Not an Illusion: Ordinary Humans Have Extraordinary Power in God

Years ago in college, I was privileged to see a show by a Christian illusionist. His act amazed and delighted me.

Among his magnificent tricks was placing his full-grown assistant into a box and shrinking it down to 1-foot-square cube, making objects disappear and reappear and levitating. Before each act, though, he would say something like, “Nothing you see here is magic. It is all just an illusion.”

Throughout the performance he kept reassuring us that he was an ordinary man who had no magical powers and everything he did was simply a trick of the eyes. I wanted to scream, “Noooo! I’m not that easily fooled!” I preferred to think the illusionist had some special powers rather than that he was fooling me by doing what any ordinary human being could do with the right training and preparation.

“Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”

There’s a verse in the Bible that reminds me of that magic show. It’s James 5:17, which begins with “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”

Remember the testimony about Elijah in the Old Testament? He prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain for more than three years (1 Kings 17:1), he was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:2), he lived with a widow and her son and caused her meager food supply to never run out (1 Kings 17:13-15) and then raised her son back to life after he died (1 Kings 17:18-24).

But Elijah was barely getting started at this point. He defied the king and his wicked queen (1 Kings 18:17-18), called down fire from heaven in an awesome display of God’s power compared to false idols (1 Kings 18:21-40), brought the rain back (1 Kings 18:41-44) and outran a chariot pulled by horses (1 Kings 18:46).

Want more? He was fed by an angel (1 Kings 19:5-7), felt God’s presence and heard His voice in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13), prophesied the death of the evil Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 21:20-24), called down more fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10-15), parted the waters of the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8) and was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). And then Elijah appeared with Moses alongside Jesus (Matt. 17:3).

Yep, Elijah sounds just like every other human being I know.

Seeing the assertion from James that Elijah was an ordinary human with no special powers blows my mind, much like the amazing illusionist I saw. I prefer to think that he was some special godly creature.

Because if what James said is true, then it means any of us – including me – should be able to perform at least some of what Elijah did. Seem laughable? In our own power it is, but James’ prologue to his statement about Elijah is, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

What brought about all the miracles and awesome display of power by Elijah? His righteousness. What made Elijah righteous? His utter dependence on God and his willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him (not that he didn’t have doubts – at one point he thought he was the only righteous person left in Israel and expected to die at Jezebel’s hands).

God is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us.

Since Pentecost, all true followers of Christ have his spirit, the Holy Spirit, living in us. He is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us. Can we raise the dead, call down fire from heaven and part a river? Absolutely not! But the Holy Spirit could through us.

In all likelihood, we won’t be called on to do the more showy works that Elijah did because we’re living in a different time. More likely, the Spirit’s work in our lives will be to give us joy and peace in times of turmoil, to give us the words to speak at the right time and to lead others to following Christ. But he also might give us the power to end travesties like sex trafficking, abortion and lethargy in our churches.

And that, unlike the amazing illusionist, would not be a trick of the eyes. It would be demonstration of God’s power that is as real and available to us today as it was to an ordinary human like Elijah.

Ordinary human beings rock – when we allow the Holy Spirit to move through us!


Stronghold: The Word Doesn’t Mean What You Probably Think it Means

In the classic movie The Princess Bride, kidnapping mastermind Vizzini frequently utters the word “Inconceivable,” even when he is presented with evidence that what is happening is, indeed, conceivable. Finally, Inigo Montoya says, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

I could echo Inigo’s words when it comes to the word stronghold as used by many Christians today. I frequently hear phrases like, “Fear of failure has always been my stronghold,” or “I have to get over the stronghold of my weight issue,” or “I have to break the devil’s strongholds on my life.”

The term is almost always used in the negative of someone or something having a strong hold on someone, synonymous with being bound in chains by it, or imprisoned by it. This has been a popular theme of some Christian speakers and authors. Addressing those areas of weakness in our life is important because they often keep us from living the full, abundant life Jesus promised.

However, if you use the word stronghold as described above, it does not mean what you think it means. In fact, it means the opposite.

If you are under attack, you want to go to a stronghold to stay safe.

A stronghold is a fortress, a refuge, a place of protection and safety. If you are under attack, you want to go to a stronghold to stay safe. It is a positive word.

Depending on which version of the Bible you’re using, stronghold appears between 47 and 66 times in the Bible – all but once in the Old Testament, where it always refers to a place of protection and safety. The lone reference in the New Testament is in 2 Cor. 10:4: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” The Greek word translated as strongholds is ochyromaton, which means fortress.

While this could be interpreted to mean breaking free of the chains that are binding us, it is clear from the context that Paul is encouraging believers to wage an offensive war against the enemy. Satan doesn’t have a stronghold on us (substitute the word fortress or refuge and see how silly it sounds), but he does have a fortress of lies and accusations he hides in. The resurrection of Christ, though, has given us a powerful offensive weapon to destroy the enemy’s place of safety.

In Matthew 16, Peter gives his great confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus replies that it is on the rock of this confession that he will build his church “and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”

Gates, of course, are part of a defense, part of protection. So what Jesus is implying here is that we as believers will be on the offensive against satan and his stronghold, and we will win. Jesus the Messiah will be our battering ram to raze satan’s fortress and leave him defenseless.

God can be and is our stronghold. The psalmists and prophets get it right when they repeatedly tell us this.

So it is wrong to say that your struggles with your weight are your stronghold. You could say that overeating is your stronghold, if that is what makes you feel safe in the face of attack. But your struggle cannot be a stronghold. Nor can the devil have a stronghold on you unless, again, he is where you find your sense of safety and protection.

However, God can be and is our stronghold. The psalmists and prophets get it right when they repeatedly tell us this. In Psalm 37, for example, David says, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.” The prophet Joel declares, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”

Satan does attack us at times, as do earthly bad guys, and when that happens we can retreat into the safety of God’s protection, a stronghold that can withstand even spiritual attacks. But we are also to use our salvation in Christ to go on the offensive against these attacks with the expectation of winning. As Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When we take the offensive, satan’s stronghold will crumble in the face of the Word of God. To think anything else would be inconceivable.

Gary Kauffman is a writer, photographer and Bible teacher living in North Augusta, S.C.

Did I Say That? Our Words Will Have Eternal Consequences

Time can never mend
The careless whispers of a good friend
To the heart and mind – Careless Whisper

Back in 1984, the group Wham! (yes, with an exclamation point), featuring George Michael, had a huge hit with the song Careless Whisper. The song is basically about a man cheating on his wife or girlfriend, who apparently learned about it by overhearing a careless whisper to the new lover. It speaks about how much those careless words can damage a person’s heart and mind.

Of course, we’ve also long heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But at least according to one authority other than George Michael, careless words can have a long-lasting impact. And since that authority is Jesus, we would be wise to pay attention.

In Matthew 12:33-35, Jesus talks about fruit trees – a good tree can only produce good fruit, a bad tree can only produce bad fruit. The trees, of course, are us. Jesus goes on to say that we will speak what is in our hearts – good words can’t come from an evil heart.

Then in verses 36 and 37 he says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ESV)

The word translated as careless is the Greek word argon, which some versions translate as empty or idle, and can also mean lazy. So what does it mean to speak careless, empty, lazy words?

These words often hurt the person they’re spoken to – and, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t get a free pass just because you didn’t mean them to be hurtful.

In the context, we can infer that they are not good words – they come from a heart that is not right with God. These words may be blurted out without thought of their effect on others or be reactionary, angry responses based on another’s words or actions. These words often hurt the person they’re spoken to – and, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t get a free pass just because you didn’t mean them to be hurtful. That’s part of being careless and lazy – not taking the time to think about how your words will be perceived.

Paul had a lot to say about words as well. In Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 12, for example, he lists several areas of speech among unrighteous acts: Slander, deceit, quarreling, outbursts of anger, boasting and gossiping. He warns Timothy twice about not speaking with irreverent, empty words. And John, in 1 John, implies that love that is based on speech only rather than accompanied by action is empty.

On the other hand, Paul says our speech should be an example to other believers (1 Tim. 4:12) and should be full of grace, seasoned in salt (Col. 4:6), meaning it should be thought out with words that enhance others. We are to speak the truth in speech, Psalms and songs; we are to speak the gospel fearlessly and boldly; and we are to be quick to hear and slow to speak.

Our words will be used to either justify us or condemn us on the Day of Judgment.

With TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we are so surrounded by words that we become inured to their affect. They’re here for a moment and then vanish. But Jesus clearly says everything we say will have an eternal impact. Our words will be used to either justify us or condemn us on the Day of Judgment.

That angry remark you made to your spouse, the little white lie you told your parents, the flirtatious words to that cute new employee at work all may seem like innocent words, just words, that don’t mean anything. Except that Jesus said they do matter – a lot.

But, fortunately, so do the words of encouragement you spoke to your neighbor, the kind words you told your child, the loving words you expressed to your spouse. We just need to make sure we think before we speak.

In the song, George Michael’s careless whisper had a negative impact – he was left with no one to dance with. Jesus said that your words will determine who you’ll have as a dance partner for eternity.

Science Finally Catches Up to Concept That’s Been in the Bible for Thousands of Years

The other day I read an interesting article about a neat little trick our brains do to us called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Before your eyes glaze over, let me explain this amazing brain ability.

The brain can actually rewire its neurons to help you remember things better and faster. If you think the same thoughts over and over, the brain starts grouping those neurons together to make it easier for you to access those thoughts. It’s part of the learning process that makes it easier, for example, for you recall the facts and processes you need to do your job well.

Here’s the bad part – the brain does the same thing even if we keep thinking negative thoughts. So if you complain a lot or are a worry wart, your brain helpfully starts grouping those neurons together. “You want to worry?” your brain asks. “Here, let me make it easier for you.”

The concept of neuroplasticity has only been around in the scientific/psychology realm for less than 70 years, and is just recently starting to be accepted as a modern discovery of how to help people move from negativity to a more positive outlook.

Since He designed our brains, God he knew they would tend get stuck in a rut of thinking the same wrong thoughts over and over.

Except the concept isn’t modern at all – God revealed it in Scripture thousands of years ago.

Since He designed our brains, God he knew they would tend get stuck in a rut of thinking the same wrong thoughts over and over. But the great thing about neuroplasticity is that works both ways – yes, it can make negative thoughts easier to access, but when we train it with positive thoughts, it also makes positive thoughts easier to reach. So God outlined plenty of encouragement and ways for us to turn neuroplasticity into a rut of correct thoughts.

For example, in Deut. 6:4 we have the Shema, later quoted by Jesus, which tells us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength. But it continues with a command that shows the importance of neuroplasticity in positive thoughts.

“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:6-9)

In other words, keep repeating God’s words over and over so that your brain reroutes the neurons to make them easy to recall.

This concept of using the brain’s innate ability is found throughout the Bible.

The more we think about God’s word and His character, the easier our brain will make it for us to keep thinking that way.

In Philippians 4, Paul instructs us to not worry about anything (don’t let negative thoughts dominate your mind so that they’re easy to recall). Instead, he tells us in Phil. 4:8, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”

In Romans 12:2, he instructs us to not be conformed to the world but instead “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Why? So that we may discern “what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

In the very first Psalm, we find this principle at work: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers. Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” The Psalmists frequently encourage meditating on God’s word and His character: “I will reflect on all you have done and meditate on your actions.” (Ps. 77:12)

So the more we think about God’s word and His character, the easier our brain will make it for us to keep thinking that way. It will allow us to do His will, to not be anxious or worry and to live a life that is an example to others. Thinking about God will become a self-perpetuating habit.

Neuroplasticity may seem like a recent breakthrough in the study of the brain science, but Bible readers have known about it for thousands of years. God has known about this little brain trick all along because He created it.

The Love Chapter is Much More than a Nice Marriage Sentiment

At most weddings I’ve attended, at some point the pastor or a friend reads a section of 1 Cor. 13, which is known colloquially as “The Love Chapter.” I’ve seen those verses on plaques or cross-stitch samplers hanging on the walls of people’s homes. We look at those words and think, “What a great example of married love.”

It is a great example of married love – but Paul wasn’t speaking of marriage at all when he wrote it. Paul spent chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians describing how the church works as a body and encouraging us to seek the gifts of the Spirit. All fantastic stuff, but he ends the chapter with “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”

So in chapter 13, we are looking at what Paul believes is an even better way to conduct our lives and our churches. The word translated “most excellent” in the NIV is the Greek word hyperbole, which has the connotation of going above and beyond.

The hyperbole or most excellent way to conduct ourselves is with love. In the first three verses Paul explains that anything we do, no matter how good the work is, even if it’s speaking in heavenly tongues, is worthless if it isn’t done in love. We can’t just create a checklist of do’s and don’ts and go down the list like a robot, marking them as done. Our attitude means everything. The works we do as followers of Christ are meaningful only when we do them from the heart.

For love, Paul used the Greek word agape, which most often refers to the active, unconditional love God has for us – and the same love we are to have for one another.

Jesus himself was adamant that the right attitude was essential to doing good works in his name. In Matt. 7:21-23, Jesus says that people will come to him proclaiming their good works, but if they weren’t done according to God’s will, he will drive those people away, calling them evildoers.

Verse 4 to the beginning of verse 8 in 1 Cor. 13 are those that most often make their way onto the cross-stitch samplers. For love, Paul used the Greek word agape, which most often refers to the active, unconditional love God has for us – and the same love we are to have for one another.

Here is a catalog of what love is (note that it isn’t what love does, but what it is): patient, kind, rejoices in the truth, endures, trusts, hopes, perseveres and never fails. Here’s what it isn’t: envious, boastful, proud, dishonoring, self-seeking, easily angered, a record keeper of wrongs and unrighteous.

Replace the word love or it in that passage with the pronoun I (or better yet, your actual name). How does that sound to you now?

Obviously, those are fantastic things to strive for in marriage. But are you also striving for it in your church? In your interactions with other believers? In your conduct among non-believers?

Here’s how you can do a gut check on how well you are living out the love of God: Replace the word love or it in that passage with the pronoun I (or better yet, your actual name). How does that sound to you now?

“I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I’m not boastful, I’m not proud or conceited, I don’t dishonor others, I’m not selfish, I’m not easily angered, I don’t keep a record of wrongs. I find no joy in unrighteousness but I rejoice in the truth. I endure, I always trust, I always hope, I always persevere, I never fail.”

Impossible? Of course it is, under our own power. But as believers in Christ, we now have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to make possible what we once couldn’t do. We still have to approach this intentionally, though, to keep striving for this kind of love. The more we work at it through the Spirit, the better we’ll get at it. Paul later implies that this is part of our maturing process as Christians – not maturing as a married couple, but in our everyday lives as followers of Christ.

Eventually all other good works will fade away but three things will always remain forever – faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love. This, Paul says, is the most excellent way to conduct our lives – at home, in church and in the world beyond. And, of course, in marriage as well. It goes above and beyond expectations. The key is to put love into action, not just frame it and hang it on the wall.

The Positive Aspects of Being Disciplined

Our society has defined the word discipline to primarily mean something bad – a punishment for wrong action. But the word actually can – and possibly should – hold a positive meaning.

The word discipline comes from the Latin for instruction, and is related to the word disciple. A disciple is someone who decides to follow a certain teacher or set of teachings in an effort to make his or her life better and to make the lives of those around them better by becoming teachers or leaders themselves. The Disciples with a capital D were the ones who followed Christ and who in turn spread the Word, and developed more disciples to carry on their work. We’re able to read the Bible today and follow God through Christ because of the Disciples’ willingness to be taught. So being a disciple is a good thing.

Discipline is what a disciple does. While we see it today as punishment or at least an unpleasant form of correction, discipline is actually the act of committing oneself to a particular set of teachings, studies or course of action. A college major is a discipline. Athletes in training follow a discipline. Learning specifics for a job is a discipline.

Correction and punishment usually come from a lack of discipline. Lack of discipline can have negative consequences. If an athlete doesn’t stay disciplined, he runs the risk of not being able to compete, or not compete well, or even become injured (a boxer who doesn’t stay disciplined to do his footwork and defensive tactics will get punched in the head repeatedly until he is unconscious). So being disciplined means doing the things to avoid the punishment or negative consequences.

Discipline often means giving up things. Athletes give up being lazy, students give up free time to attend class, Christians give up following the world, etc. There are obviously certain things that can’t be done if a certain goal is to be obtained (which is why, for example, eating donuts while on a treadmill isn’t going to work for weight loss – gotta give up the pastry if one wants to shed the pounds).

Here’s the positive aspect of discipline – it gets you where you want to be.

The things given up aren’t necessarily bad. For example, there is nothing wrong with a student wanting to have fun and eat pizza with friends, but if that keeps him from the studies that will help him achieve his end goal, then he’ll need to give up the pepperoni party.

So on the surface, the fact that discipline can mean correction and giving up things (heads get punched, donuts go uneaten) does sound like it is a negative thing. But here’s the positive aspect of discipline – it gets you where you want to be. The whole point of discipline is that it helps you become a better person and/or to achieve a goal. When we stay disciplined in what we eat and how we exercise, we become stronger and slimmer. When we stay disciplined in how we spend our money, we have a bank account that grows fatter and/or we can buy more stuff we want. And when we stay disciplined in Bible study and prayer, we become more Christlike.

Here’s what the Bible has to say about it in Hebrews 12:11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

In other words, as Dave Ramsey might say, you live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later.

We want what we want now – or better, yesterday! Discipline takes time.

It’s a hard thing to do in our instant gratification world. We want what we want now – or better, yesterday! Discipline takes time. Discipline sometimes means failing and starting again. Discipline means patience. Discipline means building on yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Discipline means doing the same things over and over again with consistency.

Discipline is hard work, no doubt about it. That’s why training is often done in pairs or groups. It’s easier when you have the support and accountability of others (misery loves company, you know). They help you stay disciplined on the days you absolutely don’t feel like being disciplined.

And you don’t usually go through it on your own, but with an instructor or trainer, someone who will show you the way, be able to nudge you back on course and let you know when you’re getting sloppy with techniques (although a punch in the head will also be a reminder of that).

Of course, usually people have to go through more than one discipline at the same time. The classic example is the student-athlete, who has the twin disciplines of brains and brawn. Adults often have to simultaneously juggle disciplines in marriage, child-rearing, finance and job skills.

Attitude plays a key role, too. No, discipline isn’t pleasant as the writer of Hebrews says. Seriously, it means giving up donuts! The ones with sprinkles! But it seems that the people who succeed the most in achieving their end results are the ones who have learned to deal with the daily grind of discipline at least neutrally (i.e., don’t hate or complain) or in the best cases, find reasons and ways to enjoy it (maybe I could just eat the sprinkles…).

Painful or not, there is no doubt that the Bible says that discipline is a good thing. Discipline is needed in order to achieve wisdom. Wisdom is more valuable than gold or silver, more precious than rubies – and even more desirable than donuts with sprinkles.

Bible Translations: One Language Defied Translation for 180 Bloody Years

John Wycliffe giving his Bible translation to the common people. From a painting by William Frederick Yeames, 1835-1918

Parts or all of the Bible have been translated into more than 2,100 languages. But there was one language that almost didn’t get a Bible translation because of the deadly controversy surrounding it.

Translating the Bible into this language was a dangerous task, often ending in the death of the translator. It took almost 200 years before the Bible finally appeared in this language. You might think it was Arabic, given the natural animosity between the Islam and Christianity. Or perhaps Latin, given the early opposition to Christianity by the Romans. Or perhaps Chinese or Russian.

But no.

It was English.

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). In the late 300s A.D., Jerome translated it into Latin, which became known as the Vulgate (or common person’s) Bible. It was the standard of the Roman Catholic Church for the next millennium.

John Wycliffe came along with the strong belief that the Bible should be translated into English.

However, despite its name, few common people at that time could read the Vulgate – or read anything, since formal education was only for the elite. That meant only the priests had the knowledge of what the Bible said, and the population had to trust their interpretation of it.

In the 1380s, John Wycliffe came along with the strong belief that the Bible should be translated into English. He began the translation process from the Latin Vulgate. He produced dozens of handwritten copies of the Bible. But the Roman Catholic Church saw this as a direct affront to its authority, and had him excommunicated. His work so enraged a later Pope that 44 years after Wycliffe’s death, he had Wycliffe’s bones dug up, crushed and scattered in a river.

An engraving from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs showing Wycliffe’s bones being burned and the ashes dumped into the river.

One of Wycliffe’s protégés, John Hus, continued his work. For his troubles, he was burned at the stake in 1415. The fire was ignited using Wycliffe’s English translations of the Bible.

In 1517, Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation and along with it began translating the Bible into his native German. But English was still non grata. While Luther worked on his German translation, seven people were burned at the stake for teaching their children to recite the Lord’s Prayer in English.

William Tyndale befriended Luther and in 1526 successfully printed the first English copies of the New Testament. They were quickly confiscated and burned. Tyndale was imprisoned and finally, in 1536, it was decided that one death wasn’t enough for him – he was strangled and burned at the stake. A year later, two of his disciples, Myles Coverdale and John Rogers, managed to successfully publish the entire Bible in English.

An illustration of William Tyndale being strangled before he was burned at the stake. His final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

What finally turned the tide in bringing the Bible to the English-speaking world was not a great reformer, but a king who wanted to have his way. King Henry VIII, who famously had eight wives, made a break from the Roman Catholic Church when the Pope refused to grant him a divorce. He formed his own church, which became known as the Anglican Church, which was neither Catholic nor Protestant. Coverdale was hired in 1541 to produce an English Bible for this new church.

The peace was short-lived. In 1553, the Queen known as Bloody Mary assumed the throne and returned England to the Catholicism. Some of the blood on her hands belonged to Bible translators, including Rogers. Coverdale escaped to Geneva, Switzerland, where he continued his work. Finally in 1560 – 180 years after Wycliffe began the translations – the Swiss church published the first English version of the scriptures, which became known as the Geneva Bible.

The Roman Catholic church, recognizing it had been beat, produced their own English version in the 1580s, although since it was based on the error-prone Latin Vulgate, was not considered as accurate as the Geneva Bible. When King James I assumed the throne, he returned England to the Anglican Church. It was under his authority that an Anglican version of the Bible was printed in 1611, which was heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic version. It became the popular King James Version that would dominate English speaking churches for more than 250 years.

When the first Protestants sailed to America, for example, it was the Geneva Bible that crossed the ocean with them.

The Geneva Bible was the first to mark chapters and verses and was immensely popular for the next 80 years, outshining the King James Version for several decades.

When the first Protestants sailed to America, for example, it was the Geneva Bible that crossed the ocean with them, and it remained popular in the new country into the 1800s. But the King James Version was the first English Bible to be printed in America.

After almost 200 years of bloodshed, more than 200 years of peace reigned as virtually all English speakers began using the King James Version. It wasn’t until 1880 that the English Revised Version of the Bible turned some people from the KJV. It was also the first Bible, either Protestant or Catholic, to remove the Apocrypha from between the testaments.

The KJV continues to be the Bible of choice slightly more than half of Americans.

That started a wave of English translations over the next 140 years, including the American Standard in 1901 and the New American Standard in 1971. In 1973, the New International Version was produced and has since become popular in evangelical churches. In 1982, the New King James Version was printed. The English Standard Version joined the popular translations in 2002 and the Holman Christian Standard Bible in 2004. A revision of the Holman Bible, the Christian Standard Bible, was released in 2017.

But more than 400 years later, the KJV continues to be the Bible of choice slightly more than half of Americans. The NIV ranks second (between 11 and 19 percent, depending on the survey), the only other English version that garners double-digit popularity.

Through various Bible apps you can now view dozens of English translations of the Bible. And if you’re so inclined, Bible Gateway app offers the opportunity to read the Bible that started it all, the Geneva Bible.

Gary Kauffman is a freelance writer, photographer and Bible teacher in North Augusta, S.C.

Truth in Love Goes Far Deeper than a Polite Way to Insult Someone

“Hey, Harold, I gotta tell you, that is a really ugly paint job on your car. Just speaking the truth in love, bro.”

“Oh Maude, honey, that hairstyle is all wrong for you. I’m just speaking the truth in love, dear.”

You’ve probably heard comments like this before from fellow Christians – the insult couched in terms of Eph. 4:15, which tells us to “speak the truth in love.” After all, if we add that it’s true and we say it with love, it’s not really an insult, right? We’re just doing what the Bible says.

Now, it may be true that orange was a poor choice for Harold’s Buick, or that Maude’s latest trip to the beauty parlor was less than successful. But Eph. 4:15 is not a license to politely insult someone. In fact, telling someone a fact about themselves that may be socially awkward or offends our personal taste is not at all what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 4. That is one of the dangers of plucking a verse – or in this case, part of a verse – out of context.

Ephesians 3 ends with Paul’s prayer that the church members be strengthened through the Holy Spirit and that they realize the fullness of God. He continues this thought at the beginning of chapter 4, urging the Ephesians to walk worthy of their calling. He then lists some of the gifts of the Spirit which are to be used to build up the church body into a mature faith.

The word “Instead” (“But” or “Rather” in other versions) is critical to understanding this passage.

In Eph. 4:14 he explains why this mature faith is important. “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.” (NLT)

Paul follows that with “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (NLT)

The word “Instead” (“But” or “Rather” in other versions) is critical to understanding this passage. Paul is contrasting how we, as Christians, should speak so that we won’t be influenced by the clever lies that sound so good.

The truth Paul refers to is Jesus. Jesus proclaimed that he is the truth (John 14:6) and throughout the Gospel of John Jesus tells us that we are to worship in truth, that when we have the truth we will walk in the light, that the truth will set us free and that we are sanctified in the truth. Jesus said that he came into the world to testify to the truth, and that everyone who is of the truth listens to his voice (John 18:37).

Speaking the truth in love is to be a constant reminder of who we are now in Christ.

So when Paul tells us to “speak the truth in love,” he is saying we are to speak about Jesus and the truth he testified about – that he is the Son of God who died for our sins and whose resurrection gives us a new life for all of eternity. Speaking the truth in love is to be a constant reminder of who we are now in Christ. We speak what we know to be true so that we won’t fall for those clever lies. When we do this in love, as opposed to having a critical spirit, it helps us grow in our faith and motivates us to do good works (Heb. 10:24).

Speaking the truth in love, therefore, has nothing to do with pointing out the odd quirks or poor tastes of our fellow believers. It’s about pointing out the truth about Jesus. Speaking this truth to our fellow believers helps us grow, helps us to become more like Jesus and keeps us from believing things that sound good but aren’t really true.

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” We don’t have to ask that question because we already know the answer. The truth is Jesus.

Waiting Eagerly for a White Stone from Jesus

One of the things I’m looking forward to in eternity is receiving a little white stone with a secret name written on it. And some hidden manna.

OK, I’ll admit that this all sounds a little strange, but it’s a promise in the last book of the Bible, the one we’re both fascinated by and a little terrified of, the Revelation of John.

In the second and third chapters of Revelation Jesus speaks to seven churches, saying some positive words along with some rather harsh pronouncements against them if they don’t change their ways. But each warning to the churches ends with a promise to the “victors.”

The victors are those who have persevered in following Christ’s commands through trials and persecutions. Like Paul, the victors keep their eyes on the prize and continue pressing forward. When they come into eternity Jesus has rewards for them. Among the rewards are the right to eat from the tree of life, not being harmed by the second death, authority over nations, white clothes, acknowledgement before the Father, a pillar in the Sanctuary with Jesus’ new name on it and the right to sit on the throne with Jesus.

At first glance, this seems like a strange, perhaps even a bit silly, reward for having endured through to the end and attaining victory.

But the reward that appeals to me the most right now is found in the second chapter where Jesus promises to give the victor a white stone with a new secret name inscribed on it.

“Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Rev. 2:17 (HCSB)

At first glance, this seems like a strange, perhaps even a bit silly, reward for having endured through to the end and attaining victory. Eating from the tree of life, authority over nations, sitting with Jesus on his throne … those sound like real rewards. Who needs a little stone?

But I think that this little stone actually signifies a big concept. The Greek word in this passage that most versions of the Bible translate as “stone” is psephos, which is more accurately translated as “pebble.” The word psephos is used only twice in the Bible, in Rev. 2:17 and in Acts 26:10, where it is translated into English as “vote.” In the Acts passage, Paul is speaking about his former occupation of persecuting Christians, punishing them and throwing them in jail. Then he adds, “When they were put to death, I cast my vote (psephos) against them.”

How does one word get translated as both stone and vote? The answer is found in Hebrew courts of the day. In the courts, those judging the accused cast their vote of guilt or innocence by placing a small colored pebble in a box – black for guilty, white for innocent. Paul is literally saying, “I cast my pebble against them.” In other words, he put a black pebble in the box signifying their guilt.

So in Revelation, when Jesus says that he will give the victor a white pebble, it signifies that the victor has been found innocent. He will not receive the condemnation of the guilty but the reward of eternal life.

But there’s more: The stone will be inscribed with a new name. Obviously, I can’t know exactly what that new name is. It could be Christ’s new name, which he says he’ll give us (Rev. 3:12). However, I believe the name will be a new identity for the victor – sort of heaven’s version of the witness protection program. In 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.”

Even though we get that new identity as soon as we decide to follow Christ, this white pebble becomes the “document” that makes it all official. It is our adoption certificate, proving that we now belong to him throughout all eternity.

It reminds us that what we’re going through is just for a brief time, and if we endure, we will receive rewards that never end.

And the hidden manna? Well, manna was God’s way of providing for the Israelites after the Exodus and throughout their wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. I believe the hidden manna signifies that we will never again have to worry about providing for ourselves. When we persevere and endure, when we become victors, God will provide for everything we need throughout eternity.

The practical application of knowing about the white pebble, the new name and the other rewards during our earthly lives is that it provides hope and motivation. It reminds us that what we’re going through is just for a brief time, and if we endure, we will receive rewards that never end.

I am looking forward to noshing on the tree of life, donning some white clothes, bossing the nations around and scooting in beside Jesus on his throne. But I’m most looking forward to Jesus handing me that white pebble and saying, “Because of my blood, I find you innocent of all wrongdoing.” And then he’ll call me by my new name and invite me to join him for all eternity.

Even Hollywood Can’t Exaggerate Enough for the Real Exodus Numbers

If you’re like me, you have a good mental image of what Moses looked like. He looked just like Charlton Hesston.

Yes, thanks to the iconic movie The Ten Commandments and the networks airing it every Easter season, it’s almost impossible for us to read the story of the Exodus without thinking of Charlton Hesston in the lead. And thanks to the movie, we feel we have a pretty good grip on the storyline.

Amazingly enough, Hollywood embellishes the story! Shocking, I know. There are many inconsistencies with the biblical account, and lots added in. But I want to examine one area where Hollywood simply didn’t embellish it enough – the enormity of the Exodus.

According to various sources, the film used 10,000-14,000 extras to play the part of the Hebrew nation. That certainly looks impressive on the screen, especially during the crossing of the Red Sea. But 14,000 is probably no more than 4 percent of the number of people who actually left Egypt that night.

The odds had to be overwhelming for Moses, even if he looked like Charlton Hesston.

Ex. 12:37 states that about 600,000 men left as part of the Exodus. In Numbers 1, about a year after the Exodus, a census puts the number of fighting men aged 20 and over at 603,550. It did not include the tribe of Levi, but a few chapters later we are told there were 22,000 of them. So that brings the number to 625,550. Notice, though, that this is just the men older than 20.

In most cultures, women slightly outnumber men. If that’s the case, there were probably around 650,000 women. So our total swells to 1.275 million. But that’s just people over the age of 20.

Since marriage was an important institution among the Israelite nation, we can assume a large proportion of these people were married. Just for round numbers, let’s say there were 500,000 married couples. Some are older couples, of course, with grown children, and some won’t have children. But many may also have had four, five, six or more kids under the age of 20. Let’s just estimate, probably conservatively, that there were 1.25 million younger than 20. Now we’re up to 2.525 million people. But we’re not quite finished.

Imagine trying to hustle the entire Tampa-St. Pete area down the road in a single night.

According to Ex. 12:38, a number of other foreigners living in Egypt (and possibly some Egyptians) took off with the Israelites. We have no way of determining how many, but if it was 75,000 (for the sake of round numbers), we’re at 2.6 million. And remember, that’s being on the conservative side. If there were more married couples with young children, the number quickly pushes beyond 3 million.

Holy Moses, that’s a lot of people!

Plus they took all their livestock with them, probably hundreds of thousands of animals, possibly more than a million.

For a modern comparison, the Tampa-St. Petersburg area in Florida and its surrounding suburbs are home to 2.975 million people. Imagine trying to hustle the entire Tampa-St. Pete area down the road in a single night. And then marching through a sea. Followed by wandering in a desert wilderness for 40 years with them.

Some people have disputed the numbers, claiming they may have been inflated by a factor of 10; in other words, instead of 600,000 men there were 60,000. That still puts the total at a hefty 300,000. But every indication is that 600,000 men was an accurate total. They had more than 400 years to multiply and, according to Ex. 1:7, the Israelites were no lightweights when it came to multiplying their numbers.

Remember, too, that the Egyptians were afraid of how large the Israelite population was growing. In fact, the new Pharaoh was concerned that the total number of Israelites had surpassed the number of Egyptians (Ex. 1:9). While actual census data aren’t recorded, some Egyptologists have estimated there were 2.5-3 million Egyptians at the time, so 2.5-3 million Israelites certainly agrees with Pharaoh’s assessment.

The odds had to be overwhelming for Moses, even if he looked like Charlton Hesston. How could he have managed to lead such a large, unwieldy group across a desert wilderness? Obviously, only with God’s help. As the Bible repeats many times, it was God who delivered the Israelites from Egypt.

This is one time where Hollywood underwhelmed us. The real numbers were far greater than Cecil B. DeMille could conjure up, which makes God’s deliverance far more impressive than any movie could ever portray.

Gary Kauffman is a writer, photographer and Bible teacher living in North Augusta, S.C.