Great Quote from J. I. Packer

October 7, 2015 at 11:27 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Wisdom | Leave a comment

There is a documentary coming out on the life of J. I. Packer.  Some of his books have had a big impact on my life.  His Knowing God is on my “top ten books ever” list.  My wife sent me a link to the trailer, and this is what the man says about himself in it.  Great words; great legacy.

As I look back on the life that I’ve lived, I would like to be remembered as a voice — a voice that focused on the authority of the Bible, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the wonder of his substitutionary sacrifice and atonement for our sins.  And, if your joy matches my joy, as we continue in our Christian lives, well, you will be blessed indeed.

Although I’ve given you the entire text of it, you can watch the trailer here if you would like.

November 12, 2015.  I noticed that this link now leads to a 20 minute video of J I packer in his own words.  It sill ends with the quote above, though a fuller version of it.  The entire video is worth the time to see.

Finding God’s Best

September 1, 2015 at 4:50 pm | Posted in Marriage, Personal Testimony, Wisdom | Leave a comment

A number of things in recent days have reminded me of a sermon I preached a few years ago about Rebekah, and finding God’s best in marriage.  If you are single, if you have single children or grandchildren, you should learn these principles.  These principles also apply to many other areas of finding God’s will.

It is the most requested sermon I have ever preached.  When the church changed web site carriers, many of our on-line sermons were lost.  I’ve dug this one out of the archives to put it back on line.  It is the first message on this page.  (By the way, don’t let the 77 minute note scare you.  I don’t know how that appeared.  It is only 39 minutes — I’m a preacher, but I’m not that long-winded!)

On Finishing Well: Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah

August 20, 2013 at 8:19 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Personal Testimony, Wisdom | Leave a comment

Today I read the stories of three different kings in Judah, all who began well but didn’t finish well.

Joash began to reign when he was only seven years old.  He followed the reign of his evil grandmother Athaliah, daughter of Jezebel, and was a great turn for the better.  Joash was raised by his aunt and his uncle Jehoiada, who was a godly priest.  They raised him and counseled him so that he began as a godly king.  “Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem.  . . .  Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest.”  (2 Chron 24:1-2 ESV)  Notice however, it was only during the days of Jehoiada.  In fact, “After the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king.  Then the king listened to them.   And they abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols.  And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs.”  (vv17-18)  Joash lost his godly counselor, replaced him with spoiled royal counselors instead, and they persuaded him to abandon the LORD.

Joash’s son Amaziah became the king, and like Joash, he too began a godly reign.  “Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem.   . . .  He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, yet not with a whole heart.” (25:1-2)  It seems Amaziah had an interest in other gods, and that’s why he was never wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD.  “After Amaziah came from striking down the Edomites, he brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them, making offerings to them.  Therefore the LORD was angry with Amaziah and sent to him a prophet, who said to him, ‘Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?'” (vv14-15)

Then Amaziah’s son Uzziah followed the same footsteps.  “Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem.   . . .  He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done.”  (26:3-4)  However there was a pride that became his downfall.  “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.  For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God.” (v16)

One man lost godly counsel, one followed a curiostiy about other gods, one became proud of his successes; none finished well.  Here I am at middle age (a euphimism for getting old but not wanting to admit it!), and I want to finish life strong.  I must let these negative examples instruct me how to do that.  Lord, help me to finish well; may I keep godly counselors around me, may I follow you alone, may I give you glory for any successes that come my way.

Open Season, a Book Review, a Holiness Struggle

February 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, Devotional thoughts, Wisdom | 2 Comments

One of the books I read on vacation was C.J. Box, Open Season.  I had been told by some of my acquaintances from Wyoming that this series, about a Wyoming game warden is a good read.  It was a great and well-written story, but I struggled with it on a different level.  In the early part of the book, some friends of the main character, Joe Pickett, a married man committed to his family, were trying to convince him that sleeping with women other than his wife is a good thing.  Not that they had a conversation about it, but throughout the first third of the book, there were numerous comments directed that way.  That wouldn’t have been so bad, especially since the main character proved to be a man of integrity, but the discussions didn’t have to be so explicit.   At the same time I was reading the book, I was also reading through Leviticus and Numbers and noticing how God had a tougher standard of holiness for the priests.  Now I’m not a Jewish priest, but I do believe that God still sets certain people aside for special purposes.  So as a preaching pastor I should have a high standard of holiness.  I wondered, as I read a couple of portions of the book, whether I should be reading it at all.

Here is the struggle.  For novel reading, I could limit myself to only Christian fiction.  There are numerous books in that category that I have read and enjoyed, but I’ve also found some of them to be unreal; the characters are too good, and they don’t face real-life issues.  Yet in Open Season, I found a character who faced real-life temptation, as men often do, with the kinds of real-life discussions that men often have.  And he was a great role model in that he resisted those temptations.  All that sounds so good, but I was still put off by the explicit discussions.

I share this because maybe some of you have had the same debates in your own minds.  It is not about this one book in particular as much as it is about what standards we should set, about how to be in the world but not of the world.  Maybe some readers can comment on how they handle these matters.

With all that said, here are a few quotes from the book.  My Wyoming friends will appreciate the second and third ones.  The first one is fun, and the last one is very insightful.

Grandmother Missy had come to the conclusion that everyone in the family loved her lasagna.  The fact that no one finished dinner hadn’t changed her mind.  The truth was that the only person who liked Grandmother Missy’s lasagna was Grandmother Missy herself.  p. 212

Spring.  Or at least what passed for spring in Wyoming, a place with only three legitimate but not independent seasons: summer, fall, and winter.  Spring was something that occurred in other places, places where flowers pushed up from the soil during May when it warmed, places where leaves budded and opened on hardwood; places where flowers exposed themselves like sacrifices to the sun.  Places where it was unlikely that after those leaves and flowers emerged, 10 inches of heavy, wet, and unpredicted snow would fall and would cynically, sneeringly, kill every living thing in sight and stop all movement.  p. 269

Wyomingites, Joe had observed, didn’t know what to do when it rained except get out of it, watch it through the window, and wait for it to go away.  The same people who chained up all four tires and drove through horizontal snowstorms and bucked snowdrifts just to go have lunch in town during the winter had no clue what to do when it rained. . . .  Few people owned umbrellas.  Fewer yet would let themselves be seen with an umbrella open because it would appear urban and pretentious, and the only rain slickers he ever saw were rolled up neatly and tied to the backs of saddles, where they generally remained.  p.119

To hunt and fish in the State of Wyoming, Joe thought, people were required to buy licenses and, in some cases, pass tests that proved they knew how to use firearms and knew Game and Fish regulations. There were no such requirements for having children.  p. 157

The End of Proverbs and a Noble Wife

August 2, 2012 at 7:35 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, English Bible Translations, Wisdom | Leave a comment

I finished Proverbs today and have three thoughts to share.

First, I have an amazing wife who clearly fits the Proverbs description “a wife of noble character.” (31:10)  Next month will be our thirtieth anniversary, and I can say without reservation that “her worth is far above rubies.”  Many things in this chapter could be said, but the descriptions that describe her best are these: “She provides food for her family;” “she sets about her work vigorously;” “she is clothed with strength and dignity;” “she speaks with wisdom;” “faithful instruction is on her tongue;” and “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  I am thankful everyday for the amazing gift she is to me.  I am still exhilarated by her love (Prov 5:19).  Cathy, many women do noble things, but you surpass them all!

Second, I am done with the NIV2011.  If you’ve followed my thinking on this matter throughout the year, you already knew this.  I had planned to read the NIV2011 through in my devotions this year, but Proverbs was so bad about using they, them and their as plural pronouns, and about changing singular nouns to plurals so they could use those pronouns, that I had trouble getting through it.  I had already switched most of my reading plan to the ESV, but was still reading Psalms and Proverbs from the NIV2011.  I still have a few Psalms to complete, and will try to do that, but Proverbs was the end for me as far as my search for the next Bible and the NIV are concerned.  You can read more of my thoughts on this matter here.

Finally, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (30:5)  I am thankful for God’s wonderful word that I can read every day in my native tongue!

Herod Agrippa II – One Who Won’t Be Persuaded

May 8, 2012 at 10:18 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Wisdom | 2 Comments

The last ruler of the Herodian dynasty was Herod Agrippa II.  He was too young to become a ruler at his father’s untimely death, but was appointed by Claudius to his uncle’s throne a few years later, at the age of 23.  He reigned in various parts of Palestine until his death at age 73 in the year 100AD.  He was an expert in Jewish law and religion and was used by Roman authorities as a resource on Jewish matters.  Among other privileges, he was given the authority to appoint the Jewish high priest.  He comes into the biblical narrative during Paul’s trial in Caesarea in Acts 25-26, where he is called simply Agrippa.

Paul had been tried before Governor Felix, who understood Jewish matters pretty well, and whose wife was a sister or half sister of Agrippa.  Felix kept Paul in prison hoping for a bribe from him (Acts 24:26).  When Felix was replaced as governor by Festus, who didn’t have much understanding of Jewish matters, the case of Paul was still undecided, so Festus brought it up again.  When Agrippa came to town, Festus asked his opinion of the case (Acts 25), and Paul made his defense before King Agrippa (Acts 26).

At the end of Paul’s defense, Festus called him crazy, but Paul said he was speaking freely because Agrippa understood these matters.  Then Paul asked the direct question to the King, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?  I know that you believe.” (Acts 26:27 ESV)  Agrippa wouldn’t be persuaded, so instead of giving a simple answer, he turned the question back to Paul saying, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (28)  Agrippa’s question has been interpreted as jest, as gall (how dare you, a prisoner, attempt to persuade me, a king), as avoidance, and probably many other ideas as well.  What I want to consider for our thoughts today is some of the reasons Agrippa wouldn’t be persuaded.

Perhaps Agrippa was too proud.  He was known as a Jewish expert, and he would have to admit a misunderstanding if he told Paul he believed the prophets on these matters.  He might appear to Festus to be wishy-washy rather than knowledgeable and strong.  Yet he couldn’t bring himself to say he didn’t believe the prophets either, because the people thought he did.  He used this question as avoidance of a direct answer that might embarrass him.

Perhaps Agrippa was afraid for his position.  He couldn’t admit that he was a sinner.  The event which included Paul’s defense was accompanied by great pomp, and all sorts of officials were in attendance (25:23).  Yet Paul had just talked about repentance and forgiveness.  It is difficult for a public official to admit wrongdoing, especially in such a public setting.  Four generations of pampered living and protective leadership had taught Agrippa to hold on to his position.  I wonder if the story of his father’s death haunted him into a place of indecision on religions matters – afraid of losing his position by admission, afraid of losing it by denial too.

It is possible that Agrippa would not be persuaded because he knew he was a sinner but loved his sinful lifestyle.  This is the reason many people don’t want to hear the Gospel.  Agrippa arrived in Caesarea, Luke tells us, with Bernice (25:13), and Bernice was present at Paul’s defense (25:23).  A little history will help explain what Luke’s contemporary readers knew that today’s reader may not.  Bernice was King Agrippa’s sister, who lived with him as his wife.  It was a major scandal in Rome, where everyone knew about the relationship.  Like his great uncle, Antipas, and his aunt, Herodias, Agrippa loved his openly sinful life too much to repent.

Herod the Tetrarch – A Vacillating Tragic Life

May 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Wisdom | 1 Comment

After the last post, I was thinking that there is so much confusion about Herod’s family in the Bible, that I might write a post about each of the major four Herods with lessons we can learn.  Herod the Great, as history knows him, reigned over Judea, Samaria, Perea and Galilee as a king, but still under the authority of Rome.  He called himself “The King of the Jews.”  The previous post was about him, and his life could be called one of self-protection.  He had numerous offspring that ruled various parts of that area for four generations, and four of them are significant rulers in the biblical story, while many others show up in the Bible.

One of Herod’s sons ruled over a part of his father’s kingdom, and came to be known as Herod the Tetrarch (literally means ruler of a fourth); he is also called Herod Antipas.  This Herod was the ruler when Jesus was in his adult ministry; he was a part of Jesus’ trial, where he apparently asked Jesus to do a miracle for him (Luke 23:7-9); and he put John the Baptist to death.  His life can be called one of vacillating tragedy.  A part of his story is told in Mark 6:14-29.  I see four reasons for his poor leadership.

First, Herod the Tetrarch had no theological foundation.  The most basic theological issue of life is the true identity of Jesus.  Herod didn’t know who Jesus was; in fact, he thought Jesus might be the resurrection of John the Baptist.  Though there were some theories about Jesus amongst his people, none of them were correct, but Herod seemed not to care about that.  He also seemed to care little about the Old Testament Law his people held so dear.

Second, Herod the Tetrarch had no experience of grace, and so he operated from a sense of guilt which seemed to haunt him (16).  When a person operates from guilt, everything he does becomes a cover up or a legalistic rule or an effort to please.  His murder of John was all of these:  a cover up of his illegal marriage, which John spoke against; an effort to please his step-daughter and his guests, and a legalistic stand on his ridiculous promise.

Third, this Herod had no moral compass – no true sense of right and wrong.  He arrested John even though he knew him to be righteous and holy (20).  His marriage was illegal (17-18  By the way, this wife was his niece, another descendant of Herod the Great).  He was puzzled by a man who did speak truth (20).  He invited his step daughter to dance at his dinner party (22).  To clarify, this was no mild ballet that impressed his guests; the word used and the context indicate it was an erotic dance.  And Herod killed John the Baptist, even though he did it on a rash promise and even though he was distressed by it.

Finally, Herod the Tetrarch was a man with no spine, no mettle.  He was influenced by rumor instead of truth (14); he was influenced by his wife’s bitterness (19, 24); he made an impulsive promise to an erotic dancer (22-23); and he kept that promise because of his guests (26).  Herod could have told his step daughter that her request was out of line because it was wrong and because it undermined Herod’s authority and thus was more than the “half my kingdom” he promised.  But Herod wouldn’t stand up for what was right in any of these situations.  Certainly politicians today are not unique in that regard.

If we want to be leaders that matter, we must be people of solid theological and moral conviction.  At the same time, if we want to elect leaders that matter, we must vote for those who show theological and moral conviction.

The Foolishness of God

April 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Posted in Wisdom, Worship | Leave a comment

Here are the words to the Michael Card song we played before the sermon in church today.  These are great lyrics for an April first Sunday.

God’s Own Fool  (by Michael Card)
It seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life as the wisest of all of mankind,
But if God’s Holy wisdom is foolish to men He must have seemed out of His mind.
 For even His family said He was mad, and the priest said a demon’s to blame,
But God in the form of this angry young man could not have seemed perfectly sane.
Chorus:
When we in our foolishness thought we were wise,
He played the fool and He opened our eyes;
When we in our weakness believed we were strong,
He became helpless to show we were wrong.
 So we follow God’s own Fool, for only the foolish can tell.
Believe the unbelievable! Come be a fool as well!

Come lose your life for a carpenter’s son, for a madman who died for a dream;
Then you’ll have the faith His first followers had, and you’ll feel the weight of the beam.
 So surrender the hunger to say you must know, have the courage to say, “I believe.”
For the power of paradox opens your eyes and blinds those who say they can see.
Chorus:
When we in our foolishness thought we were wise,
He played the fool and He opened our eyes;
When we in our weakness believed we were strong,
He became helpless to show we were wrong.
 So we follow God’s own Fool, for only the foolish can tell.
Believe the unbelievable! Come be a fool as well!

If you want to hear the message called, “The Foolishness of God,” check here.  That message should be posted by midweek.  Happy Palm Sunday and April Fools’ Day.

Portrait of a Pair of Politicians

August 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Wisdom | Leave a comment

The 15th chapter of Mark presents a picture of two political leaders whose responses to the tense situation demonstrate two totally different approaches to politics.  I find it interesting that these two approaches are still around today and are still typical of those with political authority.  The first picture is of Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea.  The Jewish Council decided they wanted Jesus dead, but they didn’t have authority to carry out their plan; they needed approval from the Governor to do it.  Though Pilate could find nothing wrong with Jesus, and openly confessed that he’d done nothing to deserve death, he still handed him over to be crucified.  Mark tells us his motive; he wished “to satisfy the crowd.” (Mark 15:15)  So many political leaders want only to satisfy the crowd, to keep themselves popular, to assure their reelection or reappointment.  They will say or do anything to make that happen.  It often appears this is the majority of people in office today.

On the other hand, there was a respected member of the Council who was a disciple of Jesus (according to Matthew) and who had not consented to their decision (according to Luke).  He “took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43)  He took courage and did what was right.  In politics, it takes courage to do what is right, especially if it is unpopular.  He didn’t care what embarrassment it might cause; he didn’t care if it meant the end of his days on the Council; he didn’t care if it satisfied the crowds; Joseph of Arimathea courageously did what was right.  O for more Joseph-type politicians today!

The 2012 election is already in the news.  When you view the candidates and when you go to the polls look for politicians who have a track record of courageously doing what is right rather a record of satisfying the crowd.  Look for men and women who stand for a biblical model of morality and principle no matter how unpopular that is rather than those whose record represents rhetoric and popularity.

Is Premarital Sex Really that Bad?

June 28, 2011 at 9:47 am | Posted in Marriage, Wisdom | 1 Comment

For years I’ve preached about its woes, and for years Cathy and I have told couples in counseling about its dangers.  So is premarital sex really that bad?

Two recent articles have shed some interesting light on this topic.  The first one is not new but has recently come to my attention.  It is written by Willard Harley, best selling author of His Needs, Her Needs.  I have said one reason to avoid premarital sex is that the biggest predicting factor in divorce is sex before marriage, and it’s just the opposite of what the media would report.  Couples that sleep together before marriage are way more likely to divorce than those who don’t.  Dr. Harley’s article confirms this and sites numerous studies that have demonstrated it.  Be sure to check the second part of the article, a link at the end called “Next letter” to see the studies.  Here’s the link to the first part:  http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi5025_qa.html

The second article was just in the news recently.  In it Dannah Gresh, author of What Are You Waiting For: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex, talks about the chemical reaction sex has in our bodies and how that can cause problems in the casual “hook up” scene and with long-term relationships later on.  Among other things, she sites a study showing that young people who have sex before marriage are more likely to suffer depression and attempt suicide.  Here’s the link to her article:  http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/31/my-take-there%E2%80%99s-nothing-brief-about-a-hookup/?iref=obinsite

What I find interesting is that neither of these articles even mention another reason to abstain before marriage – the trust factor.  Couples who have sex before they are married will inevitably have a trust breakdown later in the relationship.  There is a reason for this, but I won’t take time to write about it now.  The breakdown of the trust factor can be overcome, but the marriage will take a lot more work than it should.  It’s easier just to wait.

Of course the biggest reason to abstain from sex outside of marriage is that God tell us to.  These studies just prove he knew thousands of years ago what’s best for us.  The fences of sexual morality that God places around us are not prison fences to keep us from fun, but zoo fences to keep us safe while we fully enjoy his creation.

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