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April 22, 2014
Four Blood Moons

I most often read Christian books that appear to offer the opportunity to grow in knowledge and obedience to the Lord, but occasionally I see one soaring up the bestseller lists or otherwise making an impact and decide to read it just to see what the fuss is all about. Such was the case with John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons. The book has lingered near the top of the Amazon charts for a few weeks now and has received nearly one thousand five-star reviews. For those reasons I decided I would give it a read.

We have just experienced the first of a series of four lunar eclipses. Acccording to NASA, “The action starts [started] on April 15th when the full Moon passes through the amber shadow of Earth, producing a midnight eclipse visible across North America. So begins a lunar eclipse tetrad—a series of 4 consecutive total eclipses occurring at approximately six month intervals.  The total eclipse of April 15, 2014, will be followed by another on Oct. 8, 2014, and another on April 4, 2015, and another on Sept. 28 2015.” These four consecutive total lunar eclipses will each result in the moon appearing red for the duration of the eclipse. This phenomenon is known as a blood red moon.

Well, if you are deeply involved in biblical prophecy, this is the kind of thing you will find difficult to ignore. After all, Joel 2:31 says, “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Hagee believes that “God uses the sun, moon, and stars as signals to mankind. He uses the heavens as His divine billboard announcing coming events.” He says:

The sun, moon, and stars are unmistakably connected to Israel and biblical prophecy—and that connection inspired this book. God will use them to light up the heavens with an urgent, top-priority message for all mankind. What is God saying to us? How does the past hold the secret to the future? What is about to happen on planet earth? Everything is about to change … forever! Keep reading, because this message from God is so urgent to Him that He sovereignly arranged the sun and the moon to perfectly align themselves to create a Tetrad—four consecutive blood moons.

It turns out that over the past five hundred years, blood red moons have fallen on the first day of Passover three separate times. “Tetrads linked to Jewish history have happened only three times in more than five hundred years. And it’s about to happen for a fourth time.” By doing some historical research, Hagee has determined that each of those moons have happened at a pivotal moment in Jewish history: 1492 (the expulsion of the Jews from Spain), 1949 (the U.N.’s recognition of Israel) and 1967 (the Six-Day War).

Now it’s important to understand that Hagee believes the Jews were and still are God’s chosen people and that all God’s promises and covenants with the Jewish people are still in effect today. “The Jewish people are still the apple of God’s eye. They are still cherished and chosen of God. And they are still the people of covenant—a covenant God has pledged to keep forever.” He also believes that God has a special relationship with the United States of America, since, as the Jews were expelled from Spain in and around 1492, they were soon welcomed to America. “The mantle of prosperity was lifted from Spain and placed upon the shoulders of an infant nation that would become the United States of America.” America has been given the special privilege of protecting God’s people and, therefore, America needs to be especially vigilant about the sign of the four blood moons.

Four Blood Moons is a disappointment. Books like this will always prove a disappointment. At the end of it all Hagee won’t say what we should expect or exactly when we should expect it. He merely says that something big is going to happen in the near future. Vague predictions based on misused Scripture have a way of coming about.

I suppose we have already read this book, or others like it, a thousand times. It is, of course, based on endless speculation (and, as many have pointed out, another person’s research). What do we do with a book like Four Blood Moons? I say we ignore it. Let me give four reasons.

Hagee misuses Scripture. Hagee routinely misuses Scripture as he draws out his prophecies. He appears to read the Bible literally or metaphorically entirely on the basis of whether doing so suits his purposes. He approaches the Bible with his mind made up and then goes looking for proof of his assertion. Not surprisingly, he finds it wherever he needs to find it.

Hagee reads history conveniently. Four Blood Moons reminds me of the infamous book The Bible Code in its ability to predict the past and complete inability to say anything meaningful about the future. Hagee picks and chooses the historical events he will pronounce as significant while simply ignoring the ones that do not fit his point. He does not say, for example, that three of the four eclipses in this tetrad will not even be visible from Jerusalem, rather an odd fact if they are meant as a sign to and about Jerusalem. (An excellent article at AiG explains more about the lunar calendar and the occurrence of eclipses.)

Hagee writes as an American for Americans. It is always strange to read books like this from my Canadian perspective. Hagee believes America is a special nation in God’s eyes. But why is this true of America and not Canada, or Switzerland, or Vietnam? Why is it America that needs to heed these warnings and not any other nation? Though the gospel is for all nations, tribes and tongues, this is a book by and for Americans.

Hagee is not clear on the Messiah and the Jewish people. Hagee has a great admiration—envy even—for the Jewish people. His admiration is so pronounced that he appears to deny their need of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The most cruel and false love of all would be to assure Jews that they are saved by virtue of their Christ-less faith. Yet Hagee seems to do just this, extolling Jewish faith and practice and refusing every opportunity to call Jewish people to turn to the Messiah who has already come. If he actually does believe they ought to turn to Christ, he does not make this at all clear.

Of course we already know something will happen in the future, though we do not know if it is near or far. The Lord will return! But God, in his wisdom, has chosen not to reveal his timing to us, and has warned against predicting it. Such speculation based on the moon and stars is little more than Christian astrology. We do far better to just enjoy the blood red moons as another of God’s displays of beauty, and not as a vague prediction of coming events.

April 22, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne ($3.99); The Church by Mark Dever ($0.99); Gospel Commission by Michael Horton ($3.99); Center Church by Tim Keller ($3.99); For the City by Darrin Patrick & Matt Carter ($3.99).

Are We Expecting Too Much or Too Little? - Are we expecting too much or too little from church?

Churchy Gimmicks - The new issue of Credo magazine looks like a good one. It’s free for the download! There’s also a new version of Themelios available.

Heaven Is Scary … For Real - I’m glad to see this article at CNN. “Yes, the Bible teaches that heaven is a place of ultimate comfort, with “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). But it is also a place where the reality of God’s unbridled majesty reigns supreme – and that’s scary.”

God and the Gay Christian? - Al Mohler: “This morning we released God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, a free e-book, and it is the first in the Conversant series I am editing. This free e-book, in which I am joined by colleagues James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert, addresses the biblical, theological, historical, and pastoral issues raised by Vines’s new book.”

Interpreting “Physick” - Here’s an interesting (and kind of morbid) article about eighteenth-century medicine and medical procedures. 

The Most Christian Nation - China is on track to become the world’s most Christian nation. By 2025 there could be 160 million Protestant Christians in the country.

Christianity is the only religion whose God bears the scars of evil. —Os Guinness

Guinness

April 21, 2014

I am one of those New Calvinists, I guess, which means I am part of a crowd that values preaching, and expository preaching in particular. Of course I was an Old Calvinist before I was a New one and was raised in a tradition that valued preaching just as highly. For my whole life I’ve been around preachers and preaching.

I spent a good bit of time last week pondering the nature of God’s Word and thinking specifically about Paul’s mandate to Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” That’s a passage about preaching, but it’s also a passage about just plain reading the Bible out loud. It intrigued me.

I travel a fair bit these days and often enjoy worshipping in other churches, and here is something I’ve noticed: We tend to be far more committed to the second part of that command than to the first. We love our preaching, but what about the public reading of Scripture? Most churches I visit will read the Bible immediately prior to the sermon, and some will read a text in sections during the sermon, but few just dedicate themselves to reading the Bible aloud. Conferences, too, are known for their preaching, but not necessarily for their emphasis on reading the Bible. Last week I found myself wondering why this is. I wonder if our emphasis on preaching has inadvertently nudged it out.

Paul’s command to Timothy that he devote himself to the public reading of Scripture can be better understood by looking to 2 Timothy 3 where Paul speaks about the nature of God’s Word. When we understand what God’s Word is and does, we better understand why we ought to read it. Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul isn’t talking about the Scriptures as they are preached here—not yet—but the Scriptures as they are, as they are read, as they are understood, as they are absorbed by the Christian.

Paul uses two groups of two words to explain how the Bible functions and what it accomplishes. The Bible is profitable for teaching and reproof. These are words related to doctrine, to the positive teaching of truth and to the correcting of falsehood. The Bible teaches us truth and it convicts us of error. The Bible is also profitable for correction and for training in righteousness. These are words related to living, to the correction of unrighteous ways of living and instruction in godliness. The Bible teaches us how to live and convicts us of sinful habits and patterns.

And because it does all of these things it completes us, it grows us in Christian maturity and prepares us to do those good things—those good works—that God means for us to do. It prepares us to do good things that are done not to make us look great, but to make ourselves diminish so that God can increase all the more.

Once more, the Bible does not need to be preached in order to do this. It just needs to be read. God’s Word alone has the power to do this because those words have been breathed out by God; in that way it has a supernatural power no other words can have. Preaching has a role, to be sure, but preaching only does what it does because the Bible is what it is. God allows us to preach and even tells us to preach, but he does not need preaching in order to change us and mature us. The Bible alone can do this. The Bible is its own preacher, its own counselor, its own teacher, its own evangelist. If we have de-emphasized the public reading of the Bible because of our love for preaching, the solution is not to diminish preaching, but to re-emphasize the reading.

So here’s the question: Do you commit yourself to the public reading of Scripture? Do you read it in your church, even if you cannot explain it at the time? Do you read it in your home, with your family, even if you do not have a lot of opportunity to explain and apply it? If the Bible is so powerful, and if the Bible accomplishes so much, it would be ridiculous not to read it, not to read it faithfully and consistently and expectantly.

And here’s another question: What do you expect when someone reads the Bible to you? Do you expect that it will teach and train you? Do you expect that it will admonish and correct you? Do you expect that as the Bible is read, God himself will speak to you and convict you of sin and unrighteousness and teach you about himself and how to live in a way that honors him? You should expect nothing less.

April 21, 2014

There are just a couple of new Kindle deals that may interest you: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper by Thabiti Anyabwile & Ligon Duncan ($0.99); Thinking. Loving. Doing. edited by John Piper & David Mathis ($2.99); The Faithful Preacher by Thabiti Anyabwile ($3.49). And in case you missed them Saturday: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear ($1.99); Heaven: Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada ($1.99); The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken ($2.99).

The Moral Majority Is No More - Owen Strachan writes about the infamous Millennials. “How, exactly, will Millennial Christians—in a jaded generation but not of it—engage with politics, with the public square? The way Millennials answer this question will play a vital role in the public prospects of Christianity in America and the West.”

The iPad Is a Tease - If you’re interested in technology, you may enjoy this article about the iPad and how it, and other tablets, may have peaked largely because they can’t possibly live up to the hype.

Walking Through Depression - Randy Alcorn discusses his battles with depression.

Honey Badger Houdini - This is a fun little video from the BBC.

Secular Humanism Depends On Christianity - “Theo Hobson, in the British Spectator, critiques the New Atheist insistence that we can have morality–indeed, a better morality–apart from religion.  In doing so, he shows that even today’s secular humanist morality, which the atheists take as axiomatic, actually derives from Christianity.”

A Faith That Fights - Aimee Bird: “Christians are disciples, and therefore by definition, we are disciplined. … By using the illustration of a Grecian Olympic fighter, the preacher to the Hebrews teaches us that part of our discipline in the Christian life is conditioning. We need practice.”

The first sign of spiritual life is to feel that you are dead! —Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Lloyd-Jones

The Bestsellers
April 20, 2014

A short time ago I launched a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. So far we have looked at three titles that were awarded Platinum status in 2005; today we advance to 2007 and a surprise bestseller.

90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper

90 Minutes in HeavenIt is not often that a book races to the top of the bestseller charts and opens up the way for a whole new genre of Christian literature. But such is the case with Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven, a book that spurred an entire genre of what I refer to as “Heaven Tourism” books.

Don Piper was involved in radio and television ministry when he determined that he had been called to be a pastor. In 1985 he was ordained as a Baptist minister and was soon serving in Houston as a minister of education and single adults. It was shortly thereafter, in 1989, that he had an experience that would forever change his life and ministry. Fifteen years later, in 2004, he would team with Cecil Murphey and Baker Publishers to release 90 Minutes in Heaven, the book in which he described his experience.

On January 18, 1989, Piper was driving through rural Texas, returning from a Christian conference that had ended a little bit earlier than expected. As he was crossing a long bridge with water on either side, an 18-wheeler owned by the Texas Department of Corrections swerved over the center line and hit his Ford Escort head-on. Piper was killed instantly. The steering wheel impaled his chest and the roof collapsed on his head. Emergency medical technicians responded and pronounced him dead, laying him on the road and covering his body with a tarp.

Dick Onarecker and his wife Anita had been at that same conference and were driving the same route. They pulled up to the scene shortly after the EMTs had declared Piper dead. Onarecker later said, “The Lord just impressed on me very emphatically very urgently that I was to pray for him.” Ninety minutes after his accident, Piper awoke to hear that pastor praying and singing.

It was what happened in those ninety minutes that became the subject of his book. Piper claimed he was immediately transported to heaven. There he saw people he knew and loved—relatives, teachers who had gone on to glory years before, and friends who had died in high school. Each of these people was the age they had been when they died. They were joyful and welcoming and were there to help him through the gates of heaven. Ahead of him was a gate that looked as if it had been carved from a giant pearl. The streets were made of gold and beyond the gate was a light too bright to imagine and the sound of an angel choir. “In all honesty,” he said, “as awesome as the sight was, the sound was more amazing. I heard literally thousands of praise songs. They were all praise songs. I really couldn’t see anything. I was so preoccupied with the people around me, I couldn’t see anything. But you could sense this hum of wings hovering all about you, like you were being ministered to by angels, and they were observing this whole episode.”

And then he heard the sound of Onarecker singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and realized he was joining in. He was alive and was quickly transported to Herman Hospital in Houston where doctors found that his body had been completely shattered. He would have to live with chronic pain and endure an excruciating recovery that required some thirty-four medical procedures. The book documents his time in heaven in about fifteen pages and the context and recovery in about one hundred and eighty.

April 19, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear ($1.99); Heaven: Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada ($1.99); The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken ($2.99).

Are We Held Guilty for the Sin of Another? - C. Michael Patton examines the doctrine of original sin and the imputation of Adam’s guilt to those who followed him.

Christian Muslim Dialog - In 2013 Thabiti Anyabwile went to Dubai to debate a Muslim apologist. The complete video is available here.

Gillette’s New Razor - According to this article, Gillette’s new razor is everything that’s wrong with America. I’d tend to agree.

No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free - Daniel Darling: “So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

The Many Dimensions of Calvinism - Again - This is from Paul Helm: “Here we are again! ‘My Calvinism is not your Calvinism. Your Calvinism is not real Calvinism.  Here are a few thought on the latest wisdom on ‘Calvinism’.” It’s a long read, but a good one.

Hidden Mysteries of the Natural World - There is some amazing footage in this short TED talk.

ERLC Leadership Summit - The ERLC Leadership Summit will begin April 21; you can bookmark the site and check in on the livestream next week.

God promises the Christian heaven after death, not before it. —John Blanchard

Blanchard

April 18, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by a first-time sponsor: Lamplight Prints. Lamplights was founded in 2013 by two women who love Jesus, love His Word, and love their families. As part of their desire to do what Deuteronomy 6 instructs, they wanted to find interesting and attractive ways of placing Scripture in their home. They put together a great and ongoing collection of prints based around Bible verses.

There will be 5 winners this week, and each winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to purchase anything they want from the Lamplight Prints store. Here are just a couple of examples:

Redeemer Lives

Perfect Way

For now, browse the site and enter the draw. If you are one of the winners, I will notify you next week.

Enter to Win

Again, there are 5 prize packages to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

April 18, 2014

Preparing a sermon is one of the most gratifying and the most difficult tasks you’ll ever face. There is joy in finding meaning in the text, in finding structure, in developing just the right outline, in discovering the perfect illustration. But there is also labor and, at times, intense spiritual warfare. I am a relative newcomer to preaching and as I’ve prepared sermons I’ve relied on others to teach me how to pray and how to prepare. Here are two lists that have been very helpful to me. I combine them into what I affectionately call my Preacher’s Cheat-Sheet.

Praying for a Sermon

A couple of years ago Mike McKinley shared 8 Ways to Pray During Sermon Preparation. I found those 8 ways to pray tremendously helpful and have been following them ever since. I pray in these ways at the beginning, middle and end of my time of preparation.

  1. Lord, please help me to understand the meaning of this text and how it points to Christ.
  2. Lord, please increase my love for the people who will hear this sermon.
  3. Lord, please give me wisdom to apply this text to the lives of the people in our congregation.
  4. Lord, please use this passage to help me grasp and love the gospel more so that I might help my hearers do the same.
  5. Lord, please help me to see how this passage confronts the unbelief of my hearers.
  6. Lord, please help me to be obedient to the demands of this passage. Help me to enter the pulpit having already submitted my life to this truth before I preach it.
  7. Lord, by your Spirit please help me to preach this sermon with the necessary power and with appropriate affections.
  8. Lord, please use this sermon to bring glory to your name, joy to your people, and salvation to the lost.

Preparing for a Sermon

Along with praying during sermon preparation, I also wanted to develop a checklist of sorts—not a guide to help me exegete the text or make sure I have properly found and preached Christ from it. Rather, I wanted something to use as I near the end of my preparation and want to ensure that what I have prepared is well-structured and that it will avoid missteps that may prove hindrances to my listeners. I spoke to seasoned pastors to find what they do and developed this checklist which I like to run through when the sermon is nearly complete, and return to shortly before I preach the sermon.

  1. Have you prayed for yourself and your listeners?
  2. In one sentence, what is the point of the sermon?
  3. Does the sermon have a clear, easy-to-follow outline?
  4. Can you express your outline in a way that makes sense and explains the big point?
  5. Has every theological concept or term been defined or explained?
  6. Is there a clear gospel call that expresses the gospel in a fresh way?
  7. Have you spoken to the children?
  8. Are there places you have planned to pause, or to decrease or increase volume?
  9. Is there anything that can be removed for the sake of clarity and concision?
  10. Does every point have at least one helpful illustration?
  11. Have you included some good turns-of-phrase?
  12. Have you considered how the sermon will speak to people who are: discontent, divorced, abused, addicted, mourning, in a difficult marriage, or other difficult circumstances?
  13. Is there something to jolt the regular, committed sermon-listener?

If you’d like to have these lists in printed form, you can download them in PDF format. I print this document double-sided, crop it down to size, and keep one copy on my desk and one in my car.