The Seer Series — Not Christian Fiction

September 25, 2018 at 8:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I have been debating whether or not to say something about these books.  In fact the third volume of the trilogy is overdue at the library while I ponder.  I like reporting on positive books, those that I enjoyed reading.  I tend to skip writing about books whose report from me would be this negative, but these books need a warning.

I discovered that Ted Dekker’s daughter, Rachelle, was writing a series of novels, and that the first one came highly recommended, then I learned that first volume also won a Christy Award.  So I had to read this series called the Seer Trilogy: The Choosing, The Calling, The Returning.

As expected the first book was a really good story, but, by the third novel, I was anxious to get through them as the story seemed to drag on and on.

However, the real problem with the series is not that the story drags, but that the stories are presented as Christian inspirational fiction, but they are more New Age or ancient Gnostic heresy than orthodox.  Salvation is presented in these sci-fi or fantasy novels as knowing who we are.

As Christians it is important that we know who we are in Christ.  We are the righteousness of God; we are forgiven, justified, redeemed, reconciled, regenerated and adopted into God’s family, all because of Jesus.  But apart from Jesus, we are nothing.  These novels present a false gospel that teaches everyone has the light within and just needs to know it.

For example, in the third novel, one character says, “We are here because we are called, as all people are, to discover the truth that lives within us, to acknowledge the heritage we possess, to lay claim to the identity that was given to us.”  (p. 13 emphasis mine)

Then the Messiah figure of the books says this about one of the main evil characters, “He already has the light inside him.  He will see it.  They will all see it.  That is the journey.  Remembering that you belong to the light is all there is.” (p. 345 emphasis mine)

I kept waiting for Aaron, this Messiah figure of Ms Dekker’s, to present Jesus, but that never happened.  As the book went on his teaching sounded more and more like New Age or Gnostic heresy.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know these books are fiction.  I love and read a lot of Christian fiction.  I am not opposed to fictitious worlds having different saviors as long as they illustrate the Gospel of Jesus.  I love Narnia (and Middle Earth too).  But Narnia, as an example, differs from this trilogy in two strikingly different ways.  First, the older books show the Gospel.  Aslan comes to a people who need him to be their Savior.  They can’t save themselves simply by knowing who they are.  This series does not show that Gospel in any way.  Second, the Narnia books are placed in another world, a world where Jesus has not come.  However, Dekker’s trilogy is placed in this world a few centuries into the future.  This world where Jesus has come and where trust in him is the only salvation.  Being saved by a knowledge of who we are apart from him, as though the light were in all of us, denies that Gospel.

I am sorry that this series was published under the Tyndale name.  And I would hope the Christy Award committee is ashamed to have chosen a book whose ultimate end is anything but Christian.

P.S.  If you are interested in a sci-fi adventure series about this world in the future, where Christian truth is presented, check out the Chiveis Trilogy by Bryan Litfin.  I loved those books.

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Liberating Ministry: A Book Review

August 30, 2018 at 8:58 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What is success in ministry?  That is the question Kent and Barbara Hughes tried to answer when they were struggling in a ministry that didn’t appear successful in the world’s eyes.  Is success in ministry big numbers of people and dollars, big programs, or is it something else? Their answer to that question became an excellent book called Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.  Though they wrote this over thirty years ago, it seems it’s even more relevant today than it was then.

According to the authors the church has bought into an American prosperity model of success rather than the biblical model, and that has caused untold stress and trouble for people honestly trying to serve Christ.  The book begins with their story.

Barbara knew that when things were going well at church I was OK, but otherwise I was discouraged.  If church attendance was up, I was up; if it was down, so was I. And the numbers had been going down for a long time.  (p. 14)

Years earlier when I began the ministry my motivation was simply too serve Christ. . . .  All I wanted was the approval of God. But imperceptibly my high Christian idealism had shifted from serving to receiving, from giving to getting.  I realized that what I really wanted was a growing church and “success” more than the smile of God. (p. 30)

After what they called “a dark night of the soul” Kent and Barbara Hughes began to ask how success should be defined from a biblical perspective.  The second section of the book is their conclusions. Success, from a biblical point of view, is first faithfulness to what God calls one to do. I couldn’t agree more.  Success is also loving God above all else, a commitment to prayer and seeking God, holiness in one’s personal life, then serving and loving others with a positive attitude.  Amen.

This book is a must read for anyone in or going into ministry.  We must separate ourselves from the American model of success and follow the biblical model.  But it is also a good read for lay people in leadership positions.  The last chapter, “How the Congregation Can Help” is a great description of the stress today’s pastor is under and how you can help.  Hughes’ description (quoting a friend) of the struggle between the emotions and the will concerning the discipline of prayer on pages 78-80 is worth the cost of the book.

One last quote to close with:  The glorious gospel is committed to common, frail human beings — so that the immensity of the power may be seen as God’s and not man’s!  Clearly then, an awareness of one’s weakness, one’s ordinariness, can be an asset in the gospel ministry, for such an awareness may more easily depend upon the power of God.  Conversely, it can be a disadvantage to be extraordinarily gifted, because one can be tempted to rely upon natural gifts to achieve supernatural ends.

A great book.  Happy Reading!

When You Don’t Know What to Pray

July 25, 2018 at 9:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The most profound thought I’ve had from my own sermons of late came from preaching through Romans 8 last year.  A thought that has influenced and encouraged my thinking for over a year now.  After hearing a similar thought in Sunday School this week, and after reading Romans 8 in my devotions the past two days, I was reminded again of these things and wanted to write them down.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.   And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27  ESV)

First, let me briefly mention what this passage doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t say some people have a prayer language by which they can communicate with God called praying in tongues.  By definition, praying in tongues would be a “language,” but this says the Spirit prays without words.  Second, this doesn’t say we groan in such a “language,” but that the Holy Spirit does, and it never says or implies that he uses our voices.

However, what it does mean is amazing.  The text says the Spirit prays for us “when we do not know what to pray for as we ought.”  I always imagined this to mean those times when the pain is too great or the emotions are so overwhelming, we have no words.  And that certainly applies here.  In those times we are at a loss for words, we don’t know what to pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us, so that words, or lack of them, don’t matter.  The Spirit is before the Father saying, “They don’t have words, but this is what they really need from us, for this is your perfect will.”

But there are many other times this applies.  It applies when life is confusing, when God’s will is just not very clear.  If I approach prayer with a sincere heart of seeking God, then the Spirit stands before the throne of the Father and says, “Father, he is confused about your will, but we know your will, and this is what he needs, so grant him that request.”

This applies to those situations when young Christians or those new to certain church traditions don’t know the “right words,” or the “normal” way to pray in that tradition.  That can be uncomfortable, or even horribly embarrassing.  But if you brave praying in that situation and say the “wrong words,” the Sprit is before the throne saying, “Father, she may have said what sounds to them like the wrong words for the situation, but we know where her heart is, and we know what she really needs.  Grant her that request.”  On a side note, I find when people who don’t know the accepted tradition are willing to pray, it is refreshingly new and encouraging, because it isn’t canned or thoughtless words.  I have to believe that God finds it refreshing too.

Finally, this applies even when we pray for the wrong things!  Certainly that is a time “we don’t know what to pray for as we ought.”  If our heart is right, then we want God’s best and not what we think is best, so we may be asking for Plan A or Plan B, but the Spirit stands before the throne of the Father and says, “Father, he is asking for Plan A or B, but we know your will is Plan C, so answer and give him Plan C.”  In other words, if your desire is to seek God, you cannot pray the wrong things!  Like Jesus, however, our attitude must be “not my will but yours be done.”  Maybe you’ve had times when you asked God for one thing, but he gave you something different that ultimately proved to be much better.  We only pray the wrong things when we ask according to our own lustful passions. (See James 4:3)

I have often heard people pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” but I believe that is a wrong kind of prayer.  The Spirit already is present with those who trust in Jesus, so he can’t come any more than he already has.  I understand that the heart of that prayer is often that we want to see the movement of God in our midst, but it is the wrong prayer.  (Even in that mistaken prayer, the Holy Spirit goes before the throne to ask the true will of God!)  Instead, we should be praying, “Go, Holy Spirit!  Go before the Father and present our requests according to his will.”

Fifteen Verses Every Christian Should Memorize

June 27, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pastor Glenn, I once saw a list of 10 verses everyone should memorize.  Can you tell me what you might include on such a list?

Dear ________,  Well here it is.  I couldn’t keep it to just 10 though.  I expanded it to 15!  They are listed by some basic categories of which Christians should have a good grasp.

About God

Genesis 1:1

Isaiah 40:28-31

Who Jesus is

John 1:1-4, 14

John 14:6

Human Sinfulness

Romans 3:10-11

The Gospel Message

John 3:16

Ephesians 2:8-9

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

The Bible

2 Peter 1:20-21

Isaiah 40:8

Psalm 119:105

Some Basic Assurances

1 John 5:11-13

1 Corinthians 10:13

Philippians 4:19

Proverbs 3:5-6

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:18-20

NOTES

There is some overlap in categories: Isaiah 40:31 is a great Basic Assurance verse, but it is based on who God is as stated in verses 28-30; In Matthew 28:18 Jesus says, “All authority has been given unto me,” a strong statement about who he is, but it is followed by the most memorable version of the Great Commission; 1 John 5:11-13 could just as well be listed as a Gospel Message verse, but because we are told we can know for certain, it fits better as a Basic Assurance.

Most people would list Romans 3:23 as a verse for Human Sinfulness, but it isn’t a complete sentence. Verses 10-11, quoting Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, is a complete sentence and a stronger message.  If you prefer memorizing 3:23 be sure to include v.24 as well.

Most people would probably use 2 Timothy 3:16-17 for a verse about the Bible being inspired. I’m OK with that too. I chose 2 Peter 1:20-21 because, Timothy only states that God’s word is inspired, but Peter, though he doesn’t use the word “inspiration,” tells us clearly what inspiration is and what it isn’t.

If you are at a stage where 15 verses seems overwhelming, start with a goal of memorizing one verse in each of the categories, the add the others later.

I’m open to whatever suggestions others may have to change or add to this list.

A Question About Calvinism

August 17, 2017 at 8:10 am | Posted in It's All About God, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | Leave a comment

I work with a college ministry called Campus Ventures, and occasionally get questions of a theological nature from the staff there.  I got a question yesterday, and the following text conversation ensued.   I wanted to keep the wording, and thought it would be appropriate to post here.

Glenn, what’s your take on the Five Solas of the Reformation?  We have a volunteer staff that is from a Reformed background wanting to do a Bible study on this.  Any chance this can twist off into Calvinism?  Doesn’t seem like it, but I wanted your thoughts about both questions.

The authority of the scriptures alone.  Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.  To me that’s just good solid Christian doctrine.  The real Gospel.  Yes there are some areas you can get off into Calvinism, especially grace and glory.  Personally, I have trouble with the Arminian doctrine actually expressing those five things in truth.  But that shows my own bias in the matter.

Thanks, Glenn.  I couldn’t see any problem with it either, but there has been such a problem of late with people here going off the deep end with Calvinism, I wanted to make sure before getting back to him.

The true heart of Calvinism is the glory of God in all things, unfortunately too many people who call themselves Calvinists emphasize things in such a way that they give the glory to themselves. They’re the ones who know it all.
They’re proud to be the elect, but that misunderstands the whole point!

Wow!  That is good stuff, Glenn.  Thanks for sharing that with me.

I would add here that Calvinism correctly understood should make us fully aware that we are very sinful people; that we are separated from God; that we can do nothing about our situation; that our salvation is completely the work of God; that even our good deeds after salvation are God working through us; that it is ultimately all about God.  That should promote humility.

Note how much of what I said in the last paragraph is expressed in this famous passage:  “By grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Forgive me, God, when I am proud of what I know or of what I think are my own accomplishments.

Great Preaching Has Little to do with the Size of Our Talent

July 5, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here are some encouraging words I read today.  I must trust God and not self or gifts or talents.

The centerpiece of pastoring is typically identified with preaching.  It’s the church activity that garners the largest audience, evokes the highest praise, and fuels the hottest critiques.

Preaching God’s word has always been important to the Father — He called us to it, provided the material for it, empowers us in it, and holds us accountable with it.  Maybe that’s why the word preacher, and other forms of the word, appear 150 times in scripture.  That’s even more than church and hell combined.

To the average congregant, the standard yardstick for measuring good preaching is whether or not it comes with flair or charisma — can the preacher keep a crowd interested, or awake, or entertained?  Another benchmark is response — when fishing for men, can the preacher fill up the net?

But those can’t be true measurements of success  .  .  .  Great preaching, it would appear, has little to do with the size of our talent and everything to do with the size of our God.  Proclaiming His word is not a show and tell for a man or his gift.  True preaching is simply the spoken word opening the written word to proclaim the Incarnate Word.

— from Ron Walters, Senior Vice President Ministry Relations, Salem Media Group, July 2017 Pastor’s Letter.

The entire article can be found here

Slow Down and Enjoy Life!

June 14, 2017 at 9:46 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Prayer | 1 Comment

I’ve often said that as Americans we are way too busy.  It only seems to get worse as time goes on.  Each time saving device we add to our collection only serves to make us busier, as we try to accomplish more and more.  I read the following today, and thought it was worth the time to share.  It’s  from an interview with Jennie Allen, author of Nothing to Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard

I think most of us are running on this treadmill that we don’t even realize is happening, we don’t even realize it’s turned on.

We’re just running every day.  I think we notice it most when we’re still, but the problem is even when we’re still, we have a phone pinging us or even just distracting us and causing us to check out rather than self-diagnose or self analyze what’s happening.

.  .  .  even when I was alone with God or just alone, I was performing and executing things that I needed to get done.  So because my job is largely talking about God and teaching and writing, whenever I was alone with God I was getting the next thing ready that I was going to deliver rather than actually just enjoying his presence.

So I think what’s happened is everything has become a performance or something to achieve rather than something to enjoy.  .  .  .  I feel like as Americans and as young people today that we’re all trying to prove ourselves and we’re exhausted and we’re actually not enjoying the best parts of life.

The entire article can be read here.

Slow down!  Take some time to enjoy God and family.  It’s healthy physically, mentally and spiritually!

Great Biographies

June 5, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, Grace and Faith, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On Sunday I encouraged our congregation to increase their faith by reading biographies of men and women God has used in mighty ways, and then I mentioned a few that have had an impact on me.  I was asked to repeat that list.  So here are the ones I mentioned Sunday.

You can read my post from a few years ago called “Ten Influential Books” here.  It lists most of these with a few comments about them.

Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot is the story of Jim Elliot and four other men who were martyred taking the gospel to a tribe in South America.  George Muller, Man of Faith and Miracles by Basil Miller is the story of a man who built a huge orphanage on nothing but trust in God.  I’ve read three biographies of William Tyndale, who is my hero in Church history.  The best was the longest one by David Daniell.  Finally, I have recently read Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan, a powerful story of one woman’s life in communist Romania.

Happy reading.

A Pastor’s Reminder

May 30, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, Ministry | Leave a comment

I am quickly reading through a book one of our women asked me to look at, because they want to use it for the Ladies Bible Study next fall.  As a pastor, this paragraph jumped out as a good reminder not only for the listeners, but for the speaker as well:

When you hear a teacher, a pastor or a speaker utter a statement that rings so true it can only be God, then believe me, it can only be God.  No man or woman is wise enough, educated enough, or clever enough to understand and communicate the deep truths of God’s Word on his or her own.  It’s entirely a work of the Holy Spirit, and all the applause, all the praise must go to him.   –Liz Curtis Higgs in The Women of Christmas  (emphasis hers)

May God get all the praise and glory when he speaks through any of us, his unworthy creatures!

Prayer Is Not a Monologue

April 17, 2017 at 11:12 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Prayer | Leave a comment
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When The Circle Maker book by Mark Batterson was popular, I thought, from descriptions I saw, that it came from the “Name It and Claim It” camp.  But when a service I have that sends out reviews of books, included it recently, I found out that my assumption was completely wrong.

I have often passed on thoughts about praying the Bible.  As many of you know, that discipline has transformed my prayer life completely.  So I had to show you this quote.

What I’m about to share has the power to revolutionize the way you pray and the way you read the Bible.  We often view prayer and Scripture reading as two distinct spiritual disciplines without much overlap, but what if they were meant to be hyperlinked?  What if reading became a form of praying and praying became a form of reading?

One of the primary reasons we don’t pray through is because we run out of things to say.  Our lack of persistence is really a lack of conversation pieces.  Like an awkward conversation, we don’t know what to say.  Or like a conversation on its last leg, we run out of things to talk about.  That’s when our prayers turn into a bunch of overused and misapplied clichés.  So instead of praying hard about a big dream, we’re left with small talk.  Our prayers are meaningless as a conversation about the weather.

The solution?  Pray through the Bible.

Prayer was never meant to be a monologue; it was meant to be a dialogue.  Think of Scripture as God’s part of the script; prayer is our part.  Scripture is God’s way of initiating a conversation; prayer is our response.  The paradigm shift happens when you realize that the Bible wasn’t meant to be read through; the Bible was meant to be prayed through.  And if you pray through it, you’ll never run out of things to talk about.

From Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker

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