Monday, October 22, 2018

30 Days to Understanding the Bible, a Review

30 Days to Understanding the Bible (BibleIn30Days.com) has been a delight to read. It will provide many opportunities for discussion.  I have not promoted a book so enthusiastically in a long time. Some people in my church will be ordering their own copy.  
Here are some of the reasons this volume is extraordinary.
In 30 days, you will understand the Bible better.
Each chapter builds on the previous. There is no need to go back to the last chapter to establish the context.
The written illustrations are well-planned and delivered. 
The graphic illustrations are eye-catching and practical.
The constant repetition of main points aids memorization. “Repetition is the key to mental ownership.” ( Max Anders)
The times and dates flow seamlessly into the text.  There is nothing contrived.
Many Bible surveys are choppy because each book is discussed as an entity.  Understanding the Bible ties every book together in a complete picture.  From the Beginning to the Culmination the plan of God is connected.
Max Anders has carefully highlighted the most significant events.
The New Testament is divided into three eras- the Gospel, Missions, and Church. It is simple and easy to learn.
Ten basic doctrines are explained without the use of theological language.
Understanding the Bible in 30 days will be my textbook whenever I teach Bible Survey.  I have already begun to use it in my current class.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Preaching by the Book

by R. Scott Pace
A Review

“A sermon is the communication of divine and eternal truth.” This is the sacred basis for preaching on which this book is built.
The compact, concise volume will be a valuable resource for rookies and seasoned professionals.  It is detailed enough to establish new preachers in the pattern of biblical preaching and broad enough to challenge older pastors to sharpen their focus on the fundamentals.
Pace believes “we should follow a guided process that humbly yields to the Spirit, faithfully interprets the scriptures, and grateful honors our Savior.”  The book outlines seven strategic steps to accomplish that.
Three sections underpin the process- the foundation, the framework, the finishing touches. (I have often thought the trademark of a well-prepared preacher is unforced alliteration. This book does not disappoint.) I am in the category of older pastor, but I want my preaching to stay fresh. Two subsections are especially relevant.
Chapter 3 discourses on Interpretation.  Pace’s discussion of authorial intent, page 34, was a confirmation of the need for a contextual presentation of every biblical passage. “The meaning of the text (is) an objective reality.” “Every text has a primary, fixed meaning, and a passage can never mean what it never meant.”  Contextualization becomes more relevant as the church moves further into the “fast food” model of preaching.
Sermon introductions have not been my strong suit. The author has listed some helpful points in Chapter 5 that I plan to review regularly.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Signs, Wonders, So What . . .


  (This blog is a response to a question. It is longer than usual because I have copied many verses into the text.)

1.      The greater part of God’s history among men involves no miracles of any kind. Direct miracles occurred in Scripture in only 3 periods of time.  Moses performed miracles.  Elijah and Elisha performed miracles.  Jesus and the apostles performed miracles.  Miracles of any kind are not normal occurrences. If everything is a miracle, nothing is a miracle.  
2.      Natural remedies are recommended in the Old and New Testament. God healed Hezekiah through a natural process. Isaiah 38:21.  Ex. 21:18-19 If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.” The offender must insure that the injured man is cared for and receives proper treatment. One wonders why Moses, who could heal would not step in and heal the poor man who was injured.  Ezekiel condemns the people for not trying to heal. “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.” (Ezek. 34:4a) Proverbs 17:22 says medicine is good.  Timothy had stomach trouble.  Paul tells him to drink a little wine to relieve the problem. 1 Timothy 5:23. No miraculous healing occurred.  Luke is called the beloved physician. Colossians 4:14.
3.      In the unfolding history of the church miracles and healing are less frequent.  By the middle of the first century miracles were seldom seen.  By the time Paul wrote Galatians, one of the first books of the NT, God passes up a perfect opportunity to do a miracle. Galatians 4:13-14. In fact, God used Paul’s sickness to further the gospel. Epaphroditus was seriously ill and Paul does not heal him, though they were good friends. 2 Timothy, Paul’s last letter closes with this note, that he left Trophimus sick in Miletus.   Why leave another good friend behind, sick? James, whose book is likely the first book of the NT written, directs the sick to call for the elders of the church to pray, not call on a faith healer. James 5:14-15.  (Some will say that this is faith healing because there is a prayer of faith but it is not the sick one’s faith that counts here, it is the elders’ faith.  And it is the Lord who raises the sick, not a gifted healer.)
4.      Miraculous healing in the New Testament was generally applied to unbelievers. The examples above demonstrate that.  Matthew 4:23-24 is a primary reference to who was healed and what healing is. “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. (Notice that Jesus taught in the synagogues and healed in the streets.) The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.” (Syria was a pagan nation)
5.      In the verses above we find a partial description of the ability of a healer.  He is able to heal every kind of disease and sickness, including organic illnesses like paralysis and epilepsy. Leprosy and blindness are in this list. He is able to heal everyone, regardless of faith.  These people were brought by someone else. He is able to heal anywhere and anytime.  Further, the biblical record demonstrates that the ability to heal brought instant restoration. Matthew 8:13, Mark 1:31, John 5:9. Healing was total. Jesus healed with a word or a touch.  He didn’t pray about it. He did it. Finally, Jesus raised the dead. Luke 7:11-15 tells the story about a widow whose son had died.  “When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep. And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Notice that she was not seeking a miracle, her faith is not a factor, the boy is immediately and completely alive. The result is that “Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and, "God has visited His people!" This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.”  This confirms the purpose of miracles. (All these factors play out in the healings recorded in the book of Acts.)
6.      6 times in the NT is faith mentioned as a personal factor in healing. But they refer to only 3 events.  So only 3 times is faith mentioned as a reason for the cure.  But the word translated heal is the word that is most often translated ‘save.’ There is good reason to consider that as a better way to approach these verses.  Luke tells all three stories, chapter 8:43-48, 17:11-19, and 18:35-43. Here is the last one. “As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he called out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, "What do you want Me to do for you?" And he said, "Lord, I want to regain my sight!" And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.” What do we know about this man, beside his blindness?  He was repentant.  When he knew Jesus was there he stopped asking for pennies and begged for mercy.  He knew he needed mercy. He knew who Jesus was.  He calls Jesus by His Messianic title, Son of David. He knew that Jesus could help him. Jesus restores his sight, immediately, and the man begins to follow Jesus, a sign of belief.  The man was saved.  Even if we conclude that ‘your faith has made you well’ is the right approach, it is the exception, not the rule for healing.  A lack of faith is a factor once. The disciples could not cast out a demon because they had a lack of faith.  The demon-possessed boy, not a believer, had no faith and was under Satan’s control.  
7.      The power to perform miracles and heal was specifically transferred to the apostles.  Matthew 10:1 “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” Paul was the last apostle and gifted in the same way. He describes this authority to do miracles as the sign of an apostle, 2 Cor 12:12. An apostle was distinguished by his ability to heal and do miracles.  Apostles could heal, a man who healed was an apostle. 
8.      The ability to heal was not a common gift but a very rare one. Miracles were used by God to confirm that the Gospel was true. Hebrews 2:2-4 “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”  God used signs, wonders and miracles to confirm the ‘word of salvation.’ The Gospel was confirmed. Past tense.  It need not be confirmed again.
9.      The normal translation of glossolalia is language. This is consistent throughout the NT. The miracle in Acts 2 was greater than indiscernible sounds. The Holy Spirit gave the apostles the ability to speak in the actual languages of people from all over the world. 2:6-11  When the crowd heard these previously uneducated and untrained Hebrew men become international linguists- that is a miracle.
10.  God still answers prayer.  The first priority for prayer is that God’s will be done.  Romans 8:26 and 27 encourage us with this truth that though we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so that our prayers are answered according to God’s will.  Because of that verse 28, assures us that whether or not we may see it all things work together for our good and God will be glorified. 


Friday, June 8, 2018

The Bible's Worldview in a Worldview Bible

A Review of the Christian Worldview Bible

If you are looking for a study Bible with helpful devices like individual book summaries, historical context, timelines, selected verse notes and commentary, paragraph headings, cross-references, et.al, printed in two columns on the fine paper you expect in a Bible, with a 100-page concordance and colorful simple maps, the Worldview Study Bible suffices.
But it dramatically exceeds those expectations.  The volume includes 130 essays on worldview issues from a biblical perspective.  Among the topics are an introduction to worldview, what is human, articles on gender, birth control, arts and cinema, biblical authority, higher education, slavery, and medical ethics. Contributing authors include R. Albert Mohler, David Dockery, Paul Copan, Russell Moore, Douglas Groothius, William Dembski, Trevin Wax, Shera Melick, and 100 more. Each book is introduced with a summary of its worldview elements.  This Bible contains a worldview library of instruction.  And you have it at your fingertips. I teach classes on Christian Worldview and this Study Bible will be invaluable.
However, if you are not familiar with the Holman Christian Standard Bible you might want to get a copy first.  I personally find that it reads well and serves as an adequate complement to other popular translations. The Christian Worldview Bible is a physically heavy book, as one would expect but, on a desk, or on a shelf will provide a wealth of wisdom.
(I was given this book to write a review.  I do so with no expectation from the publisher to give a favorable report.)


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Theology, Church, and Ministry, A Review

David Dockery has not just edited a book; he has organized a library. TCM intends to “show the importance of theological education for the church, and the importance of each subject for the work of theological education.” (from the preface)
Each subject of the book is carefully explained, cogently stated, and clearly applied.
Mark Bailey offers “compelling benefits of equipping students with a working comprehension of the whole Bible.” (p 26) Michael Duduit’s summary of the Call to Ministry improves our understanding of general and specific calls to serve. The role of theology in spiritual formation is often ignored; Dana Harris challenges that oversight. There are academic chapters on the inspiration of Scripture, original languages and why a knowledge of them matters, Old and New Testament survey and theology, apologetics and ethics.
Eric Tully points to the “difficulty of the OT” as “more reason to study it, not less.” Daniel Block lists seven categories that help us distinguish ‘First Testament’ theology from other theological forms by telling us what it is not. On developing a theological construct from Scripture, Kevin Vanhoozer simply suggests that “learning how to read the Bible is arguably one of the most important things a seminary has to teach its students.”  That does not always happen.
Malcolm Yarnell explains his role as professor of systematic theology- “theology is talk about God. And systematic theology is where we talk about God in a comprehensive way.” He then proceeds to demonstrate that theology, far from dusty books and dry clich├ęs, is “to love God with the whole inner person, as Jesus commanded” and is “not just abstract items in the intellect.” (page 259) I believe that is an approach too often neglected.
Gregory Willis proves that history has the power to teach us with its insights into scriptural truth by surveying the eras of church history. That history should not simply be remembered, but retold.
Chapter 17 on theology, preaching, and pastoral ministry begins to tie everything together. The summary of the necessity of biblical exposition is simple and transferable.
Theological education teaches students to engage the culture (p384) and equips for evangelism. If any doubt still exists about the value of theological education, and particularly seminary training, Daniel Akin dispels that doubt with his 15 axioms.
Each chapter ends with discussion questions, a practical bonus for serious enquirers.
A few chapters may seem too long but given the volume of the task this is forgivable.

If this book is on your shelf you have access to most of the answers for why we need education in theology. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

The High Priestess of Abortion

Human life exists before the union of sperm and egg form an embryo. This unbroken chain continues in the growth of the baby through birth and beyond. There is no time in that process when life does not exist. Yet the abortion faithful claim that this life, because it is not a ‘person,’ can be sacrificed for a higher good.  Like zealots, they raise their sacred banners and preach their gospel.  The evangelistic fervor attracts those who may never consider abortion. When the abortion faithful need money and a platform, they pray to the god of government.
Apparently, abortion is a religion, i.e., “something one believes in and follows devotedly” that produces “a ritual observance of faith.”  
Nowhere is the religion of abortion more deified than in the church of Planned Parenthood.  The Planned Parenthood apostles of abortion fulfill the wishes of the Great High Priestess, Margaret Sanger.  Her principal dogma- “I believe that there should be no more babies." Her religious resolution- "We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population..." (https://www.tfpstudentaction.org/blog/margaret-sanger-quotes, and quotes throughout)
Sanger on sin and evil:
“I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world, that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically... Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they’re born. That to me is the greatest sin—that people can—can commit.”  Giving birth to potentially weak and troubled babies is sin.
 “The most serious evil of our times is that of encouraging the bringing into the world of large families. The most immoral practice of the day is breeding too many children..." Large families are evil.
Sanger on anthropology:
“Feeble-mindedness perpetuates itself from the ranks of those who are blandly indifferent to their racial responsibilities.  (See resolution statement above.) And it is largely this type of humanity we are now drawing upon to populate our world for the generations to come. In this orgy of multiplying and replenishing the earth, this type is pari passu (side by side, equal to) multiplying and perpetuating those direst evils in which we must, if civilization is to survive, extirpate (root out and destroy completely) by the very roots.” The evil associated with certain races must be eliminated.
“Birth control itself, often denounced as a violation of natural law, is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives… If we are to make racial progress, this development of womanhood must precede motherhood in every individual woman.”  The unfit must be weeded out.  If not through contraception then, “Abortion is birth control that women need when their regular method lets them down.” (Ann Furedi, British Pregnancy Advisory Service Chief Executive, http://bit.ly/2tsT8mR)
Sanger on mercy:
"The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it."
The Bible identifies sin and evil as spiritual problems, inherent in the birth of everyone. Sin, not poverty, race, feeble-mindedness, or being part of a large family prevents us from success.  Nor do riches, race, intelligence or being part of a nuclear family bring us to God.  Sin must be removed.  No one succeeds otherwise.
Those who continue to preach the lies of abortionism, e.g., it’s just a simple procedure, the fetus is just a blob of tissue, abortion prevents poverty and suffering, abortion is needed to prevent overpopulation, abortion is a woman's right, must reckon with God who created life.
As much as we like a mild, soft-spoken Jesus, it was he who told his disciples, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  I accept that promoting the killing of bodies through abortion puts one on the fast track to soul-destruction. 

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  May that fear grip and turn us to Jesus who died so we could live forever.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Trapped Behind a Wall



If you were born in East Berlin, Germany in 1961, you were born in captivity.
East Berliners lived behind 15-foot-high concrete walls, prisoners in their own city.  Escape was attempted, seldom achieved. The fear and frustration continued for three decades. Friends and relatives lived just feet away, on the other side of the wall; death threatened any physical attempt to visit. Travel eastward was permitted but freedom was in another direction.
Like the citizens of Berlin, we are born prisoners, already dead in sin. (Ephesians 2:1)
Freedom and peace are available. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) We have “the kind of peace that sends people onto the streets after a war has ended.”
That’s what happened in East Berlin. 
On November 9, 1989, the Spokesman for the Central Committee of Germany’s Communist Party was asked “‘Herr Schabowski, when will your citizens be allowed to travel freely? Perhaps he was carried away by the rapidly deteriorating events inside his country.  Whatever the reason, nobody in the room – or anywhere around the world – expected the reply which was to follow. ‘They can go whenever they want, and nobody will stop them.’” [i]
28 years of captivity ended within a few hours. People were climbing the walls, running in the streets. A war had ended. They were free.
They believed what had been told them and acted.
Trust is how we are freed from sin. Faith is how our fear and frustration are canceled.  Belief is how we can go in the spiritual direction we crave without sin controlling our movements. The wall that traps us has collapsed.





[i] Durschmied, Erik. How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History: the Hinge Factor. MJF Books, 2005. Chapter 16

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Social Media's Big Failure

Last week I fell off the wagon.
My involvement in politics and current issues ran deep for many years.  (Chairman of state Christian homeschool organization, chairman of state political party, teacher and co-writer of constitutional curricula.) I decided to make these topics parenthetical.  I carefully wrote and reread my social media posts to avoid offense, not responding to responses that would lead to debate.  The plan was essentially successful. 
Until last Friday.
Most media outlets then reported that President Trump spoke disparagingly about Haiti. A Facebook post appeared with a friend’s view of this report.  I assumed the worst and responded with my opinion. An opposing voice argued contrarily with all and the discussion moved to ‘he didn’t say, they said.’ Civility disappeared and the thread with it. Fortunately, the discussion was removed after my second posting. I may have made things worse.  
While climbing back onto the wagon of media self-restraint I made some observations.
No one wins arguments on Facebook.  Even with the best intentions the search for truth is rarely successful.  In this case, the White House did not immediately deny the statement.  Two Republican senators did.  A Democrat senator claimed it was said.  Another person reported that it was not exactly the language used.  What really happened we may never know.
We support the media that agrees with our social view Several perspectives arose from this event.  Many Republicans backed the claim.  “That’s just the President being tough.”
Some Christians had no problem with the alleged foul language. Others were apologetic.  “He shouldn’t have spoken so crudely.  But he is getting things done.” 
Democrats generally remain in a state of disapproval.
I wonder how these two parties would argue if the supposed words were uttered by the opposite party’s president.   
Independent voters on each end of the political spectrum can say, “We told you he shouldn’t be president.”
The availability of unverified, internet information brings a unique challenge.  Information does not guarantee truthful knowledge.  For cutting edge apologist Francis Schaeffer, “true truth” is the conviction that there is such a thing as Absolute Truth and that, as Schaeffer puts it: “it is possible to know that truth, not exhaustively but truly.”*  Jesus said that truth is God’s Word. The more time we spend reading and learning God’s Word the truer our truth will be.  Our media responses will be based on truth, not used as a club but delivered in love.
That’s a great wagon to ride.

*http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2017/01/true-truth-isnt-answer-post-truth/#6ELeU7ErzVX3POPu.99


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

There is No Innkeeper- And Why It Matters

 Where in the Bible are these statements?

Cleanliness is next to godliness.
God helps those who help themselves.
The Seven Deadly Sins
God moves in mysterious ways; His wonders to perform.
This, too, shall pass. 
The Three Kings

None of these quotes are from the Bible. They are not the words of God.
Unless John Wesley, author of statement 1, wrote Scripture.  (The phrase was first recorded in a sermon by Wesley in 1778.)
Or Ben Franklin was divinely inspired. (‘God helps those who help themselves’ first appeared in Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1757.)
Proverbs 6:16 says there are 7 things God hates.
‘God moves in mysterious ways’ form a lyric for the 19th-century hymn by William Cowper.
Possibly a Persian Sufi poet predicted that ‘this too shall pass.’
The men who visited Jesus were Magi, not Kings.  Matthew never says there were 3.  The number may have been greater.

The creation of a Bethlehem innkeeper is more egregious. 

Dr. John MacArthur illustrates the severity of the issue. In fifth grade, he was picked to be in the church Christmas play.  He drew the role of the innkeeper’s son.  Luke never mentioned an innkeeper.  This phantom clerk now has a son- who turns out to be . . . Barabbas!  Just as his mean father turned baby Jesus away so the bully Barabbas had no room for Jesus.  Unbelievable?

What are the biblical details?

The Luke 2 story relates no search for places to stay or a heartless innkeeper. Nor is there a friendly innkeeper who permits them to rest in his stable.

The word ‘inn’ is better understood as a guest room, not a building. Luke 22:11-12 “Tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” The “inn” of Bethlehem is a room. (A different word typifies the building that lodges travelers.)

Bethlehem, the town of Joseph’s family was a small town, likely full of people.  The family house of David, Luke 2:4, had no room for Joseph and Mary. Most homes in Israel had two parts, one for the family and another for the household animals. The young couple moves to the first-floor stable area and there Jesus is born.  The contrast is not about those who make room and those who don’t, but about the King of Heaven being born in the lowly place of earth.

When we claim something to be Scripture when it’s not, 3 problems develop. We

·                Miss the main point
·                Make God a liar
·                Bring doubt about inspiration


Mark Twain claimed, “It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts that I do understand.” 
Let’s make sure we leave the ‘bothering’ to what the Bible actually says.