Articles written by PurposeCity answering Practical Spiritual Questions

Gospel

What is the Gospel?

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His first recorded words are a command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The gospel, when translated from the Greek, literally means “good news” and is obviously an important and central teaching of the Christian faith. But do you know what it is?

For most of my life, I would have answered that question the same way almost anyone else who grew up in the modern Church would have answered it. The gospel is about the offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Right?

Let’s examine the scriptures to see what the Bible has to say on the subject.

Many Gospels?

Throughout Scripture, there are many instances where you will see the word “gospel” accompanied by a descriptor. Some of the examples we see are “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1), “the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13), and “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Does this mean there are many different gospels? And if there is no descriptor included, how can we know which gospel is being referenced?

In general, our culture has done a good job of proclaiming a gospel of salvation. The problem is that the Bible depicts the gospel as something more than just our own personal salvation, as evidenced above. Yet, we often miss the full gospel because we tend to focus on just one aspect of it. While there is certainly only one gospel, it manifests itself in many different ways.

Perhaps the best question we should ask is, “Which gospel did Jesus preach?”

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God

If we go back again to the first recorded words of Jesus, we see Him speaking about the coming “kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15). In Matthew 9:35, we also see that “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” In Luke 4:43, Jesus even goes so far as to say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.”

Have you ever truly noticed that before? Jesus is saying the very purpose He was sent to Earth was to preach the gospel, or the “good news,” of the kingdom of God. But did the focus of the gospel change after Jesus’ death and resurrection? According to Acts 1:3, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So even after his resurrection, Jesus continued to speak about the kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul preached the very same gospel. While living for two years in Rome, Acts 28:23 tells us that “from morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”

Paul wasn’t the only apostle preaching this message either. In Acts 8, we’re told that the Apostle Philip “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

What’s interesting is that both the good news (the “gospel”) of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus were preached. This indicates that the message of the gospel and the message of the person of Jesus are not the same message. The gospel of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of the grace of God, the gospel of your salvation, the gospel of peace – these are all the same gospel, because they all point to the same thing: the coming kingdom of God. When Christ comes again, ushering in his Kingdom to begin his millennial reign here on Earth, the good news is that those of us counted among the righteous will be there with him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

You can’t remove Jesus from the gospel. Without Him, there is no gospel. But if we only preach a gospel of salvation, then we reduce the gospel to merely a benefit. We may currently understand the gospel in relation to how it affects our lives today, but Jesus wants us to know how the gospel impacts us after we die. Salvation is our entry point into the Kingdom of God, but salvation is only a one time event. The Kingdom of God is forever.

Introverted Extroverted

Is It Better To Be Spiritually Introverted or Extroverted?

For those of you who have taken the Myers Briggs Test online, you may discovered what makes you, uniquely you. Everyone has a certain God-given wiring that makes them special and this wiring is necessary for reaching and loving others to whom they will be one day be sent to serve. As for me, I am an ENFP (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceiving) which means that I am people oriented with a deep emotional drive. The interesting thing for me personally is that some versions of the test will give you percentages and the last time I took it my test the results came back one hundred percent extraverted. This means that if given the choice to do any activity alone or with another person, I would always choose to be with someone else. The test was not lying as this is very true about my nature. You may be thinking – how cool is that? Or wow, that’s certainly not me. You see, this can be a doubled edged sword – especially when it comes to finding time alone with God. Now, for those of you who lean more to the introverted side of things, don’t worry, this isn’t all about extraversion. Instead, keep reading as you will learn that we all need to find a balance – we all need to become both introverted and extraverted at different moments throughout our days.

After expressing to a close friend my frequent feelings of loneliness, due to my need to be around people, she made a unique comment. You see, she could have easily agreed with me and said that this is just who I am and this would have served as an adequate response. Instead, she urged and challenged me to spend some time truly enjoying being alone. My initial reaction was simply, “easy for her to say, she tends to be much more of an introvert by nature than I am.” However, after giving it some thought, and some further discussion with this dear friend, I decided to look at Jesus’ life on earth for some inspiration on how to conduct our lives and govern our natural tendencies – be it extraverted or introverted.

So the question begs to be asked, was Jesus an introvert or extravert? What about when He ministered to others? Sure, we can argue that much of His story depicts time around his best buddies, the twelve disciples, and, therefore, this must mean He was a people person. Additionally, He clearly had no problem around the multitudes, speaking and sharing time with thousands of people, making any environment His home. Yet, we cannot write off that He also always made time to spend hours alone in solitude, praying to and worshiping His Father. Clearly, Jesus understood the value of both types of personalities: spending time around many people and rejuvenating through alone time. Here are two examples:

 “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” (Luke 6:12)

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said…” (Luke 14:25)

Perhaps you know exactly where you fall on this spectrum and you are not sure what it means for your spiritual life. I, personally, have come to find that every personality trait is fair game for God to use. So if you find that you, like myself, desperately need people, don’t be afraid to be alone. God needs you to spend some time hearing His voice and being still. It is through the stillness that He ministers to you, so that, you can go back out and bless others. However, if you find what I am saying peculiar and your tendencies would be to stay inside  and read a good book as opposed to socializing, you are probably are more of an introvert and the idea of constantly entertaining seems exhausting. You probably find meditating on God’s Word and solitude much easier than being a social butterfly. And, sure, it may be easy to say that the extraverts can handle the crowds, but the reality is, God needs introverts just as much as He needs the person comfortable holding the megaphone.

We are all called to be missional and that means that we all must go out and serve others. Likewise, we are reminded through Jesus’ life, and those who faithfully followed Him, that nothing can replace time alone in His presence. It is through these encounters with His holiness that we receive strength to fight the good fight that He has called us to.  So discover who you are because God didn’t make a mistake when He made you – challenge yourself to grow by both taking in who He is through solitude and releasing His presence through the accompaniment of many.

Bible Translation

Which Bible Translation Should I Use?

I frequently get asked which Bible translation I use and then to give recommendations; after all, there are a significant number of English translations of the Bible and it can be daunting wading through them all to find something that works for you.  That is what I feel is important in looking for a translation – look for the one that works for you and the work you’re doing.  A carpenter working on a construction project will pick the right tool for whatever job he or she is doing, and since there are a variety of translations, each with different goals and uses, you should feel confident selecting a version that helps you engage with God’s word.  Not a single translation committee sets out with the desire of getting the translation wrong or leading people astray, so as long as you do your homework and dig into the options, picking the right Bible for your personal study can actually be fun.

Why are there so many translations?

The New Testament of the Bible was originally written in an interesting version of the Greek language called koine (common) Greek, and the Bible itself is one of the few documents available that used that version almost exclusively.  It was not written in a formal academic way, but in a way that everyday people would understand.  Biblical archaeologists actually find out more about common Greek by sifting through ancient garbage, discovering the common forms in people’s grocery lists, than by comparing the Bible to other Greek texts from that period.

Because of the usage of common Greek for the Bible we still use today, there are a number of ways different words can be translated into English, and in many cases, single Greek words require a phrase in English to get at the intent of the Greek word.  Thankfully, entire committees of scholars throughout the ages of the Church have carefully preserved the integrity of the original texts and still work tirelessly to ensure modern readers have the most accurate and readable version possible.

What are the differences between different translations?

It’s helpful to divide the numerous translations into three main categories to keep things simple.  Each category deals with different goals for the reader, asking what they hope the reader to appreciate about the Bible when reading it.

1) Formal Correspondence Translation

This sounds super technical, but the equivalency of a translation describes the way it treats the conversion from Greek to English.  A formal correspondence describes a word-for-word attempt at translation, trying to put an English word or phrase directly in the place of the Greek.  Popular translations that use this approach are the New American Standard (NASB), the New Revised Standard (NRSV), the King James (KJV) and somewhat the English Standard Version (ESV).  Typically you will see these translations used for academic and preaching purposes, though personally I have used the NASB for personal study and we often use the ESV here at PurposeCity.

2) Dynamic Equivalence Translation

A dynamic equivalence, rather than attempting a word-for-word translation, approaches the project looking to translate thought-for-thought.  While formal translations make use of the same grammar and vocabulary as the Greek text, dynamic translations attempt to convey the original meaning.  Considering the commonality of the original Greek that was used to write the original biblical text, such translations can communicate meaning in a way that is helpful for personal devotional study.  Popular translations using dynamic equivalence are the New International (NIV), the New Living (NLV), and in part the English Standard (ESV).  The English Standard, a newer project seeks to combine formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence.

3) Paraphrase/Free Translation

Free translations take significant liberties with the text, often translating not from the original Greek and Hebrew, but from one English translation to an easier to understand English version.  That isn’t to say that a great deal of effort doesn’t go into such projects and translation teams are less in-the-know; The Message translation for example, which is the most well known in this category, was a project headed up by Eugene Peterson who has great skill with original biblical languages.  These translations can lend a great deal of color and flavor for personal devotional study, but often take too many liberties to be reliable for teaching and even memorization.

Some Bible Translation Shortfalls

As I have said, each translation and the committees that work on them for years take great care in providing as true and readable document as possible, but that doesn’t mean that their translations are without some challenges that should be taken into consideration.

The King James Version, for example, recently celebrated its 400th anniversary, and has lost some of its intelligibility for modern audiences.  1 Kings 11:1 tells us that “Solomon loved many strange women.”  Sounds like fun!  However, in 1611, strange meant something closer to ‘foreign’ in English.

The New International Version that was updated in 2011 set out to be the translation meant for those “missing from the church”and as a result ended up using quite a bit of gender neuter language that wasn’t in the original Greek or Hebrew.

The New Living Translation, as a thought-for-thought translation, uses language that can, at times, miss some of the strength or weight of Greek phrases.  Revelation 6:7, the Greek translates “who can stand…” meaning standing in the midst of difficulty, but the NLT renders this “who can survive…” which is somewhat weaker and even less poetic than the original.

Formal translations like the NASB and NRSV, while more word-for-word accurate, are often difficult to read.  The Bible, as a document for common people, is meant to be intelligible, and if people are put off of reading it because of stilted language, the point can be somewhat missed.

Quick Comparison – Philippians 3:17

For your own reflection, I did a personal translation of Philippians 3:17 from the Greek  and will compare it with the other versions.

My version: “Be imitators of me brothers, and watch those walking as a pattern in us.”

ESV: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

NASB: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”

NRSV: “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”

Message: “Stick with me friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for the same goal.”

NLT: “Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.”

So which one?

Personally, when teaching or preaching I still use the NASB, and that is also the translation I use for Scripture memorization.  However, doing my own translations over the years I have actually grown fond of the New Living Translation as one that communicates a meaning closer to what I think the original authors of the books of the New Testament intended, and so I use that more and more for daily devotional reading. Here at PurposeCity we often use the ESV for a variety of different reasons. Remember, there is never one perfect version, but they are all tools that allow us to accomplish different goals.

Selecting for yourself is, as I have said, a matter of your ability to connect to the text and reach the goals you have for the reading.  If you teach more or are involved in academic study, a Formal Correspondence would be appropriate, but if you’re more involved in your own devotional reading or small group study, a Dynamic Equivalence would be helpful.

The important thing is that you read the Bible at all, so find a translation that helps you engage with God’s word every single day.  What translation do you use and why?  Feel free to comment below and offer your own recommendations.

Inviting

Why Inviting People To Church Is So Hard

Have you ever considered why Churches grow? There are actually many Church growth models out there. A Google search for the exact phrase “Church Growth Strategies” returned 98,400 results. Almost all of the results were tools of evangelism, i.e. sharing your faith with people who have not yet experienced Jesus. There were even some incredibly creative and diverse ways to share your faith I found. But if you look at each and every one of these programs and strategies, they all have one thing in common – they require an invitation.

Both the old and new testament are filled with invitations from God to His people. For instance, Psalm 34:8 invites us to experience the goodness of God and to accept His blessing as we rest in Him,

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Jesus invites us to come and enjoy rest in Matthew 11:28,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

In the book of Acts, we see how the Spirit of God brought 3000 new believers into the Church on the Day of Pentecost. Peter, filled with the Spirit, stood up and preached the gospel, boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and inviting people into the Kingdom of God:

“Repent and be Baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

For many years, the number one reason cited for people not going to Church is that no one ever invited them. Can you believe that? And still today, according to Michael Harvey of Back to Church Sunday,  80% to 95% of people in our Churches have no intention of ever inviting someone to Church  and, by extension, into a community of faith where they can encounter the risen Christ. There are many reasons for this, but it generally boils down to a rather simple one: fear. Fear of rejection, fear of messing up a relationship, fear of not having the right words to say, the list goes on and on of things that we fear when we invite others into Christian community.

Now, as a example, I want to simply throw out some things for your consideration. Have you ever thought about other areas in our lives where fear ought to exist but it doesn’t deter us? People have fears of car accidents, yet we still drive. People have fears concerning the world that our children are born into, but we still keep having them. So why do we let fear govern our mentality about faith?

Joshua 1:9 states,

“Have I not commanded you? Do not be terrified, do not be dismayed. For I the Lord your God am with you where ever you go.”

We have a God who is bigger than all of our fears, who is with us no matter where we go and who is asking us to be the means by which others are invited into relationship with Him. We have a wonderful opportunity to share the love of God and extend that invitation to others everyday, but simply need to overcome the fear which holds us back. Remember the old adage, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.” You have the ability to act and to live in the invitation that Jesus gives you to be a part of the Great Commission – to go and make disciples in spite of the fear that you may feel.  And as you live out the ability to act in the presence of fear, the fear grows less and loses the hold it has on you.  You can defeat this fear and make an incredible difference for the Kingdom of God. And as you do, you will strengthen your faith and be encouraged as you see God at work in and through you.

So what will it look like for you to take the risk and invite someone to Church? How can you step out and believe that God is bigger than your fear? What are ways of inviting people into faith that work for you?

One Church here in the north has seen an incredible growth through using the simple phrase, “I would like to invite you to my Church.” A simple statement which allows you to put out feelers and see if there is an interest in spiritual things – a question that paves the way for the actual invitation (if there is a positive response). If they balk at the idea of being invited to Church (and they might) there is no harm done and you can continue the relationship without it being awkward or uncomfortable. If they say yes, you make the invitation and find a time for you to bring them to Church. It is not complicated and it works!

While we may face a few (or many) “No” responses to our invitations, I think God is just waiting with a few “Yes” answers to truly surprise us and show us that He is with us and that He can and will work through us. I encourage you to take a small step out from behind the fear and see how God might work in your life using this rather simple exercise.

Church

What Should Church “Look Like”?

Has you ever been asked what Church looks like? When most are asked this question,  they talk about the physical aspects of a building.  Gothic cathedrals to modern theatrical spaces, tiny white clapboard buildings to movie theaters and rented halls – we all have an idea of what Church ‘should’ look like.  Perhaps our ideas are shaped by our upbringing or by personal preferences.  Whatever the reason,  if you ask three different people in Church what it should look like, you might get four different answers. 

Too often, I find that we measure the success of the Church by the way it looks.  If we have a building that looks like what we think Church should be, the Church is a great one.  But what if we stopped looking at the physical aspect of the building and started to consider the spiritual ones?   Instead of thinking in terms of bricks and mortar, let’s think instead in terms of God’s people accomplishing the mission that was given to them by Jesus.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20

To be a Church, the first thing we need to consider is: do we reach out to others with the love of Jesus?  As a group of believers, do you prioritize  reconciling our world with Jesus?  One of the benchmarks of a healthy Church are how many new people come to faith and if there is a growing body of believers who are being baptized into the Kingdom of God. 

Is the Church not just growing bigger numerically, but is it growing deeper spiritually?  Jesus calls us to the messy (but joyful) work of making disciples as we teach them to obey His word.  We need to be about the business of helping others to be transformed into the image of Christ.  While we might have a great building with an abundance of programs, but the end goal needs to remain the making of disciples.

Finally, a healthy Church recognizes the power of Christ being with them.  They take comfort and direction from Him, striving to live out the mandate that He has gave us in Matthew 28. A healthy Church relies on God for His provision, magnifying Him through the worship of their lives, and giving Him the honor and glory for how He works in and through them.

In my own life, I have had to learn to let aspects of Church life that I enjoy go, all for the sake of the mission of the Kingdom of God.  So like me, what do you need to re-evaluate in light of our mission?  What is there that you might need to let go to be faithful to the call of the Great Commission? Personally, I am working at scaling back to a simple focus on that which brings God joy and fulfills what He calls us to.  And in that, I am learning to find peace.  Why don’t you join me on the journey as we realize that the Church is not a building or a place, but a way of life.

Titus

Titus 3:9: Debating Scripture

Have you ever sat around a table with two people that are passionate about the same thing, yet they spend far too long debating the details? For example, personally I would love to sit across from Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) from Grantland for an hour and debate with him his theories on basketball. It would be a blast. I mean, it’s part of our nature as human beings to want to debate. However, we have unfortunately let this predisposition work its way into our spiritual lives to a degree in which it becomes unhealthy. The reality is though, it didn’t take long. In fact, at the very outset of the spread of the Church Paul had some correcting to do in his Epistle to Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)

This verse recently became one of my favorite verses because while it remains so simple, it can really help shape how our culture engages scripture today. Before unpacking the verse for a moment, I do want to note that this verse is referring to dialogue over scripture that is handled in an unhealthy manner (see “controversies”, “dissensions”, & “quarrels”). There is absolutely nothing wrong with having deep conversations about the meaning of scripture with others around you (in fact, I implore you to do so). No, this verse speaks of engaging in unhealthy debates over scripture – something our society has become far too entrenched in.

So, what is happening in Titus 3:9? Well, Paul is communicating to the leadership of the Church in Crete (Titus included) that their demeanor and engagement with the Gospel is essential to the continued spread of the mission in that area. Paul says that foolish arguments (things that have no moral advantage) over scripture have no benefit for the Church. You see, as the elders of the Church argued over differences in their interpretation, they were not only teaching scripture to those listening (often falsely), but also modeling what it meant to be in community with other believers. This type of dissention reminds me of another verse written by Paul in Romans 16:17:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

How often today do we argue over our something that is meaningless to our walk with Christ? How quick are we to point out our differences, instead of the ties that bind? Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher that was estimated to have preached to over 10 million people while living in the 1800’s (yeah, think on that one for a moment), once put it this way:

“There are always plenty of thorn about, and there are certain professors who spend half their lives in fighting about nothing at all. There is no more in their contention than the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee; but they will divide a church over it, they will go through the world as if they had found out a great secret,-it really is not of any consequence whatever,-but having made the discovery, they judge everybody by their new-found fad, and so spread a spirit that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ.”

So what can Titus 3:9 teach us? The next time you are either the debater or are simply caught in the midst of a debate, I would challenge you to break out this verse. Personally, I have sat in the midst of a group of great Christian thinkers and when the debate went to a place in which it was unhealthy, the simple remembrance of this verse changed the outcome of that meeting for the better, forever. Paul challenges Titus, and those amongst him, to not engage in foolish debate over scripture and that challenge still rings true today! So, please, by all means, dig into scripture a great deal and have enlightening conversations with your local community, but remember to keep them directed at something that grows everyone and doesn’t become “unprofitable and worthless.”

I’d love to hear about your experience with scriptural debate. Leave a comment below – your thoughts, ideas, stories, and considerations are always highly valued.