Month: July 2012

Avoiding the Really Old (Biblical Seminary blog)

How does one get through the security line quickly at the airport?

How do we do as a church in valuing the elderly?  How does God value them?

To read some reflections on these questions, check out my recent blog on Biblical Seminary’s faculty blog: Avoiding the Really Old.

I didn’t take this picture (somebody told me you aren’t supposed to take pictures at the airport, and I always do what I’m told).

Image from:

From worthlessness to pricelessness (Psalm 119:37)?

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways
(Psalm 119:37 ESV).

What worthless things do you look at?  (Not counting this blog.)

I don’t think the psalmist is referring to blogs, Facebook, Twitter or youtube.  Perhaps, but not necessarily.  Worthless things lead one away from God.  The Psalms often speak of “worthless idols” (Psa. 31:6; 96:5; 97:7).  Almost anything can become worthless if it distracts us from what’s really important.

Reading a blog can become worthless if you should be praying or spending time with your family.  (Unless the blog is encouraging you to pray or spend time with your family, like this one is.)  Posting on Facebook can be worthless, but it can also be a great way to connect with friends.  Watching youtube…well, that’s harder to come up with a good rationalization for why it’s not worthless.

When I was young (about 45), I was always confused by the words “worthless” and “priceless“.  An item’s worth and it’s price are supposed to be the same.  So, these two words should be synonyms, and yet they were antonyms.  One refers to things with no worth, the other to things with unlimited worth.

The psalmist clearly believes that life is found in God’s ways.  The psalmist tells God to divert his gaze from worthlessness to pricelessness.  God and God’s word are therefore the only things that are truly priceless.  (I should probably also say people are priceless since they are made in God’s image…)

God, help us focus on you and your word. 

So, is youtube worthless?  When?  When not?

The Declaration of Dependence

My favorite memory of celebrating the 4th of July was 36 years ago.  If you’re good with math you might have figured out that was the US Bicentenial.  I was fourteen and we lived outside of our nation’s capital, so we drove into DC and stood next to billions of other people within a stone’s throw of the Washington Monument to watch 34 tons of fireworks explode.  It spoiled every other 4th of July.  Every other fireworks display was like a sparkler.

I live just outside of Philadelphia, so I’ve seen the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall many times.  I know the story of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (if you’re from another planet, it was July 4, 1776).  I know how they risked their lives to put their name on this historical piece of paper.  I’m thankful to live in the US.  So, in a few hours I’m going to celebrate Independence Day with my brother’s family and a few friends by igniting a few sparklers (and perhaps a Roman Candle or two).

But biblically, independence is not a good thing.  It’s not something to be celebrated.  The people who are celebrated in the Bible are the ones who didn’t act independently, but the ones who were totally, utterly, hopelessly dependent upon God.  Moses at the Red Sea with Egypt approaching.  Rahab risking her life to protect the spies.  Gideon with his 300 men facing tens of thousands of Midianites.  Young David facing the Philistine giant Goliath with only a sling and 5 stones.  Hezekiah when Sennacherib of Assyria was at the gates of the city.  Esther boldly asking Ahasuerus of Persia to save the Jews.  Read the stories of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.

These men and women, who by their actions revealed their faith in God, made a Declaration of Dependence.  They were willing to give up their independence because they knew the God they depended upon was trustworthy.


Battle of the translations (Psalm 119:36)

Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish
gain! (Psalm 119:36).

If you don’t know Hebrew, it’s helpful to read an Old Testament verse in multiple English versions of the Bible in order to get a flavor of the different ways the Hebrew could be translated.  Quickly one realizes there are more options than one might feel comfortable with.  It’s also good to realize that Bible translation is complicated.  While I have English translations I like more than other, they all have strengths (see post, “I love them all“).  It takes a little more work to look at multiple versions, but it’s worth it.

In English, we have scores of good translations.  I typically use four translations: the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard (NAS), the New International (NIV), and the New Revised Standard (NRSV).  (Speaking of revised versions, did you see the cover of Sports Illustrated with LeBron this week: “King James, Revised“?  Clever.)

Psalm 119:36 has more variety among the translations than most other verses in the psalm.  So, let’s start the battle of the translations (I’ll keep track of the score).  There are three points of difference among the four translations worth noting here:

1) The request the psalmist makes of YHWH: two translations have “incline” (ESV, NAS) and two have “turn” (NRSV, NIV).  Either word works, but I prefer “incline” because the verb here literally means “cause to bend/stretch”.  Incline is a bit more subtle, but appropriate.  So the ESV and the NAS each have 1; NRSV & NIV has 0.

2) What the psalmist is supposed to incline toward: two versions have “testimonies” (ESV, NAS), the other two have either “decrees” (NRSV), “statutes” (NIV).  Whereas for number one, I preferred the ESV and NAS, “testimonies” doesn’t fit the context well.  How do you incline to testimonies?  Either decrees or statutes makes more sense.  You can incline to God’s statutes.  So, there’s a 4-way tie with 1 each.

3) What the psalmist is NOT supposed to incline toward: 3 versions have “selfish gain” (ESV, NIV, NRSV) and one has “dishonest gain” (NAS).  While “selfish gain” works here, I love the fact that the NAS puts “dishonest” in italics, since the word is really only implied in the Hebrew.  NAS puts in italics any word merely implied by the Hebrew.  So, if you add up the votes, the NAS defeats the other three versions, 2 to 1 in the battle of the translations.

Now that we’ve discussed the Hebrew, let’s focus on the content briefly.  The prayer of the psalmist in this verse involves heart re-inclination.  Toward God’s laws and away from selfish gain.  The psalmist realizes he’ll need help avoid to greed, but also realizes that the reward of statute inclination is worth the effort and it’s preferable to those potential selfish gains.

So, back to versions, what’s your favorite Bible translation?  Why?