The Hour of Power

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When I was a kid I remember watching a television program called "The Hour of Power."  It was a religious broadcast of the services from the Crystal Cathedral, pastored by Robert Schuller, and for a time was the most watched church service in the world.  The show usually consisted of a testimony of some well know professed Christian, a special music number, and a brief meditation by Schuller.  In time, Schuller went off the theological rails, embracing a form of universalism, and the Crystal Cathedral closed in 2010, about five years before Schuller died.  

While Schuller's ministry and the Crystal Cathedral eventually met their demise, the title of the television broadcast is worth considering.  The "Hour of Power" referred to the length of the church service at the Cathedral, and it seems to me that an "hour or power" is a powerfully accurate way to describe what happens on Sunday mornings at Bible believing churches all around the world.  I'd refer to Riverview's service as an "hour of power," but our services usually last about 75 minutes, and "An Hour and Fifteen Minutes of Power" just isn't as catchy.  

Nevertheless, I would argue that perhaps the greatest act of power that a Christian can enact is simply to attend a worship service at a local church on a regular basis.  There is unquantifiable power contained within a church service, and Christians can tap into that power every time they gather for worship.  

Just consider all that takes place within a worship service: dozens, scores, and even hundreds of voices unite in song, declaring truths about who God is and what he has done.  These truths serve to bind up the broken-hearted, give confidence and courage to those who are weak, drive out fear, and inspire hope.  

Moreover, when churches come together in prayer those same dozens and hundreds unite their hearts in petitioning the Lord of the universe, who answers them when they call.  Indeed, cities, nations, and the hearts of rulers are changed and affected by the joined prayers of God's people in worship.  Consider that: God's people have more power in prayer than do the mightiest of rulers.  

When we read the word of God together, we remember his mighty works, the wonders he has performed, and the miracles he has done.  And we remember that God has promised that same power is available to those who believer.  

When the word of God is preached it does not return void.  That is, it accomplishes all that God purposes to accomplish through it, either to soften hearts to his truth, or to harden them.  Either way, the word of God is powerful, and when it is declared faithfully, authoritatively, and prophetically it likewise has the power to build up, tear down, transform stony hearts into hearts of flesh, and make the dead come alive.  

When we gather around the communion table, we "declare the Lord's death until he comes."  This, too, is an act of great power.  Participation in communion is described by Paul as equivalent to a declaration of what Jesus has done.  And not only that, but also a declaration of what he will do (when he comes).  It is a symbolic and powerful act that declares the power of Christ in conquering death and sin and providing victory over the same through his death and resurrection.  When we proclaim the Lord's death, we are literally tapping into resurrection power.  

Furthermore, when we gather together as a community, we have the power to encourage one another, to provide divine support, confession, service, correction, and to intercede for one another through prayer.  All of this comes from spiritual power provided by God.  Were it not for him, we would have no such power to minister to one another.  

But there's more.  In fact, the church itself is a sign of the power that is ours.  The church is a band of disparate sinners who have all rallied under the banner of Christ.  This is no small feat, considering the multitude of differences that exist between us, and that would otherwise serve to divide us.  But in Christ, we have the power to overcome those differences and unite under our common allegiance to our Savior.  Through Christ we have the power to overlook our differences (or, probably more accurately, to see our differences for what they are in light of our unity in Christ).  Our unity in Christ is an action of God-fueled power.  

And we are also empowered to serve God and one another through the miraculous, supernatural gifts given to us by the Spirit of God.  All believers, regardless of their "natural" abilities, have been given supernatural gifts by God for the benefit of serving the church and reaching out t the world.  These gifts are not common, but are Spirit-empowered.  When we use the gifts God has given to us through his Spirit, we are enacting a great amount of divine power.  

As if all this weren’t enough, the powerful effect of gathering with other believers for worship causes us to love one another, encourage and be encouraged, and to be stirred up for good works (Hebrews 10.24). Going to church can and does have a powerful effect on believers.

Too often we think of attending church as something rather common, or perhaps more unfortunately, something that has become rote, or that we take for granted.  May it never be!  Instead, going to church to gather with the body of Christ is a supernatural act of power.  May we see it as such, and may we tap into this unending source of power.  But in order to do so, you have to actually go to church.  Better yet, you should join a church - better even still, become a member at Riverview!  The local church is the context that God has chosen to display his miracle working power.  Come, and be a part of it.  

No God But One: A Short Book Review

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God."  So says Deuteronomy 29.29.  The Apostle Paul agrees: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!"  

When it comes to the life and death of author and speaker Nabeel Qureshi, these are the only truths I can cling to when I try to understand why the Lord allowed him to die of stomach cancer in 2017.  By all accounts, Nabeel was poised to continue a dynamic gospel ministry to even larger platforms, reaching more people, and preaching the gospel to those who need to hear it.  An accomplished apologist and communicator, Qureshi's writing and speaking were persuasive and powerful.  It seemed to me that he was just beginning his rise to prominence and exposure, so that he could have the greatest impact for the kingdom.  So why would God see fit to end his life at the age of 35?  

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God."  

Without a doubt, the process of Nabeel's death was a testimony to the goodness of God.  Throughout his dying process, Nabeel created multiple videos where he talked about faith, life, and death.  His grim prognosis gave him a unique perspective by which he could talk about significant spiritual and eternal issues to a large audience.  You should take the time to watch some of his videos.  

A couple of years ago I read Nabeel's first book, "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" which told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christianity, and I was entirely enraptured by the book.  It was fascinating to read of his Muslim upbringing to the relationships he made with Christians that challenged his views, and whom God used to ultimately bring Nabeel to saving faith in Christ.  Throughout that book, Nabeel made passing comments about Muslim objections to Christian doctrine and briefly explained the intellectual process of first attempting to defend the Muslim faith, to ultimately conceding that it could not answer his questions in the way that Christianity could.  If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it to you.  

This year I read Nabeel's second book, "No God But One" and was once again blessed by his thought, passion, ability, heart for the lost, and love for the gospel.  The difference between the two books is that "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" is more of a biographical book about Nabeel, where as "No God But One" is an overarching defense of the Christian faith with some biographical bits scattered throughout.

"No God But One" is superficially billed as a defense of the Christian faith against the Islamic objections to it.  It is that, to be sure, but it is also so much more.  Rather, the strength of this book rests in Qureshi's ability to ask life's biggest questions and then to answer them from both the Muslim and Christian perspectives.  Having been a devout Muslim for the first 20+ years of his life, and a Christian until the time of his death, Nabeel is uniquely qualified to answer the questions from both perspectives (not to mention, he's no intellectual slouch, holding multiple degrees in multiple fields of study).  And his manner of writing is down to earth, accessible, and inherently readable and accessible to all.  I whole-heartedly recommend this book to you.  You will be blessed by it.  Here are some things you will gain if you read "No God But One":

1. You will better know how to defend your Christian faith and answer life's biggest questions.  As stated previously, the strength of this book is not so much a defense of the Christian faith as much as it is a training manual on how to answer the big questions.  Throughout this process, Nabeel examines what he calls the "positive evidence" and the "negative evidence" for the answer to those questions given by both Christianity and Islam.  For example, what is the "positive evidence" that Mohammed was the messenger of Allah?  What is the "negative evidence" for such a claim?   What is the positive and negative evidence that Jesus existed and that he died on the cross and rose again?  Can those claims coexist?  

2. You will know why your Muslim neighbors believe what they do about God, Jesus, and the Bible.  From the Muslim perspective there is quite a bit of overlap between Christianity and Islam.  For example, Muslims regard Christ as a great messenger of God, and the Bible as a message from God.  Why do they believe these things and yet not see Christ as Messiah?  Why do they not believe that Jesus died on the cross?  Why  do they not believe in a triune God?  As a former Muslim, Qureshi has particular insight into why Muslims believe what they do about Christianity.  This knowledge can help you gain a sympathy and love for your Muslim neighbors as you seek to share the gospel with them.  

3. You will learn more about Muslim culture.  In his discussion of Mohammed, Nabeel makes several connections between Muslim theology and Muslim culture.  For example, why do Muslims find it offensive to depict Mohammed in cartoons?  Nabeel explains the theological and cultural connections that create this offense.  Because of many cultural difference between Muslims and Christians, the thought of engaging Muslims in spiritual dialogue can be somewhat overwhelming for many Christians (including myself).  This book will help you see these details and know how to navigate them.  If the thought of engaging your Muslim neighbor in conversation about spiritual things makes you nervous, you need to read this book.  

4. You will increase your burden for the lost, especially for Muslims.  And that is always a good thing.  Nabeel's heart bleeds with a desire for lost people to come to know Jesus.  When you read his passion, you will find yourself sharing in it.  

5. You will discover what it looks like to lose the whole world and gain your soul.   In Christianity, we often flippantly talk about disciples of Jesus leaving everything to follow him.  Muslims like Nabeel (and a few others he mentions in the book) know exactly what it means to leave everything to follow Jesus because they actually did.  Conversion to Christianity in the Muslim culture is not taken lightly.  The testimony of these fellow believers will serve to strengthen you in your faith and firm up  your resolution  to boldly follow Christ.    

6. You will increase your love of the gospel and your desire to share it with others.  Nabeel does an excellent job of presenting and defending the gospel message in relevant ways.  I came away from this book with a greater appreciation for God's saving work in the gospel.  If a book can do that for  you, it's worth a read.  

There are numerous other positive elements to Nabeel's writing and thinking that would take too much room to list.  The only negative aspect of Quereshi's story and writing, in my opinion, is the weight that he gives to revelatory dreams.  That is, he believes that God can and does speak to people through dreams.  Indeed, Nabeel himself would attribute the determining factor of his conversion to a series of dreams he had in which God appeared to him.  I do not believe that such a thing is impossible, but rather the notion  of God communicating with individuals through dreams is one that can get out of hand quickly, so when we declare that God has spoken through a dream, we should do so slowly, and with much thought before hand.  To his credit, I believe Nabeel does this.  

As an added bonus, I recommend that you consider "reading" this book as an audiobook (as I did).  The book is read by the author, and he does a wonderful job of narrating his writing.  

The Definition of Manliness

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Earlier this month the American Psychological Association (APA) came out denouncing "traditional masculinity" which it defines as "a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence."  This kind of masculinity, the APA has said, is "harmful."  Even more recently, Gillette released an online advertisement that eschews several masculine traits and behaviors, seemingly in line with the APA's definition of "traditional masculinity."  The Gilette ad generated quite a bit of backlash, and there have been at least two very good biblical responses to the content and message of the ad, and I commend them both to you (this one, and this one).

More and more frequently, it seems, our culture is generating new definitions for words and ideas that, heretofore, have been affixed in their meaning and commonly embraced by our society.  The most significant example I can think of has been the redefinition of words like "marriage," and "love," and "man," and "woman."  These words have been redefined within our society in order to accommodate the political and personal persuasions of cultural elites and vocal protestors, and now the same thing is being done to the concept of masculinity.  The understanding of what is (or is not) masculine, and whether or not those traits and characteristics are either harmful or beneficial is only the most recent concept in our society to be judged by cultural elites as wanting, and quickly redefined.  

Leaving that discussion aside for a moment, hopefully we can all agree that the definition for "traditional masculinity" generated by the APA is almost laughably absurd.  As Adam Ford has pointed out, who among us is not thankful for the for the risk, achievement, and spirit of adventure that led us to send men to the moon?  And is there anyone among us who is not glad that brave men used violence to overthrow Nazi Germany?  Does not the APA believe that a man's willingness to use violence to overthrow evil represent a good and positive thing, rather than "harmful, traditional masculinity?"  I, for one, was glad that when I was a child, I could count on my dad to "eschew the appearance of weakness" when faced with trials.  Once, when I was eight or nine years old, an intruder attempted to break into my family's house in the middle of the night.  But before he could do so, he was confronted by "traditional masculinity": the physical presence of my dad, placing himself between the intruder and his family, willing to do whatever he had to in order to protect and preserve them.  I thank God for my dad's "traditional masculinity."  

Similarly, just a couple of nights ago, around 10:00 PM, my wife called for me to come upstairs.  Our daughter had a bad dream and my wife said she needed a "Dad Hug."  I came upstairs to find my daughter sitting up in bed with a worried and scared look on her face.  I sat down and asked her what was the problem, and she told me about her dream.  She dreamt that there was someone who was breaking into our house with an intention to hurt her.  After hearing about the dream I did my best to calm and encourage her.  I told her that it was just a dream, and dreams aren't real.  But even if there were someone trying to break into our house, it was my job, both as her father and as the "man of the house," to do everything in my power to protect her (and her mother and brother) from anyone who might wish to do her harm, and that, under my protection, she need not fear intruders.  According to the APA's definition, my assurances given to my daughter that I would deal with any threats to her wellbeing exhibit at least three, and perhaps four, characteristics of this "traditional" and "harmful" masculinity.

The APA has answered that, of course they don't mean that all forms of adventure, or achievement, or risk are inherently harmful masculine traits - just the ones that are taken to an extreme.  But what do the "extreme" versions of these traits look like?  And who gets to decide which masculine traits are harmful and which aren't?  And therein lies the problem with redefining words and ideas in order to fit the cultural persuasions of the times: all of these definitions (such as this new definition of traditional masculinity) are utterly subjective, and are only based on the preferences of the elites who are self-appointed to make such definitions.  The APA has appointed themselves the arbiters of the definition of masculinity, and have implied condemnation for all forms of masculinity that don't fall within their approved parameters.  

We need better definitions, and I don't mean definitions that fit more in line with my preferences over and against the preferences of our culture or of the APA.  After all, my preferences are just as affected by sin as those of the larger culture.  Rather, we need objective definitions of words and ideas.  Thankfully, we have them.  The Bible shows us what masculinity looks like, and it doesn't change with the times or at the whim of cultural elites.  

The Bible tells us what a real man is, what he does, the kind of character he exhibits, how he acts, how he talks, how he treats women, how he relates to his kids, how he works, and so on.  Rather than try to formulate a new definition for masculinity that complies with our day and age, we would be wise to learn, study, and master the definition that God provided millennia ago. 

This is not to say that the APA is entirely wrong in its evaluation of "traditional masculinity."  Indeed, many forms of "traditional" (read: cultural) masculinity are abhorrent and should be admonished.  Certainly men should treat women well, measure their actions against potential consequences, admit their weaknesses, be satisfied in an honest day's work, and restrain their propensity towards violence.  But the reason for this is not because I or anyone else happen to think so, but because the Bible has spoken clearly.  These are all traits that the Bible has commanded and commended for millennia.  

And we should also be quick to affirm that the Bible teaches that human masculinity is fallen; that is, it has been corrupted by sin, and as such, needs to be redeemed.  The Bible has much to say about "harmful masculinity" and it only takes a brief look through its pages to find a myriad of examples.  There are indeed sinful aspects to fallen masculinity.  But we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Rather, let us preach the gospel so that men - and their masculinity - can be redeemed through by the power of the Holy Spirit and be transformed into men that will follow the example of Jesus and lay down their lives for others daily through service and love.  

The same is true of femininity.  Our culture has much to say about what femininity is and isn't.  To give weight to such definitions is just as effective as chasing after the wind because the definition will likely change in the near future.  Women, like men, need an objective and eternal standard of womanhood.  We don't need new definitions that are based on a self-appointed elitist's fallen moral preferences.  Instead of listening to cultural definitions of important ideas, Christians should return to their Bibles.  God has already told us what a man should be.  That was enough for Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul, and it is enough for me and for my son.  Let's not train up our sons to be men of the APA, but men of God according to his word.  

Praying SMART Prayers

I've been thinking a lot about prayer in this new year.  Like most Christians, I have a desire to pray more, and to pray better.  Prayer is a struggle for a lot of Christians.  We find it difficult to find the time to pray intentionally, and then when we do have the time, we don't know what to pray about or what to pray for.  Prayer is a struggle, but then again that's kind of the point.  Prayer is an act of dependence.  

Throughout my study of 1 Samuel 1.1-2.11 and seeing how Hannah "poured out her soul" in prayer, I've been thinking a lot about how I can pray better.  Not that some prayers have more value than others, but I want to be more intentional about my praying, and more intentional about watching God answer my prayers and work in my life according to what I've been praying about.  

This made me think about SMART goals.  I first learned about SMART goals in college.  It's a time management and organizational tool that can be used to help you stay focused on tasks and to set realistic expectations for yourself in school, work, business, or really for any part of life.  The word "SMART" is an acronym that stands for "Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound."  As I've thought about it, these are also great guides for us in prayer.  

1. Pray Specifically.  Too often, I think, I find myself praying about broad, nebulous ideas rather than for specific things.  Perhaps we think that we can just take a shortcut and ask God for the big picture and assume the specific details will all be worked out.  This is certainly true, but I think the more specifically we pray, the more we will be aware of God's work in our lives.  For example, I might pray that God would give me a general spirit of trust, but not that God would help me trust him for something specific.  Or that God would provide for my needs, but I rarely bring to him a specific need.  This year I'm going to try to pray more specifically, for the little things, the details.  That way, when I see God answer my specific prayers, I can glorify him all the more for his provision. 

2. Pray for results that are Measurable.  This is not to say that we should put God to the test, such as saying, "Give me this, or else..." but rather that if we are able to measurably observe God's working in our lives, we'll be all the more aware of what he is doing and glorify and praise him better.    This is a big one for me.  Too often I take God's work in my life for granted, or I don't pray specifically enough to even have measurable results to see him working!  The more we pray specifically, the more we can observably see what God is doing and "measure" his activity in our lives in response to our prayers.  

3. Pray for things that are Achievable.  This is the fun one, because there is literally nothing that isn't achievable for God.  He is able to do for more than we could ever ask or think.  Too often, though, I get caught up in the realm of the possible and my prayers are limited by my puny, temporal existence.  I need to start praying for things that are achievable, which is anything I can think of.  

4. Pray for things that are Relevant.  When I look at the content of many of my prayers, it seems that my focus is mostly in the here and now, the immediate need, or the physical circumstances rather than the spiritual side of things.  For instance, as a pastor, many people ask me to pray for their various physical needs: health, finances, job interviews, etc., and to the best of my ability, I do offer up their needs to God in prayer.  However, I think sometimes we get so caught up in the immediacy of our physical needs that we fail to address the very real and relevant spiritual aspect of our needs.  Although our physical needs are important and relevant to our everyday lives, certainly our spiritual needs are even more relevant.  When I pray for the sick, I want to pray for their healing and simultaneously for their even more relevant provision: that they would lean into God and his provision, care, and comfort, during their time of illness.  

5. Pray with a sense of Time in mind.  I believe it is biblically sound and spiritually healthy to ask God to respond to our prayers within a certain window of time, or perhaps stated more bluntly, with a deadline attached.  Not that we are forcing God's hand or demanding that he operate on our time schedule, but as a sign that we are faithfully anticipating his provision.  Indeed, God works according to his will and in his perfect timing - not ours.  But this is similar to praying specifically: if we ask God to respond to a certain request within a certain period of time, we will be more sensitive to his working in our lives, because we can see him answering specifically within the time frame we allotted in prayer.  Again, we should not be surprised or disturbed when God answers our prayers according to his timeframe rather than ours.  Either way, we should glorify God for his provision.  But when appropriate, ask God to answer your prayers with a certain time in mind.  Perhaps you have a more general, less immediate need you're praying about.  Ask God to give it to you in 2019.  Perhaps you have an immediate need.  Ask God to respond this month, this week - today, even.  And when he answers according to what you have requested, glorify him for his faithfulness.  

In all of this, I don't intend that we should pray for anything we want.  As Christians, our goal is to pray within the will of God, revealed through his word.  And in doing so, he has promised to give us anything we ask (John 14.13-14).  May we ask effectively, pray well, deepen our dependence, and believe our good and gracious Father who gives good gifts.  

The Greatest Miracle in the Bible

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What is the greatest miracle recorded in the pages of scripture?  Certainly there are many from which to choose.  Depending on how you define what is or isn't a miracle, the Bible records more than 100 miracles performed by a small number of individuals, each of them displaying the glory of God to varying degrees. 

Is it possible to classify or rank the miracles of the Bible?  Perhaps we could classify them by their perceived greatness, or the effort that it took to perform a particular miracle, or by the number of people affected by the miracle.  Is the parting of the Red Sea a greater miracle than Elisha parting the Jordan River, since the sea was bigger than the river?  Is Jesus' greatest miracle the feeding of the 5,000 because it affected so many people at one time? 

If we define a miracle as a supernatural action or indecent that is unexplainable by natural processes, then it seems to me that one of, if not the greatest miracles of the Bible must be when the sun stood still in the sky, recorded in Joshua 10.  Joshua and the Israelites are in pursuit of their enemies, but once darkness falls they will be significantly inhibited from routing them entirely.  So Joshua prays that the sun would stand still in the sky, creating continuous daylight so that Israel can hunt down and destroy her enemies completely.  And it does.  The sun stands still in the sky!  Of course, we know that the sun did not stand still in the sky, but rather that the earth ceased its spinning for a period of time.  Imagine that: the earth stood still. 

When we think about miracles as enlighten human beings, we want answers.  We want to be able to explain these unexplainable phenomena.  For instance, one scientist has attempted to show how the 10 plagues of Egypt could have been caused by global warming.  Many have attempted to do something similar in the case of the sun standing still by showing how, scientifically speaking, the earth could not possibly have stopped spinning without devastating and catastrophic consequences.  After all, the earth weighs 1000 trillion tons.  How can that much rock and water simply stop or slow down without falling apart?  What about life on earth?  How could it survive if the earth stoped spinning?  What about gravitational forces?  The moon?  There are serious scientific objections to the assertion that the earth miraculously stopped spinning. 

In response to these objections, an 18th century Anglican minister named Bishop Watson said, "The machine of the universe is in the hand of God; he can stop the motion of any part, or of the whole, with less trouble than any of us can stop a watch."  In other words, of God is the Creator of the universe, and if he is sovereign over the universe, the notion that God either stopped or slowed the spinning of the earth in order to aid in Joshua's military actions is not only reasonable, but very believable.  Regardless, the halting of the earth's rotation at the request of Joshua must certainly be one of the greatest miracles of the Bible.

But it is not the greatest miracle, not by any measure.  There is one greater, although we don't usually think of it as a miracle.  The greatest miracle of the Bible must be the incarnation: God becoming man.  The incarnation is not just a miracle, but the miracle of miracles.  Because unlike the sun standing still in the sky, or the sick being healed, or even the dead being raised, there is no scientific theory or assertion that we can use to begin to explain how it happened. 

Is it possible to make a square circle?  Of course not.  The question poses a logical impossibility, so the very notion of a square circle is nonsensical.  Yet that is similar to the incarnation.  Not that the incarnation is nonsense, but that it is beyond the ability of our minds to comprehend.  We cannot conceive of the infinite, let alone the infinite becoming finite.  How does the one who holds the stars in the palm of his hand, and who uses the earth as his footstool fit in the crook of his mother's arm?  How does the eternal God become bound by time in a human body that ages?  How does the one who created all plants and animals for food need to be fed?  How does spirit become flesh?  How do the invisible hands that created all life and matter become the flesh and blood hands nailed to the cross - the very wood and metal he himself created, nailed there by the very life he created? 

These are questions that we can't even begin to answer.  They remain mysterious to us, so far above our capacity to understand that we can but wonder at the glory and power at work in the birth of Jesus Christ, the God-Man.  Just try to think about it for a few minutes, and then take a rest when your brain starts to hurt!

As you contemplate this greatest miracle of history this Christmas, allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the glory and power that God that was at work when God the Son became a human being.  And allow yourself to be overcome by the reality that God worked this miracle for you.