Monthly Archives: May 2011

What Ezra taught me about preaching

There is a debate raging in churches today over how to teach the Bible. Should we teach verse by verse or do topical series? Should our sermons be Bible based or Bible exposition? Should we focus on explaining the meaning of the passage and leave the practical application up to the individual, or should we include that as well?

Perhaps one of the best examples of expository preaching is found in the life and ministry of Ezra. We see his philosophy of ministry in Ezra 7:10.

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

Four key phrases give us insight into Ezra’s approach:

  • “Ezra . . . set his heart . . .” He committed himself to the task.
  • “. . . study the Law of the Lord . . .” He didn’t read other people’s opinions. He read and studied the Scriptures directly.
  • “. . . to do it . . .” Ezra wasn’t satisfied with merely understanding the passage. He applied it to his own life and put it into practice before he taught it to others.
  • “. . . to teach his statutes and rules.” Teaching the statutes and rules encompassed both belief and behavior, doctrine and application. Ezra wanted people to understand what the Scriptures said and how their worked.

In Nehemiah 8:5, 7, 8, we see how Ezra practiced his craft.

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. . . Also . . . the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Ezra read the Scriptures to the people who had gathered in the public square. But he didn’t stop there. He also used others to help the people understand what they heard. Before the people left the meeting, they heard the Scriptures read and explained, and they knew what it meant for their lives.

Based on Ezra’s example, my definition of expository preaching is that when we preach, we should explain the meaning of the Scriptures and how to apply them to daily life. When we take that approach, we demonstrate we are direct descendents of Ezra.

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Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Preaching, Scripture


Memorial Day 2011

On this Day of Memorial 2011, let me say, “Thanks!” to the men and women who have served, fought, defended, and died for our country to secure and protect our freedom. Thank you for your faithfulness and patriotism. In particular, I want to thank the ones I have known personally who have served in the military–Dad, Jack, Dave, Carl, Dan, Luke, Jarol, Alan, Harlow, Jerry, Bob, Ralph, Carol, and Conrad–in WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and peacetime. Thank you. We’re in your debt.

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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Family & Friends


Life Lessons from King David

For the past nine months, I have immersed myself in 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles as I studied and preached through the life of King David. As I wrap up the series, here are six lessons I have observed in his life and want to practice in my own.

  1. God chose David to be the king of Israel on the basis of his heart attitude at the time of his anointing (1 Samuel 13:14; 16:7).
  2. David’s success came when he trusted God (1 Samuel 17:45; 30:6). His failures came when he stopped trusting God and took matters into his own hands (1 Samuel 23; 29:1-30:6).
  3. David’s greatest failures always followed a period of great success and popularity.
  4. Each time David acknowledged his sin and truly repented, God forgave and restored him to fellowship with himself (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51).
  5. Though forgiven, David still bore the natural consequences of his sins (2 Samuel 13-18).
  6. Because of his passion for God and his willingness to acknowledge and confess his sins, David is known as a man after God’s own heart. He becomes the standard by which all the kings of Israel and Judah are measured (1 Kings 15:11; 2 Kings 14:3; 2 Chronicles 29:2).

The world’s most secret detective

Book Review: No place like Holmes, by Jason Lethcoe

Having recently listened to The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, I was intrigued to read No place like Holmes, the story of the world’s most secret detective, and who just happened to live next door to Sherlock Holmes, the world’s most famous detective.

No place like Holmes is the story of Griffin Sharpe, a 12-year-old “genius” with good observation skills, and a near photographic memory. He has been sent from Boston to spend the summer in England with his uncle. As it turns out, his uncle is an aspiring private detective and inventor, and a competitor of Sherlock Holmes. Griffin is also a Christian who is praying for two things: some way to use his talents for God and to make a friend.

Griffin and his uncle get pulled into a mystery, searching for a kidnapped watchmaker. As it turns out, the watchmaker was kidnapped by Nigel Moriarity, the nephew of the famous Professor, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis.

The book, aimed at 9-12 year olds, is very clever and creative. It includes some questions in the back of the book where the reader can test his own powers of observations. It also includes two mini-mysteries which the reader can help solve.

Parents will appreciate that the author weaves Christian principles into the story without being preachy. The book portrays a 12-year-old who struggles to overcome fear and loneliness, and who prays for God to help him deal with his problems.

A very fun, encouraging story, well worth a read. It would be a great gift for the pre-teens in your life. It would also be a good book to read along with your child, and then discuss together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in Books


True North Principles

How do you discover the values on which a person built their life? One way is to observe how they spend their last days prior to death. Listen in to their conversations with their family and friends and pick up on the advice and instructions they communicate when they know their days are numbered.

Before the curtain closes on King David’s life, he gives final instructions to the nation and to his son, Solomon. In 1 Chronicles 28 & 29, David explains four principles that will lead them to success.

Obedience: Obeying God’s plan leads to blessing (28:1-8)

Rather than complain that God did not allow him to build the temple (28:2-3), David praises God for establishing his kingdom (28:4-7). He demonstrates acceptance and submission to God’s plan. David then encourages the leaders of Israel to obey God if they want to receive his blessings (28:8).

Purpose: God chose you for a task (28:9-21)

David encourages Solomon to seek God and to serve him with a whole heart if he wants to receive God’s blessings (28:9). David knew it was easy to be busy serving God and never develop a relationship with him. So he emphasized knowing God and then serving him.

David knew that the task of building a temple for the worship of God was a daunting task. So he encourages Solomon not to fear God’s assignment for his life (28:10, 20). He reminds him that God will help him finish the task.

Commitment: Follow my example and give generously (29:1-9)

Before asking the nation to commit to building the temple (29:5), David sets the example and gives of his own resources (29:1-5). The nation responds and gives joyfully and generously (29:6-8).

Worship: Yours, O Lord, is the glory (29:10-22)

David praises God for his greatness (29:10-13). He thanks God for his generous gifts (29:14-19). The nation then joins in worshipping God (29:20-22).

Obedience, purpose, commitment, and worship would help Solomon and Israel be successful in the days to come. While we may not face the challenge of replacing a well-loved ruler or building a cathedral, these life principles can help us accomplish what God has called us to do.


You don’t have to be a superhero to make a difference in the world

Book Review: Average Joe: God’s extraordinary calling to ordinary men, by Troy Meeder

I was raised on comic books and Saturday morning cartoons. My heroes were Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Iron Man, and anyone else with a secret identity. I grew up believing you had to wear a cape or a gadget-equipped-tool-belt to make a difference in the world.

Troy Meeder has written a helpful volume that dispels that myth. He argues that “average Joes” are the real heroes in life. This Joe “is that steadfast example of simple faith, honor, integrity, and character. He is the man who goes home at night to his wife and children. He mows the lawn, fixes the deck, reads to his kids, loves his wife, helps his friends, and serves his Lord. He’s the kind of neighbor who will lend you his tools and watch your house when you’re out of town. You trust him with your kids. He pays his bills and taxes. If he says he will be somewhere, he will be there—and on time. He’s got his problems, and he owns them. Quite simply, average Joe is the very best of who we are.”

Throughout the book, the author illustrates his point through the lives of men who make their living as gardeners, soldiers, cowboys, and businessmen. They make an impact as encouragers, mentors, and friends. Troy backs up many of his concepts with lessons from the life of David and other Old Testament characters. The book includes a helpful study you can use to think deeper about the lessons or use in a small group discussion.

For those of us who find ourselves in a not-so-glamorous life, this is a very encouraging book. It reminds us that God uses ordinary men to do important work. I did find it ironic, however, that the author makes his living as a cowboy, one of the heroes that many boys grew up wanting to be like.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Books


No explanation needed

(Haven’t been able to confirm location. One billboard appeared in Greensboro, NC, and this one is reportedly in Dallas, TX. Whoever did it has comic timing and tongue-in-cheek sense of ironic humor.)

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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in News stories, Photos, Scripture


Old does not equal Wise

One wit stated, “You can only be young once . . . but you can be immature for a lifetime.” Another quipped, “Growing up is inevitable, growing up is optional.”

Old age does not guarantee wisdom. Those old enough to know better don’t always make the right choices. Even godly people can make mistakes. I like how The Message paraphrases Job 32:9, “The experts have no corner on wisdom; getting old doesn’t guarantee good sense.”

I have been on AARP’s invitation list for six years, and I can now order off the senior’s menu at Denny’s. However, I still find myself making stupid decisions. I feel like a living example of Job’s insight and wisdom.

I find I am not alone. King David of Israel was another man who made mistakes as an older gentleman. He provides an example of what not to do, as well as an example of how to recover from a mistake.

2 Samuel 24 and the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21 tell the story of one of the worst mistakes of David’s life. In fact, his foolish decision cost 70,000 people their lives. Talk about a “D’OH!” moment!

David got into trouble when he listened to the whispers of the enemy (1 Chronicles 21:1) and ignored the counsel of his closest advisors (2 Samuel 24:3-4). David’s pride and lack of accountability led him to take a census of the nation.

This is the example we should not follow. Pride and independence do not make good dance partners. We should be willing to listen to counsel at any age. We should allow others to ask us the hard questions, and we should be willing to follow their advice.

Fortunately, David comes to his senses. He recognizes that he made a grave error and he confesses his sin (2 Samuel 24:10). When confronted with the consequences, David falls on the mercy of God (2 Samuel 24:14). He also intercedes for the health and safety of his people by asking God to punish him and his family rather than the nation (2 Samuel 24:17).

David’s willingness to acknowledge and confess his sin is what makes David a man after God’s own heart. This part of David’s character is an example we should follow.

In order to grow wiser as we grow older, we need to make wise decisions. One of the most basic is taking God and his lordship seriously. We should admit that he is in charge and place ourselves under his authority. A second wise decision is recognizing the cost and consequences of sin. Yes, sin brings a certain amount of pleasure. But the pleasure is brief and the cost is high and long lasting.

Immaturity may come as standard equipment on everyone born in the human race. But you can replace it with the optional wisdom package. Choose to grow up as you grow older.


How will the world end?

Book Review: The Seraph Seal, by Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner

The Seraph Seal is a well-written, intriguing, thought-provoking, and entertaining yarn. It has the flavor of a Dan-Brown-does-apocalyptic-literature-divine-conspiracy novel, yet it thoroughly entertains in a fast paced, page-turning, can’t-put-it-down style.

The story begins with the birth of nine individuals on December 21, 2011. The story then fast forwards to April 2048 where it weaves these nine lives together. Will they unite to bring in a new age of humanity or usher in the kingdom of God? is the question the reader is asked throughout the story.

The authors designed the book as “engaged fiction,” an invitation for the reader to participate in the story and determine whether the authors’ scenario would be yours and whether or not you would choose a different ending. In Part V of the book, the authors include the details from the main character’s journal he maintained throughout the story. I found it very helpful and constantly flipped back and forth to double check details as I was reading.

The authors accomplished their purpose in the sense that I enjoyed the story but did not care for the ending. I would have chosen a different one. I found the conclusion a bit too new age-ish for my taste.

The book is religious, but not biblical. It is heavy on symbolism and syncretism as it draws from Mayan calendars, Kabballah, art, philosophy, Jewish and Christian traditions, sci-fi fantasy, new age ideas, and the book of Revelation. It emphasizes faith in God, but not necessarily faith in Christ. It presents the notion that people united in love can usher in the dawn of a new day. The main character lays down his life for his friends, and is then reborn in a new time and place with a second chance to change the world.

In recommending the book, keep it mind it is a work of fiction, not a theological treatise on the end times. It succeeds as the former, but not as the latter.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Books


Will the world end tomorrow?

“Judgment Day is coming!            The rapture comes tomorrow!            The world ends in October!     THE BIBLE GUARANTEES IT!”

Billboards, radio stations, websites, newspapers, and magazines all shout the headlines. You cannot escape it.

I first encountered this teaching back in November when my wife and I saw the RV caravan in Portland. A few weeks ago, I read about the various billboards, some announcing the rapture and others making fun of the campaign. I read today about people who have quit their jobs and stopped investing in their children’s college funds because they follow the teaching.

The topic is on everyone’s lips. As my dentist was filling my tooth yesterday, his assistant asked, “You’re a pastor, will the rapture happen on Saturday?” (How I was supposed to answer with four hands in my mouth is another subject entirely.) My administrative assistant and I joked this week whether or not to prepare a bulletin or a sermon for Sunday. (We revealed our lack of faith by doing both respectively.)

Out of curiosity, I went to the organization’s website this morning to do some research on what they believe. I came away with the following impressions about their teaching:

  • It appeals to pride—“We alone know the truth because God revealed it to us. You too can know the secret things of God.”
  • It rejects the church—“The church age ended in 1988. Anyone who is in a church today is being deceived.”
  • It rejects the rules of biblical interpretation in favor of personal opinion—“The literal, grammatical, historical method of interpretation (hermeneutic) is a man-made creation. Scripture should be treated like the parables: physical words, but with a spiritual meaning. Seek the deeper meaning, which by the way, God revealed to us.”
  • It teaches salvation by works—“Salvation by faith in Christ is a man-made doctrine. True salvation comes by repenting and obeying what Scripture teaches. Belief is a spiritual work.”
  • It teaches annihilationism—“True believers will be saved, but the lost will be destroyed in the lake of fire.”
  • It rejects accountability—“If you disagree, you are not a true believer.”
  • Their doctrine reveals Paul’s prophecy in 2 Timothy 3:1-7.

Most of all, I wondered how this must grieve the heart of God. Many people have already been led astray. Many more will be turned off when the predictions do NOT come true tomorrow. Many will walk away disillusioned. Many others will laugh at Christians and Christianity. Preaching the gospel will become harder than ever.

“Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42)


Posted by on May 20, 2011 in News stories, Scripture, Theology