KJV: Happy 400th Birthday!

When Thomas Helwys, co-founder and leader of early Baptists, wrote, “The King is a mortal man, and not God, therefore he hath no power over the mortal soul of his subjects to make laws and ordinances for them and to set spiritual Lords over them,” the king he was referring to was none other than King James of KJV fame. The spiritual truth of Helwys’ words seems obvious now, but such was not the case when he first wrote them. They were deemed treasonous by the king and they landed Helwys in prison,where he died four years later, all because he believed that government had no business governing the consciences of men and women, nor dictating to them the manor or object of their worship. Freedom of religion was not merely a noble idea for Helwys and other early Baptists. It was a deeply held, heartfelt conviction for which they were willing to give their lives.

It seems more than a little ironic 400 years later that so many Baptists cling tenaciously to the Bible authorized by King James while they have conveniently forgotten the price paid by their Baptist forebears at his very hand to set free the moral and religious yearnings of men and women. Long before any nation’s constitution prohibited the government establishment of religion, or limits on the free exercise of religion, early Baptists were living like they were already free to do so regardless of the consequences. At least part of King James’ motivation for authorizing a translation of the Bible was so that he could better control the religious practices of his subjects.  He thought that if he could control what they were reading that he could control them.

While King James’ Bible did not fully serve the purpose he had in mind, it has certainly had a profound impact on the world. The anniversary of its publication is certainly worth noting and celebrating. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite KJV quotes.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-3)

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” (Micah 6:8)

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” (Isaiah 58:6-11)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:1-5)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

“And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was ahungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee ahungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:33-40)

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:15-17)

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

These are some of mine. What are some of your favorite verses in the King James Bible?

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A Litany of Questions

O God, for every sin and short coming that we have confessed, you have forgiven us.

Are we more forgiving?

Day by day you wait. You wait for us to give ourselves to you. You wait for us to let you be God in our lives.

Are we more patient?

You hear our excuses. You listen to our reasons for wanting to control our own lives and choose our direction.

Are we more understanding?

You are with us every moment of everyday. We do not take a step without your notice or concern.

Are we more caring?

When our steps lead us in the wrong direction, you find us. When we fall you, you pick us up. When we hurt, you hold us close.

Are we more compassionate?

You came to us to show us your love for us. Living, teaching, healing, loving you died that we would know you and your love.

Are we more loving?

Teach us how to love each other

Lift us to your joy divine.

May we grow in love, live in love and give love to you and one another

Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

You’ve Got the Time

CAUTION!  There is a spiritual adventure ahead.  Please proceed with care and caution, keeping your tray tables in their locked, upright position.  Stow all carry on items underneath your seat or in the overhead compartment.  Fasten all seatbelts until the captain turns off the “fasten seat belt” sign.

Well, not really.  I mean, we are not really going anywhere.  However, that does not mean that there is no adventure in our future, spiritually speaking, of course.  Think for just a minute about the sounds that you hear each day.  From the alarm clock in the morning, to the gentle hum of the furnace as you go to sleep at night.  There are a multitude of sounds that we hear each day.  Many of those sounds we hear almost without even realizing that we have heard them.  We hear all kinds of things.  Sometimes we hear something or someone because we decided that we wanted to hear it, like a song on the radio or a television show.  At other times, the sounds we hear are random and depend not on our choosing as much as where we are and what we are doing.

Here is the starting point for the spiritual adventure:  What if we decided to take control of what we hear for 28 minutes a day?  What if we choose to listen to something that would draw us deeper into our relationship with God?  What if we choose to intentionally listen for a word from God for 28 minutes a day over the course of 40 days?  What if. . .

I remember once when I was a boy playing at my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Howard’s house. (Parents you may not want your young children to continue reading at this point.) In my cousin’s bedroom in the basement, I found a piece of wire about four or five inches long.  Bending the wire in half so that the two exposed ends were about a half of an inch apart, I wondered what would happen if I stuck those two exposed ends into the electrical outlet, when my cousin entered the room and asked me what I was doing.  I told him, “Nothing.”

He saw the wire and the outlet.  “Were you going to put that in there?”

“No,” I said.

“Yes, you were.  Don’t do that. You could get hurt,” he told me in that way that only older cousins, who are not really that old, can.   So I still do not know what would have happened if I had stuck that piece of wire into that outlet; but I do know that someone has made a bunch of money selling little plastic inserts that are supposed to keep kids like me from sticking stuff in electrical outlets.

What if it were possible for you to plug something into your day that strengthened your connection to God?  There is so much in our lives that keeps us from making a good daily connection with God.  Our schedules and our responsibilities seem to take up most of our time. What would happen if you listened to the New Testament for 28 minutes a day for 40 days?  What would happen to our church if we each made the commitment to listen to the New Testament for 28 minutes a day for 40 days?

I do not know what would happen, but I would love to find out. That is why we are going to give you an audio copy of the New Testament.   January 17, we will give each family an audio copy of the New Testament in MP3 format.  You can then listen to the scriptures in whatever way is most convenient for you.  MP3 discs can be played on computers with a CD/DVD drive, home DVD players, portable MP3 players and MP3 compatible CD players.  If you are not sure what it will take for you to listen to the disc that we will give you, ask anyone 18 or younger and they will be able to explain it much better than I can.  We will also give each family with grade-school children an audio children’s version of the Bible so that our young ones can join us on this spiritual adventure.

The Bible says that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) What if we each took 28 minutes a day to listen to God’s word?  I hope you will begin now to get ready to join together with brothers and sisters in Christ at Ball Camp Baptist Church as we take the time to listen with our hearts and our minds to God’s word spoken into our lives.

The Insightful Beggar

When I came out the back door of the church, I immediately saw him. I stood their watching him for a moment before he noticed me. When he did notice me standing there, he did not acknowledge my presence. Instead, he tried to act as if he had not seen me or I him. But I knew that he had seen me because he picked up the pace of his activity. He hurriedly tossed his last bag of trash into the church’s dumpster, hopped in his car and sped away. In broad daylight, he had just stolen space in our dumpster for his trash.

Why did that guy feel the need to use our dumpster? Maybe he does not have the money to pay to have his garbage picked up curbside. Perhaps he did not have time to go all the way over to Oak Ridge highway to the convenience center where there are dumpsters with ample space provided by Knox County for residence of Knox County.

He was not the first person to toss their garbage into our dumpster and he will not be the last. Every time I see someone doing it, I remember a night long ago in inner-city Louisville, Kentucky. Patti and I were in seminary. We had not been married long, less than year I believe. We lived in a small, two room apartment on the third floor of the Jefferson Street Baptist Chapel. I was taking the trash out to the dumpster and as I stepped out of the back door of the building, I heard something move in the dumpster. The sound frightened me significantly. I went back in the building. The trash could wait until morning. I did watch from a window as a man climbed out the dumpster and made his way into the night.

Which brings us to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar on the side of the road as Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho. The dumpsters make me think of Bartimaeus because he is beggar. He stays alive by collecting what others toss his way, what they can do without. He stays alive with a coin here and scrap there tossed his way. What is the purpose? So that he can do it all over again the next day? What kind of existence is that? It is the kind that is not well thought of by most of us. At best we pity people like Bartimaeus, at worse we have scorn for them and their willingness to live off the efforts of others, not willing to work for their on bread like the rest of us.

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What we almost always fail to see when we see people like Bartimaeus is what they might reveal to us of ourselves. Why the pity? Why the scorn? Why do we find their plight so heart-breaking, so repulsive, so moving or so frightening? We think we are asking questions about the beggar, but if we listen a little deeper, we hear the beggar answers questions, not about himself, but about us.

Amazingly, if we pay attention to Bartimaeus, we discover that he understands something way ahead of the rest of us. Bartimaeus gets it. He cries out to Jesus and calls him the Son of David bestowing on him the Messianic title as Jesus and his disciples leave Jericho and make their way to Jerusalem, the City of David. How is it that a blind beggar sitting on the side of the road can see what no one else can see before anyone else can see it? For all we know Bartimaeus might have climbed out of his own dumpster that morning. How can he possibly know that the King is coming, that Jesus is the one. Have mercy indeed.

There are many like Bartimaeus who in their own way sit beside the roadways of our lives. What would they say to us if we listened? If we responded to them with something other than pity or scorn, what might we learn about ourselves and God’s calling on our lives?

Why Say No to Universal Health Care? Part 3

The reasons just keep piling up. I can hardly keep track.

1. Because Cigna needs the 13.6% premium increase it will take to keep my policy in place in 2010 more than the uninsured people in our country.
2. Increased premiums and higher co-payments for the same level of coverage are preferable to being a part of system that provides equal access to all of our citizens.
3. I have no desire to live in the two additional houses that I could afford to pay for if for some reason I did not have to pay health insurance premiums.
4. The health insurance bureaucracy employees a good number of people. Think of all the claim deniers and coverage terminators that would be out of work if real reform were enacted. Better that they should have jobs than for us to pay lower premiums.
5. Likewise, doctors have to employ people to argue with the claim deniers in an effort to get them to pay for services that the policy is supposed to cover. These people earn their money. I would not want to reform the system in such a way that the important work they do was no longer needed.
6. In a similar vein, think of all the lobbyists that get paid with dollars generated by the payment of health insurance premiums to make sure that no laws get passed that would interrupt the continuous flow of those premium dollars. These folks have grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle. I would not want my desire for more reasonable premiums to negatively impact their chosen way of making a living.
7. Without sky high premiums, how could health insurance companies afford to make lucrative contributions to the campaign funds of members of congress? I am sure that there are no strings attached to such contributions. The health insurance companies probably realize that with the high cost of television advertising, those guys need all the money they can get when it is reelection time.
8. When I consider the number of career paths that are funded with the proceeds of health insurance premiums, I am proud to be making such a contribution to our robust economy. It would be heartless and unpatriotic to even consider reforming such a system. Frankly, I wonder if a 13.6% increase is enough to keep it going.
9. Emergency rooms have adapted to serving as a point of primary care for people without health insurance. Imagine how bored the people who staff emergency rooms would be if we had a health care system that provided primary care in less costly more efficient way to all of our citizens.
10. Finally, people who want reform often mention the poor, the working poor or the uninsured as their motivation for supporting health care reform. What about all the social service agencies that work to provide services to these people? What about the ministries, the community clinics and that sort of thing? What about the United Way? The point is there are already all sorts of resources out there for people who don’t have insurance. Most of the people who provide those resources find a great deal of satisfaction in helping people who are less fortunate. What would all those human service workers do if all of sudden their clients had access to health care? Think of the many rewarding experiences that might be denied this caring group of professionals if health care reform actually came to pass.

You may already be opposed to universal health care. If that is the case, then hopefully these points will only strengthen your resolve to resist changing the effective, efficient health care system that most all of us enjoy. However, if you are not convinced that universal health care is a bad idea, then move to Canada, Great Britain or Sweden. There you can have your universal health care and for some reason you will be statistically more likely to live longer. Go figure.

Doing Theology in an Economic Downturn

The economy is in the tank or at least that is what we have heard most every day for the last several months. However, the reality of economic hard times is not something we need the newspaper or television to tell us. We know that the economy is bad because we know people who have lost their jobs and we have seen people lose their homes.

The stress and anxiety produced by financial hardships impacts every phase of our lives. We cannot help but worry when our ability to take care of our families and ourselves is impaired by lack of work or rising costs. While economists and commentators discuss the situation in large national and global terms, we experience it in cutting back on what we spend and how often we spend. That is if we are fortunate, for some the situation requires far more than just cutting back and spending less. For them, job hunting, relying on friends and relatives and possibly relocating to a new city in order to find a job are all a part of managing tough economic times.

Why is this happening? The answers that the experts provide for us are not really the answers that we are looking for when we find ourselves facing such difficulties. That is true because our question is usually more pointed. What we really want to know is why this is happening to me? Why this is happening to us? The answers to such questions vary. We may be able to look at some of our decisions and readily see why current economic conditions have had an especially adverse effect on our lives. Our spending practices may not have as wise as they should have been. Our job is in an industry hardest hit by the poor economy. Therefore, it naturally follows that our share of the pain would be greater than those who work in other fields less impacted by economic conditions.

Even those kinds of answers do not get at what we really want to know. Because what we really want to know is not so much why it happened, but why it happened to us? For some, after all the rational and reasonable explanations have been given, the answers can become more personal and painful. This would not have happened to me if I were smarter, if I were a better worker or if I were more likable. These sorts of answers can spiral out of control and result in quiet a beating to ones sense of self worth. There are times when our lives are impacted by events that are far beyond the scope of skills, abilities and choices.

Along the way, it would not be surprising to hear someone say why is God doing this to me? In the midst of difficult times that would not be an unusual question. God, where are you and what are you doing? This sort of question indicates an understanding of God that is magical and mechanistic. That is to say that God operates all the levers of our lives as well as the lives of others and magically bestows good outcomes on those of us who are good while those of us who are bad receive not so good outcomes. The problem with this approach to God is that we all know good people who have received not so good outcomes and we all know not so good people who seem to be doing just fine.

So what is the answer to the question? The answer, at least in part, is that God is incarnational. This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. It marks for us the beginning of Lent and our journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. We make that journey with Jesus, God incarnate. God, confronted with a broken and rebellious creation, took on flesh and dwelt among us. God, facing God’s greatest dilemma, came to us as one of us. The testimony of scripture tells us that there is no desire in the heart of God greater than God’s desire to be in relationship with us. God, in order to make that kind of relationship possible for each one of us, took on flesh and came to us. As we look forward to Holy week, we are reminded that this action on God’s part is no idle endeavor. The humiliation will be real, the pain real, the nails real and the cross rugged. God with us, Immanuel, endures it for us.

What is this God who takes on flesh doing in these challenging economic times? I think it makes sense to assume that God is doing the same thing now as God did at Calvary. God is being with us and still doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. At the same time, God is calling us to be the Body of Christ. To be the presence of Christ in the lives of people who have been knocked to their knees by economic hard times.

If someone is asking where God is or what God is doing as result of the impact of our nations current economic situation on their lives, that person ought to be able to look to the church and see what God is doing. That person ought to see a church praying for those whose lives have been turned upside down by job loss. That person ought to hear more than just words of encouragement from church members, but also see actions that help that person move from despair to hope, from unemployment to work, from being hungry to being fed and from worrying about family to providing for family.

Whoa! That is a tall order. How can a church be expected to do something like that? Well a church can’t do something like that, except that we embrace the ongoing reality of God taking on flesh and dwelling among us. We are the Body of Christ; as such we are called to be the presence of Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves. God calls us and entrusts us with an awesome and enormous task. Namely, that we live our lives in such a way that our very lives answer any questions about where God is or what God is doing.

Bible Buffet

When I was a boy growing up in Rockwood , Tennessee , we had two malls to serve our shopping needs.  The one we went to most often was West Town Mall here in Knoxville .  The other one, Northgate Mall in Chattanooga , we didn’t go to as much because it was not as close as West Town .

One day, because we had not been in awhile I suppose, we were at Northgate Mall in Chattanooga during the lunch hour.  Our choice for lunch was the Piccadilly Cafeteria.

My experience with cafeterias at such a young age was somewhat limited.  I was well acquainted with the perils and pitfalls of the school cafeteria.  At the same time, I had eaten many delightful meals at my dad’s restaurant, the Quick & Tasty Cafeteria.  Granted, most of the time I ordered a cheeseburger and fries from the grill, but occasionally, I would venture through the line and sample the cafeteria offerings.  The choices were limited to three entrees, five or six vegetables, rolls or corn muffins, coleslaw or salad and homemade pies.

That day in the Piccadilly Cafeteria, something was different.  I am not sure now exactly what it was.  Maybe it was the larger selection, maybe it was the presentation or maybe it was just that I was really hungry; but I could not make up my mind.  I stood there trying to decide, and I could not decide.  So I looked at the lady on the other side of the glass.  She was holding a plate waiting for me to tell her what I wanted.  I did not say a word.  Instead, I just started pointing.  When we finally arrived at the end of the line, Mom had that what-have-you-done? look on her face.  I had an inkling of an idea that the meal was not going to be as enjoyable as I might at first have thought it would be.

Needless to say, I was the last one to finish eating at our table.  More accurately, I was the last one to decide to stop eating.  This was one of the few times in my life when my good standing in the “clean-your-plate club” was in jeopardy.  But that day, cleaning my plate (or should I say plates) was more than I could do.  I had bitten off more than I could chew.

Look — I was young.  There would be plenty of time for me to recover.  In the years ahead, I would learn the intricacies of the buffet while also discovering the glories of the smorgasbord.  How could I know at such an early age that there was so much to be learned from restaurants and dining halls.

Every once in awhile I hear someone refer to someone else’s way of reading the Bible — almost always someone with which they disagree — as a cafeteria-line approach to scripture.  If one reads the Bible with a cafeteria-line approach, then one picks and chooses which parts of the Bible to believe or not to believe.  The idea being that if you don’t believe all of the Bible then you don’t really believe any of it.  Therefore, you should just shu…er…be quiet, the implication being a cafeteria-line style Bible reader is not a good thing.

Yet, I have some problems with this criticism being applied to people who earnestly and sincerely try to read the Bible and hear what God would say to them.  My first problem is that we all do it to one degree or another.  Singling out a person for doing something that everyone is doing just does not seem fair.

For those of us who are adherents to the Christian faith, there are parts of the Bible that we find delightfully appetizing.  When the Bible speaks of God’s love for us, we eagerly accept a double serving.  Where the Bible talks about grace and forgiveness, the lunch portion is not enough for us.  No, when it comes to God forgiving our failures and shortcomings, we prefer the dinner-size portion.  Overindulging on the tasty parts of scripture is something we all love to do.

At the same time, there are some dishes on God’s bountiful buffet of spiritual insight that leave our souls, if not our stomachs, feeling a little queasy.  When the Bible says that in Christ Jesus there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, we find many good Christian folks who are not yet ready to swallow all the implications of that one.  They still in some way prefer to savor the distinctions served up at the lunch counter of segregation, the coffee shop of misogyny and the hot dog stand of nationalism.

The truth of the matter is if we all just sallied up to God’s cafeteria and indiscriminately started stuffing ourselves with Biblical taste treats, there would not be enough gastroenterologists to attend to such a stomach ache epidemic.

I remember as a boy, my Dad would call the local radio station every morning to give them the menu for the day.  I used to think it was pretty cool to hear him telling the whole town what was for lunch.  Imagine hearing a menu like this:  For our appetizers today you can start with, “…unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”, or “…follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”  For the main course you are going to love, “…deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”; or for those who want something even meatier, “…love your enemies”, “…turn the other cheek”, “…pray for those who persecute you.”  If you’re still hungry, for dessert you might like some, “…do not judge and you will not be judged,” or maybe a sweet serving of, “…take the log out of your own eye.”

No, that was not the fare Dad offered to hungry Rockwoodians, but it is what the Bible offers to us.  Do you see my point?  Either the restaurant is empty or the doctor’s office is full because we can just take so much of Jesus at one time.  I think maybe that is why they make these little communion wafers so small.

There are some other reasons that I do not appreciate comparisons of the Bible with cafeterias; but it is time for lunch and I have to go.