Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Closing Up and Starting Over

I have wrestled for some time with the nature of this blog - how often to write, what to write about, etc. Even the title (Humbly Serving Christ) wasn't right to me (how humble is it to say I am humble?). So I have decided to stop writing here and move to a site more suited to what I want to do which is lifting up the name of Christ. The new web address is Hope to converse with you all there.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Review - James the Just

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the book of James. I preached seventeen sermons on this book and enjoyed it immensely. I am always looking for more insight on the deep truths found in it. Like the rest of the Bible I can’t get enough of it. When the opportunity came to read a commentary James highlighting the Jewish roots of this letter I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately my excitement was short lived.

Dr. David Friedman wrote James the Just: Presents Applications of Torah, one of a series of New Testament commentaries that looks at the Jewish context of each. The New Testament was written in a predominately Jewish culture by mainly Jewish men and having this understanding gives us a deeper understanding of their writings.

What I did enjoy about this commentary is the Friedman knows his stuff. Reading this I knew I was learning from a man who had devoted much time and energy in understanding all things Jewish. This pursuit of his isn’t merely academic but practical. You know that he loves what he is writing about.
Also the connections he makes between James’ letter and the Old Testament, particular Leviticus, is wonderful. It is information that will be helpful when I teach again from James.

Where I feel the book falters is in its presentation of its argument. The author is trying to convince/teach/prove that Jewishness of James, which no doubt he was, and is giving us facts to support his claims. Facts that are not fully substantiated. Here are some that stood out to me:
  • In the forward Herschel Raysman says that Friedman proposes that the epistle of James is a collection of James’ teachings by his disciples and recorded in this epistle for the rest of us to read (also stated in the introduction by Friedman). There is no source sighted as proof of this.
  • Also in the forward the claim is made that the Scriptures referenced must have been the Torah since there were no other Scriptures in the Greek world.  In II Peter 3:14-16 we read from Peter that Paul’s writings are Scripture.
  • Throughout the book Friedman refers to the church as a “Messianic Jewish community.” The early church did have former Jews as members but as we read in the New Testament Gentiles (non-Jews) became members of the church also. To continue to call them Jewish would be wrong. It also has the idea that to be part of the church one must become a Jew, a teaching strongly struck down in Acts 15, the book of Galatians, and elsewhere in the New Testament.
  • The translation of the New Testament he uses is a Jewish translation and very few others. He would have been more convincing by using other translations more often.
  • He also gives his own translation of a passage which is problematic in that he is translating it to fit his view.
  • Throughout when quoting a verse he will admit he changed the verse but not say what change he made. Troubling to say the least.
These aren’t all of the issues I have with the book but some I wanted to point out. I don’t believe that they are trivial but vital. So much so that I wouldn’t recommend reading it.

Disclaimer- I received this book for free from Messianic Jewish Publishers through CrossFocused Reviews for this review. All that was required of me is that I review it, positively or negatively, on my site.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

When Life is a Mess

There are seasons in our life where everything is good. Marriage is good. Kids are good. Job is good. Feeling good. Life is good. We wouldn’t change a thing. We love those seasons where all is perfect. Yet seemingly those seasons don’t last as long as we wish. Life isn’t always good. Marriage is rocky. Kids are crazy. Job is awful. Sick as a dog. Life is a mess.

In those times we need supernatural strength. We need a peace that surpasses all understanding. We need to see the light at the end of the mess. We need Jesus.

What I find is that when life isn’t going so well that I turn to myself more than Jesus. I try on my own to make the mess I have made clean. I try on my own to turn the chaos into order. I try on my own to make the awful good. If I am true with myself life is in the state it is in because of something I have or have not done. My marriage is not where it should be because of something I said. My health is bad because I went back for seconds, or thirds. My kids are crazy because I don’t regulate what they eat better. I have myself to blame.

Now I know that we can come upon situations that are out of our control but let’s be honest, we are our own worst enemy. We cause ourselves the most hurt and heartache. We are the main reason that those bad seasons last so long. Trying to fix things on our own only makes them worse.

I feel like Paul in Romans 7:18 where he says, For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. I have the desire to live a good life. I have the desire to have greatest marriage in the history of marriages. I want to have the perfect children, the perfect job. But I don’t. And when I try my own ways to make them better, well, I cry like Paul and understand that I don’t have it in me to carry it out. My flesh will always make matters worse.

But thanks be to God that He knows how messed up we are and how messed up we make things. He knows that without help we will never get out of the mess we have made for ourselves. So He gives us all of Him so that the bad will become good.

So how does God help us when the bad overwhelms us, when we feel like we are drowning in the mess that life is? Our answer can be found in Isaiah 41:10 where we read that we are to fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

There are four things we see in this verse that God wants us to remember when we life isn’t what it should be. First, God looks down, sees the mess we are in, and tells us not to fear because He is with us. This reminds me of the last part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 when Christ tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. When life is tough, when we feel all alone, we need to remember that we have the lover of our souls, God our Father, with us every step of the way. We can cry out like David in Psalm 23 knowing that when we go through the deepest, darkest place, God is with us, never leaving us nor forsaking us.

Second, God will give us all the strength we need to fight the battle. God is our strength and our shield. When we feel like we are about to be defeated, when we feel like we are about to lose the battle, God will give us His strength, a strength that Satan and hell cannot overcome.

Third, God is our help. This is obvious from the first few points but we can’t forget that. Us needing help is so important to Christ that when He was walking the earth He said it was better for Him to go so that another Helper would come, the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26). Christ knew we would always need help and sent us His Spirit to live inside of us, never leaving us, strengthening us, helping us.

Lastly, God will uphold us in His righteousness. Uphold means to grasp, to keep. When life isn’t good, when we are in the midst of some bad stuff, God never lets us go. He holds us close, never leaving us, giving us a strength that will help us get through to the other side, where goodness and mercy are found.

I am so very grateful that God knows me so well. He knows that I can’t do good on my own and when I try to go solo I will only make matters worse. He knows that on my own strength I will be defeated. He knows that I need help and to be close to Him. Praise be to God that there is a season coming that will be like no other I have experienced, where I experience His goodness and mercy that He so lavishly pours on me, all because I gave up trying to be good on my own and turned to Him.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review - Vatican II: The Essential Texts

Too often we get our information about people and groups through the grapevine. We hear from someone’s cousin, twice removed. We never go to the source for the information we want. That is why when I study different people, groups, faiths, etc. that I read writing’s from those involved in them.

That is what is so important about the book Vatican II - The Essential Text. Vatican II is an important Catholic Church council that shaped much of what the church is about today. It includes most of the documents that were finalized in Vatican II. From the current liturgy, to the churches view of what constitutes God’s Word, onto how the church is to relate to the world and other faiths.

What is even of more help is the introductions to each section made by Edward P. Hahnenberg. He gives us background on the reason the topic was up for consideration, the process it took to have it finalized, and he even includes those in the church who disagreed with it.

This is a book that I will use often in my studies. It is well written, easy to understand, and important to our understanding of the Roman Catholic Church as it is today.

Disclaimer- I received this book for free from Blogging for Books. All that was required of me is that I review it, positively or negatively, on my site.

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Disgust with Politics

Being home this summer has given me the opportunity to listen to politicians, journalists and others discuss politics more than any other time during the year. It is like this each summer. And each summer I get more disgusted in what I am listening to. I hear one political party talk about how bad the other political party is. The so-called bad party will say something like, “well at least we didn’t do _____,” something they consider to be worse. Journalists fuel the fires on their biased networks and print publications (FOXNews, MSNBC, CNN, NY Times, and all of the major networks and publications are as guilty as the other). Discussions on the street among the common folk is just as vile. Your party is bad, my party is good.

And that is what I believe is the biggest problem with politics today - both political parties are just as bad as the other and they fail to recognize it.

For example, take recess appointments. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Obama exceeded his
authority when he made three recess appointments in January 2012. Republicans have praised the ruling. How convenient is it that Republicans have forgotten about Bush’s recess appointments, including John Bolton to the U.N in 2006? Another example could be the filibuster. Democrat’s cry at how often Republicans have used it during Obama’s presidency yet they filibustered many of Bush’s nominees.

The argument that amazes me the most is how Republicans have criticized Obama for taking as many trips on Air Force One as he has for family vacations, etc., yet I remember that Bush flew it to Texas so many times to that I lost count.

In order for this country to turn things around we need to stop the elementary playground stuff like name calling, the nana-nana-boo-boo taunts, and come together to solve the problems of this country. We need put aside personal agendas and come up with solutions on how to get our great country back on the track to prosperity. We need to overlook party lines and see that we are not Republican or Democrat but Americans. We need to be once again the United States of America.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Only Truth

We live in a time where most believe that they can create their own truth. Whatever one believes to be true is true to them. No one’s truth stands over or is truer than another’s. We all can believe whatever we want as long as we don’t say someone else’s truth is wrong. This false belief has even made its way into the church.

So many people have the false notion that anyone can believe whatever truth they want to believe about God and be accepted by Him. Just listen to people talk about heaven and you will get a variety of ways on how to get there, some of which don’t even include resting our faith in God. When pressed on what is the basis of their belief they will give every reason under the sun as validation for their supposed truth.

Fortunately we as Christians have the truth. The truth we trust and believe in isn’t based on someone’s opinion. The truth we trust and believe in doesn’t waver. The truth we trust and believe in isn’t determined by what one feel’s to be right. The truth we trust and believe in is rooted in something deeper and stronger than any in the folly of men’s thoughts. The truth we believe in is found in God’s very Word - the Bible.

In John 17 we read one of the best prayers recorded in Scripture, Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. This is the final prayer Jesus prays. He is in the garden of Gethsemane, about to arrested, tried and killed for the sins of the world. Obviously then what we read in this prayer is of the utmost importance. He begins by praying for himself, then for his disciples, and ends by praying for the rest of believers.

It is towards the end of the section where He is praying for His disciples that we come upon a great truth about truth when we read these words found in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” A few points I want to make about truth that we find in this short, simple statement from Christ:
  1. There is just one truth. Notice that Christ didn’t say that there are many truths but there is “the truth.” That says that there is one singular truth, not many different truths. We all can’t believe whatever we want and all be correct. That is enough to cause many to gasp. But Christ is clear that there are not many truth’s to believe, just one.
  2. God’s Word is the truth. We can find truth in one place, the Bible. We don’t need any other source to have truth because the Bible is the only truth there is. Not the Quran. Not the Mormon’s Doctrines and Covenants. Not some manifesto written by some so-called prophet. We have the truth when we have God’s Word and we have God’s Word when we have the Bible.
  3. We cannot be used by God without the truth. The word sanctify means to be set apart for use. God wants us to be used by Him. He has a plan for each of us (Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 29:11) and those plans flow from His truth, which is His Word. If we try to be used by God, to do works for Him, and we don’t have His Word to guide us we will fail. God’s Word equips us to do every good work God has planned for us to do (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We read in Psalm 119:105 the following, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.When we try to live for God and do not have His Word leading our way we will wonder away from the plans He has for our lives because we are not guided by the truth.
In today’s time this sounds intolerant. People want to believe whatever and not be told otherwise. Unfortunately the church has taken on this idea as well. Please remember Christ’s words in John 17:17, there is no other truth but that which is found in Scripture. To believe that we can create our own truth, to have a truth outside of the Bible is really no truth at all. To be more blunt, to believe that we can have a truth that isn’t found in Scripture is to call Christ a liar.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review - Basil of Caesarea

I enjoy learning about the early church, her beliefs and those who were instrumental formulating her doctrine and practices. Marvin Jones has written a book about one such person, Basil of Caesarea. Basil was a key figure in helping us understand Scriptural truths like the Trinity (individually and separately), creation, and others. He was engaged in many debates that led to a true understanding of these truths and yet did so in a Godly way. Jones also gives us the history of how Basil came to know Christ, how he lived a simple life and that without applying deep thought to Scripture we are missing out on so much God has for us. Jones also gives us a history lesson on the key figures that were for or against the position Basil held. He writes in a way that takes us back to that time and place and in a way that we all will understand. I appreciate all of that about this book.

My only issue with it is that in the first half of the book you read more about others than Basil. The last half is focused almost solely on his life and theology. While it is important to know all of the central figures and teachings I wished more time had been spent on Basil.

With that said please don’t misunderstand the joy this book gave me. I will turn to it when I am teaching on those issues Basil had to deal with in his life and ministry.

Disclaimer- I received this book for free from Christian Focus through CrossFocused Reviews for this review. All that was required of me is that I review it, positively or negatively, on my site.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review - Exploring Christian Theology

I haven’t been more torn reading a book as I have reading Exploring Christian Theology by Nathan D. Holsteen and Michael J. Svigel. There were many times when I was the author was diving into some deep theological truth only to be interrupted us with Dr. Seuss. And as the author would being to probe the depth of that theological truth they would move onto another point. So I’m torn, torn between enjoying this book and really enjoying this book. To make myself clear I enjoyed this book, just not as much as I felt I wanted to or should have.

The book is in two parts. The first part, written by Holdsteen, is titled “Created in Christ Jesus: Church, Churches, and the Christian Life.” The topics are wide ranging, encouraging, challenging and interrupted. As I said earlier you will come across your fair share of Dr. Seuss references (amongst other pop-culture references). Holdsteen uses these references as illustrations. Now I appreciate a good illustration it’s just that these didn’t seem to fit. Sure in some way they concerned the topic but they were distracting. Holdsteen writes in a clear way. He makes the topic easy to understand without any reference to Thing One and Thing Two.

The second part is written by Svigel and is titled “When He Returns: Resurrection, Judgment and the Restoration.” To compare it to part one, Svigel uses illustrations concerning his family or experiences. To me these are more impactful and help better clarify the point. Like Holsteen he writes deeply but clearly.

Both authors show all views of controversial topics and leave it to the reader to decide on their view. But as I mentioned earlier I wish they would have taken us deeper into those topics.

What I enjoyed most was how they took us throughout church history on certain topics. I always enjoy seeing how the church in her history has viewed the truths found in Scripture. The shortness of the discussion is an effect of their goal. They are trying to give us a “concise” talk on each of the topics. My frustration with the brevity is in a way good, overall I enjoyed what I was reading and wanted to keep reading their thoughts on those topics.

Disclaimer- I received this book for free from Bethany House for this review. All that was required of me is that I review it, positively or negatively, on my site.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review - Gospel Assurance and Warnings

You have heard conversion stories of people who said a prayer, signed a card and/or came down to the front during the altar call and believe that they are saved. Yet when you look at their life afterward you question whether that conversion was real. Paul Washer, in his wonderful book Gospel Assurance and Warnings, takes us to Scripture to see how we can know whether we are truly saved. And no it isn’t any of those things I have just mentioned.

What struck me first about this book is how engrossing it is. Washer is addressing a topic that is hard hitting, that makes us reflect on our life as a Christian, and yet I couldn't put it down. I wanted to stay up and keep reading the next assurance of salvation that Scripture promises us. Next, like his book The Gospel Call and True Conversion (my review here); I realized how easy it is to read. He writes with the reader in mind. The last thing that caught my attention is the tone of his writing. He isn’t judgmental in pointing out how many people have a false assurance of salvation. His goal is to get you to see from Scripture that you may not truly be saved all the while he also gives great assurance to those that are truly saved. A fine line to toe and he does it well.

Washer draws his content mainly from I John and Matthew’s gospel. When one takes the time to look deeply in Scripture they will find a wealth of content to strengthen or question the faith that we have. Paul does that for us in this book.

The only book I have read more than once is the Bible. It’s an almost guarantee that I will read this again on a regular basis. I need the assurance that I am God’s child. From time to time I will also need to be convicted and nudged back on the path that leads to God.

Disclaimer- I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books through CrossFocused Reviews for this review. All that was required of me is that I review it, positively or negatively, on my site.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review - Spiritual Warfare

In their book Spiritual Warfare, Brian Borgman and Rob Venture guide us through Ephesians 6:10-20, the famous passage on spiritual warfare. There seems to be two extremes concerning the war all Christians are in. One side says that every spiritual battle needs to have an exorcism performed, rebuking the devil and the like. The other side will say that our battles have nothing to do with those things and isn’t real. In this book you will find a thought out, balanced approach based on a clear exegesis of the Ephesians passage mentioned earlier.

They make it clear that we are in a battle against Satan and that we need to be equipped to fight that war. Fortunately we are not able to fight it on our own. We need help. That help is found in Christ. He equips us with the armor of God. He strengthens us, arms us and guides us in this daily battle. Throughout the book the authors bring us back to that glorious fact. In the first chapter they remind us that Christ is higher and more powerful than any force that comes against us.

What also struck me about the book is how easy it is to read. When “big” words are used they explain them clearly so anyone can understand. Also it is a quick read.

We need books like this today. Even though you can find a plethora of books on spiritual warfare none approach it from a Biblical viewpoint like this.

You can purchase it at Christianbook, Amazon or Reformation Heritage Books.

Disclaimer - I received this resource free from Reformation Heritage Books through CrossFocused Reviews as part of their book review blogger program. All that was required of me is that I review it, positively or negatively, on my site.