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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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.

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.

Safely Home: An Awesome Book!

July 20, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God | Leave a comment

My family spent part of last week camping in the mountains where I had time to do some fun reading.  I read the best novel I have read in years, probably one of the best ever.  It was Randy Alcorn’s Safely HomeI had read Alcorn’s theology of Heaven, which I reviewed in this blog, but had never read his novels.  I will be sure to read more of them now.  I hesitate to use the word awesome for much, but this book was awesome!  I may have to add it to my list of most influential books ever read; time will tell.

Safely Home tells the story of two college roommates who reconnected twenty years after they graduated from college and had lost touch.  One was a successful business executive in America, the other a locksmith’s assistant and house church leader in China.

Alcorn researched the book carefully, and though it is fiction, he claims the statistics reported are true as are many of the stories out of China; those that are not actual stories are in line with things that do happen in China.  Though the characters are fictional, they ring true to life, so much so, I got caught up in the book as though it were a real story.  The way they learn from each other is a great education for the reader.

The presentation of the persecuted church in contrast with American materialism is absolutely fascinating and convicting.  It caused me to question a lot of my assumptions about the world-wide church, about persecution, and about American church values.

I would give you some great quotes from the book, except I got caught up in the story and didn’t bother to write anything down,  Besides I was so impressed with it, the others in my family hijacked the book as soon as I was done so they could read it too!

All proceeds from the sale of the book go to ministries supporting the persecuted church around the world, so buy a copy and read it.

Here is a link to a site that has 14 quotes from the book.  My favorite from this page is “If you are looking for a religion centered around yourself, Ben, I must agree that Christianity is a poor choice.”

Preach It by Stuart Briscoe

June 22, 2016 at 11:26 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Ministry | Leave a comment

I had decided at one time that I should read a preaching book at least every two years, but haven’t read any for quite some time.  After hearing Stuart and Jill Briscoe speak at our spring pastors’ and wives’ get-a-way, I picked up his book Preach It.  It has some great thoughts, some good humor, and some practical suggestions.  The best parts, however, are more about the preacher’s attitude than methodology.  And I thought I would share some of those here.

I spent a miserable few weeks second-guessing my decision to leave banking and concentrate on ministry.  One day I had a searing, troubling thought.  I wondered if I would ever be content if I could never preach again.  The thought persisted and eventually became framed in a question that seemed to come from the Lord himself: “Stuart Briscoe, what do you love most — preaching about me or me?”  It was a question I had trouble addressing, because I knew it would expose the motives behind my preaching, and I didn’t like what I was discovering about myself.  There was a certain excitement about preaching, a sense of being able to do something and do it reasonably well.  It was thrilling to be in demand.  . . .  A preacher’s motives matter more than a preacher’s methods.  If what is going on in a preacher’s heart is not right, what is coming out of his mouth will be all wrong.  (pages 77-78)

They are comfortable with their calling because they know it is of God and not of themselves.   They did not choose to preach.  They know that for reasons known only to God they were chosen to preach.  . . .  These preachers are comfortable with being gifted because the very term gift presupposes a giver.  They know that the Spirit distributes the gifts as he chooses, and he apparently chose them.  They have long since come to terms with the fact that this does not make them superior because of their highly visible gifting anymore than noses are superior to hearts because of their prominence.  . . .  They know that they cannot save a single soul, open a solitary blind eye, or turn anyone from darkness to light or from the power of Satan to God.  But they also know that God can and still does and that he uses people just like them.  . . .  They are excruciatingly aware of their inadequacy  . . .  No one need remind them of their unworthiness  . . .  [God] specializes in using such people because they are the only kind available.  (pages 172-173)

Maybe printing it here will help remind at least one other preacher of the amazing, overwhelming, yet humbling task we’ve been given.  May God be glorified in it.

Finally, on a lighter note, Briscoe quotes John Stott as saying that most preachers are “six days invisible and one day incomprehensible!”  (page 140)  I hope that doesn’t describe me!

Spurgeon on the Preacher’s Prayer

June 14, 2016 at 9:07 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

Some words, from Charles Spurgeon, I need reminded of often.  I frequently feel the need for “much more grace than common men.”  I’m sure others in ministry feel the same way.

If there be any man under heaven, who is compelled to carry out the precept “Pray without ceasing,” surely it is the Christian minister. He has peculiar temptations, special trials, singular difficulties, and remarkable duties; he therefore needs much more grace than common men, and as he knows this, he is led constantly to cry to the strong for strength, and say, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man. He acts as if he thought himself sufficient of himself, and therefore needed not to appeal to God.

Both of these came from Charles Spurgeon’s book Lectures to My Students.  I found them on the Focus on the Family website Thriving Pastor.  If interested, you can read the entire lengthy but excellent article here.

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