God’s Perspective

December 12, 2018 at 5:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When I read some of my scholarly commentaries for sermon preparation, I expect to learn lots of background information and word study knowledge, but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, when in the midst of that, I also find some profound devotional thoughts.  Here are two from a commentary on Isaiah by Dr. John Oswalt, who, at the time of this writing, was Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

It is not always easy to gain the divine perspective.  Yet, unless we seek it, we are always in danger of paying too much attention to the passing and paying too little attention to the significant.  Furthermore, apart from a diligent search for God’s perspective in every circumstance, we conclude too easily that God is concerned only about spiritual affairs and not about practical matters, a fallacy which leads to the loss of God in all affairs. (NICOT The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, p. 196)

Once abandon a heartfelt conviction that God does truly care for us and is intimately involved with us, once abandon his perspective for our own, then suddenly decisions which are utterly foolish from his perspective become intelligent and wise. (p. 203)

May God grant us to seek and find the divine perspective in all things.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

ESV Changes in 2016

September 21, 2016 at 11:25 am | Posted in English Bible Translations, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I thought some readers might like to know this.  I’ve been asked before if the ESV had made changes from the originally released Bible.  I commented on that here.  Those were earlier changes made sometime soon after 2001.  Now, once again, they have made a small number of changes.  Here is a website that lists all the changes that were made in 2016.  The translators claim this is the final text of the ESV.

I don’t know the reasoning behind most of these changes, some could be significant, like Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.  Some others are corrections that apparently were not caught the first time changes were made; an example is Numbers 14:42 where the new text changes “Lord” to “LORD.”  A quick glance at any modern translation will tell you this was a mistake in the earlier ESV editions.

The translators say that the 2016 changes are “limited to 52 words (out of more than 775,000 total words in ESV Bible) found in 29 verses (out of more than 31,000 verses in the ESV).  All that is really rather minor.

Keep reading the Word.

Narnia and the Election

February 27, 2016 at 10:13 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Very rarely do I comment on politics in this blog.  The subtitle is “A Teaching Pastor’s Devotional and Theological Thoughts,” and I try to keep it to that.  However, occasionally the two areas overlap, and occasionally I can’t refrain.  As a big fan of The Chronicles of Narnia, this article caught my attention.  I find I totally agree with the author.  Its called Nikabrik’s Candidate.  If you’ve read or seen Prince Caspian, then you will know the story behind the article.

 

An added note from this morning’s prayer time.  It’s a prayer for many candidates on both sides of the aisle.

There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips —
for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision.
O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.
My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride.
For the cursing and lies that they utter, consume them in wrath;
consume them till they are no more,
that they may know that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth.
Selected verses from Psalm 59 (ESV)

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