Book Review: God in the Whirlwind

whirlwindAs a pastor and a seminary student I do a lot of reading and study on the Providence of God.  It is a topic that comes up over and over again all through the pages of scripture, and it is a topic that countless theologians have tackled.  With such an information overload it can be easy to compartmentalize God’s Providence to the realm of church and school (seminary).  You have probably felt this same urge.  You have heard the story of Joseph so many times that you no longer think of it as a true story; it has become a sermon topic.  This is a tendency that we all must acknowledge, and address.

With respect to the doctrine of God’s providence we can address this tendency by reminding ourselves of God’s continuing control of this world.  Recently, I had some help with this very thing.  I had the privilege of reading God in the Whirlwind: Stories from the Tornado at Union University by Tim Ellsworth.  In this book Ellsworth recounts the events of February 5th, 2008.  On that day a monstrous tornado ravaged the campus of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.  That night, being in the middle of the Spring semester, the campus was full of students.  And the buildings on the campus proved to be inadequate hiding places.  The storm destroyed the campus, and trapped numerous students beneath the wreckage.

As the news media descended upon the campus everyone, myself included, anticipated a significant loss of life.  However, in God’s Providence not a single life was lost on that night.  In fact, through the events of February 5th, 2008 souls were saved and the world heard the Good News of Jesus.  This is a story all about the Providence of God, and it is a story that can be found in the pages of this book.

Get your hands on this book and read it.  See if you can make it through chapter one without your eyes welling up and your heart praising God (I know that I couldn’t).

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Bush, Cheney comforted troops privately

I read a great story this morning about President Bush’s efforts to comfort the families that have lost loved ones serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan.  Here is an excerpt:

Mr. Bush, for instance, has sent personal letters to the families of every one of the more than 4,000 troops who have died in the two wars, an enormous personal effort that consumed hours of his time and escaped public notice. The task, along with meeting family members of troops killed in action, has been so wrenching – balancing the anger, grief and pride of families coping with the loss symbolized by a flag-draped coffin – that the president often leaned on his wife, Laura, for emotional support.

“I lean on the Almighty and Laura,” Mr. Bush said in the interview. “She has been very reassuring, very calming.”

What is so amazing about this story is that he has kept this a secret.  He didn’t do it for the press.  He did it because it was the right thing to do.

It is very sad the way Bush’s name has been drug through the mud.  You may disagree with his policies, but if you are being honest you must recognize that he has served with honor and has governed with the same core principles that he ran on (compassionate conservatism).  His main flaw was that he does not care what people think of him.  He never let polls or public attention change how he governed.  This is what many people claim they want from a politician, unfortunately many of these same people indiscriminately despise President Bush.

Sometimes I cannot believe what people say about Bush, or the things that they think are actually true.  I can tell you this, I would not his job especially now.  Just think about the decisions that Bush had to make, now ask yourself how you would have handled it.

Bush, for all his foibles, has always been more interested in defending this country than in defending his reputation.  That should tell us something about his character.

What’s a “Ponzi Scheme”?

All the talk in the news this week has been about the largest ponzi scheme in history.  Since I was not exactly sure what a ponzi scheme was (maybe that shows how ignorant I am), I looked it up.  Here is one of the definitions that I found:

a fraudulent investment operation that involves paying abnormally high returns to investors out of the money paid in by subsequent investors, rather than from the profit from any real business.

If that is what a ponzi scheme is then this latest case is certainly not the largest ponzi scheme in U.S. history.  No, I pay a portion of my paycheck into the largest ponzi scheme ever: Social Security.  Read the definition again.  What is the difference between that definition and Social Security?

How can we be like Jesus?

This morning I was reading the new anniversary edition of John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus.  In the new edition MacArthur has added a new chapter and placed it right at the beginning of the book.  The chapter speaks about our position as slaves to Christ.  He is oue Lord, and we are to follow him.  I don’t want to re-cap the entire chapter here, but there was a quote that struck me.  MacArthur writes,

[Jesus] was not the least but encouraging toward people who wanted to follow Him around just for the food and miracles.  In fact, He did everything possible to discourage people like that (John 6).   pgs. 31-32

After spending the last 8 months in the book of Mark I think that this statement is completely accurate.  My question is, how should fisherofmen.JPGbe be like Jesus on this issue?  How should we minister to those who come to church regularly but are not following Christ with their lives?  How should we minister to those who claim to be Christians but spend zero time following him (serving, praying, reading the Bible, going to church, etc.)?

I am not sure exactly what this looks like, but I am certain that it means speaking the truth in love.  Someone who claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t submit to Jesus as Lord is deceiving himself.  They do not understand what the Bible says about being a Christian, and they need to be told before it is too late.  In the church we must not let these individuals continue in the self-deceptive way.  We must love these people enough to confront them with the truth.  Jesus did.

Mark 2:23ff: The Lord of the Sabbath (pt. 4)

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I. The religious practice in question – the Sabbath (v. 23)

II. The religious practice misunderstood (v. 24)

III. The religious practice properly explained (vv. 25-27)

IV. The authority for religious practice established (v. 28)

Second, Jesus deals with the wrong thinking of the Pharisees by clearly establishing His divine authority over religious practices such as the Sabbath. In addition to misunderstanding the bible, the Pharisees misunderstood who Jesus was. They thought that they had more authority to interpret the Sabbath than Jesus. They were deathly wrong because “the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” This is the main point of this passage.

Here Jesus refers to Himself using his favorite self-designation, the Son of Man. He often used this title to avoid all the misconceptions about the Messiah. But it is clear that He is proclaiming His authority. In fact, you could make the argument that Jesus is establishing His authority in two ways:

1. His authority is superior to the authority of the Pharisees – He properly interpreted what the Scriptures had to say concerning Sabbath which gave him more authority to determine how it was to be practiced.

2. His authority is divine authority – God is the one who instituted the Sabbath, and for Jesus to claim to be the lord of the Sabbath is a clear reference to His deity.

It is clear form this passage that as God Jesus has authority over our religious practice. But what are the implications of this truth on our lives?

First, it means that how we live out our beliefs is not primarily a matter of personal preference. We must stand firm on the truths that we believe, but we must allow some grace on how those beliefs are lived out. For instance, all true Christians believe that we must be holy as God is holy, and we must live lives that are distinct from the world. However, how we live that out in the area of movies, music, dress, etc is going to be different. As e deal with difficult issues such as these we must avoid viewing ourselves as the final authority on these religious practices. This is the mistake that Jesus had to correct the Pharisees on.

Second, it means that the focus of our religious practices must be Christ. In all that we do our focus must be on bringing Him glory, on growing closer to Him, and on loving Him more. The Pharisees didn’t get this. They were so focused on the letter of the law that they missed the spirit of the law. They missed the one that the OT had been pointing to. They were so focused on themselves, and keeping their rules that they missed out on the Messiah. The danger is that we will make the same mistake. We will be so busy focusing on our religious practices that we miss the Messiah.

Conclusion:

Jesus clearly demonstrates in this passage that He has divine authority over our religious practices. We must not be like the Pharisees who placed their own authority to establish and interpret religious practice above the authority of Jesus.

Mark 2:23ff: The Lord of the Sabbath (pt. 3)

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I. The religious practice in question – the Sabbath (v. 23)
II. The religious practice misunderstood (v. 24)

III. The religious practice properly explained (vv. 25-27)

First, Jesus deals with the wrong thinking of the Pharisees by properly explaining the Sabbath.  Jesus responded to the question of the Pharisees by asking a  question of his own: “And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?'”  In essence Jesus is telling these guys who were supposed to be experts on Scripture “haven’t you even read the Scriptures?”  Jesus had to point the Pharisees back to the bible because they were so consumed with minute interpretations and man-made traditions.  Specifically, Jesus reminded the Pharisees of what happened in 1 Samuel 21:1-9.

In 1 Samuel 21:1-9 David and his men were hungry and in desperate need of food.  As a last resort David went to Ahimelech, the priest, for food (You may be wondering why Mark mentions Abiathar rather than Ahimelech.  Some would have you to believe it was a mistake, but there is a much simpler answer than that.  Abiathar was Ahimelech’s son, and he was present when all of this occurred.  Additionally, Abiathar was much better known than his father.  This is why Mark mentions him rather than his father.)  The only problem was that the only food that Ahimelech had was the bread of presence.  This was holy bread that was used by the priest in the temple for worship (Leviticus 24:5-9).  Each week it would be traded out for new bread and the old bread was to be used by the priests for food.  So David was not supposed to eat that bread, however because of the circumstances Ahimelech gave the bread to David and his men.  The point in this illustration is that human need is more important than ceremonial law.  In fact, God gave this law concerning the left over bread of presence in order to provide for the needs of the priests.   It would have been ridiculous for the priests to share this bread in light of David’s dire need.

Jesus used this example from Scripture to show that God’s law is not arbitrary and oppressive like the Pharisees had made it to be.  God is a good God who gave His law for the good of His people.  This is exactly what Jesus meant in verse 27 when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  God gave the Sabbath for the benefit of man.  He is not a God who creates arbitrary rules and regulations that are harmful to the people.  This would have been a very important principle for Mark’s original Roman readers.  They were coming out of a religious system with hundreds of gods to appease, and all kinds of difficult rituals to observe.  Now they were serving a God who was working for their good.

Specifically, the Sabbath was a great gift from God.  It was a time of rest when the people could focus especially on God (Deuteronomy 5:14-15).  The people were able to stop their normal work and pursuit of personal gain in order to focus on God.  Unfortunately, “The minute, arbitrary regulations of the Pharisees made man the slave of the Sabbath, making its observance a burden rather than a blessing.”[1]

Today we do not observe the Sabbath in the same way that nation Israel did.  However, the principle of regular rest and focus on God continues on in the Christian Lord’s day.  God intends for us to take time away from our normal activities to focus on Him.  This is often difficult for us for two reasons:

1.      We don’t think that we need rest.

2.      When we do rest we want to focus on ourselves not God.

We need to be careful in this area.  We must make sure that, unlike the Pharisees, we properly understand what the bible teaches, and that we are putting it into practice appropriately.  This is not just true with regard to the Sabbath; this is true in all area of religious practice.


[1] Ibid., 83.