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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Do You Really Want The State In Charge Of Your Health?

socializedmedicineFrom: The Desk of Wesley J. Smith

Imagine that you have lung cancer. It has been in remission, but your latest test is bad news: The cancer returned and is likely to be terminal.

Still, there is some hope. Chemotherapy could extend your life, if not save it. You ask to begin treatment. But you soon receive more devastating news: A letter from the government informs you that the cost of chemotherapy is deemed an unjustified expense for the limited extra time it would likely provide. However, the government is not without compassion. You are informed that whenever you are ready, it will gladly pay for your assisted suicide.

Think that’s an alarmist scenario to scare you away from supporting “death with dignity?” Wrong. That is exactly what happened last year to two cancer patients in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal. . . .

Continue reading. . . .

The Embrace Of Secularism

debaptismQuoting Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham:

“Our politicians seem to live in a different world, a world that is purely secular and material, a world that does not permit a mature consideration of the key role of religious belief. Behind this is the assertion that religious influences are bad for you, and that ignorance of religion is better than exposure to it and the study of it.

“Why is this so? It lies in the distorted and truncated notion of reason which shapes our society and, to a large extent, the education it offers. Quite simply we have sold our soul to a positivistic understanding of reason. By this is meant that knowledge and reasoning are limited to what can be positively seen, measured and physically tested through hypothesis, experiment and observation.

“What positive knowledge and reasoning cannot do is provide anything that is normative in value or moral judgement. They can discover, magnificently, what can be done. They cannot, properly, provide and answer to the question, ‘But should it be done?’ “Moral reasoning overcomes the ‘individualism’ of a positivist culture.

“A society which limits itself – and its education – to a positivistic understanding of reason will find itself unable to determine shared moral principles and values. Such a society will lack cohesion. How ironic it is that in our public culture a cynicism about religious faith has taken hold. Have we, quite simply, lost our nerve when it comes to the reality of religious belief?

“We have lost our nerve because, as a society, we have taken the road of relegating all these matters to the sphere of the private and of seeking to build our society, our cohesiveness, on the secular/material instead. Yet there will never be a truly cohesive society that does not take seriously the spiritual quest of its people… The rigorously secular, liberal project of community cohesion is mistaken in its fundamental view of the human person and simply will not work.”

Stop Spending The Future!

A Dangerous Myth

Quoting Ronald Reagan:

“The most dangerous myth is the demagoguery that business can be made to pay a larger share, thus relieving the individual. Politicians preaching this are either deliberately dishonest, or economically illiterate, and either one should scare us. Business doesn’t pay taxes…. Only people pay taxes, and people pay as consumers every tax that is assessed against a business. Begin with the food and fiber raised in the farm, to the ore drilled in a mine, to the oil and gas from out of the ground, whatever it may be — through the processing, through the manufacturing, on out to the retailer’s license. If the tax cannot be included in the price of the product, no one along that line can stay in business.”

Looking To God’s Provision

easter-cross-360x270From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9)

John Piper writes these five observations:

1) Jesus Is the Son of Man

Jesus is the Son of Man who is lifted up on the cross the way the snake was lifted up. He identifies himself as the Son of Man in John 9:35-37-“‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ [he asks the man he had healed.] He answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.'” So when Jesus speaks of the Son of Man being lifted up, he is talking about himself, and his own crucifixion.

2) Jesus Is the Source of Rescue

Jesus, in the place of the snake, is the source of healing, the source of rescue from the poison of sin, and the wrath of God. Jesus is the source of eternal life. Moses lifted up the snake, but Moses is not the rescuer in the way Jesus sets up the comparison. Who lifts up the Son of Man on the cross? “The Son of Man must be lifted up”-by whom?

There is only one place where the lifters are identified in John’s Gospel. They are the Pharisees. John 8:28 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he.'” Who is you? According to John 8:13, it’s the Pharisees. The Pharisees stand in the place of Moses. So Moses is not being treated as a rescuer, a savior. In Numbers, the one who saves is God by means of the snake. And in John, the one who saves is God by means of Jesus.

3) Jesus Is Portrayed as a Curse

Jesus in the place of the snake is portrayed as evil and a curse. This is what is so shocking. The snake is evil. The snakes were killing people. The snake on the pole is a picture of God’s curse on the people. So it was with Jesus. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:2, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And in Galatians 3:13, he said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” In becoming like the snake, he was the embodiment of our sin, and the embodiment of our curse. And in becoming sin and curse for us, he took ours away.

4) Jesus Gives Eternal Life

What he gives us from the cross is eternal life. Verse 14-15: “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” When our sin and God’s wrath are taken away, God is for us totally. And if God is for us, we will never die, but live forever with him in joy.

5) Jesus Crucified Is the One We See

All of this he is saying to Nicodemus, who was very confused about the new birth and how it happens. This is what you say to a person who is not born again. Why? They are dead and blind. Because God ordains to open the eyes of the blind when they have something to see-namely a compelling picture of Jesus crucified for sinners. And what should you do, Nicodemus? What you do today?

Believe in him. Verse 15: “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” What does that mean? What does it involve? What, in this comparison with the snake on a pole, does believe in him mean? It means look to him. The grace of the new birth is our seeing Christ lifted up.

Read this entire sermon. . . .

When Preaching Loses Its Place In The Church

lordsdaypreacherWhat has happened to real preaching? For most of Christian history, it has been the central focus of Christian worship and proclamation. Has it lost its place of importance to modern psychology and counseling methods? Albert Mohler Jr. writes:

How did this happen? Given the central place of preaching in the New Testament church, it would seem that the priority of biblical preaching should be uncontested. After all, as John A. Broadus–one of Southern Seminary’s founding faculty–famously remarked, “Preaching is characteristic of Christianity. No other religion has made the regular and frequent assembling of groups of people, to hear religious instruction and exhortation, an integral part of Christian worship.”

Yet, numerous influential voices within evangelicalism suggest that the age of the expository sermon is now past. In its place, some contemporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations–messages which avoid preaching a biblical text, and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with biblical truth.

A subtle shift visible at the onset of the twentieth century has become a great divide as the century ends. The shift from expository preaching to more topical and human-centered approaches has grown into a debate over the place of Scripture in preaching, and the nature of preaching itself.

Two famous statements about preaching illustrate this growing divide. Reflecting poetically on the urgency and centrality of preaching, the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter once remarked, “I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” With vivid expression and a sense of gospel gravity, Baxter understood that preaching is literally a life or death affair. Eternity hangs in the balance as the preacher proclaims the Word.

Contrast that statement to the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick, perhaps the most famous (or infamous) preacher of this century’s early decades. Fosdick, pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City, provides an instructive contrast to the venerable Baxter. “Preaching,” he explained, “is personal counseling on a group basis.”

These two statements about preaching reveal the contours of the contemporary debate. For Baxter, the promise of heaven and the horrors of hell frame the preacher’s consuming burden. For Fosdick, the preacher is a kindly counselor offering helpful advice and encouragement.

The current debate over preaching is most commonly explained as a argument about the focus and shape of the sermon. Should the preacher seek to preach a biblical text through an expository sermon? Or, should the preacher direct the sermon to the “felt needs” and perceived concerns of the hearers?

Clearly, many evangelicals now favor the second approach. Urged on by devotees of “needs-based preaching,” many evangelicals have abandoned the text without recognizing that they have done so. These preachers may eventually get to the text in the course of the sermon, but the text does not set the agenda or establish the shape of the message.

Focusing on so-called “perceived needs” and allowing these needs to set the preaching agenda inevitably leads to a loss of biblical authority and biblical content in the sermon. Yet, this pattern is increasingly the norm in many evangelical pulpits. Fosdick must be smiling from the grave. . . .

Continue reading. . . .

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