” and I have repeatedly done so for 23 years. And still no acknowledgment that there is even a problem with the translation choice, “God’s approval.”

Sadly all the good points of GW (oral comprehension, Old Testament translations, etc.) cannot compensate for this translation problem. For that I am sad.

For the new realization and relief for this caregiver, that the person is righteous before God, not having to worry about God’s approval any more. In Jesus Christ, His righteousness has been accredited to the person’s account. And for that everything the person does is pleasing in God’s sight because of Christ’s work. God’s approval is not earned and no longer the cause of fear, discouragement, despair.

Nothing but joy and celebration when the good news truly becomes  good news.


God’s wonderful deeds

Stability in unstable times or God’s wonderful deeds. The past few months have been unstable times. An emotional roller coaster of both good and bad. And yet, God…

This Psalm is an appropriate reflection on this time for me.

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;

I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

(Psalm 9:1-2 ESV)

My brother-in-law had been away from the Lord for more than 40 years. Early this year, the Lord reached him and brought him back to faith in Christ and the Church. He confessed Christ, and the last few months of his life, he regularly received the Lord’s Supper. We saw him on our visit to Minnesota in June. What a delight to be able to read the Bible with him and pray with him each time we saw him. He died (June 21) eight days after we left Minnesota; he was 62. Through his faith in Christ he received the crown of

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

At the same visit, we were with my mother. She had been faithfully living in the Lord the past 24 years. We also knew that she was declining in health. We knew it would probably be one of the last times we would see her. She died August 23, after being in hospice less than 24 hours. Through her faith in Christ she received the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

As I have recounted on this blog, the past 37 years of our life with and without our older son have been challenging, defeating, discouraging. But in late July we received a letter from him. He is in prison, which we expected, even though we had not heard from him or heard anything about him in seven years (and 10 years before that). But the letter was life from death. He confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, and he has been reading the Bible, praying daily.

Then this last week we received another letter from him. He is still reading and praying, but he is admitting the spiritual struggles he has. In a way this is a huge step forward for him. His life in Christ, like for all Christians, is not an emotional high, but a “now and not yet” existence. The best part—he is finding stability in unstable times. Through faith in Christ, he, too, will receive the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

Prior to my breakdown in 1998, each of these events would have mounted into crisis for me. I would have stuffed the emotions, tried to care for others, and carry on is if I were okay. But not so, now. I am so thankful for what God has worked in me (and there is so much to work through!) the past 17 years.

Thus, this summer has been a time of lost, grief, loneliness, sadness. But the summer has allowed me to grieve in my own way (we didn’t go to either funeral this summer). And that was best for me and my wife. We each grieved, but not with a heavy weight upon us. This allowed me something I had never experienced. I had nothing to give to others in their time of need, and so I didn’t. Prior to 1998 I would have felt guilty, given into expectations.

But in my grief I needed to be comforted by God, not trying to give something I did not have, felt. And I was comforted by God’s promises. Thus, as I reflected on the deaths and what was lost, I was able to reflect on what God had worked, in rather unexpected ways—grace, as always, from God. And I am comforted. Through faith in Christ I, too, will receive the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

So in this unstable time, God’s promises sustained me, us. And so another Psalm reflects my heart at this time:

I love you, O LORD, my strength.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,

my God, my irock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

(Psalm 18:1-2 ESV)

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.


*Note: The crown of life of Revelation 2:10 is στέφανος (stephanos), not diadem. So also the crown of righteousness used in 2 Timothy 4:8.  Hence the image I used is one of Christ’s victory, namely the crown of thorns.

Abortion, Life, and Care

With all the protests vs. Planned Parenthood, I wonder whether the President, Congress, and judges are paying attention. Thanks to Mollie Ziegler Hemingway for keeping us apprised of protests around the country.

Also, how many more babies have been killed since the protests began today? My heart aches for this national tragedy, and even more so for the women who have had abortions. Ministering to them takes love, compassion, patience, and time. Let’s be a part of that movement as well.

Yes, I have been ministering to women for 28 years. The key is not letting themselves or others define who they are by having had an abortion. They are sinners, just like me. They deal with grief, shame, guilt, etc. They are no different than many of us who sit silently and shake our heads about how bad it is, and then we go back to the latest Twitter or FB or Instagram attention-getting topic. Rather, God defines them by sins-forgiven, made-pure-in-Christ. Let that be our foremost message. guilt-and-shame-pic

Life is under attack at the other end of life, too. Euthanasia (“good death”?) is a convenience for someone else, but does not value the life of the person being put to death. We can cover it with all kinds of sentimental thoughts “She would have wanted this to end”; “Now he is no longer in pain.” Yes, there are times that happens. But realistically, look at what happens in the Netherlands, and it is far past assisted suicide. And notice how this creeps into mainstream US media to justify taking life: Dying Dutch: Euthanasia Spreads Across Europe.

But this isn’t about just pointing fingers at others. We confess our sins because we realize we have failed in so many ways: our thoughts, our words, our deeds, our silence…

Some thoughts from Scripture:

Psalm 139:13-16 (GW)

You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this. My bones were not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, when I was being skillfully woven in an underground workshop. Your eyes saw me when I was only a fetus. Every day ˻of my life˼ was recorded in your book before one of them had taken place.

Mark 2:17 (NAS)

And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

1 John 1:8-9 (NAS)

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Romans 8:1 (NAS)

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NAS)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

So, now what?

To those who are struggling with issues of life, death, value of a person’s life, give some time reflecting on something more than media headlines. Maybe even help another family who is living through this. Care for them, and realize that suffering is part of life and cannot be ignored or dispensed with a needle or ended with a putting someone to death.

This has been a heavy post to write about. It reflects some of my concerns expressed among family and friends for 40 years, many years of ministering to suffering people. The thoughts here are a little disjointed from the agony of my heart.

Even as my heart aches with all that is happening, I think God’s heart is breaking, too. He not only desires life for us now, but also life eternal. That is, life here is temporary, and filled with joy, sadness, hope, joy, and suffering and death. But it is not the final answer. We wait for life in its fullness.

Romans 8:23, 26-27 (GW)

However, not only creation groans. We, who have the Spirit as the first of God’s gifts, also groan inwardly. We groan as we eagerly wait for our adoption, the freeing of our bodies ˻from sin˼.

At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to.

And so we pray


Desperation of prayer
Desperation of prayer

Hope for all who call on the name of Jesus

Our hope is in the God who creates life, who sustains life, and who desires us to have life with him forever.