Monday, October 24, 2011

"Contradictions in the Word of God": #4- How Much Did David Pay for the Threshing Floor?

What was the price paid to Ornan for the Threshing Floor? One Explanation.

Without delving into the entire background of this account, suffice it to say the text in 2 Samuel 24:24 states “So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.” The Chronicler in 1 Chronicles 21:25 also relates this story and writes “So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.”

I guess if you are convinced the Bible is not the Word of God and contains errors then you will likely see several errors when comparing these two verses. For example:

1. 2 Samuel says David paid Araunah for the threshing floor. 1 Chronicles says he paid Ornan.

2. 2 Samuel says David bought “the threshing floor and the oxen.” 1 Chronicles says he bought “the place.”

3. 2 Samuel says David paid 50 shekels. 1 Chronicles says it was 600 shekels.

4. 2 Samuel notes these 50 shekels were of silver. 1 Chronicles notes it was 600 shekels of gold.

So, you have just found 4 contradictions or errors in the Bible.

On the other hand, if, like me, you believe the Bible is, indeed, the very Word of God, a God who never makes mistakes or deceives, given by Him to men who faithfully wrote His Word, protected from error as they wrote then you know there is an explanation to these apparent and alleged contradictions.

I know some speculate on the possibility the later copyists of the Hebrew manuscripts may have copied a letter incorrectly resulting in a change of the numeric value. Given the Hebrews often used specific letters for numerals that is always possible. Personally, I am not convinced that is the case in this particular situation.

Let me briefly look at each of these alleged problems.

1. Hopefully this particular “problem” may be easily dismissed. Most folks accept the fact that Araunah and Ornan are the same individual. For example, I have a friend whose first name is “Arthur”. The only people who call him “Arthur” are those who don’t know him. Most folks call him by his middle name. Some who know him very well use the initials of his first and middle name. Perhaps “Ornan” is a shortened version of “Araunah” or a nickname, I have no idea. But I see no reason to charge the Bible with an error on this account.

2. Of importance is the fact that 1 Chronicles was written at a later date than 2 Samuel. While it retells the events of David’s reign as king, it adds information to the accounts in 2 Samuel. David did buy Ornan’s threshing floor and oxen per 2 Samuel. Threshing floors were not all that large. But 2 Chronicles does not simply say the threshing floor and the oxen. Rather it states David paid for “the place”.

The author of 2 Samuel ends his account with this story, but no so for the Chronicler. In verse 29 of 1 Chronicles 21, David ponders the present location of the Tabernacle, the portable house of worship. Chapter 22 then accounts David’s decision to build a Temple. And the Chronicler discusses the location for the building of that permanent house of worship in 2 Chronicles 3:1 – the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

There is no way the Temple would ever fit in the confines of a former threshing floor Threshing floors were not very large. Therefore, the building was built on the floor purchased by Ornan (per 2 Samuel 24) but extended outward from there on top of Mt. Moriah. I see the 2 Samuel passage referring to David’s immediate intent to obtain the threshing floor and oxen in order to construct an altar and offer a sacrifice for his sin of numbering the people (2 Samuel 24:17-19). But, after doing so (2 Samuel 24:25), he is impressed by God to obtain more of the land on top of Mt. Moriah (“the place” of 1 Chronicles 21) for the future building of the Temple.

3. If, as I believe, we are looking at two distinct transactions, probably made roughly at the same time, there is no difficulty with the different prices. 50 shekels would be an appropriate price for the threshing floor itself and the oxen to satisfy David’s immediate need. 600 shekels would be a fair price for the surrounding land (“the Place”).

4. Again, if we are dealing with two separate transactions, the difference in silver and gold poses no problem. A crude example from my personal life will illustrate this. There have been times when, in my love of McDonalds, I order a meal and pay with cash (e.g, $5 in U.S. currency). While I am eating, I am joined by family members who also want to eat. Being a good father, I offer to pay. Alas, no more currency. So I whip out my debit card and create a second transaction (e.r., $20 on my debit card). The first was for my immediate need (threshing floor and oxen); the second for a “future” need (the place). The first was paid with currency (silver); the second with a debit card (gold). The first cost me very little (50 shekels); the second was a higher cost (600 shekels).

I believe this is a reasonable explanation. There is no doubt David bought more land than simply the threshing floor according to the 2 Chronicles passage. More land would have cost much more money than the threshing floor.

I’m sure you can read Biblical commentators on these passages and see their explanations for this “contradiction”. There are other viable possibilities.

So, I do not see this as a contradiction or an error. While I may not have the exact sequence of events which occurred, my understanding of the two texts would explain the differences. Of course, if you dismiss the Bible as a book written only by man and, therefore, full of errors, you will likely dismiss my explanation or anyone else’s explanation.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Contradictions in the Word of God": #3- Can Salvation be Attained by Works?

Can Salvation be Attained by Works?

This is the 3rd question asked on the video which claims to reveal contradictions in the Word of God.  The two answers given are "No", using Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:28 for support, and "Yes", referencing Matthew 19:17; Luke 10:26-28; James 2:24.

I began to answer this alleged contradiction and then decided my time constraints at the present would prevent me from fully elaborating on the matter. This particular question needs a solid and careful response.  It is an important question for each person to consider.

The question has been debated by Protestants and any other religious group (including Roman Catholics) for centuries. Sometimes it is framed a bit differently by saying that Paul (the author of Romans and Galatians) disagrees with James. So, can salvation be attained by works?

The correct answer to this question is a “what do you mean”? Terminology is important with any question and that goes for this one. What do you mean by “salvation”? What do you mean by “attained”? What do you mean by “works”?

My guess is the question being asked is something like: “Can a man earn a right relationship with God and receive eternal life by doing certain good deeds ?” The answer to that question is a resounding “NO”.

The passages in question (and there are many similar ones on both sides) do not contradict each other. Obviously the individual(s) who put together the little video did not do much research. If they truly believed this question was a serious issue on the faithfulness of the Scripture, they would have spent a little effort seeing what Protestant scholars have said on the matter over the past 500 years.

Since I do not have the time at present to answer the question in depth, I am providing some references to responses by a few, good Protestant men on the matter. I would encourage you to listen to them and see if they provide an answer to what you believe is a contradiction in the Scripture.

Furthermore, if, after listening to their responses, you would like to discuss this specific question in more detail, please let me know.

  • Dr. John Piper, current pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, briefly shares his understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone here. He also addresses the alleged contradiction between Paul and James here.
  • The 19th century English Baptist pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, preached on this topic and you may read his sermon here.
  • Dr. John MacArthur is the current pastor of Grace Community Church in southern California and has addressed the matter in two sermons from James chapter 2.  His first is on dead faith and may be found here.  His second is on living faith and may be read here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Contradictions in the Word of God": #2 - Does Yahweh Tempt People?

The question:  “Does Yahweh Tempt People?"
The answers:  “No, He would never do that.” “He tempted Abraham.”
The Biblical references:

Genesis 22:1 – And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham...

James 1:13 – Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.

“Hey, would you like to go to the ballgame tonight? I have a free ticket and it’s yours if you want it.” “Well, I probably should spend the time catching up on some things around the house. The offer is very tempting.”

A temptation or the act of tempting is not always one with an evil connotation. Even the English definition of the verb “tempt” makes this clear: “entice (someone) to do something against their better judgment.” For example, tempting me to attend a ballgame rather than catching up on things around the house is to entice me to something against my better judgment. But it is not a temptation to do evil.

The Hebrew word for “tempt” in Genesis 22:1 has the basic definition of “to try, to prove, to make a trial”. The Greek word for “tempt” in James 1:13 has the basic definition of “to test, to put to the test, to try.” The word used in James 1:13 is also used in Hebrews 11:17 in reference to Abraham in Genesis 22:1.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried...”

The word, at times, does mean to entice one to evil but the context of the usage must determine whether the temptation is a temptation to do evil or a temptation to prove, i.e., to test.

The James text makes it clear that the author is describing God’s nature and that He does not entice people to evil. As he writes, “...God cannot be tempted WITH EVIL, neither tempteth he any man.” God does not tempt men to do evil acts.

But the context of Genesis 22 makes it very clear that God is testing Abraham, putting his faith on trial, not enticing him to do evil. Verse 12 indicates this entire affair was a test of faith, not a temptation to do evil.

Our difficulty with these texts is the result of our modern usage of “temptation” to denote something evil and the older English translations which sometimes uses “temptation” without referring to evil. The three verses listed above are quoted from the King James Version. Their translation of Hebrews 11:17 indicates even they understood the Genesis 22 text to be a test, not a temptation. Modern English translations correctly understand the usage of the original words and have clarified their meanings with their translation. Here are a few examples:

Genesis 22:1

ESV: “After these things God tested Abraham...”
NAS: “Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham...”
HCSB: “After these things God tested Abraham...”

Hebrews 11:17

ESV: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested...”
NAS: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested...”
HCSB: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested...”

James 1:13

ESV: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
NAS: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
HCSB: “No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone.”

Does God tempt people? Yes and no. He tempts them in terms of testing their faith but He never tempts them in terms of doing evil. To successfully battle the temptation to do evil, you need to be born again, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, indwelt by His Spirit. Are you? If not, I plead with you to turn from your sins and flee to Christ now.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Contradictions in the Word of God": #1 - How Long Does Yahweh's Anger Last?

This may be the first of several posts on the subject of supposed Biblical contradictions.  I have been challenged by a younger man who, it appears, doubts the Scripture as well as questions God although I am not certain how deep that questioning goes.   Is he an athiest?  I don't know. 

The alleged contradictions presented to me are ones that have been hurled at the Bible for centuries to no avail.  I doubt if I present anything new to the debate in these matters and am certain anyone with internet access (i.e., you if you are reading this post!) can find others who articulate responses to these contradictions much better than I can.  Nevertheless, I will respond to at least a few of them over the coming days as time permits.  Also, I will try to be as brief as possible. 

"How long does Yahweh's anger last?"  "Forever or not forever."  The references given for this "contradiction" are Micah 7:18 and Jeremiah 17:4.  The Scripture contains similar verses for each of these so I will simply stick with these two in my response.

First, the anger (or wrath) of God is a very real attribute just like His love. His wrath is the nature of God which intensely hates any and all sin. God responds to sin with His wrath.

Jeremiah 17:4 states "... for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever". The Hebrew word translated "forever" comes from the word "what is hidden", especially "hidden time" or "long time". It is used to describe eternity (or forever) but the basic understanding of the word is "for a long time."  But there is nothing wrong with translating the word as "forever".

The context of Jeremiah 17 reveals the Lord is responding to the sin of Judah. They have sinned and God announces the loss of their heritage and their servitude to enemies. God's wrath, as a result of their sin, is upon them forever.

But the context of Micah 7 is entirely different. In verse 18 of that chapter we read, "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love."

Now we see the love and mercy of God in contrast to His wrath. He pardons sin and restrains His wrath because of His love. But this is not the same audience. These individuals are the remnant, not the rebellious we see in Jeremiah 17. These have turned from the sin and are now trusting their Savior. For them, God's wrath does not last forever.

There is no contradiction between these two verses (or similar verses in the Scripture).  God's wrath will remain FOREVER upon those who refuse to repent of their sins and trust in Christ. Jeremiah 17 is absolutely correct for those individuals. They will experience the wrath of God forever in the abode of Hell.

But for those who have trusted Christ, God's wrath has been appeased by the death of Christ (Romans 3:23-25). For this "remnant", we longer live under His wrath and will never experience. Praise God "he does not retain his anger forever!"

So, the question is not one of contradiction. Rather, the question is in which group are you? Based on your skepticism of God's Word, I fear you are in the same position as those in Jeremiah 17. I fear, young man, for your soul. Even now, the wrath of God is upon you (John 3:36) and it will remain upon you forever.

But there is hope and His name is Jesus! I encourage you to consider Him, ask for God to forgive you of your sins, and throw yourself on His mercy. He will save you from the wrath of God! 

Friday, July 29, 2011

"I'm Sorry, Pastor..."

"I'm sorry, pastor..." 

While I have not been in the pastorate as long as many of God's servants, I have been a pastor long enough to hear many of the reasons people miss church. Usually the excuses begin the same way: "I'm sorry, pastor, for missing church last Sunday but..." followed by the explanation for their absence.

First, let me say to those who miss a service in any church I am pastoring, you do not need to apologize to me. I probably did notice your absence. However, my calling does not depend on or require you to be present. God has called me to lead the body in worship on the Lord's Day primarily by proclaiming His Word. I will do so whether you or anyone else is sitting in the pew. My responsibility is to God first and this is what He has called me to do.

So, if you miss a service, you do not need to apologize to me. Any "reckoning" required on your part is due to God, not to me.

Second, I do understand there are legitimate reasons for not attending a worship service.  Obviously, if you have died during the week, I do not expect to see you on Sunday! Seriously, though, the providence of God does bring events into our lives which require us to bypass the worship service of our local church from time to time.

For example, some older members have physical conditions which prevent them from attending worship services. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by illness and unable to come (and, if you are ill, the pastor is in favor of you staying at home!). There are times when our cars or other means of transportation keep us out of the house of God. And, occasionally, a family vacation may also take us away from our Christian brothers and sisters.

Third, nevertheless I have heard some reasons why folks have missed church which make virtually no sense to me at all. Allow me to share a few of them with you.

1. "I was out late with my friends last night and too tired to get up on Sunday morning."  Really?! Perhaps you should take the necessary steps to make certain you get the rest you need prior to worshiping the Lord on Sunday. Sunday is the Lord's Day, not your day.

2. "We have Cardinal/Rams tickets for Sunday's game." Well, I am delighted to know you care more for the local sports teams than you do the Lord. The Cardinals do play on other days of the week. The Rams sometimes play later on Sundays. Did you really have to buy tickets for a game which conflicts with the worship service?

3. "My child's ball team had an early game on Sunday." Why is your child on a team which plays games on Sunday morning? Find a league which does not play on Sunday or inform your coach at the outset of the season your child will not play games on Sunday. Besides, what is the lesson you are teaching your child? Isn't it "Sports are more important in life than worship"?

4. "Our family reunion began at noon so we weren't able to come to church beforehand." Perhaps you should tell your family to stop holding reunions which interfere with your worship of God.  Or, perhaps you should just plan on being late to the reunion. The lesson you are teaching your earthly family is you would rather be with them than with your heavenly family.

5. "Sunday is the only day I have off. I decided to relax rather than come to church." This excuse doesn't even deserve a comment.

The next time you miss Sunday worship, please do not apologize to me. I am not offended by your absence. The reason you were out is a matter between the Lord and you. Hopefully He is satisfied with it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pastoral Concern #4 - Baptism

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” (Matthew 28:18-19)

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

“But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12)

“And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’” (Acts 8:36)

“And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized” (Acts 9:18)

“And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:48)

“’John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4-5)

Ok, I will be brief and blunt. My fourth pastoral concern has to do with the ordinance of baptism. No, I am not referring to the theological understanding of baptism. I am not referring to the mode of baptism. My concern relative to baptism has to do with individuals who claim to be born again by our Lord but REFUSE to be baptized.

How in the world can you refuse to enter the waters of baptism? You tell me it’s not necessary to be baptized to be a Christian. I agree, along with all my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. Water baptism saves no one. But that does not mean baptism is unimportant.

The first Scripture reference above is the commandment of Christ given to all of his disciples. We are commanded to baptize those who trust Christ. The remaining passages testify to this fact by providing several examples from Scriptures of either calls for baptism or new converts being baptized.

The Scripture is very simple on this matter: repent of your sins, trust Christ for salvation, and be baptized in obedience to the Lord’s commandment. Water baptism testifies to the world you are a follower of Christ. As I understand Scripture, baptism is the sign of the new covenant as circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. If you are physically born a child of Abraham (and, therefore, an heir of that covenant), you are circumcised as a sign of that fact. If you are spiritually born a child of God (and, therefore, an heir of the new covenant), you are baptized as a sign of that fact.

You and I can debate on a variety of matters relative to baptism. Is baptism for babies? Is baptism for salvation? Is baptism by immersion? But if you are one of those individuals of our era who believe you can be a Christian, follow Christ, and yet refuse to be baptized, I challenge you to rethink your position.

Christ commands you to be baptized. Until you do, you are living in disobedience to the very one you claim is the LORD of your life. So, get on with it!

"Faithful Preaching": A Book Review

"Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scripture with Responsibility, Passion, and Authenticity"
by Tony Merida

While a student at Criswell College many years ago, I was required to study homiletics, the science, the techniques, and the practice of preaching. I recall the class being extremely interesting and quite practical for me who, as a young Christian, had done very little preaching. We had a couple of textbooks on the subject which were helpful but a laborious read. After "plowing" my way through them, I concluded any textbook on the subject of homiletics must be somewhat of a bore.

Now, thirty plus years later, I read Tony Merida's homiletics text and discover how wrong I was! Dr. Merida has penned a terrific work in the field of preaching. His book is not only informative but it is written in a very interesting and very readable way. Furthermore, I find the work quite inspirational. The author encourages preachers to be expositors and to preach expository sermons. This book is not only the work of an experienced professor teaching his subject but also from the heart of a pastor who loves God and His Word.

The volume is 240 pages in length and approaches the study in 4 parts. They are entitled:

1. Faithful to the Triune God: Trinitarian Convictions for Expository Preaching.
2. Faithful to the Word of God: How Busy Pastors Prepare Christ-Exalting Expository Messages
3. Faithful to the Call of God: Watching Our Life and Doctrine
4. Faithful to the Mission of God: Preaching the Gospel in Our Generation

I found the second part to be the most informative. Dr. Merida provides great insight and guidance on how to develop expository messages. While this process is virtually the same as found in other homiletical works, the author uses a very straightforward and simple means in explaining the procedure. For example, in the chapter on studying the text, the 4th phase of this step asks the question “How is the Gospel Related to This Text?”, Dr. Merida writes:

“This redemptive step is often left out of books on biblical interpretation. It is both theological and exegetical. ... The purpose of integrating biblical theology to exegesis is to look for redemptive themes and Christological connections that display the unity of the Bible. ... To miss the redemptive connection is to miss an important piece in interpretation. ... The grace of God in Christ should be integrated naturally, not artificially in exegesis, and woven throughout in the application of your sermon.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend to any who preach (or teach!) the Word. Dr. Merida has given us a great work on the subject of preaching. Now, if only I could preach as well as he writes...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pastoral Concern #3 - Local Church Membership: Part 2

As I noted in my previous pastoral concern, I am deeply bothered by the reluctance of some and absolute refusal of others to join a local church. Those who profess to know Christ and have such an attitude need to evaluate their position from Scripture. If they are honest with themselves, they will conclude they are in sin by refusing to join and should repent of their actions, find a local church, and covenant together with that body.

There is, however, another attitude expressed by many believers today on the subject of local church membership which disturbs me greatly. The only term I can think of to describe this position is “Bare Bones Church Member”. Let me define what I mean when I call one by this phrase.

A “bare bones church member (BBCM)” is an individual who has professed Christ as his Lord, has been scripturally immersed, and has united with the local church. Essentially that is the end of his involvement in that local church.

Below I list some characteristics of such members. Obviously, no two BBCMers are the same. Some will be more involved in the local church than others. But here are some of their traits:

1. They might attend morning worship services but not consistently.
2. They rarely, if ever, attend Sunday school.
3. They rarely, if ever, attend Sunday evening activities.
4. They never attend the local church prayer meeting.
5. They might give financially to the church but, if they do, it is very little.
6. They might serve on a committee if asked but likely not.

Before discussing each of these characteristics, let me make it clear that I am not a legalist. You do not become a Christian by earning it through some form of good works and you do not remain a Christian by doing so either. Christianity is a life lived by the power of the indwelling Spirit for the glory of God. It is not a life of required works.

On the other hand, if a professing believer has truly been born again and transformed by God’s Spirit, his life has been radically changed. He longs to know God more fully. He desires to be with God’s people. He lives to serve God with all the spiritual gifts and natural abilities God has given him. In other words, he no longer thinks and acts like those without Christ, at least not habitually.

I’m certain BBCMers have existed in local churches since the founding of the church on the day of Pentecost centuries ago. Perhaps I was blinded to their presence in my younger days as a believer. But it appears to me these types of members are much, much more prevalent in our churches today.

Let me briefly look at each of these BBCM characteristics and share what they are telling me about that individual.

1. They might attend morning worship services but not consistently. Public worship is not that important to them. “I can worship God wherever I am”. Of course, they don’t. “Besides, there are so many things to do in a week I need one day to myself”. In other words “my time” is more important than the Lord’s time. Therefore, some will sleep in, some will play golf, and some will attend sporting events. A BBCMer always has a “good” reason for missing the public worship service.

2. They rarely, if ever, attend Sunday school. Of course, Sunday school is before the worship service. “If I can’t get out of bed for ‘church’, how can I ever make Sunday School?” Their interest in the Word of God is virtually non-existent and their lack of knowledge of the Scripture is evident when you ask them to turn to a specific book in the Old Testament and they turn to the table of contents! Some will pose other reasons for their absence such as “I don’t like the teacher” or “I don’t agree with the teacher”. Again, they can always find a reason for not coming.

3. They rarely, if ever, attend Sunday evening activities. This is especially true if they manage to make the morning worship service. “I’ve done my church duty” is their attitude. To them, church membership demands only 60-90 minutes one day a week. “I gave up my Sunday morning for church. I’m not going to give up the whole day to the Lord”. This is especially true if the Sunday evening activity might involve Bible study in some way! Good grief, how often do we need to study the Bible in one day anyway?!

4. They never attend the local church prayer meeting. If you ask a BBCMer why they do not attend, they will say something similar to “I can pray on my own”. Or, perhaps their response would be “I’m too tired after working all day”. “I can’t afford to spend all my time at the church”. “The Cardinals are on TV tonight”. Or, maybe they will use the classic “There’s nothing for my kids”. Well, perhaps you could start something for the children. When I hear such excuses, I am led to conclude (1) they do not think much of corporate prayer; (2) they do not care if they miss opportunities to share joys and burdens with fellow believers, and (3) the meeting of their local church for public prayer is low on their priority list.

5. They might give financially to the church but, if they do, it is very little. Again, I am not a legalist. When it comes to giving, that is a matter between you and the Lord. If you ask some BBCMers about giving, they will remind you, “Remember we are under grace not the law”. That’s “code” for “I do not have to give a tithe”. No, you do not (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-15). But God required the tithe of the people in the Old Testament. How can we, saved by the grace of His Son, give any less? Unfortunately, many BBCMers give very little to advance the Kingdom of God.

6. They might serve on a committee if asked but likely not. Some BBCMers might agree to serve but their absence at church functions results in them missing committee meetings as well. Usually, though, there is little desire or commitment to serve. Again, such an attitude expresses a lack of interest in being with the people of the Lord and serving in Christ’s mission with them. They have “better” things to do with “their” time.

Most Baptist churches have adopted a church covenant, a formal agreement between members of the local congregation. My present church has one which is widely used in Baptist circles. Here is the second paragraph of that covenant:

“We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines.”

I ask those who are BBCMers: how do you “walk together in Christian love” when you rarely come to church functions? I ask the BBCMers: how are you striving to advance the church when you have little to do with it? I ask my fellow members who are “bare boned”: how are you promoting our church’s “prosperity and spirituality” by staying home? I ask the BBCMers in the Baptist world: how are you sustaining your church in “its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines” when you do not come, do not study, do not pray, do not give, and do not serve? Where is your commitment to Christ and His church? Why do you even belong to a local church?

Again, I am not a legalist. Doing such things do not make you a Christian or preserve you as a Christian. But I must be honest and blunt to you who are “bare bone church members”. I am concerned about your souls. If you truly know Jesus Christ as your Lord, where is your devotion to Him and to the institution for which He died? Your life more closely resembles the life of one who does not know Jesus Christ than the life of a radically transformed individual. Take a moment and honestly ask yourself “Do I truly know Jesus Christ as my Savior?”

If your answer is “yes” then I ask you, “WHERE ARE YOU?” Isn’t it time you become an active, living member of your local church rather than sitting on the sidelines? Come, study with us, worship with us, pray with us, give with us, and serve with us!

But, if your answer is “no” then I pray the Lord would convict your heart of your sin and graciously give you repentance and faith. May you and your life be radically transformed by God’s omnipotent power!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Time with God for Fathers": A Book Review

This work is a small volume (102 pages) by Jack Countryman.  The book contains 90 one page devotions addressed to fathers based on specific Biblical texts.  Each page gives the title of the devotion, the Scripture reference (primarily New King James Version), and a one paragraph exposition/application for fathers.  Here are a couple of samples:

Under the title "Father, Help Me to be Patient", based on Romans 15:3-5, the author writes,

"Patience has been defined as learning to accept difficult situations without giving God a deadline for their removal.  We know we need patience, but we generally shun the process by which we learn it.  We want it now!"

For a devotion entitled "Children are a Joy from the Lord", using Matthew 5:13-16 as a text, Mr. Countryman writes,

"Christ wants you to take seriously your role as a father.  As "salt", your behavior is to be distinctly different from those who do not know God, and it must not reflect the same kind of behavior that corrupts a godless culture.  Do your children see that you are burning with the light of heaven?"

These examples illustrate the content of the work.  I find the devotions quite brief and not very challenging.  Perhaps if the author would have spent more time with the associated Scriptures I would have found more value in the work.  As a devotional guide, there are others (e.g., "Morning and Evening" by Spurgeon) of much greater insight and value.

Following the devotions, the author has included some reference pages (each one page in length except for the last one.:

  • God Listens To A Father's Prayer When ...
  • God's Promises For Fathers
  • God's Blessings For Fathers With ...
  • Responsibilities Of Fatherhood To ...
  • God's Dynamic Example Of Fathers
  • Crisis Scripture Guide

If you have money and would like to purchase a devotional work, I recommend you skip this one and look elsewhere. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pastoral Concern 2: Local Church Membership - Part 1

I’ve been a Christian, a Baptist, and a Southern Baptist for almost 40 years and one of the recent trends I have witnessed in various local churches concerns church membership. The attitude of some Christians concerning church membership simply puzzle me for two primary reasons: (1) their attitude is inconsistent with church history and (2) their attitude flies in the face of God’s Word.

So, what exactly is this attitude, this trend concerning church membership which disturbs me? Simply put, it is the reluctance or outright refusal to join a local church fellowship.

One of the ways I have heard this reluctance or refusal expressed is as follows:

Churches in the New Testament did not have membership lists. “Joining” a church is a man-made procedure. So, as long as I attend church, that’s good enough. Besides, I come to church services more frequently than some of the so-called members of the church.(1)

This perspective has been shared with me by several folks over the past ten years or so. Unfortunately, those holding such a perspective do not understand the teaching of the Scripture on the nature of the church.

The most frequent word rendered “church” in the New Testament is “ekklesia”, meaning “the called out ones”. Certainly every true believer has been called out of the darkness of sin into the light of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). It is Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit, who gives us life to our spiritual dead being and calls us to follow Him. 

In that sense, every true believer of Christ is part of the “ekklesia”, the church. Theologically, this concept is referred to as the “Universal Church”, the “Invisible Church”, or the “Church Triumphant”. It includes those who have already gone to be with the Lord as well as those true saints who are presently serving Christ. It is this universal church to which Paul was referring when he wrote:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...” (Ephesians 5:25).

However, the overwhelming majority of New Testament texts are not speaking about the universal church. For example,

“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1)

Clearly this reference is of a specific body gathered together in Thessalonica. This is one of many assemblies of professing believers meeting in specific locations. When compared to the universal church, this is the “Local Church”, the “Visible Church”, or the “Church Militant”. As Dr. Richard Land has said, the local church is a “colony of heaven”. The local church serves as a visible representation of the universal church.

“Joining” such a local congregation implies a level of commitment beyond simple worship attendance. Since the local church is a visible representative of the universal, invisible church, we would expect such a commitment. To be a part of God’s universal church there must be a commitment to Christ, a trust in him which distinguishes the universal church member from those who do not believe. Therefore, there should be a similar level of commitment or trust to be a part of a local church. 

But, more importantly, what do the Scriptures say? Does God’s Word say anything about the concept of joining, becoming a member of a local church? The answer is YES!

1. Consider the local church in Jerusalem.

Acts chapter 5 tells the sad story of Ananias and Sapphira . These two professing believers in the Jerusalem church lied and were slain by God. Verse 11 states “and great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.”

Note the contrast between the hearers listed in that verse. You have the “whole church” and “upon all who heard of these things.” Continuing in chapter 5, we read:

“None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” (Acts 5:13-14)

Some were “added to the Lord” but not all. Nevertheless, because of their fear over events such as the slaying of Ananias and Sapphira, “none of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” The word translated “join” is “kollaomai” meaning “to unite oneself with”, “join”, “stick to”. As the great Baptist Greek scholar A. T. Robertson said, this verb means “to cleave to like glue”. Clearly this local church in Jerusalem consisted of believers who were joined or glued to one another. The Jerusalem church was not a casual gathering of professing believers. It was not a mere collection of people who came and worshiped together on Sundays. No, it was a committed, devoted, “glued together” group.

2. Consider the matter of discipline in the local church.

Jesus was well aware the local church would have problems never experienced by the universal church. For example, it is possible an unbeliever may profess to be a believer and become part of a local church. But unbelievers can never be a part of the universal church. And, when you mix believers and unbelievers in one body, problems are going to arise. So, Jesus provided instruction to local churches on how to address such difficulties. 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

Note the involvement of the local church in the matter. The church is to confront the sinner and, if he refuses to listen to the church, then he is to be treated as a Gentile and tax collector, in other words, as an unbeliever. 

These words have absolutely nothing to do with the universal church. No one is being removed from that body. No, these are instructions to local congregations. If the individual in sin refuses to repent throughout this entire process, he is to be treated as an unbeliever. 

The New Testament provides an example of this procedure being put into action. The church at Corinth had a member practicing sexual immorality with his father’s wife. Paul writes to the church and instructs them to pursue disciplinary action. 

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

“Removed” translates a word meaning “to lift up”, “to set aside” and “from among you” literally reads “out of your midst”. Clearly Paul is instructing the Corinthians to exercise the church discipline described in Matthew 18 and remove this man from their body. 

Paul doesn’t mean never to allow that man to attend services with them or to hear the preaching of the Gospel. He continues this discussion as follows:

“When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5) 

Paul indicates the intention of their action, namely the removal of the man from their fellowship, is a step in reaching him for the Lord. He is not a believer and, therefore, not to be part of the church. Yet, the church’s action, hopefully, will be a step to winning him to Christ. The implication is this man is welcome to attend the church’s meetings and hear the Gospel. So, his removal “out of their midst” is not referring to physical removal, rather, it is his removal from his union (i.e., membership) with the church. The unique blessings, fellowship, and opportunities he has as a member joined to this body is to be severed. Instead of treating him as a fellow worker in Christ, the believers in Corinth are to give him the Gospel. 

This individual in Corinth has been moved from position of “one of the brethren” to “Gentile” (unbeliever) in accordance with Matthew 18. There must have been some means in Corinth to distinguish between those who were “one of the brethren” and those who were not. Is this not one purpose for a membership list? 

3. Consider some of the other terminology used to illustrate the church. 

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3)  

Peter speaks to those whom God has called to be the leaders of His local churches. In so doing, he uses the three titles given in Scripture for this one office: “elder”, “overseer”, and “shepherd” (elder, bishop, pastor). 

Baptists have traditionally used the title “pastor” (meaning shepherd) for the name of their local church leader. Not only is the term Biblical, as we see above, but it also communicates a great picture of the local church: those in the church are the sheep forming the local flock and the pastor is the shepherd, appointed by God, to guide and care for this flock.

I have never cared for physical sheep but I do know that a shepherd has responsibility for specific sheep, namely, the sheep assigned to his care. The shepherd KNOWS his sheep. He is not responsible for every sheep wandering in the fields. Sheep belong to a specific flock. While there are many sheep (believers in Christ) in St. Charles, this shepherd (me) is not responsible for every one of them. Rather, God has appointed me over a specific flock, i.e., Bethesda Baptist Church.

Now, who makes up my flock? Is it every believer who walks through the church’s front door? Does it include even believers who are simply visiting on a given Lord’s Day? Does my flock consist of those sheep who regularly attend our morning worship service on Sunday? Am I, as the shepherd of this local flock, responsible for every sheep coming my way? No, I am not. A distinction must be made between the sheep which comprise my flock and other sheep. How does a shepherd make this distinction? How does he know his flock? 

This same situation would have existed in the first century. When Peter tells the elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among” them, those shepherds must have had a means of distinguishing which sheep were truly part of their flock. Again, I ask, is this not one purpose for a membership list? 

There is a specific flock known as Bethesda Baptist Church. It is comprised of those sheep (professing believers) who have been called by God to covenant together to form a specific flock (Bethesda Baptist Church). These sheep, not all sheep, have “glued” themselves together (by “joining” the church) with the other sheep in the sheepfold to form this flock. They are the ones I am to shepherd. You may be a sheep who frequently gathers with my flock on Sunday mornings but that does not necessarily make you part of my flock. To you I am a shepherd but not your shepherd. 

Consider another illustration of God’s church found in the Bible: 

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:37

Again Paul is addressing the local church at Corinth. He calls them the “body of Christ”. So the local church is here pictured as Christ’s body. Furthermore, each individual member of that local church is viewed as a member of Christ’s body.

Often I have sat with my grandchildren on my lap and had them place their hand on mine to demonstrate our similarities and differences. When I look at those hands, I KNOW which of those fingers I am looking at are mine and which ones are not. Mine are connected, they are JOINED to my body. They contribute to my body’s function, have responsibilities within my body, and receive benefit from my body as a whole. Now my grandchildren’s fingers are as much real fingers as mine. But they are not a part of my body!

Therefore, just because you are a real “finger” of God (i.e., a true believer), that does not necessarily mean you are a member of the local body of Christ. Do you contribute to the local body’s function? Do you have responsibilities within the local body? Or, do you simply receive some benefit from the local body by meeting with them once a week?

4. Consider the meaning of the “whole church” at Corinth.

“If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Corinthians 14:23)

How do you know if the WHOLE church has come together if you do not have some type of list indicating who is part of the Corinthian church (and, by implication, who is not)? In other words, there is some type of membership list. Corinth practiced local church membership. An individual was required to do something to be added to this list.

I close, first, with a return to my original thoughts on the nature of the church. The church consists of the “called out ones”, those whom God has called out of darkness into His light. All true believers are called out ones, members of the great universal, invisible church. We testify to the world that God has called us out by professing our faith in Christ and committing our lives to Him. Should we not do likewise when it comes to the local church, the visible model of the universal church? Being part of a local body goes far beyond simple attendance. Rather, it involves a level of commitment (i.e., “joining”) as well as a profession of that commitment (“I am a member of Bethesda Baptist Church”).

Finally, since Christ not only gave us the universal church but also the local church, shouldn’t every true believer be committed to a local church body? If you remain a non-member of a local church, what are you communicating to those outside the church? Aren’t you telling them by your actions that the local church, a creation of Christ himself, is of little or no consequence? How can you call yourself a committed follower of our Lord Jesus Christ if you will not become a committed follower of an institution He created?

If you are not a member of a local church then I exhort you to find a church in which God’s Word is preached and commit your life to serving Christ as a member of that church body.


(1) There are several good books and articles on the subject of joining a local church. Most of them address the matter much the way I have endeavored to do so here. The arguments for church membership in most of these works are the same (why wouldn’t they be since each writer uses the same Scripture to explain and defend the practice of joining a church?). The best work I have ever read on the subject (and one of the most readable) is found in Chapter 3 of Don Whitney’s book, “Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church”, published by Moody in 1996. This specific chapter is currently available online here  if you wish to read it. If what I have written does not convince you to join a church then I pray you do take the time and read his thoughts.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pastoral Concern 1: Education

When asked by the Pharisees in one of their many attempts to trap him, Jesus told us the nature of the first and greatest commandment:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”
(Matthew 22:37-38)
Jesus has masterfully taken the first four commandments of the ten God gave to Moses in Exodus chapter 20 and summarized them into one. God is to be the number one love of our entire life: heart, soul, and mind.

Wait a minute! Did Jesus just say something about our minds? Surely not! How can God want us to love Him with our minds? Doesn’t He understand what folks have long said about Baptists? When they come to church, Baptists leave their brains in their hats on the coat rack.

While we may laugh at such a thought, I fear there is much truth in the joke. Having been a member of several Baptist churches and a visitor in many others in my almost forty years of walking with Jesus, I am constantly amazed by the worldview held by many Baptists who claim they know Christ. It is safe to say their worldview is more often “politically correct” but certainly not “Biblically correct”.

Clearly one of the truths communicated by our Lord in this text is the need to have our minds governed by the Word of God. If we truly love God then our thoughts should not only think about God but our brains should guide our lives to live according to the Word of God, in other words, to live based on a Biblical worldview. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

In pondering the matter, I also realized the paucity of Biblical knowledge by many who have professed Christ as their Lord for many years. How can any of us love God with our entire mind, live a life according to the principles of the Bible, when we don’t even have a simple grasp of the contents of the Word?

There is certainly much Jesus is stating when He commands us to love the Lord with all our minds. But it can’t be denied that loving God with our mind includes intellectually knowing something about God. For example, I love my wife and my children with my entire being. That love includes knowledge about them: their birth dates, their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and so forth. Perhaps I do not know everything about them, but, over the years, my knowledge about them grows. My love for them demands I use my mind and get to know them.

What would my wife think of my love for her if I forgot her birthday every year? What if I constantly forget the date of our wedding anniversary? Do I really love her if I don’t ever learn her middle name, her parents’ names, or her love for sunflower seeds? I knew none of these things when I first met her. But my love for her has resulted in my mind learning about her; who she is and what she likes.

Church after church and Baptist after Baptist have proven to me many people who profess their faith in Christ do not have the type of love for God as Christ commanded in the above verses. I have taught classes where I have asked believers, those who have been a part of the church for decades, to open their Bibles to the book of Ephesians only to find them searching in the Old Testament or using the “Table of Contents”. I have witnessed seven and eight year old children put adult Christians to shame by quoting all the books of the Bible from memory. My eyes have seen long time church members arrive at church for Sunday school and worship without a Bible (no, they do not have it memorized either!). If we do not have a grasp of such simple facts as the titles of the books of Scripture then it is quite likely we have no grasp of the theological truths concerning God and His work. In other words, we have NOT loved God with all our minds.

Yet, despite the seriousness of not growing in our knowledge of the things of God, there is another fact which disturbs me even more. Many Baptists appear to have little or no interest in growing in their knowledge of God! That may seem like a strong claim so permit me to elaborate.

Baptists have long claimed to be “people of the book”. We teach the Bible is God’s Word, the revelation of God. Since we take the Word so seriously, Baptist churches offer education programs to assist their members (and guests) to better understand the Word and, therefore, grow in their love of God via their mind. Southern Baptist churches almost always offer a “Sunday School” program of some sort either before or after the morning worship service on Sunday. Some churches continue to have education classes on Sunday evenings as well. These may vary in title (Training Union, Discipleship Training) but their purpose remains the same: provide Biblical education for believers. Some congregations offer Bible Study classes in various members’ homes. Others provide further education opportunities on Wednesday evening often in conjunction with a church prayer meeting.

Virtually all of these educational opportunities are led by knowledgeable Biblical teachers. Furthermore, these classes are almost always free or charge. A Baptist can come, share in the fellowship time with fellow believers offered by the class, and grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ without paying one red cent!

But when we look at our churches, too often we find Sunday school classes with small attendance. We find Sunday evening classes with only a handful of students present. Bible studies in homes may begin somewhat large but often degenerate quickly into a small gathering. And Wednesday evening studies are almost non-existent due to the lack of people. No wonder our people have trouble finding the book of Ephesians!

Some who are reading this are likely thinking, “You’re right. I don’t go to those classes. I study my Bible on my own.” That may be true in a few cases. But I suspect those who fail to take advantage of church provided opportunities for education simply reveal their true nature, i.e., they do not study God’s Word. The situation is similar to those professing Christians who claim they can worship even when they are fishing on Sunday. Yes, they can but they don't!.

Christians, generally, and Baptists, particularly, need to learn their Scripture. They need to study and study and, then, study some more. They must invest the time and effort (yes, study requires effort!) to grow their minds in the truth of God so they can truly love their God with all their minds.

To those who are not growing in their knowledge of God, I challenge you to change. The first step in such a change is to repent of your failure to devour the Word of God. You will never change your behavior if you will not first confess to our Lord your sin in not studying His Word.

Then, let’s turn off our technology and televisions, open the Bible, and study. Let’s make it a habit to attend Bible studies offered by our local congregation whenever possible. Let’s do all we can do to grow our Biblical knowledge, not to impress others, but so that we may truly love our God with all our mind.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Message Needed

I haven't said or written much on Harold Camping's prophecy concerning judgment day beginning today for two reasons.  First, many other very capable, Biblical scholars have spoken on the matter much more clearly than I ever could.  Second, to me the whole affair seemed very trivial (like casting pearls before swine).  Nobody knows when this event will take place, nobody.  Scripture teaches us this fact in various places such as Matthew 24:36.  Therefore, any time anyone produces a "prophecy" or "revelation" concerning such events, there's no reason any Christian who understands his Bible should take it seriously.

Over the coming days there are many possibilities as to the outcome of this false prophecy.  The "prophet" may appear and claim he was "slightly off" on the date and set a new one.  Or, he may claim he misunderstood and the date was right only judgment has begun in the spiritual realm (perhaps those already dead are being judged and the date for those on the earth is just a little further out on the calendar!).  But my prayer, as the pastor of a local Baptist church, is for my folks not to pay heed to such nonsense.  Instead, I exhort my sheep and all born again Christians everywhere:  do not share false revelation with the world, rather, share true revelation, the true and clear message God has chosen to reveal to us, namely, the Gospel!

1.  Because of Adam's sin, everyone is conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12-14), do sin (Romans 3:9-18, 23), die as a result of sin (Romans 6:23), is under the condemnation and wrath of a just and holy God (Romans 5:18a; John 3:36), and is one heartbeat from eternal punishment in Hell (Matthew 25:46; Matthew 5:29-30; Revelation 20:15). 

2.  But God, rich in love, grace, and mercy, has made a way of escape through the ministry of His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was born of a virgin (Luke 1:34-35), lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22), gave His life as a substitutionary, atoning, propitiating sacrifice in the place of those given to Him by the Father (1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 10:12; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:24-26; John 10:14-18), and was raised from the dead as evidence of God's acceptance of His ministry (1 Corinthians 15:1-28).

3.  God, through His church, now calls all sinners to receive this great message, this good news, this Gospel by repenting (turning from) their sins and believing Christ (trusting your eternal soul to Him) (Mark 1:14-15; Acts 16:31; Acts 17:30; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8-10).

4.  Jesus Christ is the only hope for any and all men.  He is the only way to forgiveness, justification, sanctification, and glorification (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:18-21; Romans 8:9-17).  No other figure in history or mythology can provide a means of escaping your condemnation, future judgment, and eternal punishment.  NO ONE.

5.  Those who do turn from sin and trust Christ for their salvation will absolutely escape that great judgment and subsequent eternal punishment.  Instead they will receive an eternal life of peace and joy (Revelation 20:11-15; John 3:16).

This message of good news HAS been revealed by God to us!  Therefore, let us forget "prophecies and revelation" not found in God's Word and let us share true revelation with a lost world which needs THIS word. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"The Christian Lover": A Book Review

The book is too brief.  There, you have my only criticism of "The Christian Lover:  The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers" by Michael A. G. Haykin and Victoria J. Haykin.  The work is only 100 pages and may easily be read during a relaxing afternoon.

I own several works by Dr. Haykin and have enjoyed everything this Christian historian has written.  Furthermore, it has been my privilege to hear him deliver conference presentations on various lessons from history and have never been disappointed.  This book continues that perfect streak.

The Haykins present 12 chapters, each chapter covering a Christian couple from history.  The chapter opens with a brief biographical sketch of the parties, setting the stage for what follows.  And what follows the biography are one or more letters written between the two parties (usually husband and wife).  These letters reveal the love life between them, presenting a wonderful picture of their humanity and what Christian marriage is about.

The 12 couples include Protestant Reformers Luther and Calvin, 19th century Baptists Judson and Broadus, as well as 20th century Christian heroes, Lloyd-Jones and Moltke.  Some of the letters express feelings during periods of separation, some during times of loss, and one pending the end of life.  In each one, the reader catches a glimpse of the true humanity of the author and the deep level of love the parties have for one another.

A couple of examples will suffice to reveal the wealth contained in these letters.

"Martin Luther to the holy lady, full of worries, Mrs. Katharina, doctor, the lady of Zolsdorf, at Wittenberg, my gracious, dear mistress of the house.  Grace and peace in Christ!  Most holy Mrs. Doctor!  I thank you very kindly for your great worry which robs you of sleep."

Helmuth Moltke writing to his wife Freya from prison less than two weeks before his execution at the hands of the Nazis:  "Without you I would have accepted love. ... But without you, my dear, I would not have "had" love.  I should not think of saying that I love you; that would be quite false.  Rather you are the one part of me, which would be lacking if I was alone. ... It is only in our union--you and I--that we form a complete human being. ... And that is why, my dear, I am quite certain that you will never lose me on this, my dear.  I am quite certain that you will never lose me on this earth--no, not for a moment."

The book is excellent and I VERY highly recommend it. 

BUT, I wish it was a bit longer!

Monday, March 7, 2011

"How to Study the Bible": A Book Report

I read this brief book (144 pages) by Pastor John MacArthur to help believers in studying their Bible in only a few hours.  Typical of any MacArthur work, it is well written, easy to read, and full of good information.  The only complaint I have with the work is the title.  "How" to study the Bible is not the exclusive content of the book, in fact, the book title is also one of the four chapter titles, occupying a mere 36 pages of the entire book.  So, if you pick up this book expecting to receive 144 pages describing how to study the Bible, you will be disappointed.

The other three chapters lay the foundation for studying Scripture.  They discuss the nature of Scripture, the importance of Scripture, and the use of Scripture in one's life.  Also, there is a chapter which explains who can study the Bible.  All of this is good information but really does not contribute much to the discussion on "HOW" to study the Bible.

Nevertheless, it is a MacArthur work and it is well done.  I would recommend the book to anyone wanting more information on the nature and use of the Scripture.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine": A Book Review

I must confess I anxiously awaited the arrival of this book.  It was on my "gift wish list" for a couple of years.  Finally it arrived this past Christmas, a gift from some of my family. 

After plodding my way through its brief 118 pages, I have no idea why I was so excited to read it.  The authors, Alister E. McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, take well known atheist Richard Dawkins to task on his denial of the existence of God and his mockery of religion.  As they note:

"Every one of Dawkins's misrepresentations and overstatements can be challenged and corrected."

Sure they can.  But these authors do so in such a cumbersome way, it is difficult to follow their argument and make it through the book, at least it was for me.  They seem to jump from point A to point B without explaining the path they took, leaving the reader (i.e., ME) confused. 

Another problem I have with the text is how they show possession.  Perhaps this is acceptable in today's world of literature but it sure isn't how I was taught to write a possessive.  If I want to show something belonging to Mr. Dawkins, I write Dawkins', NOT Dawkins's (see quote above).  Maybe this is a minor thing, but everytime I read Dawkins's I wanted to scream!

Also there were moments when I wondered from where the authors learned orthodox Christianity.  For example, on page 86 they write:

"Yes--contrary to what Dawkins assumes, orthodox Christianity understands Jesus to have been fully human and not omniscient."

Well, the Bible teaches Jesus was God in the flesh so certainly His divine nature was omniscient!  I will concede that his human nature was not but the authors need to be a bit more careful when sharing orthodox Christianity's understanding on the person of Christ.

As you can tell, I was disappointed in the book.  Maybe I had my hopes on what I would learn from reading this work set too high.  But I really can not recommend this book to anyone UNLESS they really do believe Richard Dawkins is correct.  In that case, the book may have some value.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity In Christ": A Book Review

The author is clear on the issue:

"...the Bible uses one metaphor more frequently than any of these. It is a word picture you might not expect, but it is absolutely critical for understanding what it means to follow Jesus. It is the image of a slave. ... the earliest believers referred to themselves in the New Testament as the Lord's slaves. For them, the two ideas were synonymous. to be a Christian was to be a slave of Christ." (pp. 12-13)

Over the next 200 plus pages, author John MacArthur carefully, forcefully, but clearly supports his premise that, for some time, Christians have not understand the true meaning of being a Christian due to the translation of the Greek word "doulos" to the English "servant" instead of its true meaning: "slave". MacArthur examines the view of ancient history concerning this truth and then presents the truth of the "master-slave" concept from the Scripture. For example, he writes:

"Jesus also used slave language to define the reality of what it means to follow Him. Discipleship, like slavery, entails a life of total self-denial, a humble disposition toward others, a wholehearted devotion to the Master alone, a willingness to obey His commands in everything, an eagerness to serve Him even in His absence, and a motivation that comes from knowing He is well pleased. Though they were once the slaves of sin, Christ's followers receive spiritual freedom and rest for their souls through their saving relationship with Him. Against the historical backdrop of slavery, our Lord's call to self-sacrifice becomes that much more vivid. A slave's life was one of complete surrender, submission, and service to the master--and the people of Jesus' day would have immediately recognized the parallel. Christ's invitation to follow Him was an invitation to that same kind of life." (p. 43)

The book consists of 225 pages divided into 13 chapters. Furthermore, there is a tremendous appendix entitled "Voices from Church History" containing quotes from various Christian scholars throughout the centuries supporting the concepts espoused in the book.

Simply stated, this book is a tremendous work and well worth the time it takes to read and devour. I sincerely wish every church-going person would do so. Some of them will discover they are still a slave to sin. Others will discover they have failed to obey their Master. In any case, the church will be blessed and the Lord will be glorified.

May each of us grasped the meaning of our slavery to Christ.

"The glorious reality is that, for all of eternity as His slaves, you and I and every other believer from all of human history will joyfully worship and exalt our heavenly Master--the King of kings and the Lord of lords." (p. 38)

I would truly hope those who read this new work by John MacArthur would come away converted, grateful, and committed.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a copy of this book for review. No other compensation was provided.