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

Shack Movie

February 27, 2017 at 11:07 am | Posted in Books and Movies | 1 Comment

Since a movie based on the popular novel The Shack is being released, it’s probably time to remind readers that I posted a book review on The Shack when it was so popular.  Read not only the review but also the follow up post as well.

Of course when movie makers get a hold of a text, we never know what might become of it. The movie may have significantly more or less problems than the book.  As of this writing, I haven’t seen it, and I haven’t read any reviews of it

My book review is here

The second follow up post is here

Divorce Rates in the Church

February 6, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Marriage | Leave a comment

I’ve often read that the divorce rate in the church is just as high as it is in the broader culture.  I have certainly seen my share of broken families in the church, so I never questioned the supposed “fact.”  However, attending church together really does lower the divorce rate.  Here is the conclusion of a study at Harvard on that very issue:

People, of course, do not become religious just for health reasons or to avoid divorce, but for those who already consider themselves religious, service attendance can provide a critical support.  Religious practice, whether communally or between spouses, is powerful.  Indeed, other research suggests that shared family religious activities and praying together are likewise associated with greater relationship satisfaction and greater levels of trust.  Shared religious activities like praying together may help couples deal with stress, and allow them to focus on shared beliefs and hopes for the future, and deal constructively with problems in their relationship.  Thus, for those who already consider themselves religious, both religious service attendance and joint prayer may be vital resources for strengthening marriage and trust, and for promoting happier, healthier, and fuller lives.
— Tyler J. VanderWeele, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health

You can read the entire article here.

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

January 30, 2017 at 8:57 pm | Posted in God's Love | Leave a comment

I read this short little gem in just one night as I was teaching through Jesus’ famous parable often called The Prodigal Son.  This book is a commentary on the story.  I’m not a fast reader, so many of you could read it in one night as well.  It is well worth the time.

Keller focuses much of his book on the role of the older brother, the less famous and often overlooked part of the story.  Keller’s contention is that both brothers are lost, not just the younger one.

In fact Keller tells us these two sons “portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery.”  Each is a way of “addressing the ills of the world and determining right from wrong.”  “The elder brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity.  .  .  .  The younger brother in the parable illustrates the way of self-discovery.” (pp 29-30)  It’s Keller’s contention that Western society is divided between these two ways, so much so that most of us cannot conceive any other way to live.

The moral conformists say, “The immoral people — the people who ‘do their own thing’ — are the problem with the world, and moral people are the solution.”  The advocates of self discovery say: “The bigoted people — the people who say ‘we have the Truth’ — are the problem with the world, and progressive people are the solution.”  (32)

The message of Jesus’ parable is that both of these approaches are wrong.

Keller spends a big chunk of the book comparing the older brother to many religious people today.  We often play the role of the big brother.  For instance we seek to control God through our obedience.  Older brother types “obey God to get things.  They don’t obey God to get God.” (42)  “Though  the older son stayed home, he was actually more distant and alienated from his father than his brother, because he was blind to his true condition.” (47)  And there are many more examples.

In spite of the fact that both sons’ ways were wrong, the father accepted and loved both, and God accepts and loves us no matter which son we act like, even when we sometimes act like both!  In a twist I’ve never heard before, Keller contends that children of God have a true older brother who accepts them and celebrates their return to the Father.  That true older brother is Jesus.

As Keller’s book title indicates, the often used title “The Prodigal Son” is misleading.  Prodigal means extravagant, even wasteful, and certainly the younger son in the story was extravagant and wasteful when he left with his father’s money, but that didn’t last long.  The real extravagance is the father’s treatment of the younger son when he comes home and his treatment of the older brother who doesn’t want to welcome the younger.  Just so our heavenly Father treats us with extravagant grace!  Amen.

Great little book.  Pick it up for a quick and encouraging read.

Best Books of 2016

January 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

Each year I try  to write an article about the best books I’ve read in the previous year.  The biggest chunk of my reading in 2016 was novels, and I discovered some authors these past twelve months that I have enjoyed and want to read again.

First, I need to mention Kristy Cambron.  I read her first book The Butterfly and the Violin early last year, and it was a great book.  I had to immediately check out the sequel A Sparrow in Terezin, and it was just as good.  These two novels give readers a different picture of the cruelty of the Nazi concentration camps than they’ve probably seen before — how camp officers used talented prisoners for entertainment purposes.  A sad but revealing side of history presented through characters with incredible strength.  Already this year, I have read Cambron’s newest book, The Ringmaster’s Wife, an historical novel about the wife of John Ringling.  With this week’s news that the Ringling Brothers’ Circus is shutting down forever, you might find this a fascinating read.  I will watch for more from this author.

Second, I have discovered Michael Neale.  His name has been known in Christian music, but his first novel is a masterpiece of Christian allegory. The surface story of The River is a young man named Gabriel Clarke who is transformed from a boy afraid of water because of an awful experience into a white water adventure guide.  In itself it is a captivating story.  But it’s the metaphorical meaning about spiritual life that makes the story especially good.  After reading it myself, I set it aside to read aloud to my family over Christmas break.  It was even better the second time through.  I can’t say much more without giving too much away, just get it and read it.  I am looking forward to the sequel Into the Canyon.

Finally, I have to mention Randy Alcorn.  His novel Safely Home is not just the best book I read in 2016 (nonfiction included), it has been added to my life’s most influential books list.  I have read some of Alcorn’s nonfiction works, but this was the first novel I’ve read.  You can read my review here.

New Way to Read Ancient Scrolls

September 22, 2016 at 11:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here is a fascinating piece of news that may not make the mainstream media.  Scientists have found a way to read ancient scrolls that are too fragile to unroll and read.  The first successful attempt was with a 4th Century BC scroll of Leviticus.   Here is a news article containing a video explaining the process.

It should come as no surprise to biblical conservatives, that the reading of this scroll, the most ancient of the Pentateuch now available, is identical to the text we use today.

“The text is ‘100 percent identical’ to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries, said Dead Sea Scroll scholar Emmanuel Tov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who participated in the study.”   The quote comes from this BBC article about the new technology.

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

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