A Danger for Christian Writers

I recently went down a YouTube rabbit hole. Often such behavior ends up being a big fat waste of time, but in this case, it turned out to be a good thing. I came across the video below by Tim Keller, in which he talks about our work. He specifically used the example of being a writer, so that’s why I wanted to share it since it’s an important message regarding a danger for Christian writers.

Continue reading “A Danger for Christian Writers”

Book Review: The Stage is Set

I read Hal Lindsay’s Late, Great Planet Earth in the mid-1970’s as a youngster. The book convinced me that the world couldn’t go on much longer before God says, “Enough!” I read the Bible and watched the news for evidence of Jesus’ imminent return. While I didn’t believe then the world would make it to 2017, I’m grateful for God’s continued patience towards mankind.

A New Book for a New Generation

This year, I read The Stage is Set by Bryant Wright. If Late, Great had me watching the TV for evidence, The Stage is Set has me looking out the window. The world was showing signs in the 1970’s, but you know that the day is hand in 2017. Dr. Wright has not only learned of the signs of his coming from the pages of scripture, he has seen the evidence first hand on the sixteen bible study tours he has led to Israel.

False messiahs proliferate around the globe, wars and rumors of wars are everywhere, earthquakes and other natural disasters abound. The news tells stories of Christians being beheaded, imprisoned, or otherwise persecuted regularly. All these signs point to Jesus’ imminent return.

After making a strong case for the messiah’s soon return, Dr. Wright reminds us of the urgent need to spread the gospel to the 6,800 unreached people groups. Presently, the church doesn’t even engage 3,100 of these groups. Jesus told us his gospel would be preached to the peoples of the world and then the end would come. Plans are well underway to finish the task of reaching the nations.

Dr. Wright takes the mystery out of the strange dreams in the book of Daniel, interprets the symbology of Revelations, and explains the meaning of the prophecies about the Antichrist and Armageddon. His interpretation of the rapture before the second coming is one of the clearest explanations of the relevant scriptures I have read.

Finally, his telling of the return of Jesus is a moving and beautiful word picture. This book at this time in history will surely become a classic for this generation. It is my prayer that it will get into as many hands as possible.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Three Worldviews and What They Mean

Everyone has a particular “worldview.” We each understand the way the universe works according to our own presumptions and the evidence we have seen. In the past, most people perceived the world to be flat. They believed that if one traveled to the world’s edge, they could merely fall off its side. When greater evidence presented itself that the world was, in fact, round, people changed their mind.

Three Different Worldviews

Today, most people have a perception of the world from one of three different viewpoints. The first is that universe and all it contains is only part of the whole. Outside the universe is another realm. This realm is where God exists. They believe that God is greater than the universe They believe that the universe had a beginning and it will someday have an end. This reality outside of the universe, where God exists, is timeless. It has no beginning and it will never end. God created the universe and controls all that happens within it from his realm outside of it. The major religions that hold to this worldview are Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. We call this worldview, theism.

Pantheism

The second view of the world is that of pantheism. In this perception of the world, everything that is in the universe, and anything that exists outside of it, is all part of God. God is not outside the world, but everything is inside or a part of God. Sometimes, pantheists believe that there is a visible, an illusory part of the world, that was created from the invisible part of God. However, whether it is the visible or invisible part of God, all is a part of the whole and worthy of worship. Major religions that belong to this worldview are Hinduism, Buddhism, and animistic religions. Many today who worship Gaia or Mother Nature, believe that the stars align to set their destiny, or that their lives are directed by “the Universe,” are actually pantheists.

Atheism

The third worldview is the belief that everything that exists can be perceived. There is nothing beyond our knowledge or our perception. Even though, there may be things that we haven’t discovered or things that we haven’t learned, given enough time, our capacity to understand them is achievable. If there was a God, even he would not be beyond our perception. Anything that we can’t perceive is simply because we haven’t developed a microscope powerful enough to see something so miniscule, or a telescope that can see something as vast. This worldview is atheism.

The Implications of Your Worldview

The atheistic worldview elevates the human mind to prominence. Since God does not exist, we are the supreme beings. Some atheists imagine a race from a distant planet who will someday communicate with or visit earth. Though this race is understood to be more advanced than humans, they are merely what humans should or will be. Eventually, we will develop their technologies and philosophies and will be just as powerful and noble as they are.

The pantheistic worldview elevates the human spirit to prime importance. Pantheists understand that there is something within man that communicates beyond themselves. All around them they are awed by the possibilities of beauty, love, and peace. By looking inside themselves, they think that they will “hear” or understand God and will be able to elevate themselves and become one with him. They sense a mysterious and elusive realm and if they can just hear clearly enough to get in touch with this God inside, they can escape the pain and misery of this illusion perceived by our senses. Their objective is to meld with the universe, with God, and understand the secrets within.

Finally, the theistic worldview is that neither the human mind or the human spirit is the supreme. Theists believe that there is a God who is not part of this world. He exists outside the universe, outside of time, and, naturally, beyond our knowledge. Theists, like the atheist, believe in the material world. They believe that we can explore and learn about the universe. The things we perceive about our surroundings are not simply illusions; they are real and we can affect them through our actions.

God’s Revelation to Mankind

Even though God is beyond our perception and knowledge, we can still know him because he has made himself known. Since the beginning of mankind, God has continually revealed himself to the spirit of man. Man’s spirit “talks” to God. We can either listen to what the he says to us, to our spirit, or we can ignore it. The sin in our lives shows that we have become quite good at ignoring the Spirit’s still, small voice as he speaks to our hearts. This is what the pantheist, who through meditation, repetition, and denying reality, is trying to comprehend.

The Problem of Sin

God knows that our sin makes us “hard of hearing.” Because of that, he has revealed himself to righteous men and women, called prophets. These prophets have written down the things that God has revealed to them, thus we have God’s words in the scriptures.

The problem is that voices other than God, malevolent voices, can also speak to our spirits. Outside the universe, in the spiritual realm of God, there are other created beings. Some of these are loyal servants. Others are rebellious spirits who speak to our spirits the things contrary to God’s will. We also, in our natural state, are rebellious. Even our own spirit will speak against God and attempt to put ourselves above him.

As men denied the existence of the spiritual world, denied God, denied that he spoke to us through the prophets in the scriptures, God had one tactic left. Since men cried out for a tangible, material proof of a spiritual God, he invaded the universe that he created. He clothed his Holy Spirit in the flesh of a man. He walked and talked among us. He showed us through the words that only he could utter, with power over his creation, and ultimately by the demonstration of the conquest of death, that he alone was the one true God.

The atheist places man’s mind above God and the pantheist places man’s spirit above God. God forces both to their knees when he confounds the wise and noble and takes his rightful place in the humbled human heart.

Bought with a Price (Video and Sketchnotes from Hosea 1:3-5)

I’ve recently started sketchnoting, for taking sermon notes. Since I’m new to this, I’m starting with some short sermons. Here’s a short sermon I found on YouTube on Hosea and Gomer, along with my sketchnotes.

bought with a price

There were a couple of things that stood out to me the most. First, if you’re not familiar with the story, God asked Hosea to do the unthinkable – take Gomer, a prostitute, to be his wife. Initially things went well, but eventually Gomer went back to her old way of life. God commanded Hosea to “go out and find her again.” So he did. When he got there, he essentially paid to be with her — even though she was already his.

A great point from this message is that he bought her not to use her, but to love her.

This is a great illustration of the love the Lord has for us. While we were still sinners, while we were in rebellion, while we chased after other gods, he bought us – not to abuse us, but to love us.

By the way, I’m adding my sermon sketchnotes and other Christian doodle art, Bible journaling, etc. images to Instagram, so be sure to follow us there: https://www.instagram.com/theordinarybeliever/

“Doing Good” to the Household of Faith

Where do you get your gas? Which doctor do you go to? Who is your florist? Your dry cleaners? Most of us shop and spend our money without any thought whatsoever about whether the person we do business with is a Christian or not. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t regard such aspects as customer service or price, but doesn’t the verse above teach us that we should give preference to other believer when we consider where we do business?

I know some of you are very cognizant of the faith of the people you shop with. You subscribe to websites like Christian Business Directory, CTKdirectory.com (CTK=Christ the King), or Christian Yellow Pages. You enjoy doing business with other believers, even if it means paying a little bit more, driving a little further, or missing out on “loyalty points” you get shopping at a nonbeliever’s store.

But most of us don’t even consider the beliefs of the people with whom we do business. We just want our stuff, or the service we want provided. We are just as likely to hire an electrician who is an atheist as we are a Christian electrician. We probably don’t know what is their belief. We never thought to ask.

One area where we can support Christians is through our book buying habits. Many of us will not even think of shopping at the Christian alternative to the company named after the South American river. However, if you’re looking for a Christian book, Christian Book Distributors is likely to have it. Often it will be less expensive and will ship just as quickly as the book from the guys with the orange and black label.

One other thing. We are an affiliate for Christian Book Distributors and purchasing from their website using our link also supports this blog. So the next time you want to pick up the latest Francine Rivers novel, or the most recent Tim Keller book, or you want to get a DVD copy of the documentary on Jesus’ life you saw on Discovery, please consider doing good, to all indeed, but especially to those of the household of faith.

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Does a Different Perspective Mean Christians Are Intolerant?

My son shared a one-panel comic on Facebook showing two men standing on either side of a digit on the ground. One points at the image and says, “six!” The one on the opposite side points at the image and declares, “nine!” The point of the cartoon is that everyone sees things from their own perspective. We should be “tolerant” of other’s viewpoints because we don’t know what caused them to reach their conclusion or the perspective that they bring to the argument.

Admittedly, the version of the comic my son shared pointed out, correctly, that despite the reasons for the viewpoints, one was right and the other was wrong. It encouraged the two to try to place the numeral in context. Were there other integers nearby that would clarify the bottom and the top? Couldn’t the creator have placed a line below the digit to indicate its orientation?

The Meaning of Tolerance

In today’s postmodern culture, it is considered a virtue to be gracious to views once considered unpalatable. The meaning of tolerance has been twisted to mean something different than it meant originally. Formerly, I would have been considered tolerant if I thought that Buddhists, or Mormons, or secular humanists could write books, produce movies, or lecture in a public park. Today, I must not only allow them to propagate their message, I must agree with them unless I want to be labeled “intolerant.”

By today’s standard, I must not only accept that opinions contrary to own exist. I must also approve of these contrary ideas. It is thought that their opinion, their viewpoint, or their “truth,” is just as valid as mine. If I should dare to contradict their opinion, I am being bigoted, discriminatory, and oppressive.

History shows us the danger of exclusive truth claims. When someone who claims an exclusivity to the truth and they become powerful enough, they can, and often do, suppress minority viewpoints. Take for example, Hitler, who claimed the superiority of the white, Aryan race. He brutally attempted to exterminate those who were not a part of his blond, blue-eyed club. There was also Pol Pot, whose brutal Khmer Rouge killed more than two million of their own country’s inhabitants. This occurs when people who claim they know the truth, who claim they are right, achieve power.

Unfortunately, so-called Christians have also been guilty of oppressing contrary views. The crusades, the Spanish inquisition, and the Salem witch trials are disturbing examples of groups that have sought to purify themselves through violence and force. These aberrations, however, fly in the face of Jesus’ clear teachings to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to submit to the governing authorities.

What is Truth?

So the answer becomes a humble endurance of other viewpoints. This doesn’t mean that we deny that truth exists. We can’t allow truth to become simply a matter of someone’s opinion. “If it works for you, it must be true,” is not a philosophy with which I can agree. Truth must be grounded in reality, not wishful thinking.

Truth is not the exclusive property of any one person. We can’t claim that we know the whole truth and nothing but the truth this side of heaven. Paul declared, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1Co 13:12 NKJV. We have to face the fallibility of our own knowledge.

Christians must not proclaim their own truth, but God’s truth. We must hold our perspective loosely, no matter how sincerely we believe it to be correct. Our beliefs, even those we believe sincerely, are subjective. The only truth that is objective is God’s truth. We can help others to find our truth or they can help us to see their viewpoint. As Martin Luther put it, we are all just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.

My wife and I have a favorite breakfast place. It is Louis’ Diner, a short walk from our home. The food is excellent, the service prompt and attentive, and the prices are a great value. Whenever someone wants to meet for breakfast, you can be sure we will recommend the diner. However, we are not angry if someone wants to eat somewhere else. If we haven’t eaten there before, we look forward to trying someplace different. We don’t feel a disloyalty to Louis, if we eat breakfast somewhere else.

How Can We Know?

So back to the cartoon, is it a six or a nine? If it is a six, it can’t be nine. One precludes the other. Someone is right and someone is wrong. It can’t be a nine and a six. If something is true, the opposite view is false. It is not useful to say, “You can believe it is a six and I will believe it is a nine. It doesn’t matter.”

To say it doesn’t matter is simply avoiding that there is an absolute, an ultimate, truth. It has to be one or the other. While we may not have enough information to determine what’s correct, there is a correct answer. We need a revelation from someone that knows the answer. We need someone who knows to explain it to us.

“No One Comes to the Father, Except Through Me”

While our grasp on the truth may be tenuous, this was not the claim that Jesus made. He declared that he was the very embodiment of truth. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6 NKJV

For Jesus to make such a scandalous claim proves that he was either deluded, lying, or God. We can say that Jesus was an egomaniac, who simply thought he was God. There have been plenty of false messiahs that have believed that. We can say that Jesus deceived everyone that followed him because he wanted their adoration. Others have done that, also.

Or we can accept his claim of transcendence. He claimed, not only that he knew the truth, but that he was the truth. Sure, you can say it is all myths and fables. You can say that Jesus never existed or his words were simply clever stories. But, if you believe the history, the testimony of people who would rather die than say they had made it up or that they were just playing a prank, you have to either accept it or reject it. Did God come to earth and show us the truth? If he did, saying that you see it differently is simply wrong.

Book Review — Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation

Rescuing the Gospel -- LutzerErwin W. Lutzer, the venerated pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, puts his prolific pen to paper once again to give us a historic recounting of the highlights of the life of Martin Luther and other reformers of the sixteenth century. Lutzer places these historic lives into the context of the need to constantly purify or “rescue” the gospel and prevent a drift from the clear message found in scripture.

Lutzer is qualified to write this book because he has led several tours to the various historic sites across Europe where the events of the Reformation occurred. His years as a pastor and his deep study of the scriptures has also prepared him for this undertaking.

Though the book concentrates on Luther, the author acknowledges the contributions of men such as John Wycliffe and John Hus, who preceded Luther. These men pointed out the abuses and corruption that had become common in the medieval Roman Catholic church and paved the way for Luther’s condemnation of the church. When Luther nailed his “95 theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, the congregants had already been stirred by these prior luminaries of discontent. The popularity of these reforming ideas probably spared Luther’s life.  Hus had been burned at the stake and John Wycliffe escaped a martyr’s death by dying of natural causes days before he would have been killed.

As for Luther, Lutzer steps us through his life’s story. He was born to devout parents and became a monk, fulfilling a vow to St. Anne, who presumably saved him during a thunderstorm. His parents wanted him to become a lawyer, but reluctantly accepted his call to the clergy eventually. While studying the scriptures, Luther realized that salvation was obtained by grace through faith and not through the buying of indulgences. This realization prompted his posting of the ninety-five grievances on the Wittenberg door.

Luther’s real break with Rome came when he burned the papal bull, the document from the pope which condemned Luther’s ideas and his followers. He was also commanded to recant his writings on the subject. Luther and his adherents, with much fanfare, publicly burned the papal bull as an act of protest.

Since the pope refused to give Luther an audience, he appealed to the Emperor Charles V. Luther was given the opportunity to defend his beliefs before the king of the Roman Empire at the Diet of Worms (which has nothing to do with eating worms.) Afterwards, Luther imposed a self-exile at Wartburg castle where he spent his days writing.

Later on, Luther married an ex-nun, Katherine von Bora, with whom he had six children. He died in 1546 and was buried in the Wittenberg church where it all began.

In addition to Luther’s story, Lutzer also speaks briefly of the Swiss reformers. He tells of Huldrych Zwingli who was the reformer that greatly influenced Zurich, Switzerland. He also speaks of John Calvin, the expositor of reformed doctrine in Geneva. Lutzer also dedicated a chapter to the Anabaptists, who Lutzer seems to have admired, though he is careful to separate mainstream Anabaptists from what he calls the “lunatic fringe.” This radical sect of Anabaptism advocated the violent overthrow of the civil authorities in the city of Munster.

My only criticism of this history is that Lutzer reveals his bias toward Calvinism and Calvin’s reformed doctrine as the true gospel. He may not state this bias overtly, but it is certainly implied. While Calvin’s gospel is popular and I am reluctant and unqualified to dispute it, many sincere, educated, and pious believers have pointed to flawed logic and have argued that the doctrine is the result of misinterpreted scripture.

Lutzer concludes the book by asking, “Is the reformation over?” His answer is “yes” in one sense. But he also points out the need for continuous rescue of the gospel from the heretical views of those who preach another gospel. Despite promising reforms in the Roman Catholic church, there is still a wide gulf between Catholics and Protestants. Lutzer believes the Roman church still clings to a “works-based” gospel in spite of their stated beliefs in justification by faith.

I agree that we must be vigilant to defend the essentials of the scriptural doctrines of salvation and justification. However, I am suspect of anyone who vehemently declares that their interpretation of history and scripture is the correct one and all others are errant. I’m not saying that Rev. Lutzer is guilty of this, just cautioning him. Scripture is inerrant; our hermeneutics can’t make such a claim.

Don’t Be Deceived — Why the Little Things Matter

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Don’t be misled–you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Galatians 6:7

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Here’s an interesting way to think of sowing and reaping.

#1: You reap WHAT you sow.

Basic principle here, but it’s important to remember that you can’t expect to get something different than what you plant.

#2: You reap LATER than you sow.

Regardless of the type of seeds you sow, you won’t see the results immediately.

If you sow bad seed, you may feel like you’re getting away with it since initially it looks like nothing bad happened as a result.

If you sow good seed, you may feel discouraged when you don’t see results.

Either way, don’t take the delay in results as evidence that nothing is happening. In the same was as is true when planting seeds in the natural, the initual growth of the seed is initially hidden, the fruit of what you’ve planted becomes evident.

#3: You reap MORE than you sow.

A small package of seeds can plant several rows of vegetables. And each of the plants that spring forth from one seed yields multiple vegetables.

If you keep this in mind, you’ll realize that the little things (again, good or bad) do matter.

Pay attention to what you’re planting on a spiritual, emotional, relational, health, business, etc. level, because before you know it, you’ll have an entire field full of what you’ve planted.