Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Look at Abraham’s faith in just one word: “WEwill come back to you.”
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Wil Robinson shares a fable from Leo Tolstoy with the three most important questions everyone should ask themselves. The three questions are: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest? And, what affairs are the most important and need my first attention?
“Faithfulness is displayed in both word and deed—seen best by combining the Great Commission’s instruction to ‘make disciples’ with the second greatest commandment to ‘love thy neighbor.’ The beauty of the Gospel is found in both proclamation and demonstration. Neither comes first; neither comes second. Like the perfect marriage, it’s the duty of the Christians to take on each, giving 100 percent effort to both.” —Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians
John Piper observes, “The number-one reason why people in such seemingly hopeless situations purchase scratch-offs is because things already look so hopeless for improvement that the so-called ‘stupidity’ of wasting this dollar won’t really make anything worse.” This post elaborates on how the lottery preys on the poor.
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…I will hide My face from this city because of all its wickedness. Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it… (Jeremiah 33:5-6)
God’s anger at Judah’s sin is blazing hot! And rightly so: Dr. Henry Halley points out, “Most of the 20 Davidic kings who reigned over Judah during the 400 years between David and the Babylonian exile were very bad. Only a few were worthy of the name of David.” So it is understandable that God would need to punish that sinful nation.
Then comes that word “nevertheless.” In spite of the rampant sin, God’s promise of restoration is even greater than the pain of His punishment.
God promises healing, restoration, complete cleansing from sin, and more descendants of David and Levi than can be counted. And He promises this to the exact same people that He promised to punish.
I don’t know about you, but to me this almost seems like a contradiction. Does God want to punish them or does He want to bless them?
The apparent contradiction is hard for our finite brains to comprehend. That’s why God makes an important statement to Jeremiah before He begins describing the punishment and the blessings: “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (v. 3).
Aha! When we call on God to help us with unsearchable things, we find there are no contradictions in God nor in the Bible itself.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem”—or any contradiction at all.
“Love of the Word appears preeminently in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He read it publicly. He quoted it continually. He expounded it frequently. He advised the Jews to search it. He used it as His weapon to resist the devil. He repeatedly said, ‘The Scripture must be fulfilled.’ Almost the last thing He did was to ‘open their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:45). I am afraid that man cannot be a true servant of Christ, who has not something of his Master’s mind and feeling towards the Bible.” —J.C. Ryle, Bible Reading
“The character of our praying will determine the character of our preaching. Light praying will make light preaching. …The preacher must be preeminently a man of prayer. His heart must graduate in the school of prayer. In the school of prayer only can the heart learn to preach.” —E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer
“Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture. … The call is: watch, study, attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well. … The devil … the world … and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent.” —Martin Luther
“If a claim to spiritual revelation leads us to depend less on the once-for-allness of the historical Word that comes to us by Jesus Christ through the apostles (Hebrews 2:3), then that claim is dubious.” —John Piper
“God, change me today because I have spent time being exposed to Your thoughts in Scripture. As risky as it is, I want Your Word to cut away everything in me that doesn’t look like Jesus.” —Kenneth Blanchard (see Hebrews 4:12)
A scrip on my back, and a staff in my hand, I march on in haste through an enemy’s land; The road may be rough, but it cannot be long; And I’ll smooth it with hope, and I’ll cheer it with song. —Henry Francis Lyte
Daniel served under multiple kings, even as the regimes changed from Babylonian, to Median, to Persian. He never waiver in his adherence to the Truth that God had spoken. He fearlessly told these world leaders, “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:25).
Most leaders forget this the moment they obtain power. Such is the case of the man the Magi met: King Herod the Great. Listen to how William Barclay describes this monarch:
“Herod the Great was always despised by the pure-blooded Jews because he was half an Edomite; and we can see the importance that even Herod attached to these genealogies from the fact that he had the official registers destroyed, so that no one could prove a purer pedigree than his own. …
“He had made himself useful to the Romans in the wars and civil wars of Palestine, and they trusted him. He had been appointed governor in 47 B.C.; in 40 B.C. he had received the title of king. …
“But Herod had one terrible flaw in his character. He was almost insanely suspicious. He had always been suspicious, and the older he became the more suspicious he grew, until, in his old age, he was, as someone said, ‘a murderous old man.’ … He murdered his wife Mariamne and her mother Alexandra. His eldest son, Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, were all assassinated by him. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, had said, bitterly, that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. …
“When he was seventy he knew that he must die. … He gave orders that a collection of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested on trumped-up charges and imprisoned. And he ordered that the moment he died, they should all be killed. He said grimly that he was well aware that no one would mourn for his death, and that he was determined that some tears should be shed when he died.”
Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. …Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.” This is so obvious in Herod! So we can understand why the city of Jerusalem was disturbed when the Magi arrived! Whether Herod knew the prophecy of the coming Messiah or not, it’s inescapably true that his days and his legacy were numbered (see Isaiah 9:2-7).
When King Herod heard the announcement from the Magi, his reaction was violent. Perhaps Herod lashed out so ferociously because these words of Truth from the Magi reminded him his end was near, his power was not absolute, he had to answer to The Most High who is sovereign over all.
We are no better. Oswald Chambers defines sin as “my claim to my right to myself.” We want absolute sovereignty over ourselves, but Jesus will allow no rival to His throne! He is either King over all or else He is not King at all.
Beware of your own reaction when the Holy Spirit convicts you of a rival to Christ’s throne in your heart. If you lash out like Herod, dismiss it, or try to justify it, that is proof that you needed to hear that word of Truth. Don’t delay: Repent and allow Christ to have His rightful throne.
Jesus came as a Baby and a Savior at his First Advent. He opened the way for us to enter the presence of The Most High God, but it will cost us something to enter. Oswald Chambers tells us:
“Redemption is easy to experience because it cost God everything, and if I am going to be regenerated it is going to cost me something. I have to give up my right to myself. I have deliberately to accept into myself something that will fight for all it is worth, something that will war against the desires of the flesh, and that will ask me to go into identification with the death of Jesus Christ, and these things produce a struggle in me.”
Christ’s Second Advent will be as the conquering King and righteous Judge of all humanity. We have precious little time to tell others the good news. People may react violently like Herod did, but that is simply proof that they needed to hear that Truth.
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Many in-the-public-spotlight people will hire a publicist to make them look good. Although this publicist can try to direct the public’s opinion, they cannot control the actual word on the street about their client. What people are talking about in their private conversations is closer to the truth than the publicist’s spin.
Some skeptics of the claims of Christianity have tried to claim that the New Testament is really a publicity stunt: That the New Testament authors wrote their documents to try to control the narrative of the story of Jesus. But I find it fascinating what people were saying about Jesus from His birth—before He ever preached a sermon or performed a miracle.
Skeptics may want to claim that what Jesus said or did is a myth. But we need to ask, “Where do myths originate?” Myths come from legends, and legends come from historical facts. J.R.R. Tolkien says in the opening of the Fellowship Of The Ring, “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.”
There are those that steadfastly cling to Fact long after others have gotten tired of the Legends, and now only see a Myth. Throughout history those that cling to something others think are out-dated have often been able to bring clarity to confusing things that the modern science of the day couldn’t do. Sometimes these Fact-clingers have been called seers or sorcerers or magicians.
Some of these magicians show up shortly after the birth of Jesus:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-11)
Some English translations of the Bible translate Magi as “wise men.” This is pretty accurate, but magi can also mean teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, interpreters of dreams, or magicians. These Babylonian Persians had seen some sort of astronomical occurrence that led them to make a nearly 900-mile journey to Jerusalem.
For over 500 years these magicians had been clinging to a Fact taught to them by the chiefmagician of Babylon. Not a fellow Babylonian, but a Hebrew given the name Belteshazzar. He was one who could…
…tell someone what they had dreamed about and then interpret it
…solve the deepest riddles
…read and translate an unknown language
…call on supernatural powers to shut the mouths of lions
…foretell future world events
Belteshazzar the Magician also saw a vision of the pre-incarnate Jesus before Time even began, One whom he called “the Ancient of Days.” And he even saw all the way to the end of Time when this King of kings would judge the entire world.
These Persian magicians didn’t make an arduous 900-mile journey for a Myth. They didn’t bring gifts fit for a king to honor a Legend. They did all of this because of a Fact: Jesus is Fact.
He’s called a sorcerer because he tried to make Jesus a Myth. He worked for the Roman proconsul, a man called Sergius Paulus, whom Luke describes as “an intelligent man.” Elymas in essence said, “Sergius, use your intellect. There may have been someone called Jesus (in fact, my own father had that same name), but the stories about His miracles, death, and resurrection have to be mythical!” Sergius Paulus was convinced that the accounts of Jesus were myth until he heard the words of fact spoken by Barnabas and Paul.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity,
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great man or a moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool… or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
So who do you say Jesus is? Is He a Myth? A Legend? A liar? A lunatic? Or is He the Ancient of Days, the Light of the world, the Lord of all Creation?
Christians, we must have this Fact clear in our own minds, and then—just as the Persian Magi did and as Barnabas and Paul did—let’s clearly tell about this Fact to the world’s skeptics, especially as the world’s modern telling of Christmas seems to be becoming more and more mythical.
Don’t rail on the Myths and Legends, but use them to show others the Fact of Jesus Christ—the Ancient of Days, Savior, and King!
(Watch the full message More Than A Legend by clicking on the link below.)
To catch up on all of the messages in our Advent series People Will Talk, please click here.
Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or Audible.
As we wrap up our series looking at our foundational belief statements, I want to combine the last four statements together, not only because they all cover the same theme of end-times events, but also because these statements should give every Christian hope!
“Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.” —G.K. Chesterton
“One of the great enemies of hope is forgetting God’s promises.” —John Piper
“Hope is not wishful thinking; it’s well-founded believing!” —Craig T. Owens
Christians have a fantastic, unshakable, blessed hope on which we can stand not only secure but joyful!
Foundational truth #13: “The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation together with those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the church.”
This blessed hope in the future helps us live with joy today! Knowing that death has been defeated and Jesus will come back to take us home with Him should fuel us to say “no” to the temporary pleasures of sin, and live such godly lives that it turns others’ eyes to Jesus (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Foundational truth #14: “The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is our blessed hope, followed by the visible return of Christ with His saints to reign on earth for one thousand years.”
Sometimes you will hear Christians talk about the “rapture” of the Church. Although this word itself isn’t in the Bible, the Greek word harpazo in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 means “catching up.” It also means “to eagerly claim for one’s self,” which reminds me that Jesus is thrilled to bring His Bride home to be with Him forever! After the Church has been caught up to Heaven, a period of tribulation will plague the earth, followed by Christ’s Second Coming and His millennial reign (Zechariah 14:4-5; Revelation 19:11-15; 20:1-10).
Foundational truth #15: “There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Christians have no fear of the second (or final) death because our names are written in the Book of Life (Luke 12:4-6; Revelation 20:11-15). Not only is there judgment for the wicked, but there will be rewards for the righteous.
Foundational truth #16: “In keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Revelation 21-22 give us a small glimpse of our eternal home.
In light of these truth, how should Christians live while still on earth? I think there are three ways we should live:
With this blessed hope of the Second Coming of Jesus and our security in knowing we will remain with Him forever, let’s tell everyone we can how they too can know what it is to live with this hope in their heart.
Star Struck by Dr. David Bradstreet is an insightful book for astronomical issues, but I found it lacking in the way he missed multiple opportunities to use the mind-boggling discoveries in astronomy to point to a majestic Creator. Check out my full book review by clicking here.
“Those who study the stars have God for a teacher.” —Tycho Brahe, a sixteenth-century astronomer
“Almost all ancient civilizations believed that the universe had existed forever. Throughout the ancient world there was just one civilization that didn’t subscribe to this cyclical vision of eternity. Jewish Scripture, with the story of the Creation, stated clearly that the world had a beginning.” —Martin Gorst, historian
“Science is great as science, but it makes a lousy religion.” —Guy Consolmagno
“The atoms that so liberally and congenially flock together to form living things on Earth are exactly the same atoms that decline to do it elsewhere.” —Bill Bryson
“Eratosthenes of Alexandria (276–194 BC) “did the math, concluding that the earth was 24,662 miles around. His results were shockingly accurate: within 1 percent of our current estimate of 24,859 miles.” —Dr. David Bradstreet
“The sun is so powerful that we sometimes must shield ourselves from its heat, even after that heat has taken an eight-minute journey to earth, losing a third to half of its radiant energy to the protective atmosphere of our clouds. ‘Nothing is deprived of its warmth,’ says the psalmist (Psalm 19:6).” —Dr. David Bradstreet
“I wanted to become a theologian. For a long time I was restless. Now, however, behold how through my effort God is being celebrated in astronomy.” —Johannes Kepler
“Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“If we study science without Scripture, we risk falling into the ditch of atheistic evolutionism; on the other hand, the study of Scripture separated from God’s laws in nature risks ideologies that misinterpret God and distort His character.” —Timothy Jennings
“Holy Scripture and nature are both emanations from the divine Word.” —Galileo
“God cannot be reduced to the role of a scientific hypothesis.” —Father Georges Lemaître
Interesting astronomical tidbits:
Unlike everyone else in the neighborhood, Venus rotates backwards.
Jupiter rotates on its axis in slightly less than ten hours, faster than on any other planet.
Saturn is twice as far away from the sun, lowering its temperature and stretching out its orbital period to nearly thirty Earth years.
Neptune is so far away that it takes 164 years to orbit the Sun.
Uranus’ North Pole is tipped a whopping 98 degrees to its orbital plane.
Every day our powerful atmospheric shield hijacks some 100 tons of small rocks and other pieces of space stuff heading our way, breaking up and incinerating everything before it can hit us.
Our own Milky Way galaxy is home to more than 200 billion stars. There are more than 200 billion additional galaxies in the cosmos. These galaxies serve as gigantic star factories, each of which has its own 100 to 300 billion stars. Do the math and the numbers are mind-boggling: our Sun is merely one among some 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.
Actually, I want to share with you what others have said about my book:
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“Owens has created a concise guide for pastors that will model how Jesus wants them to lead and serve. I highly recommend this book for not only pastors but those attending seminary.” —Anonymous
“After 23 years of Army service, and 17 of those years in a leadership role, I can tell you that this book would have helped me be a better leader back then. It is geared to help the Ministry Leadership; however, after reading it, I believe will help everyone.” —Daniel
“This book is such a good resource, not only for leaders in ministry but any person who wants a refreshing look at leadership relationships in general.” —Anonymous
“This is a great addition to the leadership library and is a must for those in nonprofit, ministry leadership, or considering going into those fields. … Having been led as a layperson in a church that had leaders who lacked humility and security in serving, and seeing the damage they did to people and the Church, this book really spoke to me.” —Steven
“I am so thankful to Craig for cutting through all the delusion and confusion of what ministry and leadership has become and taking us back to the simple reality of laying down our lives for others. Crucified shepherds are neither popular nor common, but they do look and live like Jesus.” —Dick
“Craig does a great job of reminding us of some simple truths that far too often get lost in the world of leadership. As he calls us back to model our leadership after Jesus, he does so with practical advise and a shepherd’s heart.” —Kevin
“Having served in executive leadership positions on two large church staffs and also on a non-profit paraministry, I can tell you from experience this book is a must-read.” —Steve
“Craig provides a much needed guide, based on biblical principles, on how the church can regain its impact on the culture through more effective leadership.” —Stuart
“Craig Owens describes his Biblical understanding of how leaders serve through humility and confidence, utilizing their mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health. It is through this balance that effective leaders can honor God with their servanthood.” —Denise
“This book is filled with practical ideas that challenge me to check my priorities. In a world that screams for more, more, more, this book asks me to identify what I want more of.” —Faye
The reviews on Amazon currently have this book rated at 4.9 stars.
I’m so humbled that this book is connecting with so many people! I loved writing it, and I still love talking to people about it.
My book is available in print, ebook, and audiobook. If you’d like to know more about Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, or to pick up a copy for yourself, please go to ShepherdLeadershipBook.com.
This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.
Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.
For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Walking is a position that…signifies activity. You would suppose from the way some Christians deport themselves, that their whole life was spent in meditation. It is a blessed thing to sit ‘with Mary at the Master’s feet.’ But we walk as well as sit. We do not merely learn, but we practice what we know. We are not simply scholars, but, having been taught as scholars, we go on to show our scholarship by working in the vineyard or wherever else the Master may be pleased to place us. …
You would gather indeed from what others say, that the whole life of a Christian is to be spent in prayer. Prayer, it is true, is the vitality of the secret parts of Christian life, but we are not always on our knees! We are not constantly engaged in seeking blessings from heaven. We do continue in prayer, but we are also engaged and showing forth to others the blessings that we have received and in exhibiting in our daily actions the fruits that we have gathered on the mountaintop of communion with God. We walk, and this implies activity. …
‘We walk.’ This is more than some can say. They can affirm, ‘We talk. We think. We experience. We feel.’ But true Christians can say with the apostle Paul, ‘We walk.’ Oh, that we may ever be able to say it too! Here, then, is the activity of the Christian life.
From Faith Versus Sight
Edgar A. Guest captured this idea well in his poem “Sermons We See.” The first stanza says,
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear.
And the best of all preachers are the men who live their creeds.
For to see the good in action is what everybody needs.
Or as Francis of Assisi noted, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
So a fantastic question for every Christian to ask themselves is this: Do people know that I’m walking with Jesus even if I never open my mouth to tell them?