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Great Book About the Story of Reality February 6, 2017

Posted by roberttalley in Apologetics, Book Reviews, Creation, Death of Christ, Evangelism, God the Father, Jesus, Resurrection, Uncategorized.
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Koukl, Gregory. The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

The length of the subtitle should not be scary. Koukl’s relating of the Story (capitalization his) of reality is a concise, but engaging presentation of the metanarrative of Christiantiy. This books serves as an apology for Christianity, an overview of basic theology, and a passionate evangelistic message. In just less than 200 pages the reader will find a clear and convincing telling of the Story.

The Story is in presented in five parts with an introduction. The idea of story is consistent throughout the book but it is not strictly delivered in a traditional story format. It is more accurate to say that the book is a discussion of the Story. In fact, the device of capitalizing “story” is effective in reminding the reader that even when Koukl dives into apologetic, theological, or philosophical issues, they are all related to the great Christian metanarrative, the Story.

In the “Introduction” the author begins by asking the question “What is Christianity?” He wants the reader to know from the beginning that he is discussing pictures of reality, that is, worldviews. For Koukl each worldview is like a puzzle that people attempt to fit into reality, the better the pieces fit both together and into reality, the more accurate the worldview picture is likely to be. Each worldview is like a map or story but can be misunderstood. Before presenting the Story (the map, the puzzle), Koukl warns that there is a problem that presents itself in the Story to both believers and unbelievers, the problem of evil. Because of that problem, many infer that an important aspect of the Story, God, must not exist, otherwise the problem would not exist.

The five parts of the story are clearly delineated: God, man, Jesus, cross, resurrection. Yet in the presentation of the first part of the Story (God) it becomes clear that there are competing stories: “matter-ism” and “mind-ism”. These two stories are, however, limited. In these two stories the problem of evil cannot exist, that is, there is no place for the existence of evil in the puzzle of reality. This section is an effective apologetic for the Christian worldview against these two competing worldviews for a world with which something is clearly wrong just does not fit into their story and yet everyone seems to recognize that something is clearly wrong with this world. These two stories, however, will not allow it.

When discussing man, Koukl keeps the fact that something is wrong with the world before the reader, but introduces two other ideas: (1) that there is something special about man and (2) that man is broken. Other stories have explanations for this but these explanations fall short. It is at this point that the Story begins to feel like a story rather than an adept apologetic argument. Koukl presents the Fall, though the story of the Fall itself brings up several objections for which another short but deft apologetic section is offered.

This the basic tactic of the book: reveal basic problems that must be addressed before telling some portion of the Story, tell the Story (Jesus, death, resurrection), and answer objections that are raised by the telling of the story. As he nears the end, he reminds his reader of the beginning of the journey to ensure that the reader has not forgotten important aspects of the Story or the answers to significant problems raised by the story that were previously addressed. Koukl weaves effectively what he has told before and how it relates to what he is telling at that moment.

After bringing the Story to a successful conclusion, Koukl tells the story once again through just a few pages in the “Epilogue”, but this time as a passionate evangelistic message. This evangelistic epilogue does an excellent job turning this an apologetic worldview book into an invitation to “accept your pardon now, while you can, and turn and follow Jesus” (page 177). For this reason, this reviewer highly recommends this book as an evangelistic tool though it would certainly be of profit for most Christians as well, especially those who do not understand the real world ramifications of the story. Notes with scripture references are in the back making the book less intimidating for those who might be put off by an “academic” look, however, even Koukl’s notes are often quite engaging. Additionally, his use of stories within the telling of the Story is inviting.

Readers (and users, hopefully) of his 2009 book Tactics will recognize his two part method of asking key questions and revealing false assumptions throughout this newer book. This newest book is highly recommended as a tool for both apologetic and evangelistic purposes.

Review of Qureshi’s No God But One January 12, 2017

Posted by roberttalley in Uncategorized.
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No God But One: Allah or Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016.

Nabeel Qureshi’s book, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? is a follow-up to his previous book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, his account of how he as a Muslim came to follow Christ. This book is an apology of Christianity and against Islam in which he discusses the differences between the two religions and the implications of those differences, and the strong historical evidence for the claims of Christianity.

Although every section of this book is devoted to answering questions necessary to investigating the differences between and evidence for Islam and Christianity (as indicated in the description on the cover and the title page), all of the questions are designed to answer the overriding question presented in the conclusion, “Is the truth worth dying for?” The book concerns itself in the main with what is true but with his answer, exemplified by the life hand death of a young Saudi Arabian Christian martyr at the hands of her brother, he reminds us that this truly matters. If Christianity is true then it is worth dying for because God in the martyr’s death is glorified and the martyr has a sure hope to be with the Savior throughout eternity. The support for the great worth and certain hope of Christianity is the stuff of which this book consists.

In the first part of the book, Qureshi presents the most significant differences between Islam and Christianity. He does this not for those “who enjoy criticizing Islam [nor for those] Muslims who want to argue but do not want to learn” (page 21) but rather for those who need to know the differences in order to determine which of the two religions is true and thus worth dying for.

Differences between the two are discussed under five categories of doctrinal difference: the two views of salvation, the two views of Deity, the two views of each religion’s respective founder, the two views of the holy writings, and the two views of just war. The first four of these fall clearly into the category of essential doctrine for Christians while the fifth deals with a significant issue upon which Christians are not all in agreement with each other, “What constitutes a justified use of violence/war?” To his credit, Qureshi does not give an easy Christian answer to this question and indicates difficulties that both Christian pacifists and Christian “Crusaders” should take into consideration.

The second part of the book deals with the determination of the truth of Christianity and Islam. For each a positive case is made for the foundational doctrines. For Christianity this is the crucifixion of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the claims to deity by Jesus. For Islam this is that Muhammed is a prophet of God and that the Quran is the word of God. Qureshi’s discussion of each of these foundational doctrines the truth test is objective evidence. At the end of this section he makes it clear that not only is Christianity objective true and Islam is not objectively true but also that if one or the other is true than the other religion cannot be true.

One highlight of the book for this author was the explanation of what the Quran really is and that it corresponds doctrinally in some ways much more to Jesus in Christianity than to the Christian Bible. Another interesting highlight is Qureshi’s discussion of the nature of the Crusades, which gives perspective to those events without justifying any of the atrocities of those events.

As mentioned, this book is not intended for those who desire simply to fight intellectually but rather is intended for a two audiences. The first group are Muslims who are seeking truth concerning Christianity. The second group is made up of those Christians who want to learn what really matters when it comes to understanding these two religions. Some Christians with this book might learn as much about their own faith as they do about the faith of the Muslim.

This plan of this book is simple to follow and the argumentation in this book is clear. When glancing at the notes one might think that some chapters are better documented than others but a closer look at those chapters lacking notes emphasize referencing Scripture and the Quran, two works that do not necessarily require academic referencing in the notes.

Though an apologetic work, this book still is quite personal in dealing with aspects of Qureshi’s own journey of faith, which evokes empathy for the writer that might not necessarily be possible in a more impersonal approach. This is a strength that makes this book a lively read and likely makes it accessible to a broad audience. For these reasons this book is highly recommended both for learning more about the two faiths and for reaching those of the Islam faith with the gospel.



“Come and See” or “Go and Care” January 4, 2013

Posted by roberttalley in Good Samaritan, Luke.
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(Luke 10:25-37)

There is a debate about what is the best way to live the Christian life. Some would argue that we need to attract the unbeliever to our services. Others would say we need to go out and reach the lost where they are. I can find good evidence in the Bible for both strategies but I will argue for the strengths of one today.

What I fear is that too many Christians live as if the church and Christianity is the Holy of Holies. No one was supposed to go into the Holy of Holies. Gentiles never, women never, regular Jews never, priests never, the high priest once a year.

When Jesus died, however, the curtain that shut even the priests out of the Holy of Holies was rent in two symbolizing that access to God is now available for all men through Jesus Christ. So access is available. How do we bring men and women, boys and girls to that access?

1. There are two types of Christian lifestyles we can practice, both of which have some legitimacy and effectiveness. They both have the same end goal, eternal life in the kingdom of God. You will notice that the lifestyle that shuts people out, that does not take advantage of either of these methods has no biblical precedent. Even before the temple veil was rent in two, it was never intended that Israel become isolated from the rest of world. There are, however, multiple examples of both “come and see” and “go and care.”

a. Apart from grace, the goal of eternal life is impossible for us to reach (verses 27-28). French philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “To make a man a saint, grace is absolutely necessary and whoever doubts it, does not know what a saint is or what a man is.” James 2:8-13 teaches that if we once do not love our neighbor as ourselves we will be judged by God.

b. This goal is a definite command to all men but especially to us as believers (verse 37). We forget that this is the law of God. We do not need to ask people if they have kept the Ten Commandments. We need simply to ask if they have loved the Lord their God with all their heart and their neighbor as themselves and every honest man will bow their head in shame recognizing that they have failed to obey the supreme commandment of God. We are condemned because we have not always loved God with all of our heart and we have often not loved our neighbor as ourselves.

2. A “come and see” lifestyle invites outsiders to come and marvel (verses 31-32). The Temple was a marvelous place. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of its glory. Jesus, however, was not impressed. He knew that in a generation, the Temple would be destroyed and not one stone would be left standing on another. The Levites and the priests were important to the service, the maintenance, the management of the Temple. With great pomp and ceremony they were able to attract thousands of people from around the world, not only Jews but also Gentiles who had become proselytes or who were God fearers like the Ethiopian eunuch who worshipped the Lord God of Israel.

Away, however, from their venue, the Temple, they had nothing.

3. A “go and care” lifestyle leads us to meet the various needs of others (verses 33-36). The Samaritan was much different in his approach than were the Levite and the priest.

a. We will end up operating in areas of great personal risk. The Jericho road was dangerous for anyone traveling alone. It was steep and there were many places where robbers could hide. All of these men had put themselves in danger by travelling alone on that road. The Samaritan, however, not only traveled alone but he also allowed himself to be slowed down by the injured man that the Levite and the priest had ignored.

b. We will end up giving what we were saving for our own safety. Oil and wine are not cheap. They were only to be had in great quantities by the rich. This Samaritan does not appear to be rich but he is more than willing to use what he had to minister to injured man. The wine served as an antiseptic and the oil as a soothing and healing ointment. Perhaps he had brought these items along as a part of his own personal first aid kit.

c. We will end up investing much in others. He invested time. He invested money, two day’s pay. He invested shame as a Samaritan in a Jewish land. He invested, however, because he was a neighbor. Most of all, he invested mercy, that quality that actually makes one a neighbor. Not location. Not common interests or common bonds of humanity. It is mercy that makes us neighbors. The man who shows no mercy has no neighbors.

I would like to share two stories, one illustrating a believer who did not show mercy, the second illustrating one who did.

“[An evangelical Christian from Saint Louis] had been attending one of the largest and best churches in that city…she was raped and contracted AIDS as a result… her church…rejected her. One Sunday morning she arrived early, sat down and began to pray. A fine young family sat down next to her–the wife, two children and the husband. When he saw her, he said, “Get up. We can’t sit here.” His wife said, “What’s wrong? These seats are just fine.” He said, “Just get up. We can’t sit here.” Then he pointed at the girl and said, “She’s got AIDS’” (Richard Pritchard in http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1991-02-17-The-Sensitivity-of-Jesus/ ).

“[James Stewart] told of an old Scottish believer who went to church one day feeling down because of his sins. When the communion plate was passed, he refused to partake of the elements, thinking himself unworthy. Then he saw a young woman in the congregation who also refused to partake, and then broke into tears. Stewart tells what happened next: ‘Her tears jarred him back to the truth of the gospel he himself needed to recall. In a whisper that could be heard across the church, he was heard to say: “Take it, lassie. Take it. It is meant for sinners.” And he himself partook’” (Ray Pritchard at http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2012-04-06-The-Torn-Curtain/).

Are you willing to “go and care?” I am not asking you if that is a better strategy than “come and see.” There are no doubt occasions where that is a sufficient strategy, a good strategy, perhaps even the main strategy that should be used. No, the question today is are you willing?

Six of the Reasons Why God Became Flesh December 11, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Christmas, Incarnation, Sermons.
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When Moody went to preach in Scotland he preached for an hour about Jesus one evening. One the way to where he was staying he lamented to the Scotchman with whom he was staying that he had not been able to say all that he wanted about Christ. The Scotchman turned to him after listening for a while to Moody complain and said, “You didn’t expect to tell it all in an hour did you. It would take all eternity to tell about Jesus!”

That explains my title. There are certainly more than six reasons but I only have a certain amount of time, so I want to suggest six reasons to you why God became man and leave the rest for you to search for in the Scriptures for yourself.

A. He became a man so that Israel could have a Messiah (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 4:16-22; Romans 15:7-12).

Mark Reed says “Eating lunch at a small café, I saw a sparrow hop through the open door and peck at the crumbs near my table. When the crumbs were gone, the sparrow hopped to the window ledge, spread its wings, and took flight. Brief flight. It crashed against the window pane and fell to the floor. The bird quickly recovered and tried again. Crash. And again. Crash. I got up and attempted to shoo the sparrow out the door but the closer I got the harder it threw itself against the pane. I nudged it with my hand. That sent the sparrow fluttering along the ledge, hammering its beak at the glass. Finally, I reached out and gently caught the bird, folding my fingers around its wings and body. It weighed almost nothing. I thought of how powerless and vulnerable the sparrow must have felt. At the door I released it, and the sparrow sailed away. As I did with the sparrow, God takes us captive only to set us free” (Leadership, Winter 1994).

B. He became a man so that He could declare (reveal) the Father to us (John 1:14-18).

John points out earlier that Jesus came to his own but his own did not receive him. The end of chapter 3 tells us why. Men were in darkness and loved being in darkness because their deeds were evil.

It is not unusual for people to misunderstand outsiders and Jesus was certainly an outsider. Hiebert in Anthropological Insights for Missionaries tells how “In another part of the world, the missionaries took along a cat as a pet for their children. Unknowingly, they went to a tribe where the only people to keep cats were witches. The locals believed that at night the witches left their bodies and entered the cats, in order to prowl through the huts stealing the souls of the villager. The next morning, those whose souls had been stolen felt lethargic and weak…When the people saw the family cat, they concluded that the missionaries were witches. It did not help when the missionary man got up to preach and said that they had come to gather souls! Nor did it help when the missionary woman washed her hair in the river, and the villagers saw the foam from her shampoo bubble out of her head. Since they had never see soap, they were certain the bubbles were the souls that the missionaries had stolen.”

C. He became a man in order to serve as our access to the Father (Hebrews 4:14-5:10).

Jesus not only came to bring the Father to us, he also came to give us access to the Father. We know that He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” Hebrews tells us that he had to become a man for that to happen. We needed a priest, someone who could go to God for us and provide a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus as man became our High Priest and provided the sacrifice that makes it possible for us to have access to God.

D. He became a man in order to show us how to live our life’s calling (1 Peter 2:21-25).

The liberals like Jesus as example but they think that by following his example we can become righteous. Popular Christianity tells us to ask ourselves WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do”) but this often means is be nice to one another and don’t condemn others. Peter gives us, however, a totality different concept. He says live in a wicked world without complaint against those who hate you. Live as Jesus died because He died so that you and I might live righteously in and before a wicked world.

E. He became a man in order to be exalted above all things (Philippians 2:5-11).

George Truett in his sermon “What If Christ Had Not Come” tells of Napoleon after “it looked like that amazingly brilliant soldier was finished. But in March 1815, barely a year later, he went back to France. He had kept close watch on events transpiring in Europe while he was away and… was aware…of his own personal power and influence over his follow-countrymen…The Emperor sent an army out to capture Napoleon, who alighted from his carriage and advanced toward the army without any army of his own…one lone man against whom an army was sent. He went toward the army quietly, confidently; and when he was near enough, he opened his coat that the bullets of the enemy might reach his heart if they chose to fire. Napoleon quietly said, ‘Frenchman, it is your emperor.’ And they went wild. They kissed his hand, they fell at his feet, they picked him up and carried him on their shoulders, and they shouted until the heavens were filled with shouts: ‘…Long lives the emperor!’

F. He became a man so that He could give His body for us (Luke 22:19; Hebrews 1:9; John 15:13; Romans 5:8). This is why we celebrate the Lord’s Table. God the Son did not pretend to have a body. He didn’t possess another being as demons sometimes do. He didn’t just influence a man through spiritual power. God became man and that included having a body, a body which he sacrificed and it was a sacrifice that made possible the fulfilling of all the purposes for which Jesus was born.

Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem November 7, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in David, Jerusalem, Kingdom, Peace, Psalms.
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Psalms 122

I would like for you to imagine with me that we are on our way to the Temple to celebrate our God. As we came out of our houses, though we are surrounded by troubles, we make known to each other through singing Psalm 120 that we know He has heard our prayers. As we approach the walls of Jerusalem, we look to the hills and we remind each other through Psalm 121 that God is our helper.

As we enter into Jerusalem we pull out an old psalm, Psalm 122. It was written by the king who made Jerusalem his capital, King David. As we look at the city and sing this psalm we are reminded that we have a heritage and it is in this city, in Jerusalem. We recognize, however, that the dangers we left outside of the gates are lurking outside, waiting for the chance to destroy Jerusalem’s peace. So we begin to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

A. If we pray for Jerusalem, what are we praying for? Often I have heard conservative, evangelical Christians refer to the Middle East conflict and use these words, “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” in order to encourage people to pray that the modern nation of Israel would not be wiped out by its enemies. However, when we compare our vision of the world with God’s, one should soon recognize that our vision is too small. As we study this psalm and compare to Scripture we can come to understand what it is that God would want us to look for when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

1. We are praying for the kingdom of God to remain established on this earth (verses 3-5). “[Bob Pierce, the found of World Vision] was an unlikely man to found and lead such a large organization. He didn’t have much education, he butchered the King’s English, and he lacked many social graces. In fact, he called himself a second-rater. When asked the secret of his life, he said that in his early years as a Christian he had prayed like this, “O God, I give you the right to change my agenda any time you like—and you don’t have to inform me in advance. Amen’” (told by Ray Pritchard, see http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2007-10-26-The-Hardest-Prayer-You-Will-Ever-Pray/). That is one way to pray for the kingdom of God to remain established on this earth.

2. We are praying for people to rejoice in the presence of the Lord (verses 1-2). Notice that verse one does not say “go into the house of the LORD” but rather “go to the house of the LORD.” Even King David himself could never enter into the tabernacle but David had learned long before he became king what it meant to be in the presence of the Lord. In fact he had danced in the presence of the Lord after that God had given His armies great victories. When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem we are praying for God to give the victory over His enemies, which results in our rejoicing.

B. If God is the one who defeats the enemy, if He is the one who established and keeps His kingdom here on earth, if He is the one who makes joy possible; how then should we who pray for Jerusalem put feet on our prayers (verse 9)? In David’s case he purposed in his heart to build a temple but we don’t need a temple anymore. The book of Revelation tells us that in the New Jerusalem there is no temple nor light in that city for Jesus is the temple and light of the city. He provides all, yet there is something we can do to put feet on our prayers.

1. We work to accomplish God’s plan for physical Israel. What is God’s plan for Israel? That they be saved. That they turn to their Messiah, Jesus Christ, who they had crucified under the leadership of the religious rulers of the day. We must not neglect the opportunity to reach any person with the gospel but it is especially true that we should try to reach those who brought to us by God’s plan, Jesus Christ, the righteous.

2. We also work to accomplish God’s plan for spiritual Israel. As for as giving people the gospel, this is identical to the above point except that it is expanded beyond evangelism and missions. God desires us to build each other up as the body of Christ. Ray Pritchard once said, “Some of us need to decide to make the church the social center of our lives. Not the worship center. It’s already that. Not the Bible center. It’s already that. Not the religious center. It’s already that. The social center. The center, the hub around which our life revolves and rotates. That’s what the church was in the beginning. The church was the social center. Things have changed now. Today we center our lives around our work or the schools our children attend. We throw everything we’ve got into work, or we throw everything we’ve got into school activities. I am challenging you to change the focus of your life and to let the church be the center of your social life. If you will do it, it will be strength to you, and to your family, and to your children, and to your children’s children, and to the third and fourth generations. If you will dare to do that, you will never, ever regret it” (http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1998-10-08-Our-Mutual-Covenant/).

C. When is the prayer for Jerusalem answered? Spurgeon perhaps gives us a hint when he wrote in his Treasury of David, “If we may not say ‘Peace at any price,’ yet we may certainly cry ‘Peace at the highest price.’” The peace of Jerusalem already exists. It was provided by the Prince of Peace when He died on the cross to reconcile us to God. “He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (Second Corinthians 5). I know that Jesus is coming back and the king will sit on His throne, not in heaven, but in Jerusalem but the victory is already one, joy is already possible, the peace of Jerusalem is a present reality now.

My Help Comes from the LORD October 23, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Faith, Psalms, Shepherd.
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Psalms 121

“Six thousand men under the command of General French were detailed by [the Confederate general] Hood to take the [supply post of Altoona Pass, Georgia protected by fifteen hundred under General Corse of Illinois]. The works were completely surrounded and summoned to surrender. Corse refused and a sharp fight commenced. The defenders were slowly driven into a small fort on the crest of the hill…At this moment an officer caught sight of a white signal flag far away across the valley, twenty miles distant upon the top of Kennesaw Mountain. The signal was answered, and soon the message was waved across from mountain to mountain: ‘Hold the fort; I am coming. W. T. Sherman.’ Cheers went up…and under a murderous fire, which killed or wounded more than half the men in the fort…they held the fort for three hours until the advance guard of Sherman’s army came up [and] French was obliged to retreat” (from Al Smith’s Treasury of Hymn Histories).

A. There are often times when we need help. Remember that your help comes from the Creator of the universe (verses 1-2). These people on their way to the temple, perhaps from outside of Jerusalem had begun in Psalm 120 by calling to each other expressing confidence that God would answer their prayer. They recognized that they were surrounded by trouble and that they needed help. They looked at the hills that surrounded Jerusalem and recognized that the God who created those hills was their helper.

1. Hills were often associated with gods. When you read of high places in the Bible it is often associated with local gods. It was in such places that sacrifices were made and these places were often associated with idolatry.

2. A great God makes a little hill great. “Persons who travel to Israel are often disappointed to find that Jerusalem is not located on the highest mountain in the area…In the ancient world mountains were considered to be the homes of the gods. So Mount Olympus [for example]…was felt to be an especially holy place. Here God is saying that there is really only one ‘holy mountain,’ the place where he, the sole Creator of the universe, has chosen to place his name” (from John Oswalt’s commentary on Isaiah).

B. Remember that He watches over you all the time (verses 3-6). Sometimes I ask myself if I really believe this. Sometimes I act as if God is out to lunch, that he is asleep.

1. There is, however, evil all around us in the form of temptation and persecution. It does not matter whether it is day or night, sun or shadow, heat or cold, there is in this world all matters of danger and we need to be aware that we desperately need the Lord watching over us.

2. He never leaves you or forsakes you. “Around the year 1870 the song ‘O How I Love Jesus’ was new and very popular. It seemed that wherever folks sang, you would be sure to hear it at least once in a service – sometimes several times. At the time, [Philip] Bliss was compiling his first Sunday School songbook which he entitled ‘The Charm.’ Because of its popularity, Mr. Bliss wanted very much to use [the song] but when he wrote the owner of the copyright, he was refused permission to use it, for the owner felt it would hurt the sale of his own books…In the days that followed, Mr. Bliss often thought of the incident and then one day the thought suddenly dawned upon him. ‘It is important that I love Jesus, but it is a greater and a more wonderful truth that He loves me!’… When he came to the breakfast table he said, ‘Lucy, the Lord gave me a new song early this morning and here’s how it goes, ‘I am so glad that the Father in Heaven tells of His love in the book he has given…’” (told by George C. Stebbins to Al Smith, Treasury of Hymn Histories).

C. Remember that He not only handles our day-to-day and material lives but also that which is more important, the eternal and our spiritual lives (verses 7-8).

It is interesting that our shepherd provides for us in a dry and thirsty land spiritually. Philip Keller in his classic, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, writes, “It is not generally recognized that many of the great sheep countries of the world are dry, semi-arid areas. Most breeds of sheep flourish best in this sort of terrain…But in those same regions it is neither natural nor common to find green pastures…Green pasture [do] not just happen by chance…Green pastures were the result of clearing rough, rocky land; of tearing out brush and roots and stumps; of deep and planting special grains and legumes; of irrigating with water and husbanding with care the crops of forage that would feed the flocks…green pastures are essential to success with sheep…”

The word we live in is a dry and thirsty land. It is lacking in truly spiritual nourishment. Wherever you turn there is nothing spiritually or eternally satisfying in this world. We need the green grass of heaven here on earth. How do we get it? We can’t. We need help when in danger. We need eternity when in this temporary land. Did you come looking for something eternal this morning or did you come looking for an emotional or religious fix? That will not satisfy. You need to turn to the one who will never leave you or forsake you and depend on Him for the spiritual and eternal help you need. He may or may not bless you physically and temporally in this world. That will depend on His will. All, however, who trust in Him will be helped, kept, and preserved in this world and into the next one forever.

Next in series: Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122)

The First Song of Ascent: Psalm 120 October 16, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Peace, Prayer, Psalms, Temple, Testimony, Worship.
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Psalms 120

This is the first of the Songs of Ascent, psalms that were sung or recited as the Jews made their way to the Temple of Yahweh to worship the LORD their God. This psalm seems to be a strange one to begin with since it certainly seems to be a downer. There is no denial here of the difficulties of life, however, almost half of the psalms, over sixty of them, are like this psalm, a lament.

Often when times get difficult people don’t go to church. They have the idea that you have to feel positive about life to worship God. This psalm reminds us, however, that even when life is miserable you can worship God. Perhaps you are going through a rough time this morning. If so, then this psalm is for you now. The rest of us will need it next week, so we will listen also.

A. Did you begin your morning by testifying to someone that you are anticipating God’s deliverance (verse 1)? These people are on their way to celebrate the Lord’s blessings or perhaps to have their sins from the past year atoned for. The first phrase here is something like, “Nobody knows the trouble I see…nobody but my Jesus.” He is going to deliver. I’m not sure how but he will deliver.

One of the reasons we have a greeting time is so that you can express your relationship with God to each other. Do you take advantage of that opportunity? When you check your email in the morning, do you drop a note to someone expressing joy that God will answer prayer in your life? Does your family hear you sing or listen to songs on Sunday morning that express confidence in God’s working?

Jack Hayford gives four reasons why we should be expressive to each other in our worship of God.
a. “It challenges the culture.” The world believes that religion is a private matter. To openly express your faith to others “….[is] one way to witness to the world about the new and full life that Christ offers.”
b. “It nurtures humility. Many times our emotional reserve is but a fearful quest to retain control of our lives…Expressive worship prevents spiritual arthritis…in the body of Christ.”
c. “It creates a climate of warmth and acceptance. When you develop an expressive atmosphere, you cultivate the spirit of fellowship, which creates a climate for evangelism.”
d. “It fosters commitment. Rather than encouraging people to be placid observers, passing judgment on what is said and done, expressive worship demands participation and , therefore, commitment” (quotes from Hayford’s “Strategic Reasons for Expressive Worship,” Leadership, Spring 1994).

B. Did you spend time yesterday asking for the Lord’s deliverance (verse 2)? This prayer is quite specific, “Deliver me from lying lips and deceitful words.” There are some of you this morning that are being attacked by the spoken word. Perhaps you know this to be true or perhaps you merely suspect it to be true. Either way, you fear the arrows of the wicked word, being burned by the hot coals of the lie. Turn to God in prayer.

C. Are you wondering about how God might deliver you from the situation (verse 3-4)? Steve Harper of Shepherd’s Care in Lexington, Kentucky tells of “a student in [his] theology of prayer course stopped [him] after class one day. ‘My cancer has come back,’ he said. He was a young man who had undergone treatment for a brain tumor four years earlier, and the therapy appeared successful. The tumor had disappeared. ‘I’m in seminary to become a preacher,’ he said, ‘and it looks like I’ll never get to be one.’ He asked me to tell him if he had heard God’s call correctly.’ Prayer is often linked with profound questions about the will of God and the mystery of suffering. Such issues force us into a position of humility. I could not answer his question with any final authority. Nevertheless we talked that day about how deeply the will to live is ingrained in all of us, and I prayed with him for his complete healing” (Leadership, 1994).

D. Are you longing for God to make all things right (verses 5-7)? The Psalmist was not among friends. He was dwelling among pagans from Meshech (in Asia Minor) and Kedar (in Arabia). He was longing and waiting for God to deliver him from this situation. What can you do while waiting for the answer that you know is coming to arrive?

a. If someone is shooting arrows at you or throwing hot coals at you avoid that person if possible.
b. In extreme situations if you can find someone to help, go to them. David went to Jonathan for help against Saul. I’m not talking about revenge but rather legitimate help.
c. Don’t take it personally and don’t shoot arrows and throw coals back at your enemy. “Never wrestle with a pig. For one thing you will become dirty; second, the pig will love it; and third, he plays be a different set of rules” (from When You’ve Been Wronged by Erwin Lutzer).
1. Your character must correspond to that of God’s, a lover of peace (verse 7a)? A lover of peace is not threatened when others have more influence, control, or power than they have. A lover of peace does not seek revenge when removed from a place of power or position. A lover of peace does not desire for someone else to “get what’s coming to them.” A lover of peace does not go around seeking for sympathy or seeking to make another person look bad.

2. Your actions must correspond to those of God’s, a maker of peace (verse 7b)? We need to be strong in the Lord and stand against falsehood. That was the point of 2 Timothy; yet that book reminds us that we should be gentle. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The last phrase of this psalm makes it clear that the one being slandered desired peace and spoke words of peace to those who wanted to war with him.

E. When you cannot make peace, turn to Him who can. “Few preachers have experienced the kind of criticism that Spurgeon did…More than one writer expressed doubts that Spurgeon was even converted? His sermons were called ‘trashy,’ and he was compared to a rocket that would climb high and then suddenly drop out of sight!…Hearing slanderous reports of his character and ministry week after week could have led him into defeat; but he fell to his knees and prayed, ‘Master, I will not keep back even my character for Thee. If I must lose that, too, then let is go; it is the dearest thing I have, but it shall go, if, like my Master, they shall say I have a devil, and am mad, or, like Him, I am a drunken man and a wine-bibber’” (from Walking with the Giants by Warren Wiersbe).

This Psalm teaches us two things: have confidence that God will hear and act according to the character of God. Neither is dictated by the circumstances. Both are necessary not just when going to church but every day of our lives.

The Importance of God’s Word and God’s Servant October 8, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Apostle Paul, Bible, Second Timothy.
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2 Timothy 3:10-17

Many believers are fearful today. They look at the moral and political situation in our country and fear that we are fast approaching the end (and they may be right). About 225 years ago, however, there was a similar situation in our country. “There was, for a season, a woeful want of Bibles in America, caused partly by the prevalence of French infidelity, and partly by the general religious apathy which followed the Revolutionary War. In that period a man went into a book-store in Philadelphia and asked to buy a Bible. ‘I have none,’ said the bookseller. ‘There is not a copy for sale in the city: and I can tell you further,’ said he (for he was of the French [infidel’s] way of thinking), ‘in fifty years there will not be a Bible in the world.’ The rough answer of the customer was, ‘There will be plenty of Bibles in the world a thousand years after you are dead and gone to hell’” (The Christian Age quoted by C. H. Spurgeon).

A. We must learn God’s Word (verses 14-17). Why did America not go the way of French infidelity? Because there were backwoods preachers and small town pastors who preached the Word of God resulting in the Second Great Awakening that transformed this country into what later became known as Christian America. Why then today’s decline? Because too many believers lost confidence in and knowledge of the Word of God. Whatever strength there is in the church today can directly be related to God’s Word and what it is capable of doing.

1. God’s Word is capable of producing faith in Jesus Christ (verse 15b). “The Rev. James Wall, of Rome, relates the following [instance] of conversion through the reading of the Scriptures: – One… when first presented with a New Testament, said, ‘Very well; it is the very size for me to make my cigarettes,’ and so he began to smoke it away. He smoked away all the Evangelists, till he was at the Tenth Chapter of John, when it struck him that he must read a bit of it, for if he didn’t, there would soon be no more left to read. The first word struck home, and the man read himself into Christ” (C. H. Spurgeon).

2. God’s Word is capable of producing wisdom to salvation (verse 15a). W. A. Criswell tells of a man in his church who had been a wicked man married to a good Christian woman. She brought him to church where he heard the word of God and was saved. “He became a new and a different man. He loved to come to church where we read the Holy Scriptures together and where I preach the Bible. Both at home and in his business office he constantly read the Book … [One day] he was stricken with a heart attack and died immediately… I went to the memorial service…To my great surprise, his right hand pressed his Bible against his heart. I turned to his wife in astonishment. ‘What an unusual thing,’ I exclaimed, ‘that he holds his Bible in his hand! Why?’…’[Because], she replied, …he loved it so. We read the Bible at church; we read it together at home. He read it at his business office. It seemed appropriate that his Bible be in his hand as his last testimony to the saving power of the Word of God’” (Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True).

3. God’s Word is capable of producing life transformation (verse 16). Sometimes that transformation is instant. Sometimes it is progressive. Sometimes it is progressive and just appears instantaneous. God’s Word will, however, produce life transformation. It determines how to think, what to do, what to avoid.

4. God’s Word is capable of equipping you for every good work (verse 17). You don’t have to be mature to work but there are certain types of work that demand maturity. The problem sometimes is that those who are mature forget that there is no retirement in the Christian life.

B. We learn from God’s people (verses 10-13). It is true that Paul is writing about his relationship to Timothy but he also seems to be referring to Timothy’s mother and grandmother and perhaps to the elders of the church in Lystra who recommended Timothy to Paul for training. This, however, should be true of all of us. Other churches (see First Thessalonians 1-2) should be learning from us how to impact others for Christ. It is not that we don’t know how, it is that we don’t show how and I’m afraid the reason we don’t show how is because we don’t do it.

1. We learn from God’s people what to believe and how to live (verses 10-11a). We talk about a Christian heritage and about passing down a Christian heritage but it seems it is easier to pass down our political heritage than our religious heritage. It is easier to pass down our passion for our sports team or for hunting or for cooking or for a hundred other things but we need to pass along, intentionally, what we should believe and how we should live.

2. We learn from God’s people about our relationship to Jesus Christ (verses 11b-12). LeRoy Eims tells how after he and his wife became Christians they “met Waldron Scott…I asked him why there seemed to be such an obvious difference in our Christian lives…He came over that night and asked me some questions. Did I read my Bible regularly? No, hardly ever. Did I study it? Again, no. Did I memorize it? Aha, here I had him. The previous Sunday our pastor had preached on Matthew 6:33, and I had been so impressed by the verse that I memorized it when I got home. ‘Great,’ Scotty said, ‘Quote it for me…’ I couldn’t remember it… ‘Do you pray?’ ‘Well, yes,’ I told him. ‘At meal times I repeat a prayer I have memorized.’ …Scotty taught us how to read the Bible and get something out of our reading. He taught us how to do personal Bible study and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, apply its lessons to our lives. He taught us to memorize the Word…He taught us how to assimilate the Scriptures into the spiritual bloodstream of our lives through meditation on the Word. He taught us how to pray and expect answers from God… The next year I began my sophomore year…Midway through the first semester, a classmate came up to me and said, ‘You know, LeRoy, I’ve been watching you. Your Christian life is sure on a different plane than mine.’ …I smiled and asked, ‘Well, do you read your Bible regularly?’” (The Lost Art of Disciple Making). Eims then tells how the next year he got a letter from that classmate telling how he had met a fellow who noticed something about his life. He began to ask some questions like “Do you read your Bible regularly?”

When was the last time you taught someone how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to study, how to use Scripture to fight temptation? We impact other believers most when we show them the keys to our Christian life. Otherwise we are just letting them struggle along on their own.

Vessels in the Master’s Household October 1, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Apostle Paul, False Doctrine, False Teachers, Second Timothy.
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2 Timothy 2:17-26

Paul uses vessels in a household to clarify something that Jesus himself made clear in the parable of the wheat and the tares. Not every person who says, “I’m a Christian is a Christian.” Even worse, not everyone who says they are teachers and preachers of the truth, teach and preach the truth. It is one thing to identify this as a fact. What do we do about it as the church of the living God?

A. Paul indicates that we need to identify what type of vessel we are (verses 17-21). This seems to contradict what Jesus taught in the parable of the wheat and tares. In the parable the tares are to be left until harvest time but in this passage we are to separate ourselves from those who do not teach the truth.

This underlines for us the importance of taking a passage in its immediate and biblical context. Jesus was addressing the Jewish nation and Matthew was writing showing the authenticity of Jesus as the King of the Jews. Paul was dealing with a local church situation in Ephesus. In the one, Jesus is referring to a future event when it would be shown who was following the true Messiah. Paul is referring to false teachers who are in the church overthrowing the faith of some.

1. What does this mean for us? It means that we must make sure that our core beliefs are approved before God. Are our beliefs presentable as approved before God (verse 15)?

• Do you believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, without any error?
• Do you believe in the Trinity, one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who created this universe out of nothing?
• Do you believe that God the Son became the virgin born son of Mary, Jesus the Christ, being 100% God and 100% man?
• Do you believe that Jesus lived a sinless life, died for our sins on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to His Father to take His rightful position as the Lord of the universe?
• Do you believe that all humans are sinners, guilty before God and condemned to hell unless they trust Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation?
• Do you believe that total forgiveness of sin is by grace alone without good works?
• Do you believe that we the Church are the people of God left here to proclaim the message of Christ until He returns to set all things right for all eternity?
This is what you must believe in order to present yourself acceptable to God.

2. Is your belief presentable as shameful before God (verse 15)? There are a lot of false beliefs and always have been. Which false beliefs are the biggest danger within the church?

In an older survey taken about twelve years ago (Source: Barna Research Group, Ltd. Based on national surveys of 1,000 or more randomly sampled adults 18 or older, conducted July 1999 through July 2000)…
• 40% of Christians did not believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teaching;
• 38% of Christians did not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living entity, that is in the Trinity;
• 37% of Christians did believe that Jesus Christ committed sins when He lived on earth;
• 40% of Christians did believe that Jesus did not return to life physically;
• 47% of Christians did not believe that people who do not consciously accept Jesus Christ as their Savior will be condemned to hell;
• 51% of Christians believe that if a person does enough good things for others during this life, that person will earn a place in heaven;
• 54% of Christians did not believe that we have a personal responsibility to tell others about our faith in Christ.
This is what happens when we do not separate the vessels of honor from the vessels of dishonor.

B. Flee sin and pursue righteousness (verses 19, 22-23). It is interesting that Paul writes in verse 22, flee youthful lusts. Timothy was a younger man than Paul and susceptible to youthful lusts. Paul recognized that even a man of God must guard himself against youthful lusts. Perhaps he would have agreed with “Ramsey McDonald, [who while prime minister of Great Britain] once said in an address to a gathering of British young men and women, ‘Youth is a terrible thing. It can be used to build heaven or hell’” (Cited by Morgan P. Noyes in The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 11, 1955 p. 494).

Verse 19, however, reminds us that not just young people should flee from iniquity but rather that all who put their trust in Jesus Christ should depart from iniquity.

Not only should we depart from iniquity and cleanse ourselves from sin but we need to run after righteousness. As we know, what we believe not only causes us to flee from sin but also to produce the fruit of the Spirit, some of which are mentioned here in this verse.

C. Oppose iniquity with humility (verses 23-26). This is the attitude with which we are to deal with vessels of dishonor, with humility. Name-calling and derogatory jokes are not to be a part of our toolkit. We must remember that we are vessels of honor because of God’s grace and not because we have made ourselves to be something special.

1. Know the truth (verses 15, 24). Do you know what the Bible teaches? One of the reasons a Bible is valuable is because it allows us to search the Scriptures for ourselves. If you don’t spend any time in your Bible, reading, asking questions, trying to find out exactly what our core beliefs are and what they mean for our everyday lives then your may be in danger of having your faith overthrown.

2. Know yourselves (verses 19, 22b, 24a). Are you saved? Being saved is more than simply knowing the truth but rather it is a commitment to Christ based on the truth that you know. Have you trusted Him as your Savior, are you part of the family of God?

3. Know the vessels of dishonor (verses 20, 25-26). I’m not talking about a witch hunt. I’m talking about recognizing where one stands in relation to the truth. When I look around the kitchen for a dish to put in the microwave I don’t reach for a Styrofoam plate. That is a vessel of dishonor. If I put a vessel of dishonor in the wrong place there will be negative results.

How many people never hear the gospel because we assume they are okay. They say enough of the right things for us to give them a free pass. Remember, not making a judgment about someone is a judgment. Not recognizing someone as sick may result in their death. We do it gently, humbly, with compassion and even tears but we dare not let the vessels of dishonor sit on the shelf.

No Generation Gap in the Body of Christ September 26, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Apostle Paul, Body of Christ, Discipleship, Second Timothy, Suffering.
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2 Timothy 2:1-18

In the last Olympics, it was fascinating to watch the 4-by-100 and the 4-by-400 track and field races. In all of these races there is a baton that is passed on from runner to runner. The baton is essential to successfully completing the race. If it is dropped the race for that team is over. It doesn’t matter if the drop occurs during the exchange of the baton or during the running of the race. The minute the baton is not where it is supposed to be, the team is out.

In the same way, Grace Bible Church is running a relay race. There is, however, a difference in that we are all running at the same time, we all have our hand on the baton. Some are ready to let it go. Their time in the race is almost over. Others have their hand fully on the baton. Still others are grasping at the baton so that they can get a greater grip on that baton. If, however, a generation drops the baton, the race for Grace Bible Church may be over.

A. The oldest of us need to be imparting their most important lessons (doctrinal/practical) because we will soon be gone (verses 1, 2a, 7-9, 11-13). These lessons are threefold…

1. Be strong in God’s grace (verse 1).
2. Remember God’s gospel (verses 2a, 7-8).
3. Be willing to suffer (verses 9, 11-13). By the way, the creed in verses 11-13 indicates that there was a generation before Paul, a generation that passed down truth in the form of hymns like this one and creeds like the ones found in 1 Corinthians 15 describing the gospel. Let us like Paul look forward to the future but let us also forget that the truth of our message is anchored in the early church who received it from our Lord Jesus Christ who confirmed what the Old Testament prophets revealed in their message from God. If God never speaks to you with a direct message you still have a message from God. Just because it is mediated does not mean it is not God’s word.

B. Those of us following need to be strong in the truth (doctrinal/practical) as we focus on entrusting those less experienced among us who are found faithful in the truth (verses 1-13). Paul, writing from prison, had just related how he had been encouraged by Onesiphorus, who had come to Rome, to his prison cell, and had ministered to him. Who, however, is going to encourage Timothy? Paul volunteers but just in case encouragement from a prison cell is not enough, Paul reminds him that there is grace to be found in the Christ, Jesus.

“The… movie “Black Hawk Down” contains a scene that is quite instructive at this point. A vehicle filled with wounded American soldiers has come to a stop in the middle of a street where Somali bullets are flying in every direction. The officer in charge tells a soldier to get in and starting driving. ‘I can’t,’ the soldier says, ‘I’m shot.’ ‘We’re all shot,’ the officer replies. ‘Get in and drive’” (from Ray Pritchard). Paul is encouraging Timothy to get in and drive.

If the first generation reminds us that we should be willing to suffer, this next generation reminds us that we should be down in the trenches suffering with others. We get tired, we get frustrated, we get discouraged but we need to remember that’s the way the Christian life is. We are soldiers in battle, athletes in competition, farmers laboring for the future. The reward is after the battle, after the game, after the harvest. Now, we need to be strengthened in the grace of Christ.

C. The less experienced among us need to focus on learning to be faithful (verse 2, doctrinally/practically) so that we will be worthy to teach others (verses 14-18).

Have you heard “about the Chinese Bamboo tree[?] When you plant it, it doesn’t come up for five years. The first year—nothing. The second year—nothing. The third year—nothing. The fourth year—nothing. Then in the fifth year, it grows 90 feet in six weeks! The question is, ‘Did it grow 90 feet in five years in six weeks?’ Obviously, it took five years, even though for most of the time it seemed as if nothing was happening” (Ray Pritchard). We give up much too early. We forget that much of the work of God is like the Chinese bamboo tree.

How do you learn to be faithful? (1) You learn the truth of the Bible for that is where faith, the foundation of faithfulness, is to be found (2:15); (2) you learn to give of your time, your money, and your relationships by spending time serving God, including him in your plans, and committing yourself to his people.

This faithfulness, however, is not only talking about what we do but also what we believe. This week we heard in the news that it was discovered that Jesus had a wife. If that worried you, then there are some things that you need to know.
1. The supposed evidence is no bigger than a business card. There is so little text, we don’t even know what it says about Jesus and marriage.
2. It was supposedly written well over three hundred years after Jesus died and it is not certain that it is authentic.
3. If it is authentic, it may well be produced by Gnostics who were heretics and did not even exist until the century after Jesus lived.
4. Jesus was a common name during that time. Just like the grave of Jesus, so what?
5. If Jesus was married, so what? Do we not believe that Jesus was a man like we are in every respect except that he did not sin? What is so sinful about being married and having children by your wife?

Paul says do not waste your time within the church debating things like this that you know are not true. Teach faithful doctrine. Yes, answer the questions of those from outside, defend the faith, but don’t tolerate such foolish teachings within the church. They are not to be tolerated.

D. Those not yet among us must receive that which is true or they will be damned (verses 12, 18, 26). The snare of Satan is a snare that leads to eternal damnation.

How do you assure that those not in this auditorium today will receive the word? By not wasting your time with those things that corrupt the gospel of Jesus Christ. What does that look like today? It looks like a return, not to the culture of the previous generations but rather to the truth that is eternal, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Many years ago, when [Ray Pritchard] taught through Colossians in a Wednesday night Bible class in Oak Park [near Chicago], a small group of people would come to the chapel for the lessons… [They] often only had 20 or 30 people there…One year [he] spent a long time going through Colossians verse by verse…[One] night [he] came to Colossians 1:28… Bob Allen was there that night. Bob must have [been] around 80 years old. He had come to Christ in a dramatic conversion many decades earlier. His faith was deep and genuine, and he was by nature a modest man who didn’t talk about himself very much. Because there weren’t many people there that night, [Pritchard] roamed up and down the aisle of the chapel, waxing eloquent about the true purpose of the ministry. At one point [he] had Bob stand up to portray the day he would stand before the Lord. [Pritchard] imagined [himself] saying, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, this is Bob Allen. I present him to you as complete in Christ.’ A hush settled in the room as the magnificence of that day dawned on [the congregation]… Bob whispered, “Thank you,” as he sat down.” Will the generation following you say, “Thank you” to you and your generation?