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Category Archives: Theological Essay

A THEOLOGY OF RISK (Part 3)

Several years ago I was enjoying a semester’s sabbatical, a time the university gave me to do research and ministry, with no teaching responsibilities.  I had a number of writing projects I was working on, as well as an increasingly long “honey-do” list from my wife Linda.

I remember that morning as clear as a bell.  Linda woke up at about 5 am and went into the sunroom to have her devotions.  I got up at 5:30 am to do the same.  “Honey, have you seen my CIU laptop?”, I asked her.  “No, didn’t you leave it in the living room last night?”, she replied.  I looked in the living room and my stomach fell.  “Where’s MY laptop?”, Linda asked.  She then came into the kitchen and immediately saw that her pocketbook had been ransacked and all her credit cards were missing.  We also noticed that a small digital camera had vanished from our living room coffee table.  “We’ve been robbed!”, I said.

Between 11 pm that last night and 5 am that early morning, thieves came in our back patio door which we had left unlocked for friends a few days previous.  They had stolen both our laptops, Linda’s credit cards, and that small camera.  They were only 10 feet away from our open bedroom door.  Linda is a light sleeper and didn’t wake up.  I’m glad I didn’t wake up, because I would have probably stumbled out of bed, confronted the thieves, and gotten myself — and maybe my wife — killed!   The police never found the home invaders; we never got our stuff back.  I guess they considered it “worth the risk” to enter a home where they knew the couple was sleeping.

People take risks all the time.  There are foolish risks (like living your life without a faith relationship with Jesus Christ), but there are also godly risks (like giving one’s life for another).  We read in the book of Acts that the early Christians were “Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:26).

In our comfort-addicted, risk-averse culture, are we “hazarding” our lives for the sake of the Good News about Jesus Christ?  As pastor Steve Brown says, “When I witness, I’m afraid of what people will think of me, and of what people will think of Jesus.  But mostly I’m afraid of what people will think of me.”

My student (whose paper I hope to publish on this blog shortly) directed our attention to the music video by Tim McGraw entitled “Live Like You Were Dyin’.”  Please take the time to watch that video and comment on our topic.

Questions:

1.  Are you and I in any way, shape, or fashion “hazarding” our lives for the sake of the gospel? Why or why not?

2.  What should you do differently today if you bought into the idea of living a risky life for Jesus Christ?

 
 

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The Passing of Dr. Dave Reid

I got very sad news yesterday as I preached in Durham, NC.  I learned that my new friend, Dr. David Reid, had died in a skiing accident in Utah at the end of January.  I’ve been praying all day for the Lord’s comfort for Dave’s family.

Dave was greatly used by the Lord in his 28 years of teaching at Emmaus Bible College, Dubuque, Iowa (my alma mater).  After his retirement he expanded his ministry “Devotions for Growing Christians” begun in 1973.  That web site can be accessed here:  http://www.growingchristians.org/

I met David and his dear wife at Lake Geneva Bible Camp this past summer.  I preached in the mornings and Dave preached in the evenings.  We worked well together and the Lord seemed to bless both our ministries during that week.

I am sure he and I could have become great friends.  We played some tennis together and challenged each other in several games of chess.  He showed no mercy — nor did I — and we had a great time!

May the Lord greatly bless the legacy which Dave leaves behind — and bring great comfort to his family.

 

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An Analysis of the Liam Neeson Movie “The Grey”

Took my son-in-law to see “The Grey,” starring Liam Neeson on my birthday, February 2 (Ground Hog’s Day).

WARNING!!!   SPOILER COMMENTARY!!!

I guess that means that we tell you how the movie ends.  So read on at your own risk.

The movie isn’t really that complicated.  A group of oil men in Alaska crash in the woods and they’re all eaten by wolves. That’s it.

However, Liam Neeson gives a strong performance as the only sane man among them, inspiring the men (seven to begin with) to be courageous and fight to survive.  He recalls a poem his father wrote when he was small which read:

“Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know
Live and die on this day
Live and die on this day.”

The movie ends with everyone (except Neeson) killed by wolves and he finds that he has stumbled into the very den of a pack of wolves.  He prepares himself to jump once more into the fray as he uses electrical tape to tape small airline liquor bottles between the fingers of his left hand and a hunting knife in his right hand.  The last scene has him breaking the bottles so that both hands are weapons as the largest wolf in the universe hurls itself against him.  Then the credits . . .

My son-in-law Thom and I left the theatre quite depressed.  But the movie was realistic, exciting, and, well, provocative.  There is a scene where Neeson dares God to DO SOMETHING to help them, but no help comes.  Heaven appears silent as he concludes that he will just fight this battle alone.

This film does not inspire the movie-goer to trust God in the hard circumstances of life, to say the least.  It is a virtual tribute to the human will to survive.  But the fact that God doesn’t rescue him does not mean He does not exist.

One other point:  In watching “The Grey” I was reminded of Acts 20 where Paul writes to the Ephesian elders the following:

The wolves described by Paul were savage, homegrown ones who would not spare the flock.  As a theologian, I’m concerned about those who “distort the truth” and are on a mission to proselytize.

Questions:  1.  What theological wolves are you concerned about these days?  2.  What does it mean for us to “once more [get] into the fray”?

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in CHRISTIAN LIVING, Theological Essay

 

ANOTHER COMFORTER?

Friends:

You might find the following helpful in thinking about the Holy Spirit as the “other Comforter” discussed by the Lord Jesus in John 14-16.  Always glad to get your comments.

Jesus says the Holy Spirit would be “another paraclete” to His disciples.  Would the term “comfort” be the first to come to mind when we think of how Jesus was to His disciples?  He rebukes them for their unbelief, for their sleeping, for having no faith.  He defends them when they are accused of violating sacred rules of ceremonial washing or ignoring Sabbath observance.  He “comes alongside” them when their faith is too weak to exorcize a demon-possessed boy.

“Comfort” seems to imply bringing solace to one who is weeping.  The disciples (during the earthly ministry of the Lord) did not know enough to weep.  He does not “comfort” them – He challenges, chastises, corrects, and even cajoles them.  “Comfort” is far too weak a term.  And sometimes the last thing the believer needs is a sympathetic companion who wipes away his tears.           We need One who is fully divine to come alongside of us and put His finger on our sins and remind our hearts, “You belong to Your Heavenly Father.”  We require One who will motivate and empower us to take risks for the Kingdom of God, One who will not be satisfied with one-seventh of our week, with the leftovers of our hours and days.  We need One who will be “called alongside of” us even when we ourselves don’t have enough wisdom to invite His intrusive presence.

In an age of comfort food, we need the Bread of Life broken to us by the Spirit who yearns for our sanctification.  We desperately require a Defender in the face of undeserved, snarling rebukes by an unbelieving world – and in the face of deserved charges of our sins by the great Accuser, Satan himself.  The Spirit is not a soothing Teddy Bear, but the Hound of Heaven who will not let us be.

Our primary need is not for Someone who will say, “There, there.  It will all be okay.  It really doesn’t matter.”  We require Someone who will remind us that life matters greatly, that we might well die for the sake of the gospel – and we are no fools if such happens to us.  We need Someone who will remind us of our sonship even when Satan, the world around us, other Christians, and even our own conduct seem to contradict the very idea that we could be loved and forgiven by God.  We need to be rescued from our consumeristic culture and transformed into God-centered, other-focused ambassadors for the King.  In our postmodern atmosphere where it seems no one knows who they are and have stopped asking such questions, the Spirit reminds us of our adoption into God’s family.  In our subjective circles of pooled ignorance, often punctuated by “Here’s what  the Lord says to me,” we need the determined Applyer of the truth of Scripture to do His mighty work in conjunction with the serious attention to the meaning of the Word.  Surrounded by moral relativity and a resistance to anyone who defends the concepts of right and wrong, we desperately need the inner conviction of the Spirit who does not debate moral matters with us, but puts His divine finger on the shortcomings of our thoughts and actions.  In brief, we need Someone like Jesus.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in CHRISTIAN LIVING, Theological Essay

 

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A NEW (FOR ME) C.S. LEWIS ARTICLE (PART 3):

I found this tract of several pages a while back in another Lewis book.  I’ve been informed that this essay is inGod in the Dock.  Here are the 2nd and 3rd pages:

Here is what the text says (including the 1st page):

One of the advantages of having a written and printed service, is that it enables you to see when people’s feelings and thoughts have changed. When people begin to find the words of our service difficult to join in, that is of course a sign that we do not feel about those things exactly as our ancestors. Many people have, as their immediate reaction to that situation the simple remedy — “Well, change the words” — which would be very sensible if you knew that we are right and our ancestors were wrong. It is always at least worth while to find out who it is that is wrong.
The Lenten season is devoted especially to what theologians call contrition, and so every day in Lent a prayer is said in which we ask God to give us “contrite hearts.” Contrite, as you know, is a word translated from Latin, meaning crushed or pulverized. Now modern people complain that there is too much of that note in our Prayer Book.  They do not wish their hearts to be pulverized, and they do not feel that they can sincerely say that they are “miserable offenders.”2  I once knew a regular churchgoer who never repeated the words, “the burden of them (i.e. his sins) is intolerable”,3 because he did not feel that they were intolerable.  But he was not understanding the words.  I think the Prayer Book is very seldom talking primarily about our feelings; that is (I think) the first mistake we’re apt to make about these words “we are miserable offenders.”  I do not think whether we are feeling miserable or not matters.  I think it is using the word miserable in the old sense — meaning an object of pity.  That a person can be a proper object of pity when he is not feeling miserable, yo can easily understand if you imagine yourself looking down from a height on two crowded express trains that are traveling towards one another along the same line at 60 miles an hour.  You can see that in forty seconds there will be a head-on collision.  I think it would be very natural to say about the passengers of these trains, that they were objects of pity.  This would not mean that they felt miserable themselves; but they would certainly be proper objects of pity.  I think that this is the sense in which to take the word ‘miserable.’  The Prayer Book does not mean that we should feel miserable but that if we could see things from a sufficient height above we should all realize that we are in fact proper objects of pity.

As to the other one, about the burden of our sins being intolerable it might be clearer if we said ‘unbearable’, because that still has two meanings; you say, ‘I cannot bear it’, when  you mean it gives you great pain, but you also say ‘That bridge will not bear that truck’ — not meaning ‘That bridge will feel pain’, but ‘if that truck goes on to it, it will break and not be a bridge any longer, but a mass of rubble.’  I wonder if that is what the Prayer Book means; that, whether we feel miserable or not, and however we feel, there is on each of us a load which, if nothing is done about it, will in fact break us, will send us from this world to whatever happens afterwards, not as souls but as broken souls.

But are we really to believe that on each of us there lies something which if not taken off us, will . . . (TO BE CONTINUED)

 

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WORKING OUT YOUR OWN . . . FAITH!

I’ve been doing a lot of work, friends, on a project which I pray will come to fruition within the next year or so.  I don’t have a publisher yet, so suggested contacts are welcomed!

WORKING OUT YOUR OWN . . . FAITH:  

Engaging Scripture for Yourself!

Original cover by Ron Wheeler

This series of ten workbooks will cover all major areas of the Christian faith (the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of the church, etc.).  Presented in a spiral-bound, lay-flat format, each workbook provides the serious Christian with key Scriptures to investigate, brief definitions of crucial terms in that area of doctrine, a month’s supply of devotionals on that area of doctrine, and practical exercises to apply what is being learned.

Didn’t the cartoonist Ron Wheeler do a terrific job on the cover art?

More on this project in a few days.

Questions:  Would you benefit from such a workbook?  What ideas would you like to see in these?

 

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WHAT HAVE I BEEN UP TO?

Friends:

Sorry I haven’t posted recently.  Life has become very busy.  Perhaps you can identify!

I hope to add regular posts to this blog, and thought I’d take this morning to share one project that I have going.

I have a book contract to write on the subject “Twelve Atheists Who Have Trusted Christ.”  Christian Focus Publishers in Scotland is the publisher (they have done several of my books:  “DocTalk,” “DocWalk,” “The Other Side of the Good News”).  I’m quite excited about this new project.  Allow me to explain it to you.

“Twelve Atheists” will deal with five N. American and five Continental atheists who have come to Christ.   The book will begin with a chapter entitled: “C.S. Lewis: Mere Atheist.”  I’m looking forward to researching this period in Lewis’ pre-Christian life and am very open to input from any of you who might know of some books or articles that I need to consult.

After chapters 2-11 (which will give the stories of a wide variety of former atheists), the last chapter will be entitled something like:  “The Twelfth  Atheist: You?”  This chapter will summarize the reasons to abandon atheism and will seek to present the gospel.

Comments welcome!  Have a great day!

Larry

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in atheism, Theological Essay

 

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IF THE BOOK OF PHILIPPIANS CAN BE TRUSTED . . . THEN . . . (Part 6):

I recently preached on highlights from the book of Philippians in our church in South Carolina.

For the purpose of this blog, I’m approaching the highlights as conclusions to a proposition:

IF GOD’S WORD, SPECIFICALLY THIS BOOK OF PHILIPPIANS, CAN BE TRUSTED, THEN . . .

I.  My prayer life will be revolutionized (1:3-6).  I will learn to pray with JOY for others, pray for our partnerships in the gospel, and pray for God’s continuing & maturing work in the lives of others.

We next saw that IF God’s Word can be trusted, then

2.  My view of life and death will be revised (1:20-24).   There Paul says he wants to exalt Christ in his life or his death:  “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

The third truth that leaps out at me from Philippians is this:

3. My perspective on suffering will be matured (1:29-30).  There we see that it is a GIFT to suffer for Him (a gift which property preachers don’t want to receive!).

The fourth truth which we saw in the book of Philippians relates to how I view myself.  IF the book of Philippians can be trusted, then . . .

4.  My self-image will be challenged (2:1-5).  There we learn that we are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but to put others’ needs before our own.

The fifth truth is that —

5.  My System of Values will be recalibrated (3:1-9).  In discussing that passage, we saw that —

A.  Knowing Him might lead to the loss of everything else!

B.  A relationship with Jesus Christ is more important than anything else life offers!

We move now to the SIXTH truth that jumps out at me, in trusting God’s Word, is that —

6.  MY PERSPECTIVE ON CIRCUMSTANCES WILL BE BROUGHT INTO LINE WITH GOD’S WORD (4:4-7).  There we read:  4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We see in this passage that anxiety is replaced by peaceful, protective prayer!

Discussion Questions:  How do you view your circumstances?  Do you see them as opportunities to show your faith in Christ to a watching world?

 

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IF GOD’S WORD CAN BE TRUSTED . . . (Part 5)

In our church we’ve been going through the fantastic epistle of Philippians.  Because I am a member of our preaching team, I was given an opportunity to share a kind of summary-message on the highlights from Philippians that stand out to me.

For the purpose of this blog, I’m approaching the highlights as conclusions to a proposition:

IF GOD’S WORD, SPECIFICALLY THIS BOOK OF PHILIPPIANS, CAN BE TRUSTED, THEN . . .

I.  My prayer life will be revolutionized (1:3-6).  I will learn to pray with JOY for others, pray for our partnerships in the gospel, and pray for God’s continuing & maturing work in the lives of others.

We next saw that IF God’s Word can be trusted, then

2.  My view of life and death will be revised (1:20-24).   There Paul says he wants to exalt Christ in his life or his death:  “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

The third truth that leaps out at me from Philippians is this:

3. My perspective on suffering will be matured (1:29-30).  There we see that it is a GIFT to suffer for Him (a gift which property preachers don’t want to receive!).

The fourth truth which we saw in the book of Philippians relates to how I view myself.  IF the book of Philippians can be trusted, then . . .

4.  My self-image will be challenged (2:1-5).  There we learn that we are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but to put others’ needs before our own.

Let’s move on and notice the FIFTH TRUTH from Philippians — assuming it can be trusted!  That FIFTH TRUTH IS:

5.  MY SYSTEM OF VALUES WILL BE RECALIBRATED (3:1-9).  Those verses tell us:

1 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

We see from this text that, first of all, knowing Him might lead to the loss of everything else.  This could involve a literal loss of all things or a mental loss of all things.  The latter would be true when we count everything loss for the sake of knowing Christ.  [for an account of our losing everything in a house fire in 2003, see my book When Temptation Strikes].

We also see from this text that, second, a relationship with Jesus Christ is more important than anything else life offers!

Discussion Questions:  How have your VALUES been changed since coming to Christ?  What values do you presently hold that appear out of sync with Christian truth?

 

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IF GOD’S WORD CAN BE TRUSTED, THEN . . . (Part 4)

We’ve been going through the fantastic epistle of Philippians in our church here in South Carolina.  As one member of our preaching team, it was my job several Sundays ago to preach on this letter.  I chose to offer some summary-type considerations.

The first was simply, IF God’s Word can be trusted, then

I.  My prayer life will be revolutionized (1:3-6).  I will learn to pray with JOY for others, pray for our partnerships in the gospel, and pray for God’s continuing & maturing work in the lives of others.  The second truth I found in surveying the book of Philippians was this:  IF God’s Word can be trusted, then

2.  My view of life and death will be revised (1:20-24).   I will say with the Apostle Paul that to live is Christ and to die is gain!

3. My perspective on suffering will be matured (1:29-30).  There we saw in verses 29-30 that 29 it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.  I then said that it is beyond my understanding how some prosperity preachers can insist that it is the believer’s birthright NOT to suffer.  Verse 29 clearly says, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.”  Suffering is a GIFT in this text, is it not?  If BELIEVING in Him is a gift, so is SUFFERING!

We move now to the fourth implication of the book of Philippians IF God’s Word can be trusted.  IF God’s Word can be trusted, then . . .

4.  MY SELF-IMAGE WILL BE CHALLENGED (2:1-5).  There we read, 1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus . . .

Paul is quite direct here, isn’t he?  If we have any of these blessings in Christ (encouragement, comfort, sharing in the Spirit, tenderness & compassion), then we will strive to be like-minded and be unified with other believers.  We will seek to do nothing out of selfish ambition.  But we will value others above ourselves, looking on the interests of others.  And we will strive to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus!

Wow!  In a culture which says, LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE NOW, PULL YOUR OWN STRINGS, LOOK OUT FOR #1, God’s Word says, PUT OTHERS FIRST, SEEK UNITY WITH OTHER BELIEVERS, HAVE THE MINDSET OF JESUS CHRIST!

Someone named Deborah Espect wrote a book with the captivating . title, My Self, The Enemy The World Health Organization’s statement at the bottom of the front cover reads: “One million people commit suicide every year.”

Suicide is awful, of course, but when we live for ourselves, when we allow our “self-image” to guide us rather than the Word of God, we are committing spiritual suicide, don’t you think?

Discussion Questions:  (1) How does our culture value self-image above truth?  (2) What steps can the believer in Jesus take to combat this world’s suicidal propaganda?

 

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