Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: Angels by Jack Graham

The 1990's was a decade that had many Americans wondering about angels. I think what made everybody curious was the hit TV show, "Touched By An Angel," which lasted for 9 seasons. Many books were written on Angels and people shared their stories of their encounter with Angels as if it was a near-death experience.

The Bible has many things to say about angels. They are very real. They may not look like the guys in white robes with a halo over their heads and wings on their backs. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, written a book on this very subject simply titled, Angels. One thing Graham does that I appreciate is communicate with his readers that people do not become angels, which is a myth that many believe especially inside the church. Believers in Christ inherit eternal life and angels are ministering spirits that serve those who have eternal life according to the book of Hebrews.

Graham begins with what angels are and goes through the Scriptures which is a great place to start off with. However, the book at times, in this case many, takes some interesting turns. Lets take holiness for example. Angels cannot gazed at the glory of God. If you read the Bible, angels always cover their faces when looking at the glory of God. Nothing wrong with what Graham said here, but he goes into our holiness as in holy living. Anything wrong with that? No, however, I thought this book was about angels.

The more I keep reading this book, the more it feels like Graham was chasing a lot of rabbits. Was this a book on Angels or a book on holy living? Don't misunderstand me, there are great books on holy living and should be read. I felt like Graham was trying to add material to make a best seller, though I don't think that was his intention.

Studying angels is important because it is in the Bible. Like all things in scripture, God put it there through human authors and must be studied. There are books on angels, as well as demons, that are good, but I felt Graham's book fell very short.

Thanks Bethany House for letting me review this book.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Review: Going Deeper with New Testament Greek

Most ministers I know have taken a Greek class whether in college (if they attended a Christian college) or seminary. I remember friends of mine who were taking Greek working non-stop to memorize their Greek vocabulary words as if their lives depended on it.

Some ministers have only taken an introductory Greek class just to get either their foreign language credits or some credit that has to do with a religion degree. Going Deeper with New Testament Greek is a book designed to further one's education in the original language of the New Testament. This is book is written Andreas K Kostenberger, Benjamin L Merkle, and Robert L Plummer, who are all well known Bible scholars.

The purpose of this book is help its readers to study, read, and apply the New Testament as they study its original language. This book is filled with examples of how one can read the Greek New Testament and identify syntax, articles, and indicatives. All of these chapters are written with the notion that those reading have gone through some form of Greek class.

If you have studies Greek and want to go deeper in your study, this is the book for you. Grab your Greek New Testament along with this book and get ready to read God's Word in the original Greek language.

Thanks B&H Publishing for letting me review this book.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Is Ministry Really About The Numbers?

We have the tendency to measure success by the numbers. How much profit a company makes in a calendar year, much the stock market has grown, and even the number of stores opening for a retail giant. Churches have fall in line with measuring success by numbers: souls saved, attendance, and people baptized. If you read the Bible, you will not see God measuring the success of anyone by the number of people have received Jesus. Yes, they did count the number of people saved in Acts, but the Bible never says it was a success by any worldly standard.

Pastors are considered success due to what the numbers say. Some pastors are fired because the numbers are not where they are suppose to be even though he is doing his job and preaching faithfully. Is pastoral ministry really about statistics or something else? Jared C Wilson addresses this issue:

Paul says of the Corinthians, “you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us” (2 Cor. 3:3). Therein lies the difference between disciple-producing and decision-producing.

The way we are typically programmed to measure the success of our ministries sets us up for hollow victory and desperate failure. But this is not to say we should never do any measuring. It is only to say that what we measure and how we measure shows where our confidence lies.

For instance, not all attendance increases are created equal. Joel Osteen boasts the largest church in North America, but it is not likely that the majority of these attendees are feeding on the gospel, because Osteen does not preach it as “of first importance.” For that matter, the Mormons, whom Osteen considers fellow Christians, are growing in numbers and influence. There are many false religions with many adherents around the world. Clearly, accumulating numbers cannot be our primary measure of success.

But in the attractional church, growth in numbers is often seen not just as a measure of success but as a justification for any methodology used to get them. Numbers become not just a metric to track growth but a badge of honor and a demand for validation. It is not uncommon to see the leaders of attractional churches tallying each week in public venues the number of “decisions” made. (This is at least a more honest label than “salvations,” since it would seem presumptuous to declare the number of souls changed by virtue of the number of feet down an aisle or names on a card.) Where any church sees the fruit of gospel preaching, both in professions of faith and in the baptisms by which the professions are announced, we all ought to rejoice with those who rejoice. But we also ought to caution those who publicly tally to check their own motives and observe their disciples’ fruit. Biblical credibility is not found in big stats.

Apparently this phenomenon is not new, as Spurgeon once responded to it himself:

Do not, therefore, consider that soul-winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms and the swelling of the size of your church. What mean these dispatches from the battlefield? “Last night fourteen souls were under conviction, fifteen were justified, and eight received full sanctification.” I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretense of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. (The Soulwinner (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker, 1995), 13.)

The attractional defenders of such number-crunching will say that numbers matter because every number is a person and every person matters. Absolutely right. But every person is a soul, and when in our zeal we pronounce the state of a soul that has not been invested in over time and cared for, we do no one’s soul any favors.

Another thing we often hear as a church growth truism is that “healthy things grow.” And as I said before, yes, they often do. But not always.

Pastoral ministry is about souls, not stats. If your number of souls grows, fantastic. To God be the glory. Let’s just remember that we are responsible mainly for the care of the souls, not the accumulation of them.

In the end, this is good news. It is good news because it means God’s approval of us is not based on our ability to produce statistics. We are not called to be successful but faithful. We may plant, we may water, but it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).

When we pastors cling to the gospel ourselves, it will shape us, giving us the mind and heart of Christ for our people. As Christ shepherds our hearts, let us shepherd the hearts of our people, with deep love and spiritual affection seeking their good above our own comfort. And in the end, they may be our boast (2 Cor. 1:14).

This is from Jared's post, Pastoral Ministry Is About Souls, Not Stats, which is adapted from his book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Should Christians Use The Apocrypha?

I have been asked this question before and I am sure many other pastors have as well. Should Christians use the Apocrypha? For those wondering what the Apocrypha, it is essentially non-canonical books that can be related to various Biblical texts. You will find in some versions of the Bible especially those used by Catholics.

The writings it contains are:

1 Esdras (Vulgate 3 Esdras)
2 Esdras (Vulgate 4 Esdras)
Judith ("Judeth" in Geneva)
Rest of Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4 – 16:24)
Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach)
Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy ("Jeremiah" in Geneva) (all part of Vulgate Baruch)
Song of the Three Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24–90)
Story of Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13)
The Idol Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14)
Prayer of Manasses (follows 2 Chronicles in Geneva)
1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees

While there are certain versions of the Bible that contain these writings, should Christians use them, or should Christians obey what is written? Chapter 1, paragraph 3 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith states:

The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings.

The Apocrypha might be a good tool to use in church history, but far as being an authority to the believers, it should not be so. When Jesus was on the road to Emmaus, he taught the two disciples "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). This books in the Apocrypha are not contained in the Old Testament when Jesus was on earth. All scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16), which does not include the Apocrypha.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Are The Old Testament Promises for Us Today?

Many would like to avoid the Old Testament like it was the plague. The truth is we cannot. The Old Testament is the Word of God along with the New Testament. Granted, Jesus fulfilled the old covenant along with the Jewish sacrificial systems, but does that mean the promise made in the Old Testament apply for Christian living under the New Covenant?

Listen and follow along with John Piper as he looks at Isaiah 41:10, Galatians 3, and 2 Corinthians 1:20 to answer that question:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kevin DeYoung: "Do Not Love The World"

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4)

Podcast Wednesday: Discipleship, Free Will, J.C. Ryle, and more

Joe Thorn's new podcast, Doctrine and Devotion, begins with a discussion on backsliding

Real Life Discipleship: What It Means To Be A Spiritual Child from the Gospel Matters podcast

Calvinist Batman and Scott Christensen discuss free will

Calvinist Batman with another episode as he talks with Wayne Grudem on politics and the current ESS trinitarian debate

Pop Culture Ninja reviews Independance Day: Resurgence, Now You See Me 2, Tarzan, The BFG, and Swiss Army Man

Christ The Center on The Life and Ministry of J. C. Ryle

The Reformed Games discuss Pokemon Go and other things

R.C. Sproul, Jr. joins Popcorn Theology to talk about Braveheart

Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who with Andy Naselli and Dave Jenkins

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Christians and the Use of Alcohol

This past weekend, a pastor resigned from his church over the abuse of alcohol, which has cause some Christians to wonder about the use of the alcohol. Some Christians believe that drinking alcohol is a sin. That's it, no questions asked. Even if you have it once a year, it is still a sin. There are some Christians that believe that alcohol is a gift of common grace from God but must used carefully like everything God has given us.

What does the Bible say about the use of alcohol? For starters, there is no single verse that condemns the use of alcohol. Some would say, Jesus might have condemned it. Really? If that were the case, why was his first miracle turning water into wine (John 2)? Last time I checked it was not grape juice. What about the Apostle Paul? He told Timothy, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Timothy 5:21). Nehemiah with the Levities said to the people, after Ezra read the Law:

“This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

Many of us know the last part of verse 10, but ignore the first part. The Bible does not condemn the use of alcohol even though he told Samson's parents that he must not drink wine or strong drink as part of the Nazarite vow (Judges 13:4).

Even though the Bible does not condemn the use of alcohol, it does condemn abusing it. The Bible speaks a lot on the issue of drunkenness:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Galatians 5:19-21).

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry (1 Peter 4:3).

Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy (Romans 13:13).

There was even a controversy in the Corinthian church where people during the Lord's Supper would eat and drink as if it was a buffet. People got drunk on the communion wine. The book of Proverbs condemns drunkenness along with another sin:

Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags (Proverbs 23:20-21).

Gluttony is basically when you eat in excusive amounts, which is funny because many in the church will condemn drinking alcohol, but will say nothing about gluttony. What does gluttony and drunkenness have in common? They are abusing good gifts God has given mankind in His common grace. Been a glutton is the same as being drunk. Don't believe me. Test that theory next time you decide to go for your fourth plate in a Chinese buffet or your fourth donut after Sunday School.

Does this mean Christians should drink alcohol? If you believe you can have a drink that does not hinder your fellowship with God and believe it is a good thing from Him, then yes, you have the freedom to do so. However, that does not mean you should do it that might cause someone to stumble. During my youth ministry days, I refrained from drinking alcohol because I do not want to cause any teenager or parent to stumble and not trust me. I certainly do not want to have a drink in front of someone that has abused alcohol in the past and, by God's grace, has been sober for a long time.

Paul said, "But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Even though the context of this verse refers to eating food that was offered to idols, the principle can apply to the freedom you and I have in drinking alcohol.

The issue of Christians and the use of alcohol is one that will draw some heavy disagreements. Whatever your position is on the subject, please interact with those who disagree with you in the bonds of unity. Whether you drink alcohol or not, it does not make you less or more of a Christian than the person that does or does not.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What Can Pastors Learn From Tim Duncan

Today, San Antonio Spurs player, and quite possibly future hall of famer, Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the NBA after playing 19 seasons. As a fan of the game, I will miss seeing Tim Duncan play whether I am cheering for the Spurs or not. He was always fun to watch even against my favorite team, the Houston Rockets. What is amazing is that Tim played for one team his entire career which is a rare feat these days.

As I was thinking about Tim Duncan calling it a career, I was thinking what pastors and those in ministry can learn from him.

1. Longevity in one place is not a bad thing.

Tim Duncan stayed with the San Antonio Spurs since 1997. I was a sophomore in college when that happened and I have not met my wife yet. Duncan is not the only player in professional sports that stayed with one team, but in the NBA that seems near to impossible. Like NBA players, some pastors are not known for how long they have been in one place. Young pastors want to preach the word yet some of them only plan to be there a short time till they see an greener grass opportunity.

Pastors should plan for the long haul. God may have better plans for you in one place versus 20 different places. Don't misunderstand me, if God is clearly calling you to go somewhere else, obey His calling. Till then watch over the flock that God has given you to care for.

2. Success and failure will happen

Duncan played 19 years in the NBA and made the playoffs every season, which is incredible. Not every player can say that, however, he only won the NBA Championship 5 times. You would think he would have won more. Even though, he met a lot of success, Duncan also experienced a lot of failures. Pastors, you will have the same issue. There will be seasons where everything is looking good and seasons where you wish you can throw the towel in. It is easier to quit than keep on going when hard times come in ministry, which come in various forms.

3. Be submissive

One thing about Tim Duncan that you don't hear about, at least I have not, is arguing with his coach. Even though Duncan was the team captain and the player everyone looked up to, he still listened to his coach. Pastors need to be submissive to God's leadership in how to lead the church. That comes through reading the Bible and prayer. Elders need to follow the same suit. As their lead elder is submissive to God, so they must be also. It is easy for a pastor to become self-centered, which is why he must be submissive to God's leadership and the elders come behind him and hold him accountable.

4. Finish well

Tim Duncan may not have won the NBA Championship in his last year, but he finished in the playoffs just as he started his career. The internet has pouring in their support for Duncan by thanking him for an incredible 19 years. The day will come when you leave the church you are ministering at, regardless where and what God is leading you to. The best thing to do for your church is to finish well. Don't use your last days in the church as a means of getting your own way or cut down that one critic that seems to be against everything you have done. There will be people who thank you for your ministry while there might be other who will say, "Good riddance." You last days in the church should be marked by gratitude not anger. Finishing well means leaving everything off on the right foot so whoever follows you can pick up where you left off. As you started strong in your preaching ministry, that is where you should finish.

Music Monday: His Name by Urban Rescue