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2.10.2016

Our Need for a Substitute

The prophet, Hosea, spoke to the nation of Israel at a time when sin and rebellion against God was in full-swing.  Various kings led the people into idolatry, child sacrifice to false deities, and other debauched acts.  When Hosea arrived on scene to prophesy to the people, Israel was about to be judged for its sin -- via exile to Babylon.

Hosea's words in 8:13 are significant: "I will hold my people accountable for their sins, and I will punish them."  While this passage is directed to Israel (and not you, me, America, etc.), it is, in fact, indicative of God's heart.  Make no mistake: whether this is about someone else in another time and context, God hates sin -- mine, yours, all of it!  Sin will be punished, and people will be held accountable by God Himself.

This ought to inspire us to ask the question: "Then who can escape God's wrath?"  We have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and therefore we are all deserving of the judgment of God.  So who can escape it?  The answer is plain and simple: NOBODY

That is -- unless there is another plan; a substitute.  Unless someone who does NOT deserve to be punished for sin intervenes in judgment in our place, and takes upon him- or herself self our punishment, then we surely stand our just desserts for sin.  This was the eager expectation and hope of the Old Covenant saints, those who hoped for a once-and-for-all redeemer -- Someone who would save them from their sin.

Enter: Jesus Christ.  The cross is what WE deserve, yet it's what Jesus suffered -- IN OUR PLACE.  Sin is held accountable for you and for me on the Cross of Jesus Christ, our once-and-for-all Redeemer.  Forgiveness of sin simply requires our faith to be placed on Jesus, and Jesus alone as our substitute.  "For salvation is found in none other than Jesus Christ; there is no other name under heaven given to us by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

12.07.2015

"Parables", by Dr. John MacArthur (book review)


"Parables: The Mysteries of God's Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told" is the new release by the always straight-forward, clear teaching of Dr. John MacArthur.  Of all his books, this one is BY FAR the his very best!  Hands-down, no doubt about it.

PREMISEThe premise of the book is that Jesus taught in parables for two reasons: (1) "to illustrate the truth [objective] truth for those who were willing to receive it", and (2) "to obscure the truth from those who hated it anyway"(Appendix, p.191).  Those who would truly listen, would seek to know the objective truth Jesus taught, while the obscuring of truth was (a) "an act of mercy, because the more truth [unbelievers] heard and spurned, the worse it would be for them in the final judgment", and (b) "a sign of judgment against [unbelievers], sealing their own stubborn unbelief by removing the light of truth from them" (Appendix, p.197).

THE ASSAULT AGAINST TRUTH: We live in a time when truth is subject to subjectivity; our society seems to eschew painting truth into a corner, so to speak.  As Dr. MacArthur writes about our post-modern society, "Do we really even need to analyze Scripture, categorize truth, and attempt to understand biblical doctrine in any kind of logical fashion -- or is it okay just to appreciate the stories and embellish them with our own plot twists and real-life endings?" (Appendix, p.195).

READING/STUDY METHOD: When I read "Parables", I always read it with an open Bible next to me.  I trust Dr. MacArthur's teaching, and his is trustworthy to not twist the Scriptures' meaning.  However, we still must be diligent to check any author's propositions against Scripture.  But I also had the Bible open so I could make contextual or detail notes in the margins.  I experienced a large number of "a-ha!" moments as a result of studying the parables along with Dr. MacArthur's book, rather than simply reading it for a joy-read or book review.

FAVORITE CHAPTER:  It is very difficult to pinpoint a specific chapter that I liked above all the others, for they all contained deep insight.  But when leafing through the pages after finishing the book, I must say that chapter 5 "A Lesson About Neighborly Love", regarding the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:30-37, seemed to have the most profound impact on me.  I have often seen this as merely a lesson about doing good to others in need; and while it is that at a minimum, there is so much more to it.  I don't have time or space to write about all that Dr. MacArthur wrote in the chapter, but I boiled it down to this: The parable of the Good Samaritan paints a microcosmic picture of God's mercy toward us sinners.  WE are the despised, unworthy soul in need of rescue, but Christ showed compassion while we were STILL unworthy, unrighteous sinners.  To those who would trust in him, Jesus in effect says, "Charge it to my account", just as the Samaritan did.

RECOMMENDATIONBy now, it probably should come as no surprise that I give "Parables" 5 stars out of 5...and I'd give it more if BookLook Bloggers allowed it.  This book will remain on my shelf for future Bible study and teaching opportunities, and I highly recommend it to you!

DISCLAIMER:  I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review...nor was I forced to SAY I was not forced to provide a positive review.

11.18.2015

The Rise and Fall of Kings:

Many years of life are not required to realize that we live in a sin-sickened world.  Eventually, we all fall ill, watch loved-ones die, read of tragic events in the news, and witness various calamities and atrocities.  With our hearts and minds focused on the wrong perspective, life events can allow great fear to settle into our hearts.  But focused rightly, we can find comfort and hope from within the darkness that plagues even our days.

Would you please take just a couple minutes to read First Kings chapter 1?  It has such invaluable treasures waiting to be unearthed.

Summarizing the chapter briefly, King David is about to die, and two half-brothers are vying for his throne: Adonijah and Solomon.  We first see Adonijah setting himself up, convincing a small handful of men of nobility to support his cause.  He throws himself a celebration as a way of making the announcement to the kingdom of his new kingly reign.

But, in another room, a mother and a prophet of God (who is close to King David), remind the king that her son, Solomon, is the rightful heir.  After their short, but pointed, conversation with him King David officially declares Solomon as the heir to his throne.

Points of encouragement:


1) One man (Adonijah) had only the support of a small few in his attempts to establish his reign.  Adonijah's "reign" was not established in any official capacity, but by his own meager attempts.

2) The other man (Solomon) had his reign firmly established by true authority - he had the word of the king and the blessing of God, the King of kings.

3) Nations rise and fall according to God's will and command, for He rules and reigns sovereign over all that He made.  No king, prince, president, or any other authority has EVER risen to power without the express authority of God; nor will it ever happen today or in the future.  No amount of self-proclamation will ever seat a ruler on an earthly "throne"; only those who have been established by God (see Romans 13) will enjoy the brief privilege.

4) As we watch evil leaders rise and fall throughout history, it may be discouraging to some to think God authorizes evil empires.  Make no mistake, history has revealed that God PERMITS the righteous and the wicked to temporarily rule -- both yesterday and today.  But take heart, no empire rises a moment sooner than God allows it to rise.  It shows up on the scene when God, and God alone, says it's time.  Likewise, no kingdom will EVER last a fraction of a second longer than God permits.  Not. One. Second!  Kings, presidents, and princes fall when the Creator says.

5) Given comments 1 through 4, be encouraged that none of what we are witnessing or experiencing today takes God by surprise.  We may not understand the ins-and-outs of the unfolding of events, nor may we have our deepest questions answered.  GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER ALL!

11.07.2015

"Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy", by DintyW. Moore (book review):


"Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy" is a bit of a spoof, a comedic attempt at answering (in relatively short form) various questions about essay writing.  While I appreciate the author's sense of humor, I didn't find this one worth the time I put into it.  I had hoped (since I enjoy reading and writing) that it would be something that could inspire creative writing techniques.  But it completely failed to inspire.  It might serve well as a light-hearted bathroom reader, rather than an inspirational guide to creative writing.

I give this book just 2 stars out of 5.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

11.02.2015

"We Cannot Be Silent", by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr (book review):


We Cannot Be Silent” is Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr’s 183-page call to evangelicals to stand for biblical morality, using not only Christian apologetics as his method of operation, but also well-crafter, logical arguments.  While Mohler’s focus is American in nature – its history, culture, and court decisions – the principles contained have broad, global application.

When the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage this past summer 2015, many Americans were upset – even disgusted – by the Justices’ ruling.  One of the points Dr. Mohler drew out was that “heterosexuals did a very good job of undermining marriage before the culture forces began advocating for the normalization of same-sex relationships and the legalization of same-sex marriage” (p.31). 

Mohler suggests this undermining of morality was accomplished via the advent of birth control & contraception, divorce, and cohabitation (sex outside of marriage).  Birth control, because it allowed people to engage in sex outside of marriage without much fear of unwanted pregnancies; no-fault divorce, because it has allowed couples (and society) to undermine what a marriage commitment truly is; and sex outside of marriage, because it allows people to “try it before you buy it” mentality.

The most insightful, inspiring, and encouraging chapter, in my opinion, was the ninth: “The Compassion of Truth: The Church and the Challenge of The Sexual Revolution”, beginning on p.133.  I love America and the freedoms, opportunities, and advances it provides.  Yet, as Dr. Mohler explains, one pitfall with cultures that become more industrialized and technologically advanced, “theism retreats and the public space becomes increasingly devoid of theological conviction” (p.133). 

As we watch events unfold and morality change before our eyes, Dr. Mohler says, “the new morality of a post-Christian culture frees us from our delusional confidence that the people around us…are somehow Christians – or will at least act like Christians”.  Continuing, Mohler writes, “We have fooled ourselves into believing that our neighbors are fellow believers, even when they have…no active sign of Christian discipleship” (p.135).

In essence, the modern-day sexual revolution has been the result of several years of moral decline in American culture, not just one summer day in 2015.  This is a punch in the gut because I am part of that culture of moral decline.

I’ve heard Dr. Mohler speak in person on two separate occasions, and have listened to him via podcast and radio on several other occasions.  He is a well-spoken and learned man, and he will likely receive a significant amount of back-lash from the public for this book.  He writes as well as he speaks, and I highly recommend this book for your reading bookshelf.

I give “We Cannot Be Silent” 5 stars out of 5.


I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers (Thomas Nelson Publishers).  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review.

End Note: This review was rejected on Amazon.com customer reviews.  Apparently, writing anything with the words "same-sex" is cause for rejection.  Well done, Amazon. So it's posted at Barnes & Noble instead.

10.30.2015

Ways to Determine How/Where You're Gifted to Serve:


The Bible speaks in numerous locations about “spiritual gifts”.  The primary passages are Romans 12:6-8, 1Corinthians 12:4-11; 12:28, where gifts such as prophecy, wisdom, teaching, healing, etc. are listed.  But how is a believer to know what gift(s) s/he may have?  This is something that plagued my mind  as a youngster, and probably was only settled in my mind when I was in my 30’s.  

I’d like to provide a short sampling of ways to determine your giftedness, because they’re what I’ve experienced and witnessed to be true.

1)      What are you passionate about?”  What drives you?  What consumes your thoughts and ministerial pursuits?

When I was a youngster, I was extremely passionate about playing drums.  I started learning when I was in 5th grade, and the desire grew after my parents bought me my first set of drums.  I practiced constantly – not because I was told to, but because rhythm was ingrained in me.  I’d tap even when I wasn’t sitting in front of a single drum, and music filled my head.

I was barely in high school when I began drumming in the youth group and adult services.  I drummed and drummed until my hands blistered.  I grew up in a Pentecostal denomination, so I was accustomed to lots of church-going, and after a while I was drumming for Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services.

All that drumming drove me to improve, and I did improve.  I was able to pick up on music structure very young, so that when groups did not have a drummer visited the church, I could easily improvise and fill the void.  I was truly passionate drums then, and the passion has only intensified for music today, but now it’s in the realm of singing and playing guitar.

2)      Is it easy for you to learn the particulars within the area of your passion?

As already mentioned, I found it easy to learn musical structure and how to apply drumming techniques to worship.  About 10 years ago, I purchased an inexpensive acoustic guitar to start learning.  After some frustration, I put it away for many years.  I even tried to sell it in a garage sale.  But thanks be to God I was not able to sell it.  So it sat in a closet until just under two years ago.  It was Thanksgiving 2013, and my mom asked me to bring the guitar with me to dinner so I could play music with my sister, who is a phenomenal pianist.  I reluctantly agreed, even though I knew only about 5 basic chords.

Thanksgiving Day 2013 ignited a fire within me to learn to play the guitar.  I practiced every possible moment I could, and within the year I was just confident enough to begin playing in church.  I wasn’t by any means excellent, but I was decent…and I had the passion and desire to learn and grow.

Today, I play the guitar and drums (depending on the need) in the worship team at the church my family and I attend.  My passion for drumming has faded, but has been replaced by singing and playing guitar.  I truly love leading people into worship of our great God. 

Here’s the point, learning the guitar has been fun and relatively quick for me.  While I am not without mistakes, I have learned exponentially over these two years.  If er have a gift that God intends to be used to edify the body of Christ, I’m a firm believer God will increase our abilities if we put our heart and effort into it.  When I began learning 2 years ago, I dedicated my learning to God for His glory.  Even today, I often pray before my practice time that God would bless my efforts.

3)      Are you fulfilled how/where you’re serving?

Sometimes, we hear pastors say we ought to pursue our giftedness.  Yet, many of those same pastors only intend that to mean, “We need someone to clean toilets.  Will you do that in service to the Lord, please?”  I, like you, have no problem helping when/where needed, but I also really want to serve in a fulfilling capacity. 

We’ll know we’re serving within the area of our giftedness when we “finish” a time of service and say, “Ahhh, that was nice…and I long for my next opportunity to do it again.” When we serve where we’re gifted you’ll not only enjoy what we’re doing, but we’ll also be energized by preparing to do it.  I not only enjoy worship gatherings, but I also have fun learning new songs, improving my playing/singing techniques.

If teaching is one’s gift, maybe he can begin using his giftedness by teaching “Sunday School”, a small group, or actively engaging/participating with those who already teach those subjects, and hopefully his gifts will be supported by those in the position to help him exercise them in greater capacities.

My wife is a gifted financial and personal organizer.  She enjoys organizing people to accomplish goals, and she’s good at it.  People thank her for what she does because it’s a relief to those who are not gifted in areas of administration.  She enjoys observing church finances to determine where improvements can be made.  I don’t think financially…and she doesn’t think musically.  This is the beauty in that God gifts us all differently, and it’s crucial that we all use our abilities where we’re gifted.

4)      Do others affirm your impact/influence through your service?

When we dive in to serve others in the body of Christ, we grow more and more comfortable with serving, and we inevitably improve with time.  If we’re passionate and are putting our all into ministry, people will take notice.  Hopefully, they will see a positive impact we make in their lives and the life of the church.

I’ve experienced this myself, and have witnessed it in others.  When we’re making a difference, people will notice, and they’ll likely speak up.  After all, maybe that person’s gift is in encouragement, and they’re exercising that gift.  Maybe the encouragement we receive will come in the form of gentle critique, or maybe it may come in the form of thankfulness and praise.  Take note of these compliments, critiques, and praises, because we’ll need to remind ourselves of them when we go through a “funk”.

5)      Does your local church body allow you – or facilitate – your ministry gift(s)?

I think this aspect of spiritual gifting is one of the most crucial.  By this point, we’ve pretty much nailed down where we’re gifted, and now we simply want to exercise them.  But it’s not enough for the Spirit-filled follower of Christ to simply exercise gifts from the fringes.  No, someone exercising giftedness is fulfilled by serving wholeheartedly.

For instance, what if one’s giftedness is in dance or art?  Chances are good she is probably not going to be permitted to exercise interpretive dance in “traditional” congregations.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s simply not that body’s personality.  So, maybe it means the artist/dancer should consider pursuing her gifts in a congregation where she can exercise them.


What if our giftedness is in teaching adults, but church leaders only facilitates serving in the children’s ministries?  Because we want to serve where needed, we serve.  But, unless given a passion for children, serving in children’s ministries when we’re gifted to teach and engage with adults will likely leave us feeling unfulfilled, and quite frankly, burdened.  After all, serving in children or youth ministries should NEVER be treated as a stepping stone where we get our feet wet before moving “up” to teaching adults.  We shouldn’t treat children that way, nor should we treat ministers that way. 

10.02.2015

"NKJV Foundation Study Bible" (book review):


I enjoy reviewing study bibles…God knows there are a plethora of them available in these United States these days.  I enjoy it because I know people are always in search of just the right bible…not too heavy, not too light; not too full, not too boring; this-version, that-version.  And if I can be of any help to searchers, then I’ve done my job.

I’ve found one study Bible that I truly enjoy, and I use/read it daily.  But I just can’t seem to find the right size Bible cover for it, as it’s just a little odd in size.  But this NKJV Foundation Study Bible is one of those Bibles that is just about right in many regards, to be quite honest. 

First, I truly like the style of the New King James.  I think it reads well in modern vernacular, but carries with it some of the crafty word structures of the King James.  But that is a taste thing that you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Second, I like the size of this Foundation Study Bible.  It measures  approximately 8-3/4” tall, 5-3/4” wide, and 1-7/8” thick.  It is relatively light, and would be easy to carry to school or work without requiring too my space or effort.

Next, I truly appreciate the minimal commentary at the bottoms of the pages.  The insights (I think) are designed to encourage readers to dig and think more for themselves, rather than be spoon-fed.  There are ample cross-references in the center columns to launch into word or passage studies, and the footnote commentaries don’t seem to distract too much from Bible reading itself.

Finally, the maps and short concordance at the back of the Bible are fairly standard modus operandi for study Bibles.  The book introductions are a little short, but if the idea is simply to whet the appetite and provide brief introduction to readers (rather than in-depth essays) then they suffice rather well.

The NKJV Foundation Study Bible prices around $18 at Amazon.com.  For the money, this Bible would make a great addition to your personal library, or even as a gift.  I give it 4 stars out of 5.


Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from BookLookBloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review of it.