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God Commands Us to Enjoy Life!

The quotes below reinforce the point of last Sunday’s message from Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8 – “God commands us to enjoy life in this world, while we can, in a way that pleases Him.”

     “For it is precisely in enjoying the world God has made that we show we have grasped the goodness of the God we say we love. Failure to enjoy is an offense, not merely an oversight. When the child does not enjoy the gift the parent has lavished on him, it is an affront to the parent’s love as much as the child’s deliberately breaking the toy. No parent is glad that Buzz Lightyear sits pristinely in the box rather than being lovingly bashed and bumped in daily adventures. Real relationship involves seeing another person take pleasure in gifts given; delight is what we ask of others as we freely give to them.

     “Although the analogy is not identical, God is like this too. It is striking that in Deuteronomy 28:47 Moses tells the people of Israel that the curses of the covenant will befall them, because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things. Christian living collapses when it is not delighted with the bounty God gives.” – David Gibson

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). – The Apostle Paul


Why I’m Switching to the ESV

I am making a change in the Bible translation I use in preaching – from the New International Version (NIV) to the English Standard Version (ESV). I have used the NIV for about 25 years because it was widely considered the best combination of an accurate translation and easy to understand English. This is why the NIV was so well received by conservative Christians and churches of various denominations, and became the best-selling English translation. However, many individuals, churches, and denominations are now evaluating whether to continue using the NIV in light of recent changes that have been made to it.

The people responsible for translating and publishing the NIV have just released an updated version that is commonly referred to as the NIV 2011. The translation that has been used for the past 27 years is now being called the NIV 1984, but will no longer be published. In fact, as soon as this new NIV 2011 became available earlier this year, Zondervan (its publisher) began removing the NIV 1984 edition from bookstore shelves. The new NIV 2011 is now being marketed simply as the NIV. That means if you go into a bookstore today to buy an NIV Bible, you will be purchasing an NIV 2011, without any indication on the box that it is an updated NIV.

This new NIV 2011 has not been well received by many evangelical scholars, including Southern Baptists. This controversy comes on the heels of a 2005 update, called Today’s NIV (TNIV), which was so strongly condemned that Zondervan stopped publishing it in the USA. Most of the criticism has been aimed at the “gender-neutral” language of these updated versions. This refers to changes in how some masculine words in the original Greek and Hebrew are translated. For example, words such as “man” and “he” have historically been translated literally as “man” and “he” to describe people in general. But the NIV 2011 sometimes uses gender-inclusive terms such as “humankind,” “’human being,” “person,” etc. One example is found in Revelation 3:20:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (NIV 1984)
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (NIV 2011)
Critics point out that by using gender-inclusive language, the 2011 update makes that verse less personal. Also, the modern English usage of the singular “they” can be misleading. Of even greater concern is how the NIV 2011 fails to translate the Hebrew and Greek words literally, as the NIV 1984 did, and as most major translations do. Some critics have also expressed concern that the translators of the NIV 2011 appear to have been too concerned about being “politically correct” at the expense of translation accuracy.

I believe that some of the criticism leveled against the NIV 2011 has been too severe. All the translators of the NIV 2011 are conservative, evangelical scholars who believe in the full inspiration and infallibility of the Bible. Their stated goal is to be faithful to both the original languages and to current English usage. However, I agree that in some places they appear to have sacrificed translation accuracy in order to adapt to today’s emphasis on language being more gender-neutral.

The real controversy over the NIV 2011 is more about translation philosophy than anything. The ESV translators state their translation philosophy in the preface of each ESV Bible: The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as much as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original. In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions [such as the NIV] have followed a “thought-for-thought” rather than “word-for-word” translation philosophy, emphasizing “dynamic equivalence” rather than the “essentially literal” meaning of the original. A “thought-for-thought” translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretative opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture. Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between “formal equivalence” in expression and “functional equivalence” in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be “as literal as possible” while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence. As an essentially literal translation, then, the ESV seeks to carry over every possible nuance of meaning in the original words of Scripture into our own language. As such, the ESV is ideally suited for in-depth study of the Bible. Indeed, with its emphasis on literary excellence, the ESV is equally suited for public reading and preaching, for private reading and reflection, for both academic and devotional study, and for Scripture memorization.

The NIV translators state their translation philosophy in the preface of each NIV Bible: The updated NIV you now have in your hands builds on both the original NIV and the TNIV and represents the latest effort of the committee to articulate God’s unchanging Word in the way the original authors might have said it had they been speaking in English to the global English-speaking audience today. The first concern of the translators has continued to be the accuracy of the translation and its faithfulness to the intended meaning of the biblical writers. This has moved the translators to go beyond a formal word-for-word rendering of the original texts.

In light of the above stated translation philosophies, I believe that the ESV’s goal to be an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as much as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer will give us a more accurate translation than the NIV’s stated intent to go beyond a formal word-for-word rendering of the original texts by trying to discern how the original authors might have said it had they been speaking in English.

I want to emphasize that the NIV 2011 is still a good translation. I will read it and use it along with other translations as I study. It is important that we recognize that all translations of the Bible have value to Christians. John Piper is one of the most outspoken promoters of the ESV and critics of the NIV (all editions). But Piper believes all translations are the Word of God and of value: I would rather have people read any translation of the Bible—no matter how weak—than to read no translation of the Bible. If there could be only one translation in English, I would rather it be my least favorite than that there be none. God uses every version to bless people and save people. . . . But even though the weakest translation is precious, and is used by God to save and strengthen sinful people, better translations would be a great blessing to the church and an honor to Christ.

The ESV is becoming a great blessing to the church in the 21st century. It is the preferred translation of many evangelical leaders such as James MacDonald, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul. Southern Baptist endorsers include former SBC president Jack Graham, and current seminary presidents Albert Mohler and Paige Patterson. The ESV has become the most commonly used translation in many evangelical seminaries, including Southern Baptist’s Southern and Southeastern seminaries. It is also widely used in conservative Christian universities like Anderson and North Greenville of the SC Baptist Convention. In light of the growing popularity of the ESV, it may soon surpass the NIV as the most widely used and best-selling English translation of the Bible.

I am making the switch to the ESV because I think it is a better translation than the NIV. Some members of our church have been using the ESV for several years. Some are using the ESV Study Bible, which I recommended to our church a couple of years ago as the best study Bible available today. If you do not have an ESV Bible, I encourage you to get one and give it a try. It would make a great Christmas present for yourself or anyone on your gift list.

Please join with me in prayer that the ESV will be, in the words of John Piper, a great blessing to our church and an honor to Christ.


Family Discipleship Seminar for Parents – Begins January 7

I want to invite parents of children and youth (and couples who plan to have children) to join the Younger Couples’ Sunday School class that I teach for a Family Discipleship Seminar, January 7 – February 25 (eight weeks). Mike Sterlachini will be leading this seminar during the Sunday School hour in the Fellowship Hall. He will be sharing how and why the church can partner with parents in discipling the next genera- on. He will address concerns parents have about discipling their children, and share ways to overcome them. Mike will also review some of the methods and resources available to parents to help them effectively disciple their children/youth. Participants will have an opportunity to provide input on how our church can better equip parents to disciple their children, and how we can develop a dynamic family ministry here at PFBC.

I encourage all parents of children and youth (and future parents) to attend this class. You can sign up in the vestibule beginning this Sunday. Parents, please invite your friends from outside our church who have children or youth to come with you. I think this seminar will be a great help to all Christian parents who care about their children’s spiritual well-being.


Where Is God When Things Go Wrong?

In last Sunday’s sermon from Psalm 139, we learned that God shapes each of us into the person He wants us to be (vv.13 & 15) in order to carry out the purpose He has planned for our lives (v.16). Most Christians do not question such teaching when life is going well. But when life is hard, questions often arise about God’s goodness or fairness. John Blanchard addresses such questions in his booklet, Where Is God When Things Go Wrong? One of the most helpful answers to that question is a quote from Joni Erickson Tada. In 1967, at age 17, Joni became a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident. She has spent the past 50 years in active Christian ministry, speaking all over the world and writing many books and articles – from a wheelchair and without the use of her hands. I think she is well-qualified to respond to questions about why God allows suffering and hardship in people’s lives:

“My accident was not a punishment for my wrongdoing – whether or not I deserved it. Only God knows why I was paralyzed. . . . If I were still on my feet, it’s hard to say how things might have gone. I probably would have drifted through life . . . dissatisfied and disillusioned. . . . I’m really thankful he did something to get my attention and change me.

“Today, as I look back, I am convinced that the whole ordeal of my paralysis was inspired by God’s love. I wasn’t the brunt of some cruel divine joke. God had reasons behind my suffering, and learning some of them has made all the difference in the world.

“When we learn to lean back on God’s sovereignty, fixing and setting our thoughts on that unshakable, unmovable reality, we can experience great inner peace. Our troubles may not change. Our pain may not diminish. Our loss may not be restored. Our problems may not fade with the new dawn. But the power of those things to harm us is broken as we rest in the fact that God is in control.”


Why We Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven

Written by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,
and Dr. Daniel L. Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Few things in life are more tragic and heartbreaking than the death of a baby or small child. For parents, the grief can be overwhelming. For the minister, to stand over a small, white casket and provide comfort and support seems to ask for more than he can deliver.

Many console themselves with the thought that at least the child is now in a better place. Some believe small children who die become angels. They are certain these precious little ones are in heaven with God.

However, it is important for us both to ask and answer some important questions if we can. Do those who die in infancy go to heaven? How do we know? What evidence is there to support such a conclusion? Sentimentalism and emotional hopes and wants are not sufficient for those who live under the authority of the Word of God. We must, if possible, find out what God has said.

It is interesting to discover that the Church has not been of one mind on this issue. In fact, the early and medieval Church was anything but united. Some Church Fathers remained silent on the issue. Ambrose said unbaptized infants were not admitted to heaven, but have immunity from the pains of hell. Augustine basically affirmed the damnation of all unbaptized infants, but taught they would receive the mildest punishment of all. Gregory of Nyssa offered that infants who die immediately mature and are given the opportunity to trust Christ. Calvin affirmed the certain election of some infants to salvation and was open to the possibility that all infants who die are saved. He said, “Christ receives not only those who, moved by holy desire and faith, freely approach unto Him, but those who are not yet of age to know how much they need His grace.” Zwingli, B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge all taught that God saves all who die in infancy. This perspective has basically become the dominant view of the Church in the 20th century.

Yet, a popular evangelical theologian chided Billy Graham when at the Oklahoma City memorial service he said, “Someday there will be a glorious reunion with those who have died and gone to heaven before us, and that includes all those innocent children that are lost. They’re not lost from God because any child that young is automatically in heaven and in God’s arms.” The theologian scolded Dr. Graham for offering what he called “. . . a new gospel: justification by youth alone.”

It is our conviction that there are good reasons biblically and theologically for believing that God saves all who die who do not reach a stage of moral understanding and accountability. It is readily admitted that Scripture does not speak to this issue directly, yet there is evidence that can be gleaned that would lead us to affirm on biblical grounds that God receives into heaven all who have died in infancy. Some evidence is stronger than others, but cumulatively they marshall strong support for infant salvation. We will note six of them.

First, the grace, goodness and mercy of God would support the position that God saves all infants who die. This is the strongest argument and perhaps the decisive one. God is love (1 John 4:8) and desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). God is love and His concern for children is evident in Matthew 18:14 where Jesus says, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” People go to hell because they choose in willful rebellion and unbelief to reject God and His grace. Children are incapable of this kind of conscious rejection of God. Where such rebellion and willful disobedience is absent, God is gracious to receive.

Second, when the baby boy who was born to David and Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 12:15-18), David did two significant things: 1) He confessed his confidence that he would see the child again and, 2) he comforted his wife Bathsheba (vs. 23-24). David could have done those two things only if he was confident that his little son was with God. Any other explanation does not do justice to the text.

Third, in James 4:17, the Bible says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” The Bible is clear that we are all born with a sin nature as a result of being in Adam (Roman 5:12). This is what is called the doctrine of original sin. However, the Scriptures make a distinction between original sin and actual sins. While all are guilty of original sin, moral responsibility and understanding is necessary for our being accountable for actual sins (Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16). It is to the one who knows to do right and does not do it that sin is reckoned. Infants are incapable of such decisions.

Fourth, Jesus affirmed that the kingdom of God belonged to little children (Luke 18:15-17). In the passage he is stating that saving faith is a childlike faith, but He also seems to be affirming the reality of children populating heaven.

Fifth, Scripture affirms that the number of saved souls is very great (Revelation 7:9). Since most of the world has been and is still non-Christian, might it be the untold multitude who have died prematurely or in infancy comprise a majority of those in heaven? Such a possibility ought not to be dismissed too quickly. In this context Charles Spurgeon said, “I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them.”

Sixth, some in Scripture are said to be chosen or sanctified from the womb (1 Samuel 1:8-2:21; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15). This certainly affirms the salvation of some infants and repudiates the view that only baptized babies are assured of heaven. Neither Samuel, Jeremiah or John the Baptist was baptized.

After surveying these arguments, it is important for us to remember that anyone who is saved is saved because of the grace of God, the saving work of Jesus Christ and the undeserved and unmerited regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Like all who have ever lived, except for Jesus, infants need to be saved. Only Jesus can take away their sin, and if they are saved it is because of His sovereign grace and abounding mercy. Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). We can confidently say, “Yes, He will.” When it comes to those incapable of volitional, willful acts of sin, we can rest assured God will, indeed, do right. Precious little ones are the objects of His saving mercy and grace.

On September 29, 1861, the great Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, preached a message entitled “Infant Salvation.” In that message he chastened some critics who had “. . . wickedly, lyingly, and slanderously said of Calvinists that we believe that some little children perish.” Similar rumblings have been heard in some Baptist circles of late. Spurgeon affirmed that God saved little ones without limitation and without exception. He, then, as was his manner, turned to conclude the message with an evangelistic appeal to parents who might be lost. Listen to his plea: Many of you are parents who have children in heaven. Is it not a desirable thing that you should go there too? And yet, have I not in these galleries and in this area some, perhaps many, who have no hope hereafter? . . . Mother, unconverted mother, from the battlements of heaven your child beckons you to Paradise. Father, ungodly, impenitent father, the little eyes that once looked joyously on you, look down upon you now and the lips which had scarcely learned to call you “Father” ere they were sealed by the silence of death, may be heard as with a still, small voice, saying to you this morning, “Father, must we be forever divided by the great gulf which no man can pass?” If you wilt, think of these matters, perhaps the heart will begin to move, and the eyes may begin to flow and then may the Holy Spirit put before thine eyes the cross of the Savior . . . if thou wilt turn thine eye to Him, thou shalt live . . .

Little ones are precious in God’s sight. If they die, they go to heaven. Parents, who have trusted Jesus, who have lost a little one, if they have trusted Jesus, can be confident of a wonderful reunion someday. Are you hopeful of seeing again that little treasure God entrusted to you for such a short time? Jesus has made a way. Come to Him now and someday you will see them again.

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Mike’s Favorites

Below are some of Mike’s favorite family ministry resources. Read the descriptions and click on the links below.


Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is a nonprofit organization committed to building strong families by serving to bridge the cultural-generational gap between parents and teenagers.  At a time when an already confusing youth culture is changing quickly, CPYU helps parents, youth workers, educators, and others understand teenagers and their culture so that they will be better equipped to help children and teens navigate the challenging world of adolescence.

Covenant Eyes

Maybe you’ve had a problem with online pornography before, or you’re just trying to stop the temptation before it starts. Or maybe you’re a parent who wants to open an avenue to teach your kids about responsible Internet use. Covenant Eyes can help.

Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family is a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. We provide help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.

Heart Connex Family Devotionals by LifeWay

Each week, parents receive two, twenty-minute Bible study devotionals via email. These studies, authored by Dr. Richard Ross, contain solid Bible teaching presented in a warm, interactive format. In addition, the devotions are set-up so that students & parents alike are involved – each given specific things to say or do. A meaningful way to pray as a family is also included at the conclusion of each study. Heart Connex devotionals are designed for very busy families. The head of the household can print the studies and make preparations in only about five minutes. In most cases families can complete the studies in twenty minutes.

Parent Resource Bibliography List

This is a biblography complied by Bethlehem Baptist Church (Dr. John Piper’s former church) and Providence Baptist Church (in Raleigh), which is used by permission from both churches.  This resource is a list of biblical parenting books.

Plugged In Online

Plugged In Online is a Focus on the Family publication designed to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving families the essential tools they need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which they live. Each month, Plugged In Online is visited about 1 million times by people looking for detailed information about what’s really in popular movies, videos, TV episodes, songs and games. Entertainment industry ratings only tell you so much. We go deeper, diving into specific content and the meaning behind it.

Shorter Catechism for Youth And Children

A catechism is a manual used to teach biblical truth in an orderly way. Catechisms are not the only means that can or should be used to instruct the next generation, but they are helpful for certain purposes.

Truth and Grace Memory Books

Truth and Grace Memory Books are helpful tools to teach your 2-18 year old children the  Bible, catechism, and rich theology.  It is published by Founders Press, who is committed to historic Baptist principles. There are three books in this series.

X3 Watch

X3watch is a free accountability software program helping with online integrity. Whenever you browse the Internet and access a site, which may contain questionable material, the program will record the site name, time, and date the site was visited. A person of your choice (an accountability partner) will receive an email containing all possible questionable sites you may have visited within the month. This information is meant to encourage open and honest conversation between friends and help us all be more accountable. Also available for iPhone, iTouch, iPad, and Andriod cell phones.