Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"Recommended Reading from 2018” (Pt. 2) (Dec. 19, 2018)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Recommended Reading from 2018” (Pt. 2)

(Dec. 19, 2018)


          There are many great apologetic works available these days.  Some are written by scholars for scholars.  Some of these works are more geared toward pastors.  While still yet others are oriented toward laymen.  I have read many of these books over the last few years.  They are full of facts that validate the key claims of Scripture like the Resurrection, and the historicity of the early church and followers of Jesus.  Many of these books also examine scientific claims and examine them in light of reason, and even science itself.  It takes a lot for one of these type books to stand out to me as I have read several.  But I would give a 5 star rating to I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek.  It is hard to put down once you begin reading, but it is important to read through it slowly and carefully in order to receive the full impact.  I highly recommend this book be in your own personal library.

          Many accusations are leveled against Christians by those who want to discredit them and label them as ignorant, non-thinking, anti-science, anti-knowledge, etc.  Some of the myths that have been perpetuated have stuck and few know the real truth.  One of the best examples of this is the fact many claim, and/or believe, that Christians once held tightly to a belief that the world was flat even when science was saying the earth was spherical.  There is even an atheistic website where a group of people make fun of the “flat earth,” backward-thinking Christians.  But this is a total myth.  As early as the 4th century B. C. theists believed the earth was round and it was far more unusual throughout the middle ages and beyond for anyone, Christians included, to hold to a flat earth viewpoint.  I read a book this year called Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians by Jeffrey Burton Russell.  It is a fascinating, extremely well researched report of how this was all contrived coming out of a fictional work by Washington Irving and morphing quickly into revisionist history.  It you want to know the truth on this issue, read this book.  If you want to see how easily things can become distorted and true history be forgotten in favor of myth, then read this book!

          I am a big fan of the “Answers in Genesis” (AIG) organization, headed by Ken Ham, and their museum in the Cincinnati, OH metro area which features a full scale replica of Noah’s Ark.  They have put out numerous materials over the years including books, CD’s, DVD’s, booklets and tracts, and an information packed website.  I read a booklet put out by AIG this year called Doesn’t Carbon Dating Disprove the Bible.  This book is short and to the point.  It will help you see the flawed presuppositions of those who trust the Carbon 14 dating method for determining the age of the earth.  Many, in the camp of theological liberalism or accomodationist theology, even try to interpret the early chapters of Genesis by accommodating what science claims with the Bible when it comes to questions about the age of the earth.  Longstanding reliance on faulty methodology and trusting without asking questions has led many believers astray on this issue.  Christians do not, and should not have a “blind” faith but should ask questions in order to gain knowledge.  Ironically, science purports to search for the truth and go where research leads them; however, there are certain things that are off the table to some scientist, such as intelligent design in the universe.  When science takes anything off the table before it starts, science becomes more of a philosophical viewpoint and/or pursuit than actual science in the truest sense.

          I really enjoyed a short book by author Peter Jones called The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture.  It is densely packed with great information and is eye-opening.  It offers to you the potential to gain a great working knowledge of postmodernism, polytheism, and Gnosticism which has its roots in the days of the early church and is still alive and well today in many religious expressions.  You need to read this book, and ones like it, to get a handle on the world in which we live and are called to be missionaries.

          Sadly many Christians do not know anything better than to either “run” or “roll over and play dead” when unbelievers challenge Christian thinking and worldview with their slogans, and poorly thought-out assertions.  In his very helpful book, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions Gregory Koukl shows how believers can easily maneuver through conversations with skeptics by simply getting them to think more deeply about what they are asking or asserting.  Overwhelmingly the argumentation of unbelievers breaks down just below the surface and it is our duty as Christians to help them see where there reasoning if faulty, not just for the sake of winning arguments, but for the furtherance of the Kingdom.  Through notable techniques such as “The Columbo Method,” based on the character from the popular television show, Koukl teaches believers to ask simple, non-threatening questions to expose what people really believe in such a way that they tend to realize for themselves that their story, or whole belief system, does not stand up consistently and reasonably.

          During my morning devotional time I read a few books that were really uplifting and encouraging.  One of those books was Heaven on Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Life to Come by Derek W. H. Thomas.  It is a heartwarming, non-technical portrait of Heaven and the life to come.  Another book was Understanding the 66 Books of the Bible by David Jeremiah.  The book gives a brief portrait of each book which starts with a timely, relevant illustration then a very brief overview of the content followed by the key theme and key verse.  It was lite but encouraging to read one or two of these portraits each day.  Perhaps my favorite devotional book of all this year was a book I have referred to often for many years but never read straight through.  The book is called God’s Promises for Your Every Need.  It is nothing more than a topical arrangement of very encouraging Scriptures that speak to a variety of issues and topics.  This book helped me know Scripture better.  It helps me see that yes God does have a lot to say about . . .  It is a book everyone should own and refer to regularly.  It will also help you in your ministry to others when someone at work, a family member, or a friend asks you “Is there a verse in the Bible that says anything about . . .?  You will find the answer in this book easily.

          During the summer and fall of this year I was privileged to teach through the book of Amos on Sunday Evenings.  I am always drawn to the Old Testament Prophets simply because, as a preacher, I can often relate to them on a personal level.  Also, as an American I can see enormous parallels between their day and our day.  Among the prophets, Amos is one of my favorites.  I was aided greatly in my study by J. A. Motyer’s book The Message of Amos in The Bible Speaks Today Commentary Series (BST).  I also found great value in The Roaring of the Lion: A Commentary on Amos by Ray Beeley. The most helpful resource of all was Amos: An Ordinary Man with an Extraordinary Message in the Focus on the Bible Commentary Series (FOTBS) by my former Hebrew Professor at Southern Seminary, T. J. Betts.

          I began a study of the Gospel of Matthew in December, 2016 on Sunday Mornings.  In June of 2017 I made it to the Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7).  In October 2018 I finished that very rich block of material taught by Jesus.  In addition to several Matthew commentaries I read books that offered insight into the Sermon on the Mount specifically.  Most of these were very helpful but my favorites among them were Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church by Charles Quarles; Studies in the Sermon on the Mount: God’s Character and the Believer’s Conduct by Oswald Chambers; Reading the Sermon on the Mount with John Stott by John Stott and Douglas Connelly; The Sermon on the Mount: The Character of a Disciple by Daniel M. Doriani; The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary by Jonathan T. Pennington; and most of all Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (2 volumes) by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom by R. Kent Hughes from the “Preaching the Word” (PTW) Commentary Series.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Recommended Reading from 2018 (Pt. 1) (Dec.18, 2018)

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading from 2018 (Pt. 1)

(Dec. 18, 2018)


          For the last several years, at year’s end, I have shared some of my favorite books read over the course of the year.  I try to only recommend the true “stand-outs” and realize not every book will appeal to every person.  I further recognize that the vast majority of my readers are laymen so I rarely include technical or difficult books that I read.  My hope is that you will become intrigued enough by a few of these titles that you will obtain them and read them for your own enrichment and personal growth.

          America is no longer a Christian nation.  A movement was started some 35 years ago by Jerry Falwell called “The Moral Majority” but clearly Christians are now the “moral minority.”  The fact we have not been victorious politically on many social fronts does not mean we have really lost.  Perhaps, some of the battle we were/are fighting was/is not the battle God wanted us to waste our time fighting anyway.  The trajectory of this world is downhill morally as we rapidly move toward the glorious return of Jesus.  The question for us is how do we maneuver the treacherous waters of this world until that day?  One of my favorite authors, Erwin Lutzer, has written a great little book to offer believers advice on this front.  The book is titled Where Do We Go From Here: Hope and Direction in Our Present Crisis.  This book is a challenge for Christians to not be in despair even in the face of difficult, even heartbreaking, realities.  God has called believers to be salt and light no matter what this world does or does not do.  The church has a mission and its mission is to be faithful no matter what!

          Most Christians agree that prayer is very important; however just about the same numbers concede they do not pray as much as they should be praying.  Prayer easily gets crowded out by our busy lives, but ironically the busier we are the more we desperately need more prayer.  More than 20 years ago Bill Hybels wrote a great book that became a bestseller titled Too Busy Not to Pray which addresses the issue of the importance of prayer in the midst of our business.  It is simple, straightforward, and helpful.  I read through it over the course of a couple of weeks as a part of my morning quiet time this year.  I believe it will both encourage and bless.

          It is hard to seriously discuss prayer without talking about spiritual warfare.  Sadly I do not think most Christians realize that they are at war.  The powers of darkness are against believers and everything they try to do.  I was blessed by reading Chip Ingram’s book The Invisable War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons & Spiritual Warfare.  It helped me understand some of the realities of how Satan and his demons work against my life and ministry.  Every believer needs to be more aware of the tactics used by our enemy and his demons.  Ingram’s book will help you greatly in this arena.

          Each year I make a point of reading at least one book on worship.  I believe worship is so much more than we realize.  This year I read a great new book by Keith and Kristyn Getty called Sing!  How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church.  This book will get you excited about worshiping because it will force you to really consider the question of “why” you worship.  When you are able to honestly answer that question, your worship will become really exciting!

          Many, if not most churches, truly desire to grow.  However, many of these same churches do not realize they are doing things that hinder their growth.  Many of the hindrances could be corrected but these things are hard to see by those who have been at the church long-term.  Thom Rainer skillfully addresses many of these hindrances to growth in Becoming a Welcoming Church.  I taught through this book on Wednesday Nights earlier this year and it generated great times of discussion.  It was eye-opening to many of our people who had never thought through some of the issues raised.  Rainer has a companion book that is meant to be given to visitors and prospective members called We Want You Here.  It is a good book and also worth reading and considering.

          When we hear the word “evangelism” we are just as likely to think of a church program as we are our personal responsibility of being a witness for Christ.  That is because “evangelism” became largely “programmatized” by the church beginning around the mid-twentieth century.  Same as with every other program, only a few will be involved.  However, evangelism is a commissioning from Jesus to everyone who believes in Him and needs to be emphasized as such.  J. Mack Stiles presents a refreshing, and much more biblically grounded, perspective on evangelism in his book Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.  We need not be fooled.  It is not about showing up for a program, handing out tracks in parking lots, or memorizing a fool-proof model guaranteed to get results; it is about each believer building relationships and living out their faith and sharing their faith before the watching eyes of those they know and those they do not know.

          I preached through the Lord’s Prayer (Mat. 6:9-13) phrase by phrase over a several week period in the spring of this year.  As a part of my study I greatly benefited from 4 books specifically written to give insight into the prayer.  These were J. I. Packer’s Praying the Lord’s Prayer, William Barclay’s The Lord’s Prayer, A. W. Pink’s The Lord’s Prayer; but he most helpful and enjoyable one of the four was The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution by Dr. Albert Mohler.  This book, in particular, is warm and witty.  It takes complex theological issues and breaks them down very simply for the reader.  It is one of the very best books overall that I read in 2018.  I highly recommend it!

          Country music fans will greatly enjoy Charlie Daniels autobiography Never Look at the Empty Seats: A Memoir.  Charlie Daniels has accomplished a lot in his nearly 6-decade career and the book covers his childhood throughout his career all the way up to his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.  But, Christians in particular will enjoy the strong emphasis Daniels puts on his abiding faith and how God has seen him through many hard things in his life.  Daniels is a man of deep conviction, devotion, and faith.  I greatly enjoyed, and was inspired, by reading his memoir.

          Pastors have a unique calling, but with that calling comes unique dangers.  There are plenty of obvious ones, but there are also plenty of books out there to deal with those kinds of temptations.  In his book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Paul David Tripp explores pride and breaks it down many different ways.  In fact, the whole book is about how pastors are tempted to let pride, in one form or another, control their lives.  It is so easy to stop letting the main thing be the main thing in our lives, but it really comes down to the fundamentals; how well and how sincerely we do them.  I highly recommend this book for every pastor.

          There are a few books in our Bibles that tend to be neglected, but it is often not because of their lack of content.  One such example is the letter of Philemon and its powerful message of Christian forgiveness.  I was privileged to teach through the book on Sunday evenings earlier this year.  I used several commentaries but the one I most appreciated was Scot McKnight’s volume The Letter to Philemon in The New International Commentary Series (NICNT).  It gives the reader great background, insights, and perspective without being too wordy or overly theological.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Monday, December 17, 2018

"The Essential Nature of Forgiveness" (Pt. 2) (Dec. 17, 2018)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “The Essential Nature of Forgiveness” (Pt. 2)

(Dec. 17, 2018)


     The world struggles, and has always struggled, with the question of what to do with Jesus.  He is both good and bad to them.  He is good because of His love, acceptance, kindness, etc.  But He is bad because to follow Him a person has to admit things about themselves they do not want to admit.  On one hand the world realizes that merely receiving Jesus into their lives is not as simple as “adding Him on” for strength, support, and satisfaction but requires a total life change.  On the other hand, they do not want to make that total life change, but somehow see danger in spurning Him altogether. Therefore, many try to search out and walk some sort of imaginary middle ground path.

          For Jesus to be Lord of your life means you ask Him to take control and the world is not really ready to totally “surrender” control to Him.  People want to maintain control of their own lives and seek their own pleasure(s).  In order to ask Jesus for forgiveness, a person has to first recognize their need for forgiveness and then ask Him for that forgiveness.  No more hiding behind the tired excuse of “Well, I think I am a pretty good person.”  An unsaved person (one still lost in his/her sins) sees themselves as being the center of his/her own world/universe.  Jesus frees a person from that bondage to exclusive self focus!

          A great theologian was once asked what he would say to a lost human being if he only had an hour with him to tell this person how he could have eternal life.  His response was that he would spend the first 50 minutes or so trying to convince them of their own bondage to sin and of their own desperate condition.  Then spend the last 10 minutes presenting Jesus.  While this may seem a little strange or out of balance, the point he was trying to make was that Jesus quickly becomes the obvious answer when people get over that major hurdle of realizing they actually need Jesus!  That is where the real challenge lies  This last Sunday and this next Sunday will see millions and millions of Americans not in church.  The simple reason is that many, if not most, do not really see a need to be there.  The world can even display confidence in their non-attendance of church.  Confidence however, never meant anyone was correct.  We have all known plenty of people who were “confidently” wrong.  The need for every human being is the same – to be forgiven by God. 

          Matthew 6:15 says “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  We all need to be forgiven; forgiven by God and forgiven by other people.  I try to do things right, treat others right, etc. but I fall short and still mess up.  When I do, I have to go back to people and ask their forgiveness.  In doing so, I am reminded again of the many, many things I have been forgiven for by other people, but especially by God.  The world is not preaching forgiveness.  The world is getting a lawyer.  Attorneys are advertising on billboards, television, and radio.  “Forgiveness” does not seem to be a word that resonates well with their profession.  Police officers are setting speed traps and waiting in the wings to catch speeders to write tickets; political operatives are working intently to dig up dirt on political enemies/opponents; scammers are scheming and conniving as to how to bilk people out of more and more money then to run and hide.  Ironically, none of those mentioned above want the same thing done to them as what they are doing to others.  Lawyers do not want to be sued, policemen do not want to receive speeding tickets, political operatives do not want dirt dug up on them, and scammers do not want to be scammed!  They want to be forgiven of their indiscretions, misdemeanors, shortcomings, or necessary measures associated with their jobs.   The world does not live by the “Golden Rule” (Mat. 7:12)  The world and its attitude reminds us of the parable Jesus taught about “The Unforgiving Servant” who was eager to have his transgressions overlooked and be forgiven but he selfishly wanted to hold others to the letter of the law for a comparably smaller offense/debt. (Mat. 18:21-35)

          Through the unfolding of this parable/story, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that God’s astounding forgiveness is the basis for all Christian forgiveness of a brother or sister.  When we keep  the cross of Christ, and the forgiveness of sin/transgressions, in the forefront of our minds it becomes much easier for us to forgive our neighbor.  We must never quite get over the shock and awe of being forgiven of our own sins.  Living day by day mesmerized by the incomparable love of Jesus and His forgiveness of us changes everything about how we view others.  Let us remember of Jesus “He paid a debt he did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed someone to wash my sins away; and now I sing a brand new song – Amazing Grace the whole day long, Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

"The Essential Nature of Forgiveness" (Pt.1) (Dec. 12, 2018)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “The Essential Nature of Forgiveness” (Pt. 1)

(Dec. 12, 2018)
          Have you ever had someone make you angry when you were driving?  Do you suppose you have ever made other people angry with your driving?  When another person does something you do not like out on the road it is very hard not to immediately pass judgment on them.  We must keep in mind that it is also very hard for them to not pass immediate judgment on us when we do something we should not.  Driving incidents are over in seconds, but memories can linger for weeks, maybe longer.  When it comes to driving we can all agree it is much easier to “be forgiven” than it is to “forgive.”

          I believe Jesus knew we would have a hard time with forgiveness because the theme comes up several times in the New Testament.  Out of all the lines in the Lord’s Prayer, for instance, the only one that is expounded upon is the one dealing with forgiveness.  Mat. 6:12 says “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Then in vs. 14 the Lord further clarifies what He meant. 

          The fact that the Lord’s Prayer is absent of words like “me” and “I” but uses “we,” “our,” and “us” is very instructive at the point of understanding, and seeing the need for “forgiveness.”  Forgiveness goes beyond the surface and gets underneath.  It exposes things we often wish to remain hidden such as motive and intent.  It even reveals how selfish we can be and that is something few want known.  While forgiveness is closely akin to “self-less-ness,” unforgiveness is closely akin to “self-ish-ness.”

          In Mat. 6:14-15 Jesus teaches “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  We have a need to forgive others.  Jesus does not teach here that we have a need to forgive merely “perceived” transgressions against us but instead for actual, real, painful, wrongs done against us.  Yet, as hard as it may be, we are taught by the Lord that both the principle and practice of forgiveness should always be on display in the lives of Christians.  Think about a runway model modeling clothing.  The fashion being featured is meant to be seen, meant to impress, meant to be coveted/desired.  The clothing designers expect those in attendance to pass judgment on what they see.  There hope is that they will like/enjoy what they see and desire to have it.  When the world sees Christians modeling forgiveness in an “eye for eye; tooth for tooth,” kind of world they cannot help but take notice.  Forgiveness then holds a certain shock value to the world; however for the Christian it should all look completely normal.

          We all have both judgmental tendencies and merciful tendencies.  For believers mercy should always rule over judgment.  James wrote “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)  Many often say “I can forgive but I cannot forget.”  Actually putting being “wronged” by someone behind us once and for all is undeniably difficult.  Ted Kersh, in his book on the Sermon on the Mount, writes “One of the most challenging disciplines of the Christian life is forgiveness.  In fact, the very word ‘forgiveness’ may dredge up distressingly painful memories of events or people we’d give anything to forget . . . but for our own sakes, we must cancel the debt.” (Ted Kersh; The Blessed Life; 104; 106)  The most literal meaning of the word “forgive” means “to hurl away.”  It is a picture of taking something and throwing it away from you as far as your strength can throw it.

In the Christian movie “A Matter of Faith” perhaps the most powerful scene comes when Professor Portland looks at Prefessor Marcus Kaman and says “Marcus, I forgive you.”  He had been blaming him for 12 years for getting him fired from the University, ruining his career, and basically his whole life besides.  He had become a cranky bitter man, but he finally realized he had to forgive in order to move on.

          Forgiveness is a consistent theme throughout all of Scripture.  Believers need to look to great examples of men like Joseph who forgave his brothers for nearly killing him and then selling him.  Stephen, of whom the texts says “He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord do not charge them with this sin.’  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:20)  And of course, Jesus is the greatest example of all.  He cried out from the cross “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 22:34)  The Lord Jesus, of course, had forgiven many along the way like the woman at the well (John 4), the woman caught in adultery (John 8), Zacchaeus the tax collector, etc.  He knew how to forgive and He taught His followers to forgive as well.  He did not ask us to do it because it was easy, but precisely because it was hard and unnatural.  In so doing, attention would be brought to the unmistakable power of the Gospel over and above human tendencies.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor