Thursday, May 31, 2012


Back in September I posted about how Bill Cosby's Noah skit has shaped how I remember the story of Noah. It is both fascinating and a bit disturbing how we can allow our cultural experiences shape our reading of the Bible. This isn't always a bad thing. I don't have a heretical or extra-Biblical view of Noah. It has just had a Cosby-esque feel for as long as I can remember..."Hey Noah!"

I came across another story in the Old Testament that I found to be a bit different than what I remembered.

Abraham and Sarah were without a child for a long time. Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 89 when God reiterated his promise to them that they would have a child. Genesis 17 tells us the story of how God appeared to Abraham and promised to make his descendants into a great nation. Now it wasn't the first time that God had made the promise to Abraham and Sarah. When things weren't happening fast enough for them, Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands. Abraham had Ishmael through Sarah's servant Hagar but this wasn't what God had in mind. Genesis 17:15-16 tells us:

"And God said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.'"

God ends up telling Abraham and Sarah that they are to name their son Isaac. Isaac means laughter in Hebrew. Now this is where things got a bit murky for me. I have associated the name Isaac with the story of how Sarah laughed when she heard that she was going to have a child. Sarah was listening in on the conversation between God's messengers and Abraham. Genesis 18:9-15 says:

"They said to [Abraham], 'Where is Sarah your wife?' And he said, 'She is in the tent.' The LORD said, 'I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.' And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?' The LORD said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.' But Sarah denied it, saying, 'I did not laugh,' for she was afraid. He said, 'No, but you did laugh.'"

I have always associated this story with the name Isaac for a couple of reasons. The first is because such a big deal was made of Sarah's laughter within the story. The statement "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" is a big and major point. And that leads to my second reason. I still remember hearing sermons about this story when I was growing up. The main point of these sermons is that we might laugh in disbelief when we should be trusting in God. The basic outline of these sermons would go something like this: God made a promise; Sarah laughed in disbelief; God fulfilled that promise; Sarah was given a son named "Laughter" as a reminder of how God can do the impossible.

Now there is nothing wrong with this outline. It is accurate as far as it goes. But it doesn't do what my young mind assumed that it did. I assumed that it explained why God told Abraham and Sarah to name their son Isaac. Actually the name came earlier. Genesis 17:17-19 explains where the name came from:

"Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, 'Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?' And Abraham said to God, 'Oh that Ishmael might live before you!' God said, 'No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.'"

Isaac's name came after Abraham laughed. It really is just a minor misremembering of a Bible story and there is no effect on any points of theology or doctrine. But it does point out the importance of continually reading the Bible. We can't–and shouldn't–rely only on what we have heard or learned in the past. We must constantly be going back to the source in order to keep our memory of the Bible fresh and accurate.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Test of Fire

I am not Catholic and I have tried hard to avoid too much political discussion on this blog. (By my count up to this point less than 5% of my posts have dealt with political topics.) But I found this video targeting Catholic voters too good to not share.


It does a very good job of pointing out some of this election's most essential issues from a Christian worldview. One of the challenges for a church or a pastor when it comes to politics is running into tax-exempt issues. The interpretation of the 1954 Johnson Amendment by the IRS has effectively shut down the church from explicitly endorsing (or condemning) a particular candidate. I have no idea of whether or not this video has any official connection to the Catholic church. But it does not actually state which candidate is being endorsed–or It is clearly taking issue with some of President Obama's current actions.

One caveat–as we go deeper into the political silly season it will be harder and harder for me to avoid speaking about political issues. Anything that I post of a political nature will only be my personal opinion and written on my personal time. I also welcome any dialog and disagreement.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


What is the driving force in your life? What is it that motivates you to do the things that you do?

Amy Hall–one of the excellent writers over at Stand to Reason–picked up on this when she wrote about atheist John Loftus "retiring" as an atheist apologist. She notes:

"I think there are many answers to that, but I see a big one in Loftus’s explanation. If this life is indeed the only life you will ever have, then it’s true that life is too short…to spend it suffering thanklessly for the sake of others."

She goes on to quote John Piper in making the point that we are far more likely to be willing to sacrifice knowing that there is more beyond this life. I fully agree with her. This life is merely a shadow of what is to come when we trust in God. Yet how often do I actually live as if I believe this?

It is really easy to say that I trust in God to provide for my needs. It is really easy to say that I don't really need all of the luxuries of this life. Yet I still worry about things that are out of my control. And I still tend to lust and covet things that I want but don't really need. My desire is to be self-reliant in this life which is indicative of my desire to be self-reliant when it comes to spiritual matters. Being self-reliant is one of the driving forces in my life.

Unfortunately when it comes to my eternal salvation being self-reliant isn't going to do me much good. Jesus makes this clear in Mark 10:23-27:

"And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, 'How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!' And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, 'Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.' And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, 'Then who can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.'"

We all have differences in what we claim to be our theology and how we actually live. It is part of being human. It is also sinful when our actions do not line up with what the Bible teaches. When we find that we have these differences we need to admit our sin to God. They say that the first step to fixing a problem is admitting that you have a problem. What is great is that when I confess to God that I am being too self-reliant I am not just admitting that I have a problem. I am actually taking an action that relies on God. I am relying on him to forgive my sin.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I really like the iPad app Blogsy. It has been a very simple tool that has made blogging exceptionally easy. In fact I have found blogging in Blogsy to be easier than blogging on a PC.

Until the last two days.

I have typed up the same post twice–once yesterday and once today. And both days Blogsy has "lost" the post. I apologize for the lack of a post today. My wife took today off so that she could have a long 4-day weekend. Her birthday often falls on the Memorial Day weekend and this weekend is her birthday weekend.

I was trying to get a quick post in before turning my undivided attention to her. Normally I would try, try again but the circumstances of the weekend simply prevent me. I hope all of you have as wonderful of a holiday weekend as my wife and I plan to have.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Man's Guide to Making Pancakes

Pancakes are one thing that every man should know how to cook. With a little effort and care they can be part of a delicious breakfast. They can also be a very good lunch or dinner. Today I would like to share with you the two basic methods to make pancakes. These two ways are based upon how many people you will be cooking for. The first method is when you need to cook the pancakes for a group of 2 or more. The second method is when you are cooking for a group of less than 2.

Both methods start the same. First pick out a recipe. There are a wide variety of recipes to choose from that include adding fruit or chocolate chips or any number of extras. While I am partial to normal pancakes it is recommended that when you are using method 1 it is good to consider adding something. Plopping a few blueberries into the pancakes is a great way to impress. It is highly advised that you skip all add-ins if you are using method 2. If you must–don't tell anyone. You will just be opening yourself up to some much deserved ridicule. Personally I am partial to this particular recipe. Once you have the recipe picked out you need to estimate how much to make. Always guess high. There is nothing like having an insurmountable stack of pancakes to put on the table. Mix up the batter. The next few steps depend upon which method you are using.

For method 1 (groups of 2 or more) the first thing to do is to preheat the oven to 275. This will allow you to keep the pancakes warm until you have cooked a number sufficient to feed a small country. Next you need to heat up your griddle. For larger groups I recommend having an electric griddle that will allow you to cook 10-12 pancakes at a time. (Immediately run to the store and buy one if you don't have one. Look for one that has a "Pancake" setting on the controls and not just temperature numbers. Numbers are useless. Remember to turn the oven off and put the batter in the fridge while you are gone.) Slather up the griddle with butter so that the pancakes get a nice golden brown and don't stick to the griddle. There are lower fat options but–again–just don't tell anyone. They are not as tasty as real butter.

Pour the batter onto the griddle into pancake shaped pancakes. When they get bubbly like in the picture above flip them. Check the bottom after a few moments and when they are done put them in an oven safe dish inside the oven. Repeat this process until you are satisfied that your group will have enough pancakes for the rest of their natural lives. Serve the pancakes on a platter topped with butter. Keep the maple syrup on the side to avoid having soggy pancakes.

For method 2 (groups of less than 2) you need to preheat a skillet, have your plate, fork and maple syrup ready. This method cooks the pancakes one at a time. Once the skillet is hot enough slather it with butter. Pour the batter onto the skillet in a pancake shape. Follow the same cooking directions as method 1. Once the pancake is done put it directly on your plate. Pour another pancake shaped pancake onto the skillet. Put syrup on the first pancake and eat it. About half way through eating the first pancake the second pancake should be ready to flip. Put the second pancake on your plate once it is done cooking. You will most likely already be done eating the first pancake. Repeat the process until you cannot bear to eat another pancake. Then finish eating the pancake you are currently cooking.

Every man will be blessed to know these tried and true methods.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tinotenda and Theresia

Famine no more

Today I would like to give a shameless plug for World Vision. My wife and I each sponsor a child through them. My wife sponsors a little girl, Theresia, in Lebanon and I have a little boy, Tinotenda, in Zimbabwe. I chose to sponsor a child in Zimbabwe because it is a high risk area for HIV/AIDS. Tinotenda is a part of the HopeChild program which seeks to help children in these high risk areas. Unfortunately many children born into these areas lose parents and are extremely vulnerable.

Over the past (almost) 8 years my wife and I have had our children changed as they either grow up or move outside of the sponsored area. The most exciting letter that we have received was when one of the children my wife sponsors was removed from the program because the family's condition had improved significantly. All you can do is thank God for the work done by World Vision and ask that the family's condition remains stable. However I wonder just how stable their condition could possibly be given that they live in a fairly unstable part of the world to begin with.

One interesting story from the World Vision blog is about a woman that has decided to start sponsoring young girls in her home country of India. Aparna Sen grew up in Calcutta and had the opportunity to further her education in America. But her heart always remained for those growing up in India:

"I wanted to sponsor a girl since I knew that girls in India, especially from poor communities, are victims of discrimination in almost every walk of life. They rarely get an opportunity for education, and many of them are married off at an early age."

Aparna sponsored Rebika and eventually Aparna and her husband, Ritwick, traveled to India to meet Rebika. What they learned was that the sponsorship of the child affects more than a single child or even a single family. Aparna and Ritwick were greeted by the whole village when they reached Rebika's home.

"I wanted to tell them that I just sponsor a single child, not the whole village — but they made me feel as if I did! Then, I learned about how World Vision works not just with children like Rebika, but also their families and the entire community to provide a support network. I was convinced then that I had made the perfect choice in supporting World Vision to carry on their exceptional work in India."

It is a great testimonial about the impact of World Vision. There are so many affected children in the world and there are just not enough sponsors to go around. With the tough economic times here at home it can be very easy to cut back on charitable giving because when we do the lights are not shut off, the car is not repossessed and the house is not foreclosed on. Yet the tough economic conditions that we face are a mere drop in the bucket compared to what others face all over the world.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What about those that never hear of Jesus?

I came across an article the other day by John Piper that was dealing with the question of how God deals with those that have not heard of Jesus. Pastor John received a letter from a 12-year-old girl on the subject. He states her question this way:

"You asked what happens to people who live far away from the gospel and have never heard about Jesus and die without faith in him."

The question is one that I have dealt with briefly in a previous post where I quote Greg Koukl in showing how we are all guilty of committing moral wrongs–or sin. The point that Mr. Koukl was making is that God is not sending innocent people to hell. We all do things that are wrong and doing those wrong things is what condemns us to hell. Hell is our punishment for our wrong doing. However God has also provided a means of being saved from the punishment. That salvation comes from God through our faith in Jesus Christ.

So that leaves us with this young girl's question. What about those that never have the chance to hear about Jesus? Do they miss out on this chance for salvation simply because of circumstances beyond their control?

Pastor John answers the question this way:

God always punishes people because of what they know and fail to believe. In other words, no one will be condemned for not believing in Jesus who has never heard of Jesus.

Does that mean that people will be saved and go to heaven if they have never heard of Jesus? No, that is not what God tells us in the Bible.

He then references Romans 1:18-23 and makes the following four points:

  1. All people "know God," even if they have never heard the Bible. "What can be known about God is plain to them" (verse 19). "Although they knew God..." (verse 21).
  2. The way they know God is by the way God has made the world and their own consciences (verses 19–20).
  3. Even though they know God, no one who knows God anywhere in the world "honors God as God or gives him thanks" (verse 21). Instead, they "suppress the truth" (verse 18). That is, they resist the truth deep in their hearts and "exchange it" for other things that they would rather have (verse 23).
  4. Therefore, they are "without excuse" (verse 20). That is, they are guilty and deserved to be punished.
Pastor John goes on to point out that these facts are why it is so important for us as Christians to pray for and support missionaries. The simple answer to the question is that whenever and wherever people die apart from Christ that there is no hope of salvation. This is a difficult topic for for a 12-year-old. It can be an equally difficult topic for me too.

Is this really fair? How do we reconcile this with the claim that God is also a God of mercy and justice?

Romans 8:29-30 gives us a bit of a glimpse at the answer. In these verses Paul states:

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

Even before creating the world God knew all of those that will have faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. God also predestined those that will have faith in Jesus Christ. A part of this predestining means that God makes sure that those who will respond positively to the message of Jesus will hear the message of Jesus. This means that there are no people out there that might have been saved if they only had the chance. God will always provide the opportunity for those people to hear that will respond. And one big way that he provides is through the work of those missionaries that are working tirelessly to bring the Word of God to far away places.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Only God's Love is Steadfast

I am always amazed and blessed that God gives me the opportunity to share his Word. Here is my sermon from May 20, 2012. The scripture passage is 2 Samuel 10 and read from the ESV.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The magical healing power of coffee

This week has been an interesting one. I am preaching again this week and the scripture passage has me really excited. When I initially took a look at the two passages that I would be preaching on I figured that last week's sermon would be the "easier" to write. Leave it to God to really point out some cool things in this week's passage and I am really excited to share them on Sunday.

This morning I did a bit of catching up on my blog reading. Both of the blog posts from my good friend (and fellow seminary alumni) Brad were excellent. His first post was on the topic of healing. I was really interested in what he had to say seeing that I just covered the miraculous spiritual gifts. His life experiences also bring a unique perspective:

"Healing, and specifically God’s power in healing, floats through my mind every once and a while, and it has been on my mind again the past few days. I work in a hospital providing care to people recovering from serious injuries and illnesses. Some of my patients are in the hospital a few days, and I have worked with people who have stayed in the hospital for many months."

Brad goes on to say:

"As I stated in my beginning, I believe that God can heal absolutely anything and everything, but there is a qualifier to that, which is that God works healing according to his will. And this can be hard for us to grasp and accept."

The overall point that Brad is making is that sometimes God brings the healing that we desire and other times he does not. Unfortunately we don't always know the reasons why or why not. God's healing is not dependent upon us. It doesn't matter if we have "enough" faith. What matters is God's will. His will is that one day there will no longer be a need for healing but between now and that day comes we cannot fully know why God does or does not heal someone. I would highly recommend the post as it helps shed some light on the subject.

Brad's second post this week was on one of my favorite topics: Coffee. He picked up on a news story this week that had this headline:

"Two cups of coffee a day cuts overall risk of dying by 10 percent, research shows"

He goes on to point out the fatal flaw (pun intended) in the headline: it doesn't matter what we do–we cannot actually cut the risk of dying. The mortality rate in human beings is hovering right around 100%.

"So no matter how much coffee I drink, or how much I exercise, or the amount of broccoli I eat, or any other habit, good or bad, that I may practice, will have any bearing on the ultimate fact of my death. Death will indeed come for me one day. My habits may influence the length of life to a small degree, and they may also influence its quality, but they will not stave off death’s inevitable arrival."

Death on this earth is inevitable. It's coming and we cannot avoid it. But death her on this earth is not the end:

"Whenever it may come, I believe as a Christian that only one thing will really matter: my standing with God. In the parable of sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus is seen separating people into two groups, those who knew him truly, and those who didn’t. The ones who knew him as his own receive their inheritance, being joined with him forever, while those in the other group are cast out into the darkness."

And I have to give the punchline away. It really is the most important thing in life.

"This is truly the Good News. Earthly life will end but for the Christian it is merely the gateway to their eternal presence with God."

Both posts are really worth the read...especially with your next cup of life-prolonging coffee.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Even the demons believe?

I would guess that most kids dread parent-teacher conferences. During my middle school years (4th - 6th grade) there were some occasional differences between what I told my parents and what I told my teachers. My troubles started in 4th grade when I decided that I didn't want to do my math homework any more. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't a trouble-maker. I was more of an underachiever. Still it made the prospect of my parents meeting with my teachers nearly unbearable. Of all the things that came out of those conferences there is one thing that I still remember. One of my teachers remarked to my parents that I like to argue.

I am guessing that the shoe still fits.

To this day I enjoy lively conversations. I love those conversations where ideas are freely debated. The topic that I enjoy most is theology. And while I enjoy most theological discussions I really enjoy discussions around doctrine. Theology is defined as:

"The field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God's attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity."

And doctrine is defined as:

"A particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government."

It is a subtle difference but an important one. Theology is the overarching study while doctrine is how the church applies that study. You can have theology without doctrine but you can't have doctrine without theology. For example we can have a theology that holds that God is a graceful God. Which means that God gives out grace, or unmerited favor. That theology becomes doctrine when the church takes that theology and makes it an official position which needs to be taught. In essence doctrine is where the theological rubber hits the road.

Yet even when we talk about doctrine we can still fall into the trap of speaking in theoretical terms rather than in practical terms. James 2:19 says:

"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!"

James is pointing out that just believing something is not the same thing as allowing those beliefs to affect how you live your life. So just believing the right things isn't enough. He goes on to say in James 2:26:

"For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead."

It is interesting the comparison that James is making. He is equating the body with faith and the spirit with works. The point that he is making is that you cannot separate faith from works–or the things that we do–just as you cannot separate the body from the spirit. The spirit is what gives the body life and our actions is what brings our faith alive. James 2:14-26 is not saying that we have to do good things to earn our salvation. What it is saying is that having all of those theological and doctrinal discussions that I enjoy don't mean anything if I don't allow them to affect how I live my life. My belief in Christ must have a very real affect on my day-to-day life otherwise my belief is not just useless; it is dead.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, May 14, 2012

The Marvelous Grace of God

I find that there are times when I can get so focused on proper doctrine that I can forget to stop and remember the grace of God.

This is my sermon on the story of David and Mephibosheth. It was given on May 13, 2012 at Faith Community Reformed Church.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Boom goes the dynamite...

Josh Hamilton is one of the hottest players in baseball right now. On Tuesday he hit 4 home runs in a single game which is one of the rarest feats in baseball. Not only that but Hamilton hit a home run in his last at bat on Monday. So he hit 5 home runs in 6 at bats. In the one at bat that he didn't hit a home run he hit a double. Hamilton went 8 for 17 with 6 home runs and 11 RBI in a 4 game series against the Orioles.

Josh Hamilton is also a great story about second chances. He struggled with drugs and alcohol addiction before his major league baseball career even got started. Hamilton credits his faith as a Christian in giving him the ability to overcome his addictions. He has admitted to a couple of relapses with alcohol but has been able to stay away from drugs. I appreciate his story because he does not try to portray himself as a perfect person but as a broken person trying to rely on the grace of God on a day by day basis.

I came across a great blog post by Dr. Matthew Hoskinson on Josh Hamilton. Dr. Hoskinson does an analysis of Hamilton's interview on the ESPN show Pardon The Interruption. Here is the interview:


While I liked all of Dr. Hoskinson's analysis it was his final two points that really stuck out:

6. Josh admitted his brokenness. He did not run from admitting he is still a sinner. We sometimes think that perfection is required in order to be a witness. In that case, none of us—from Peter on down through history—would qualify. You don’t have to be perfect, much less pretend to be perfect. Such pretension runs counter to the gospel. Instead, let us be humble witnesses, humbly admitting regularly that we are so broken that we cannot fix ourselves. And by so doing let us direct others’ attention to the Rescuer.

7. Josh isn’t the Rescuer. It’s easy to become infatuated with Christian athletes, whether Josh Hamilton or Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin. We think, “How much good for the gospel they could do! I hope they don’t fall.” But how quickly we forget that they are broken and sinful like we are. We shouldn’t be surprised when they stumble and fall. Certainly let’s pray that God would protect them from the Adversary. But let us not put our hopes for revival in our nation in these good, godly men. Josh isn’t the Rescuer. Tim isn’t the Savior. Jeremy isn’t the Christ. Let us enjoy these good gifts and give glory to the Giver.

It can be really easy to hold those that are most visible to a much higher standard than we are willing to hold ourselves to. What is important to remember is that Josh Hamilton isn't a hero or a super-Christian; he is a fallen human being who needs a savior just like everyone else. What is impressive is how well he understands and expresses that fact.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Saul and the Witch of En-dor

Our church in the middle of a sermon series that is going through the Old Testament. We have been at it for almost 11 months and are currently dealing with the reign of King David. The series really started serendipitously when our Senior Pastor taught on the almost sacrifice of Isaac found in Genesis 22:1-19. He continued to follow the major points of the story of Israel until someone asked him if he was going to preach through the whole Bible. And that was the birth of our current series. In 11 months we have moved from the story of Isaac to King David–or in terms of books of the Bible–we have gone from the middle of Genesis to the beginning of 2 Samuel. That is a lot of ground and while a survey style series allows us to see how God has been working throughout history, it also means that we cannot cover every single story. We would probably still be in Genesis if we did cover every story in depth.

King Saul and the Witch of En-dor is one that I find fascinating and was one that didn't make it into the series. I think that it is an interesting insight of the Bible's view of the spiritual world. With verses like Ephesians 6:12 it might seem obvious that the Bible teaches about demons and other supernatural forces. But like any other doctrine there are those that have both valid and incorrect critiques of the spiritual warfare theology found Frank Peretti's novels like This Present Darkness. The range of theology pertaining to the spiritual world is vast. As a teen I remember hearing about Bob Larson as one proponent of a vast spiritual battle that was raging behind everything from rock music to political corruptness. While he might be right it seems that his theology went a bit too far at times. But the story of King Saul and the Witch of En-dor found in 1 Samuel 28:3-25 gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm:

Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, "Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her." And his servants said to him, "Behold, there is a medium at En-dor."

So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, "Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you." The woman said to him, "Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?" But Saul swore to her by the LORD, "As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing." Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" He said, "Bring up Samuel for me." When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul." The king said to her, "Do not be afraid. What do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a god coming up out of the earth." He said to her, "What is his appearance?" And she said, "An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe." And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

Then Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" Saul answered, "I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do." And Samuel said, "Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines."

Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, "Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me. Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way." He refused and said, "I will not eat." But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed.24 Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.

I find this passage enlightening for a couple of reasons. The first is that it makes it clear that there is a spiritual realm behind our physical realm and we don't always know or see what is happening. Beyond that we also might like to think that we have some amount of control of what happens in the spiritual realm but we don't. The woman's response to calling up Samuel is unexpected. She is a medium that is supposed to be an expert in conjuring up and consulting spirits. Yet when she actually gets Samuel she is shocked. She thought that she had control but she didn't. The same is true for us. We cannot control the spiritual world and there is a reason that God has commanded us in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 to avoid using mediums, fortune tellers and other such things.

Finally this passage makes it clear that it is God that is in ultimate control. While Saul used a forbidden method of trying to see into the future, God ended up using that method. My understanding is that the Witch of En-dor was going through her normal process and figured that she would tell Saul what he wanted to hear. But then God asserted his control and allowed Samuel to appear to give the bad news to Saul. As Christians we should not dabble in the occult for two reasons. The first is that it directly disobeys God. The second is that it shows a serious lack of faith in God. We don't know the future but God does and he assures us that he is in control.


(Edited for speling...spealling...spelling.)

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A New Feature

I am testing out a new element today. If you hover over John 1:1 that the verse will pop up via I highly recommend the web page and the corresponding iPhone, iPad and Android apps.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Do Globes prove the Earth is round?

Yesterday I came across something that caused me to think about my position on Spiritual Gifts. Spiritual Gifts are the abilities that God has given to every Christian in order to instruct or improve the church. There are several lists of these gifts in the Bible and the major ones can be found in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. Within those lists are what we term as "miraculous gifts." These gifts include: prophecy, healing, miracles, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues. When it comes to these gifts there are two basic schools of thought. The first position is that of Cessationism which means that these gifts were only around while the Apostles were alive. After the Apostles died the gifts ceased to exist. The second position is that of Continuationsim which means that these gifts continue to exist in the same way that they did in the days of the Apostles.

In my blog post yesterday I shared how 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 has mistakenly been used to support the view of Cessationism. The reason that I brought up the 1 Corinthians 13 passage is that my earliest memories of discussing the validity of the miraculous gifts had centered around this passage. I have personally heard it used as an argument against the present day existence of the miraculous gifts. And–truth be told–I have used it myself. But if the passage is a bad argument for Cessationism does that mean that Continuationism is correct? No; just because a particular supporting argument is proven to be wrong doesn't mean the premise is wrong. For example just consider the "globe argument."

The globe argument starts with the initial premise is that the earth is a sphere. In order to support the premise the globe argument cites the fact that globes–which depict the earth–are spheres. Therefore–the argument goes–because globes are spheres and they depict the earth then the existence of spherical globes prove that the earth must also be a sphere. Of course we can easily see that just because globes are spheres doesn't mean that the earth must be a sphere. Would cubical globes prove that the earth is a cube? The supporting argument is wrong but that doesn't mean that the earth is not a sphere.

One of the key differences between Cessationism and Continuationism is whether or not the miraculous gifts continue exist in the same way that they existed in the day of the Apostles.

Basing theology only on experience or observation can be both tricky and dangerous. Experiences and observations can easily be misleading or misinterpreted. Experiences can also be a very rare or even a singular in occurrence–sort of like the Cubs winning a World Series–and cannot be interpreted as a pattern of any sort. But in the case of the miraculous gifts we must rely on what we observe and experience to be our guide. Do we see these gifts being practiced today in the same way that they were practiced in the early church?

It is my assertion that we do not.

In Acts 2 we read of the Apostles being able to speak in foreign languages that they had not learned through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 3 we read how Peter and John healed a lame man that was instantaneously able to walk again. In Acts 5 we read how Peter was able to give a true prophecy regarding Ananias and Sapphira. Also in Acts 5 we read how Peter was able to heal multitudes of sick people. In Acts 20 we read how Paul was able to raise Eutychus from the dead (after he had bored him to death with his preaching...but I digress).

We don't see these gifts being practiced in these ways today which means–at least from our experience and observations–that they have ceased to exist in the same way as they did for the Apostles. This doesn't mean that God doesn't still use miracles. What it does mean is that no one can truly claim to have one of these miraculous gifts unless they are practicing these gifts in the same way that we see them existing in the Bible.

I might not be a firm Cessationist but I am very skeptical of Continuationism.

Monday, May 07, 2012

What does (or doesn't) Paul say about miraculous gifts?

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."

Something that I came across this morning caused me to think about my position on Spiritual Gifts. Paul tells us that the Spiritual Gifts were given "for the common good" of the church. They are the abilities that God has given to every Christian in order to instruct or improve the church. Paul also gives us several lists of gifts in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. Within those lists are what we term as "miraculous gifts." These gifts include: prophecy, healing, miracles, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues. When it comes to these gifts there are two basic schools of thought. The first position is that of Cessationism which means that these gifts were only around while the Apostles were alive. After the Apostles died the gifts ceased to exist. The second position is that of Continuationsim which means that these gifts continue to exist in the same way that they did in the days of the Apostles.

The passage–1 Corinthians 13:8-12–that is quoted above is sometimes used as a proof-text by those that say the miraculous gifts are no longer in use. The claim is that Paul is talking about the time when the Canon of Scripture is closed. This claim is based on the phrase "but when the perfect comes, the partial with pass away" and is referring to the doctrine of the Inerrancy of the Bible. In other words these miraculous gifts were being used by the Apostles to authenticate and spread the Gospel message in an imperfect verbal form but once the Gospel was being circulated in the perfect written format the need for these miraculous gifts was no longer necessary.

While it might be true that the need for miraculous gifts is greatly reduced by the existence of the Bible, I don't think that this is what the passage is saying. And to be perfectly fair, I don't know that there are many Cessationists who believe that this is what the passage is saying.

The passage does give us the impression that miraculous gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues will cease. But the reason that the passage gives for them passing away is that one day we will see "face to face" and "know fully." And that creates problems for those that want to claim that this passage is referring to the coming of Scripture. Even with written Scripture it is easy to understand that we do not yet see face to face nor do we fully know.

On top of that, it does not make any sense that this written passage of Scripture is referring to written Scripture. It might be argued that Paul did not view his writing as one day being considered Scripture. This argument would not account for the fact that Paul would then need to view the written Gospel message as superior to the spoken Gospel message. However in his instructions to the Thessalonians Paul gives equal weight to both:

"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter."

Finally, it just doesn't make sense that this is what Paul is saying when we view the passage in the larger context of 1 Corinthians. In chapter 12 Paul brings up the topic of Spiritual Gifts and how the giving of these gifts should not be looked at as a popularity contest. Paul's point is that having a certain gift does not make someone superior or more important to the church than someone with a different gift. In chapter 14 Paul speaks about the use of these gifts in an orderly worship. Nestled in between these two chapters is what may be the most well known chapter in the Bible on love. Paul takes time between these two chapters to tell us how love is greater than anything else. His point is not to teach about the details of the cessation of particular gifts. Rather his point is to teach us that when these gifts do cease that we will still have love. Paul is telling us that when Christ returns and we finally see him face to face we won't have any need for Spiritual Gifts but we will still have love.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Gentleness/Patience Connection

When I was a younger I loved to take things apart. Many times after taking things apart I couldn't always get them back together correctly. Sometimes there were extra parts and other times something broke in either the dismantling or the "remantling" of the item. I often ran into the problem of not having enough patience as I tried to put something back together. In my desire to fix what ever I was working on I would end up trying to force things back together. More often than not the end result was not the desired result.

"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2

I love what Paul is telling us to do here but there is always a limit to how much of someone else's burden that we can carry. There is nothing more painful than watching a loved one go through something that we cannot fix. It is especially painful for those of us that are the "Fix-it" type. It is in our very nature to want to solve every problem that we–and others–face. It is my opinion that "Fix-it" types have a deep-seated desire to see all people happy and free of conflict.

Unfortunately that isn't the way life works.

If we take a step back and look at the immediately preceding verse Paul gives us some very good insight as to what we need to do in these types of situations.

"Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." Galatians 6:1

The principle that Paul is giving here applies to more than just situations of sinful behavior. It fits even when we are dealing with someone going through the general struggles of life. Paul tells us to act in a spirit of gentleness. As a "Fix-it" type I can assure you that this can be much easier said than done. It can be frustrating to see someone going through an issue and feeling powerless to do anything. And when we act out of that frustration we can act in ways that lack gentleness. And it is in these times that trying to fix things can end up doing far more harm than good. So there are times that being gentle means being patient enough to allow all of the pieces to go back together naturally.


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

24 Years Later

The Huffington Post has just acquired some new amateur footage of the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. The footage is interesting in that it grabs the immediate reaction of the spectators.

I was in high school at the time and I still remember a classmate coming up and telling me about the explosion. I was in complete disbelief until more and more reports started coming in. This shuttle mission was different in that it included a teacher and a family friend of ours was one of the teachers that had applied for the position. I have no idea how far into the application process our friend ended up going. But it took what was a larger than life story and gave it a bit of a personal twist. It was with great interest and sadness that I watched the video and found myself moved even 24 years later.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Writer's Block

I have had somewhat of a writer's block the past two weeks which is somewhat disconcerting for someone that always seems to have an opinion on something. In the past when I haven't had too many ideas I have been able to struggle through and still write something. But the past week or so my writer's block has intersected with the realities of life.

One of the struggles that pastors usually face is how to balance being transparent against being professional. I realize that being transparent does not mean that one needs to share intimate and personal details and that being professional does not mean being aloof. In writing my blog I have tried to be honest about where I might struggle with sin or other areas of life but I have usually shied away from sharing too much about what has been happening in my life. I have done this for two reasons. The first is that sharing details of my life affects more than just me. I have to consider how sharing these things will affect my wife. While I am willing to be very visible in my ministry, my wife tends to be a behind the scenes type of person. She usually likes to do things without having to get up in front of people.

The second reason is that what I am attempting to do with this blog is to be an extension of my ministry work. I am trying to share my take on the intersection of the Bible and culture. It is not intended to be a long-form version of Facebook. To be honest, I don't think that my daily life is all that interesting. It is simply an average daily life just like every other normal person out there. But there are a few things that have been going on last week and this week that have been affecting my ability to write.

Admittedly that last sentence sounds far more ominous than I intended it to be.

The biggest thing that has been going on is my job search. Anyone that has engaged in a prolonged search knows that a job search takes up a lot of time and energy. I realize that this is probably not news to most of those that know me. But there are times that the search eats into my time for writing my blog. Usually it doesn't prevent me from writing but then on Friday I spent most of the morning sitting at the Toyota dealer getting our car repaired. Those two things combined to eat away at my writing time.

There are times that life just eats away at the time that we would like to spend on other things. It can be easy to lose sight of these things even when life is just humming along normally. The urgent things in life can often over shadow the truly important things in life. Jesus tells us not to be anxious in the Sermon on the Mount:

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Jesus says this right after telling us that we cannot serve two masters–both God and money. This idea of not being able to serve two masters goes beyond just serving God and money. There are things in life that we need to do and there are things in life that we want to do. We do need to eat and wear clothing. But there are times when we get so caught up in them that we do not take time to seek after the kingdom of God. So while there might be times that life gets in the way of me writing a blog post, life should never get in the way of seeking after God.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.