Monday, April 16, 2018

MY Top Ten: Theological Works

Over the past week, I have seen multiple posts concerning "Top 10" lists covering a variety of topics. I'm not a big fan of such lists since they are quite subjective and really prove very little.

Last evening, at our church's Bible study, the subject of theologians was raised for the second time in the past few days. So, I decided to assemble a list of MY top 10 theological works. Here are the criteria I used in ranking the works:

1. It must be a published theological work (not sermons or commentaries).
2. It must be a work I own.
3. It must be a work I use!
4. Its position in the list is, for the most part, indicative of its frequency of use by me.
5. It is not necessary that I agree with everything in the work (as though anyone does other than the author of the work).

With those in mind, here is my list in reverse order.

10. "The City of God" by Augustine - Perhaps the first systematic theology of the Christian era. I find it to be Augustine's best work, at least of the ones I own. As with others, I disagree with the church father in some areas. But, I feel reading Augustine is a prerequisite for doing theological studies.

9.  "Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin - Need I say more? Brother John and I disagree on several points and, given the historical context at the time he ministered, he is difficult to read in certain areas. Yet, if you haven't read Calvin's Institutes (or own it!), you need to, whether you agree with him or not.

8.  "Manual of Theology" by John L. Dagg - A Baptist theologian of the south, later President of Mercer University, Dagg was a blind theologian. This work is not nearly as thorough as others but very good, especially, in my opinion, when it comes to the church.

7.  "Abstract of Systematic Theology" by James P. Boyce - Boyce was a Southern Baptist, one of the founders of Southern Seminary and on its original faculty. I view the work as more of an outline of Systematic Theology but refer to it often.

6.  "Systematic Theology" by L. Berkhof - Louis Berkhof was Dutch Reformed (as was Bavinck and Kuyper below). An excellent work highly appreciated by Wayne Grudem (also see below).

5.  "Dogmatic Theology" by W. G. T. Shedd - another Presbyterian who is as good as Hodge. Once again, my major problem with Shedd is his understanding of the church.

4.  "Reformed Dogmatics" by Herman Bavinck - Bavinck was a Dutch Reformed theologian of the 19th century. This work is very good though I find him difficult to read in spots.

3.  "Systematic Theology" by Charles Hodge - Possibly the best Presbyterian theologian. This is a great work. If only he would have better understood Ecclesiology! 

2.  "A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity" by John Gill - Gill is always criticized for being "hard shell". But, for an older writer, I find him well-organized, easy to read, and quite thorough.

1. "Systematic Theology" by Wayne Grudem - I consider Grudem to be the best systematic work done in the past one-hundred years. Since it is more recent, it is very easy to read. Grudem is quite thorough, utilizing the Scriptures extensively. There is a smaller version containing a subset of the material available.

A few of honorable mentions to:

"A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion" by James Oliver Buswell - Buswell is good but I prefer Berkhof of the two.

"Systematic Theology" by Augustus H. Strong - I feel he is weak in certain areas.

John Owen's work (several volumes) but especially "The Death of Christ". Owen is a terrific theologian but very difficult to read.

"Lectures in Systematic Theology " by Henry Thiessen - the original work was written more from an Arminian position; the revised version is more Reformed.

The works of Dutch theologian Hermann Witsius. Not an organized systematic theology but good nevertheless.

The same may be said for the works of Abraham Kuyper.

"The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression" by E. Y. Mullins - there are spots where I believe this work falls short.

"Christian Doctrine" by W. T. Connor - not overly thorough and, like Mullins, I feel it falls short in many areas. 

That's my list for what it is worth. It has changed over the years and, most likely, will change again in the future if the Lord delays His return!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

For Some, This World is All There Is

The 17th Psalm is a prayer of David and his conclusion contains the following:

"Arise, O Lord, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword: from men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes."
(verses 13-14, King James Version).

Two more recent translations render the passage similarly.

"Arise, O Lord, confront him, bring him low; deliver my soul from the wicked with your sword, from men with your hand, O Lord, from men of the world, whose portion is in this life, and whose belly you fill with your treasure; they are satisfied with children, and leave their abundance to their babes."
(New American Standard)

"Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, from men by your hand, O Lord, from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants."
(English Standard Version)

No matter which translation you use, the message is the same. And, the part of this particular message which grabbed my attention today is in verse 14: "which have their portion in this life". For some (David calls them wicked in verse 13), this life is all there is.

God is often gracious to such individuals, yet they never acknowledge Him. He fills their bellies, giving them food, possessions, notoriety, money, influence, power, offspring, or a thousand other earthly "treasures". But, no word of gratitude is offered up to the giving Lord. For these individuals, this world is all they have. When their life ends, "the rest of their substance" ("their abundance") will be left with their children ("you can't take it with you"). Nothing of enjoyment remains for them for they have enjoyed God's blessings in this life but are not prepared for the life that is yet to come.

In fact, it is not uncommon to find those people who serve and worship God encountering a multitude of hardships during this life the aforementioned people never experience. You see, God has promised something MUCH better for them than for those who reject Him. So, for now, He permits the "wicked" to enjoy this life for that is all there is for them.

The believer in Christ is a mere pilgrim in this world. We are no longer citizens of this earth for our citizenship is in Heaven. God has promised us an abundance in the life to come. It will be a perfect life, a sinless life, a joyful life, a painless life, a forgiven and redeemed life, a life of fellowship, worship, and praise. It will be a life that is eternal in every sense of the word.

So, when this world knocks us about during our time here, let us rejoice and, with hope, look forward to the world yet to come. Our stay on this earth is brief compared to an eternity of joy.

But, to those who have never repented of their sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ, enjoy the blessings God is giving you NOW. For this is all there is, at least, all that will be enjoyable for you.

You see, your existence will not end at the moment of your death. However, your enjoyment of life will. Judgment awaits and the Great Judge of the Universe knows you and of your rebellion against Him. Yes, by refusing to bow to the Lord Jesus, the only Savior and Redeemer, you have "thumbed your nose" at God. Your sin remains without an atonement and redemption. You stand guilty of an offense against an eternal, infinite God. Your punishment will match the crime.

At that time, you will experience the full wrath of God and will be tossed into eternal torment. Your punishment will never end. Your pain will never cease. You will never find joy, ever! All that awaits you upon your death is eternal misery.

Therefore, enjoy the blessings of God now, while you have them. They will end. For you, this is as good as it gets.

May the Spirit of God bring to you conviction of your sins and cause you to repent of them and put your faith in Christ.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Religions are NOT all the same

I was reading in Acts 3 and 4 this morning and, following our celebration of Christ's resurrection yesterday, the passage spoke to my heart. Without going into specific detail about every religion man has ever pursued, I will simply say, all religions are NOT the same.

What do I mean by "religion"? The Oxford dictionary gives as a definition: "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. ... A particular system of faith and worship."

Many today try to teach the concept that all religions are the same. They claim there are many ways to God (if he truly exists). No one religion is better than any other religion. We must treat all religions the same. But I do not believe that for a second nor does the Bible teach such nonsense.

Jesus has died on the cross, arose from the dead, appeared to over 500 people, and ascended into heaven. Then, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended and the apostles became dynamic witnesses for Jesus. In Acts 3, Peter and John heal a lame man and call upon the unbelievers to repent. The Apostles are seized by the priests and Sadducees at the beginning of chapter 4. What disturbed these religious zealots is noted in verse 2.

"Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead."

The message of the resurrection offended them and they wanted that message stopped. These two apostles appeared before the high priest and were asked by what power they healed the lame man. Peter gives the answer very clearly beginning in verse 10.

"Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

There it is. Christianity stands unique from other religions because it has a unique Savior. There is one and only one name by which men may be saved and that name is Jesus Christ. The proof that this is the case is the FACT that Jesus has been raised from the dead by God. He is a unique Savior. He is the only Savior of men given by God.

I may be viewed as simplistic, but if God has provided only one means of salvation, then true faith and worship must include this means of salvation. In other words, the only true religion is the faith and worship which teaches Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation.

True religion must be centered on Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christianity must be the only, true religion.

And the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proves it.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Commandments of James 4:7-10

Our pastor preached a great message on James 4:7-10 this past Sunday. Ever since I first read through James in the original language, I have been fascinated by this paragraph. It reads as though the author picked up a gun and fired shot after shot at his readers (pardon the analogy, I mean it in a good way).

In these four simple verses, James issues ten, yes ten, commands! Here they are (from the KJV):

Verse 7:    (1) Submit   (2) Resist

Verse 8:    (3) Draw nigh  (4)  Cleanse   (5)  Purify

Verse 9:    (6) Be afflicted  (7) Mourn  (8) Weep   (9) be turned

Verse 10:  (10) Humble

As my pastor pointed out, this paragraph calls on those who are living a self-centered life to repent, and it does so by using these ten commands. They may be divided into five actions.

First, the self-centered individual must submit/subject himself to the Lord. He is the Lord, the Master, and we are his servants, his slaves. Such submission reminds us who is in charge of our life. Furthermore, after submitting to Christ, the individual must resist the devil and his temptations.  James tells us to oppose him, to take a stand against him. The self-centered believer still has the indwelling Spirit and is able to stand tall against Satan and his wiles.

Second, James calls the self-centered to draw nigh to God.  In other words, come near to Him. I see, in this command, our need to offer up our prayers to God, to meditate on His Word, to know Him better than we ever have.

Third, the self-centered individual must be cleansed. In other words, they need to seek forgiveness.  We see this clearly in the second half of verse 8. James tells us to cleanse our hands. He paints the picture of the priests washing the filth from their hands and feet prior to their ministry for God. The sin must go. We must purify our hearts referring to internal, spiritual cleaning. Seek the Lord for forgiveness. As John tells us in 1 John 1, those who confess their sin will be cleansed and forgiven.

Fourth, James issues the call for repentance in verse 9. He commands the self-centered person to be afflicted. The word carries the idea of lamentation, a sincere regret for behavior. Such affliction demands the individual recognize the error of his ways. As a result, he is to mourn or grieve internally; a sincere heart inwardly grieving for its behavior. Such internal mourning is often accompanied by outward weeping, the physical expression of such grief over sin. Daniel Doriani has said, "The desire for a pure heart leads logically to sorrow for sin."

Verse 9 concludes with the key command of repentance:  "be turned". True repentance leads to a turning, a change in life. The self-centered person who truly repents will move forward with a life lived for God rather than self.

Fifth, and finally, James commands those who have recognized their self-centeredness, who have grieved over their sin, and who have turned their focus from themselves to God to "humble themselves". God will exalt those who live for God rather than self.

So, we have a choice between two ways of living. We can live ambitious, proud, self-centered lives or a life of repentance and humility. As the Apostle Peter has written,

"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Preparing a Sermon

Today, my pastor published a blog entry on the topic of preparing a sermon. He has asked others who preach to provide comments, so I have decided to respond to his request not with a comment but with my own blog entry.

You may read my pastor's blog entry here.

While I have read multiple books on preparing a sermon, I'm not a supporter of any "one way fits all" approach. Preachers are people, each having their own style, skills, and resources from which to work. You just can't cram all preaching into one, codified approach. I'm certain almost every preacher (at least, expository preacher) would agree that is the case.

Personally, as a pastor, I wanted to preach through a Biblical book. That is the best way to maintain contextual consistency. However, no matter whether I am preaching through a book or from some "random" passage, I will do my best to preach it as an exposition. In other words, if my overall point and my main points do not arrive from the text itself, then I am beating the wind with a bunch of hot air!

Assuming, for the sake of discussion, I am preaching through a Biblical book, my general approach would be something along the following lines. Be forewarned: the days listed and the events associated with those days were always DESIRED goals. Rarely was I successful in maintaining such a schedule.

Sunday evening: seek the Lord and determine the text for the next message. I tentatively map out the path through a book weeks in advance, but I always remain open to changes if I sense the Lord would have me do so. Sometimes that means connecting a couple of paragraphs. Sometimes it means focusing on a single verse, phrase, or even word. However, for the most part, my next sermon will be the ensuing paragraph of whatever book I am in.

Monday: if I have not yet translated the paragraph (sometimes on Sunday evening), then Monday is the day to get that done. I spend whatever time I have in the text trying to follow the author's train of thought. How are the words related to one another? Are there any unique words demanding special attention (if so, out come the Greek/Hebrew lexicons, thesauruses, etc.). My goal on Monday is to have all the translation work completed and to understand the main point of the paragraph.

Tuesday: using the main point, put together the wording of the proposition I want to communicate to the people in the message. The remainder of the message centers on that proposition.

Next, using the textual outline, develop two or more major points which support the proposition of the message. I, too, like alliteration if its obvious from the text. There have been times when I have stretched the alliteration and regretted doing so later. It its not there, then I try to find points which simply express support for the proposition.

Wednesday/Thursday: these are the flesh-out days. Often I add some sub-points to my main points.

Friday: now to the commentaries. I prefer to limit my review to six or seven at most. A preacher could spend weeks reviewing all the commentaries on any given passage. That is simply too overwhelming and, in my opinion, overkill. A few reliable commentators are all you need. I usually use a couple from the reformation age, a puritan author or two, and a modern author or two.  If I have time, I will also read sermons preached from the same text by notable men of God.

My primary reason for utilizing commentaries and sermons is to make certain I am not preaching something foreign to the text. In other words, these scholars of the Word help me ensure my message is theologically sound. If I think I have found something new in the text, then its probably something I have invented and should throw away as quickly as possible!

To me, the keys in using commentators (and sermons) are these: (1) use reliable, godly men who treasure the Word of God; (2) use them sparsely; (3) give credit to those you do use in your message; (4) never open a commentary or read a sermon until you have your outline ready to go.

Lastly, I add an introduction, a conclusion, and an appropriate illustration if one is needed. I don't like to use a lot of illustrations because people in the pews often remember the illustration and forget the message you were preaching!

I do not write out my messages. I do jot down some thoughts I want to make sure I communicate at certain points in the message as well as any quotations (Biblical or otherwise). But, I don't want a manuscript in front of me as I preach and I don't want to be attempting to recall from memory a written speech. My attempt is to be as extemporaneous as I can be.

Of course, the entire process is wrapped in prayer. Often, the above schedule is interrupted by the daily affairs of life and I wind up cramming a lot of my effort into Saturday. It's good to have a plan and a schedule. Unfortunately, life does not always follow your plans! To be a preacher demands flexibility!

For what it's worth, that's my general approach. Sometimes the message, in my humble opinion, is very good. At other times, it should have remained on paper and never spoken! Yet, God promises His Word always accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent. If that were not true, I might have stopped preaching years ago!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"I'm Gonna Get the Guns!"

Near the conclusion of the movie “The American President”, the President, portrayed by Michael Douglas, briefly discusses gun control legislation. One of his statements relative to this topic is, “I’m gonna to get the guns”.  Given the recent school shootings, this attitude is spreading across the country. I’m sure there are many well-meaning folks who are expressing this view. However, it is the wrong approach to the problem we are facing, wrong for multiple reasons.

First, the right of Americans to possess such weapons is guaranteed by our Constitution. You will never eliminate that amendment apart from another civil war in this nation. Take away my right to own a gun and I have no means of defending myself when the criminal shows up with a gun. You surely do not believe criminals will give up their guns if we merely eliminate the Second Amendment!

Second, you can’t eliminate all guns. It is an impossibility. Someone will always have a gun or equivalent weapon. I’m certain you want the police and military armed. You want guards with guns protecting certain individuals. Someone will have guns. The right was added to the Constitution to ensure the public could arm itself against a tyrannical government. Therefore, some citizens should possess weapons, or we are exposed to the whims of any tyrant. And, IF ANYONE HAS A GUN, someone must manufacture such a weapon. In other words, they will be available and anyone who owns one may commit such a crime.

Third, gun regulations and gun buy-back programs do not work. Check out Chicago which has the strictest gun laws in the nation. Look at their murder rate. St. Louis holds gun buy-back days. But, those who sell their guns back to the authorities are the law-abiding citizens, not the ones committing the gun crimes. Yes, guns are taken off the street, however, the result is a more unprotected populace, not a reduced criminal element.

Fourth, if you outlaw certain types of firearms, do you really believe the criminal will stop using them? Even if you could banish all guns, it would not deter the individual desiring to kill. They will find another weapon. Already, we have witnessed mass murder by knife, by plane, and by vehicle.

Fifth, the gun is not the problem. The problem is the person using the gun. Each of us have the capability of pulling the trigger. We must recognize the root cause of such shootings is our depraved, evil, sinful nature. To commit such an act, is to commit rebellion against our Creator and our Judge. Jesus understood this quite well. When, at his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter used his sword to cut off the servant’s ear. Jesus told him to put away the sword. He did not tell him to get rid of his sword. In that situation, Jesus recognized the problem was not the sword; it was Peter’s heart!

So, is there anything we can do to make schools safer? Yes, if we use some common sense. I offer up a few suggestions.

1. “See something, say something”. This saying has been with us since 9/11. Much of the time, however, we see things but never say anything. But, in the recent Florida shooting, someone saw something, someone said something, and the agencies involved DID NOTHING. Let’s call on our government to be as diligent in their pursuit of potential killers as they are in their exhortation for us to be in reporting the same.

2. LOCK THE SCHOOL DOORS. Make certain those admitted to a school are not armed.

3. Allow some of the educational staff to conceal and carry. Not every teacher has to be armed and you don’t have to force every teacher to own a gun. But, I suspect every school in the nation has a few individuals who own weapons. Provide them whatever training they need to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon and, then let them do so at the school. No one need know who it is. But, if a killer knows there may be armed personnel in his targeted location, he may think twice about attacking it.

4. Owning a gun is a right granted in our Constitution. However, as certain rights are restricted or removed due to prior offenses, so should the right to own a gun. Let’s appoint justices to our courts who take such crimes seriously. If you are armed during any type of criminal action, you automatically serve time in prison and lose the right to own a gun in the future.  

5. Let us recognize that “but by the grace of God I am what I am”. Apart from His grace, we could be the one committing the crime. Man’s nature and not man’s weapon is the problem. Until our nature is changed, there is always the risk of such acts of evil: planes as bombs, gassing thousands to death in showers, running over individuals with a truck, blowing up an office building in an Oklahoma town, shooting individuals in a church or a school, or killing a woman’s unborn child.

For decades, our nation has been on a steady decline from following God. Many believe that is a good thing, a sign we are emerging from a “dark, superstitious age”. We do our best to remove God from every part of our society. By doing so, we think we will become better people. Perhaps, it is time for our nation to reconsider this view. You see, it is here the Bible speaks to us. Without the regenerating work of God’s Spirit upon our heart, evil will continue to dominate and rule. And that evil WILL manifest itself from time to time in such tragic events as took place last week in Florida.

The ultimate answer is found not in gun control but in Jesus Christ. He alone changes lives. He alone has overcome evil. He alone can make the difference.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Personal Greetings

See the source image

For some time, I have been assembling my own commentary on Paul's letter to Philemon. Recently, though, I decided to work my way through 2 Timothy, a letter I have not preached or taught before. While I have read it several times, a word leaped out at me as I translated the first verse.  Quoting from the King James Version:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus

This is a typical salutation from the Apostle. The thirteen epistles written by him begin with his name. There is nothing unusual in this. But, what grabbed my eye was the word "apostle". Yes, Paul frequently begins his salutations by noting his divinely appointed office. Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus find the same word in the very first verse. There are only four Pauline epistles which do not have "apostle" in verse 1: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon.

You might ask, then, why the word in 2 Timothy grabbed my attention. All, but four, of Paul's letters were written directly to churches; only four were personal letters: 1 & Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Having spent so much time in Philemon, I knew Paul never used the word "apostle" in that letter. When writing to his Christian brother and friend, Philemon, about the latter's runaway slave, Onesimus, Paul had no need to remind his friend of his exalted position within the church. Yes, he was an Apostle. Yes, the letter to Philemon bears apostolic authority; it is the Word of God. But, Paul found no need to remind his friend of this. His approach was to appeal, not command, his friend to receive back Onesimus as not only his servant but also his brother in Christ.

Approaching 2 Timothy, I guess I assumed Paul also had no need to remind his friend and former missionary partner of his office. I was surprised, then, when I saw the word "apostle" in that first verse. Quickly, I checked the other two personal letters (1 Timothy and Titus) and, sure enough, the word was there as well.

The Timothy epistles and Titus are collectively known as the Pastoral Epistles. Timothy and Titus are pastors and Paul has insight and instruction for them and their local churches. While the letters are directed to these personal friends, Paul leaves no doubt as to the authority of his words. He is writing not merely as their friend and co-worker, but as an Apostle of the Almighty God. His Words are God's Words. His wisdom is God's Wisdom. His commands are God's commands.

These facts are true in all of Paul's letters including Philemon. Let us clearly understand that, when we read the writings of Paul (or any other Biblical author), we are reading the very Word of God. What they have written is not merely their opinion.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Paul, a prisoner (Philemon 1b)

“a prisoner of Jesus Christ” - desmios Xristou Iesou 

Sometimes Paul refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, stressing his calling and mission from God.  Often Paul refers to himself as a slave of Jesus Christ, a menial servant who does whatever his master demands.  But in this personal letter, Paul uses a different noun to describe himself: “prisoner”.

We can learn much from this description.  First, we may take the declaration naturally.  Paul is truly a prisoner at this moment.  He is under arrest in Rome, chained to a Roman guard every hour of every day.  As a prisoner for two years in the Middle East, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar.  Now, for almost two years, Paul has been waiting in Rome for an audience with Nero.  As he pens this letter to a friend, he notes his physical position.  He is indeed a prisoner. However, he does not consider himself a prisoner of Rome or of Nero.

No, the description Paul primarily had on his mind when he penned the word “prisoner” was not about his physical imprisonment. Paul views himself as a spiritual prisoner.  He is “chained” to Jesus every hour of every day.  He goes where Jesus goes.  He does what Jesus does.  He says what Jesus says.  And his “imprisonment” is something he gladly accepts!

The phrase “a prisoner of Jesus Christ” may be interpreted in more than one way even when describing his “spiritual bondage”.  He is a prisoner “belonging to” Christ.  He is Jesus’ “peculiar possession”.  He is also a prisoner “for” Christ.  His devotion is not to himself, his family, his friends, or even his emperor.  No, Christ has made him His prisoner and all that entails (travels, words, actions) is in service to and for Jesus.

This one who, like each of us, was in bondage to sin has been set free from that sin.  He is now happily in bondage to Christ, gladly doing his bidding, whatever it may be.

May you and I view ourselves as prisoners of Christ.  May we see ourselves chained to our Lord, saying and doing (and thinking) only what our dear Savior says and does (and thinks!).

Friday, February 2, 2018

It's Groundhog Day!

Yes, Phil was out this morning, saw his shadow, and, therefore, predicted six more weeks of winter. While I haven't check the television guide yet, I would not be surprised to find Bill Murray's movie, "Groundhog Day", playing all weekend!

Anyway, the annual event performed in Pennsylvania raised a question in my mind.  How accurate has old Phil been with his predictions? So, I did what anyone who has such curiosities might do: I scanned the internet.  Yes, someone has determined Phil's weather forecasting accuracy. For the past ten years, Phil has been correct 50% of the time. I would say the groundhog may be better than most weather forecasters!

Being correct 50% of the time is not bad in certain situations. If you are a major league baseball player and strike out 50% of your opponents, you are a very good pitcher. If you happen to hit safely 50% of the time, you are the greatest hitter of all time! On the other hand, 50% can be very bad for others. If I am a surgeon and my surgical success rate is 50%, I'm out of business (or in jail!). If I play goal for the St. Louis Blues and stop 50% of the opponents' shots, I'm quickly released from the team.

But, there is one area where ANY percent other than 100% is deadly.

"But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

A Biblical prophet was called by God to proclaim His Word. Of course, there were times when God's Word was a prophecy or prediction of a coming event. In those cases, God's prophet has 100% accuracy or he's not God's prophet. And, if he is not a prophet of God but is passing himself off as one, well, Scripture says "that prophet shall die".

There are many over the centuries who have called themselves "prophets" and gathered followers. They may be a prophet, however, if even one of their "prophecies" was not fulfilled, they are not a prophet of God.

I guess Punxsutawney Phil is glad he has never claimed to be a prophet of God!  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

MOON "Shines"

If you were awake early this morning as I was, you had the opportunity to see a rare stellar event not witnessed since the mid-19th century (1866, I believe).  Our sky displayed a super blue blood moon. Indeed, it was quite an interesting sight to behold.

While I am not an astronomer, I have always enjoyed reading about space. My knowledge on the subject, therefore, is limited and I am open to any corrections concerning my analysis.

From what I remember, the adjective “super” refers to the fact that the moon was at its closest proximity to the earth this morning.  As a result, it appeared to be larger and brighter than usual. Super moons occur every couple of years or so.

A “blue” moon implies the second full moon in a month. Since childhood, I have used the phrase “once in a blue moon” to refer to something that is unlikely or rare. However, blue moons occur almost every year. I read somewhere we will have another one in March of this year.

A “blood” moon describes the reddish color of the moon during a lunar eclipse.  The earth moves between the sun and the moon, the satellite changes color, and, in a total lunar eclipse, briefly disappears. Lunar eclipses also occur on a somewhat regular basis.

What was unique this morning was the occurrence of all three types of moons at the same moment. It is a unique experience. I’m glad I witnessed it.

While watching this rare display, my thoughts turned to the God of the super blue blood moon, it’s Creator. I don’t remember any Scripture mentioning a super moon, a blue moon, or even a lunar eclipse. Nevertheless, I was reminded of a passage of Scripture as I stared into the heavens.

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.

The Apostle Peter spoke those words in his Pentecost sermon following the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. As those Biblical students who read this know, he is quoting from the Old Testament prophet, Joel. But, there it is: a blood moon!

Does Joel and Peter mean there will be a lunar eclipse at the time of Christ’s return? Personally, I believe God will perform a more miraculous sign to turn the moon into the color of blood. Yet, if He chooses to use a natural occurrence such as an eclipse, may He be praised! He is the King and Sovereign and may do as He pleases.

However, as I gazed at the super blue blood moon this morning and reflected on this verse, the word that leaped to my mind was the word “before”. The great and notable day of the Lord IS coming! He has promised to return. He WILL return. And, before He does, the moon will be turned into blood.

Praise God and come, Lord Jesus, come!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Chance: A Misnomer?

I love mathematics! I realize those three words classify me as a geek, strange, weird, whatever.  Nevertheless, I love math.

This does not mean I am a great mathematician; far from it. I am well-aware of my limitations when it comes to this field. My undergraduate degree is in Mathematics, but earning that degree required many, many hours of struggle. One of my graduate degrees is in Computer Science which also demanded additional math courses. Math is fun; math is hard.

For me, math became even more fun when I was called by Christ into a personal relationship with my Creator. In fact, every aspect of our education, every subject we investigate, must be examined from God’s perspective if we are to able fully appreciate it. Math is no exception. When one realizes that math has its origin in God, not in man, the subject takes on a different, far more appealing, flavor.

I have the privilege of teaching some math courses at local universities. Usually, these classes focus on Algebra. But, I have also taught a course in Probability and Statistics more than once.  For me, probability is one of the most fascinating categories of math one can study.

Probability deals in the matter of “chance”. Webster defines chance as follows:


1a: something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause.

1b: the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings: LUCK.

1c: the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence: CONTINGENCY.

2: a situation favoring some purpose: OPPORTUNITY.

3: a fielding opportunity in baseball.

4: the possibility of a particular outcome in an uncertain situation.

5a: RISK

5b: a raffle ticket.


in the haphazard course of events.

Teaching probability demands the use of many illustrations or experiments.  Most of them revolve around flipping a coin, rolling a die, or drawing a card.  Obviously, these actions are associated with games of “chance”.

When I introduce the subject to my students, I do so with the following bullets:

·      Probability is “the chance of an event occurring.”

·      “Chance” or randomness is our perspective of certain events.

·      There are no “chance”, “random”, or “unexpected” events from God’s perspective.

   “(God) works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11b)

   “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33)

The end of Ephesians 1:11 has always fascinated me, not only as it relates to probability. You see, the verse relates to every area of life! The full verse reads as follows:

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (English Standard Version)

This is one verse in, what may arguably be, one of the greatest introductions to any letter. The end of the verse, starting with the “of him” in English, may be translated as follows:

Of the all things working one according to the counsel/purpose/plan of the will/desire of him.

While my translation is choppy in English, I believe Paul’s placement of the words rendered “all things” is designed to draw attention or emphasis to them.  The “working one” or “him who works” is a reference to God. Make no mistake; not only is God working (even now), He is working ALL THINGS for He is the “all things working one”.

What does Paul mean when He claims God works all things? What are all things? “All” does not necessarily mean “each and every”. This is true even in English. We sing the hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven.” Are we universalists? Of course not. The context of the hymn dictates a limitation on the word “all”. “When all Christians get to Heaven” is what the composer means. Sometimes, the use of “all” in Scripture is limited as well.  We must look at the context to make such a determination.

What about the context of Ephesians 1? Does “all things” mean “each and every” thing, or must we limit the phrase to some subset of things?

As I read the entire chapter, I see no reason to limit the working of God. Nothing in the passage demands such a restriction. Furthermore, the tone of Scripture overall (see the Proverbs 16 passage as an example) supports this understanding. God is working each and every thing in His creation.

Yet, Paul goes further with his Ephesian comment. God is not only working all things (even the small things), He is working them with a purpose: “according to the purpose of His will.”

God is not a haphazard being as we are. We act, evaluate the outcome of that action, revise our plan, then take further action. I can think of an example from my family’s past.

1. We plan a trip to Myrtle Beach for a week in the sun.

2. We arrive at our hotel according to plan.

3. Hurricane Bertha is forecast to make landfill near our beach.

4. We revise our plan and divert to Florida for a week.

Our plan was rudely interrupted by an unplanned hurricane. Quickly, we had to modify it and pursue an alternative destination. But, for the God who works all things, such interruptions are never unplanned. Nor, are they without purpose.

God is working all things and He is doing so according to a plan that never changes, for He never changes. His plan is never altered for it is based on His desire; His unchanging, immutable will.

I believe Paul is clearly teaching the Sovereignty of God in this text. God does all things according to His perfect eternal plan. Everything He does has a purpose. Everything occurs at the time He has decreed. He is working out all things. Yes, these things include the events of our life which we see as “unplanned”, “chance” happenings. There is no “chance” with God.

While God does everything according to His immutable, eternal plan, that does not mean we will understand what it is He is doing or why? Those are different questions for another time. However, such questions do not negate the teaching of Paul, specifically, and the Scripture in general. God is providentially involved in every aspect of the universe from the rotation of the planets to the feeding of the ravens.

So, let’s study mathematics and the field of “chance”. Let’s pull that card from the deck and determine the probability it is an Ace (1 out of 13 or 7.7%). But, let us remember, this concept is relative. “Chance” is “chance” only for us, not for God. The card we pull from the deck is the card He intended for us to pull from the deck, whatever His purpose for it may be.

Praise our Providential, Sovereign God!



Monday, January 29, 2018

Observations on James 1:16-18

Observations on James 1:16-18
January 28, 2018 – Highland View Baptist Church

Our pastor preached on these verses during our Sunday morning worship service.  They are beautiful words, and he gave an excellent exposition of them.  Having studied, preached, and taught James, I decided to review my work to date on this passage and highlight some observations I see from the text.

ESV: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  

1.  Verse 16 may be understood as wrapping up the previous paragraph or beginning this new paragraph. 

(1)  With vv. 13-15, James exhorts followers of Christ not to be deceived concerning the source of our temptations.  God is not tempting us.  Don’t attempt to excuse yourself from responsibility for your sin.  Neither God nor the Devil made you do it.

As Dr. Doriani writes, “We can view (a test) as a trial and turn to God for aid, so we persevere.  Or we can read it as a tragedy, or as a senseless accident, or as a failure—on God’s part—to love and protect us.  Worse yet, some who meets trials blame and attack God for them, accusing him of malice.”

(2)  With vv. 17-18, James exhorts Christians not to be deceived concerning the character of God.  Do not cast suspicion upon His character.  God is good and gives good gifts.  He is not out to punish His followers.  The punishment our sins deserve were meted out on Christ at the cross.

I believe the verse may go either way and maybe that is what James (God) intended.

2. Verse 16 is a command, not an option.  “Do not be deceived.”  The implication is, of course, that Christians may be deceived.  Satan cleverly tricks us into believing God is our enemy, out to get us, and the bad things which take place in our life originate with Him.  “Don’t be deceived.”

3. Also, Verse 16 uses language structure implying such deception was already at work. James knows what his readers are dealing with every day.  He tells those first-century Christians, “Stop being deceived!”  Some were believing the lies of the enemy.

Of course, James is also telling us the same thing.  He understands the depraved heart within us (“the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”) and knows each of us have those moments when we believe the lie that God is against us.  If you truly have faith in Christ but, at this moment, think God is fighting you, punishing you, “stop being deceived.”  God is for His children; He is in our corner.


ESV: v. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

1. James gets into the heart of his message for this paragraph.  Remember, God is the source of all good things. What are a few of those good gifts?

(1) Salvation, meaning regeneration, justification, sanctification, & glorification.  Ephesians 2:8-10

(2) The Holy Spirit in us and with us.  Luke 11:13

(3) The Kingdom of God.  Luke 12:32

(4) Eternal Life. 1 John 5:11

2. The gifts God gives us do not all arrive at one moment.  We may be regenerated and justified at the same instant, but James tells us here these gifts “are coming down”, a continuous flow of gifts from an all gracious giver!  God is not stingy.  He gives and gives and gives some more.  If we do not see the many gifts He has given us, it is because sin or the deceiver has blinded us.

3. James refers to God as the “Father of Lights”.  Who, but God, could create the lights in the sky?  He is their parent and, as Scripture tells us, calls each of His stars by name (Ps. 147:4; Is. 40:26)! What an amazing thought! My wife and I had difficulty in naming nine children.  Yet, our marvelous Creator has a name for each and every star in the heavens, billions and billions of them!

4.  Further, he describes the character of God as one who does not change.  A. T. Robertson said, “There is no such periodic variation in God like that we see in the heavenly bodies.” There is no variableness or shadow in our Creator.  He is not evil one moment, then good the next (which describes each of us from time to time).  There is nothing in Him to improve either through addition, deletion, or modification.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He is, as the theologians say, “immutable” (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). 

ESV v. 18 “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” 

1. Make no mistake about verse 18. James agrees with Paul and the other New Testament writers, clearly presenting the Reformed understanding of salvation (see also 1 Peter 1:3).  It is by the will of God, not our will (decision), that we have been born again.  “Brought forth” means to be born.  As the King James translates it, God “begat us”. We are new creatures in Christ because God decided we would be.  He chose us; we did not choose Him.

2. When we talk of this new birth God has given to those of us in Christ, let us reflect on precisely what we mean.

(1) We were justified by Christ, declared not guilty of sin.  But, from where did this justification come?

(2) We were justified by Christ because of our faith. But, from where did this faith come?

(3) We were made spiritually alive, given the repentance and faith necessary to turn from our sins and trust the Lord.  But, from where did this spiritual birth come?

(4) It came from God’s work of regeneration. Yes, regeneration precedes repentance.  It precedes faith. It precedes justification. Apart from such regeneration, we would never turn from our sins and trust Christ (see Ephesians 2:1-10). He, not we, made us new creatures. “Of his own will he brought us forth”.

Let us forever dismiss the idea that we were the initiators of our salvation. Nothing we said, did, or could have done would ever produce our spiritual birth leading to eternal life (John 10:28).

3.  God’s will for our new birth is accomplished through His Word (“the Word of truth”).  His Word is always true for He is the God of truth.  He does not lie and does not deceive.  Therefore, His Word, likewise, does not lie or deceive.

God, in His own mysterious ways, brings about our new birth through the Scripture.  Paul notes our faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).  Again, he writes in Ephesians 1:13, it was by means of His Word.  We heard the Word.  Perhaps we heard it in a sermon or read it in a book or listened to a friend quote it.  Perhaps we heard the Word in multiple ways.  But, by the Will of God, He used His Word to give us a new birth.

4. And why did He give us this new birth?  Was it simply as a form of “fire insurance”, to keep us from Hell?  No! James writes “that”, indicating purpose.  One purpose for our new birth is so we may be a “kind of first fruits”, a model of the creative hand of the Almighty. Do you want to see the power and glory of God?  Look at a born-again soul.  Believer, look at your own life and marvel at the wondrous changes God has made in you.

We are not to merely sit around and await His return.  We are to be a testimony, a witness of His love, power, creativity, wisdom, holiness, and forgiveness.

Our pastor noted them Sunday and Manton’s words are worth repeating: “The world are his goods, but you his treasures.”

If you claim to know Christ but you see nothing of God at work in you, you are being deceived.  “Stop being deceived!” Repent of your sins and trust Christ to save your soul.