Graham Shares his Journey

Graham_review_20200516

Billy Graham.  2013.  The Reason for My Hope:  Salvation.  Nashville:  W. Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson).

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013 with a new book: The Reason for My Hope.  He writes to summarize the Good News that he preached during his ministry (vii).

Organization

Graham organized his book into eight chapters.  The chapter titles are instructive because each chapter is well-named and self-contained.  The titles are:  Rescued for Something, The Great Redemption, Sin is In, The Price of Victory, Where is Jesus?, Defining Christianity in a Designer World, No Hope of Happy Hour in Hell, and He is Coming Back.  Before these eight chapters is an introduction focused on hope and after them is an afterword, Living Life with Hope.  The afterword talks about how to find Christ in six steps and includes a believer’s prayer.

Graham’s Distinctive Style

Graham’s writing style is distinctive.  As a master of collage, Graham reads the times through highly personal stories of individuals that are like Norman Rockwell paintings that spring to life.  In chapter one, for example, Graham takes us aboard the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, as it runs aground off the Italian coast.  In an age of seemingly miraculous technology, Graham questions how the crew could make such simple mistakes and, having made them, could be so indifferent to the safety of passengers under their care (11).  As the chapter draws to a close, Graham observes:  when we are rescued from something, we also saved for something.  In the words of former president, Ronald Reagan, after the assassination attempt on his life—I believe God spared me for a purpose (12).  Indeed.  We yearn to learn that purpose.

Observations on Culture

Graham’s  comments about the dark side of postmodern culture are particularly pointed.  Popular music, art, and film are infatuated with evil.  The increasingly frequent occurrence of mass shootings, such as during the 2012  Dark Knight showing in Aurora, Colorado, almost panders to this infatuation (158).  If God was willing to flood the earth in the time of Noah, exactly how can this generation avoid judgment when Christ returns? (168).  In some sense, we are judged by our own indifference.  Graham helps us taste, touch, and see our need for salvation in each of these accounts.

How to Evangelize

Part of the My Hope with Billy Graham campaign is to teach Christians how to assist seekers in coming to faith.  Graham’s six steps to finding Christ include a series of musts–[you must] Be convinced that you need him, Understand the message of the cross, Count the cost, Confess Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, Be willing for God to change your life, and Desire nourishment from God (170-182).   In the words of the Apostle Paul:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 ESV).

Graham as Innovator

To understand Graham’s success as a writer and as an evangelist, one needs to understand that he was one of the first evangelists to understand how truly to engage the culture and present the Gospel with multi-media.  His use of collage in writing, for example, shares a lot in common with the use of vignettes in a mini-series.  Collage appears simple, but its construction is highly complex.

Graham’s writing is very engaging. The Reason for My Hope is classic Graham.

Graham Shares his Journey

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

Stott_review_20200427John Stott.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle Peter reminds us:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today.  Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society.  In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.

Introduction

Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters.  After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts:  1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond.  The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ.  The second part focuses on sin.  The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation.  The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.

Background

John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today.  My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976).  At the time, I assumed Stott was German.  Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.

Apologistics

Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics.  For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it.  Stott asked him:  If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live?  The answer was clearly no.  His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25).  This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?

Children Expected to Grow

Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting.  He writes:  Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth.  Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162).  We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166).  This growth includes growth in our prayer life.  Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject.  If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164).  Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion.  In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.

Assessment

John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection.  His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18).  The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism.  But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.

Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

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Tverberg Brings NT to Life

Tverberg_review_20200131Lois Tverberg. 2012.  Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Much like language itself, the stories we read in the Bible are laconic–they do not tell us everything that we would like to know. The Bible’s laconic stories speak into life in many contexts with meaning and power. Understanding their original meaning can, however, be difficult without detailed knowledge about their original context. Lois Tverberg’s new book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, explores Jesus’ original context through a study of Jewish thought, both in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish writings (29).

Introduction

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus is organized into three sections: (1) Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words, (2) Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus, and (3) Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus. Chapters are brief and accessible enough to use devotionally. The chapters end in questions that can be used for small group discussion. Tverberg’s writing style is as engaging as her content is deep.

The Shema

In chapter 2, for example, Tverberg focuses on Jesus’ interpretation of the Shema. We know it as the great or double-love commandment (Matthew 2:35-43).  Love God; love neighbor. Hebrew, Tverberg reminds us, is word poor and meaning rich. In Hebrew, Shema means both to hear and obey. The Jewish version of the Shema, which has been recited daily since before the first century, as a prayer is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The second part of Jesus’ Shema (love of neighbor) is, however, found in Leviticus 19:18. The Hebrew understanding of love is covered in chapter 3 and the Hebrew understanding of neighbor is covered in chapter 4. If you really want to understand the parable of the Good Samaritan, Tverberg intimates, read 2 Chronicles 28:1-15.

Prayers Reflect Theology

As a seminarian, I was amazed how accessible Tverberg made matters of faith that I struggled to learn over the past several years. Citing Abraham Herschel, Tverberg writes: The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God.  How you pray reveals what you believe about God (125). Until I understood this, my prayers were simply random words. I read Herschel, but I understood Tverberg. Tverberg understands Jesus not only as Messiah, but as one steeped in Jewish wisdom. Confronted with two commandments in tension, which one do you obey?

Assessment

Who might want to read Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus? This is an excellent text for devotions and for small group discussion. Pastors will find a number of chapters that will preach. Seminary students might find it an interesting introduction to Hebrew thinking. Any Christian serious about understanding their faith will enjoy and benefit from this book

Tverberg Brings NT to Life

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1

Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2020  

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Monday Monologues: The Person of Jesus, June 18, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a Prayer for the Co-Dependent and a reflection on the Person of Jesus.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: The Person of Jesus, June 18, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Transcendence_2018

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The Person of Jesus

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

No description of God would be complete without an understanding of the role of Jesus Christ that starts with God’s transcendent nature. God’s transcendence arises because he created the known universe as revealed in the Genesis creation account:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

As creator, God had to exist before the universe that he created and he had to have been set apart from it. Time, as we know it, is part of the created universe. Consequently, God stands outside of time and space. Because we exist inside time and space, we cannot approach God on our own. He has to reveal himself to us. Likewise, we cannot approach a Holy God, because we are sinful beings, not Holy beings. Our sin separates from a Holy God and motivates our confession when we ask God to draw us to himself.

Thus, we cannot approach God on our own because he transcends time and space and because he is holy. Only God can initiate connection with unholy, created beings such as we are. No path reaches up the mountain to God; God must come down. As Christians, we believe that God came down in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose coming was prophesied from the earliest days of scripture. 

For example, the Prophet Job wrote: 

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”  (Job 19:25-27)

The Book of Job is thought by some to have been written by Moses before any other book in the Bible and before he returned to Egypt, which makes the anticipation of a redeemer all the more stunning. Moses himself lived about 1,500 years before Christ.

Who then is this transcendent God that loves us enough to initiate connection with us in spite of our sin?

Later, after giving Moses the Ten Commandments for a second time on Mount Sinai, God reveals himself to Moses with these words:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod 34:6)

Notice that God describes himself first as merciful. As Christians, we believe that God love is shown to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God himself has provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, Christians do not need to offer animal sacrifices—in Christ, our debt to God for sin has already been paid. This is real mercy, real love.

Listen now to the confession given by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”  (1 Cor 15:3-5)

Jesus, as the perfect son of God, is the bridge that God has given us to connect with himself through the Holy Spirit, as Peter said on the Day of Pentecost:

“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to pray to God with the assurance that we will be heard; we are able to read the Bible with the confidence that God will speak to us; and we are able to live our daily lives knowing that God walks with us each step of the way. In this way, as Christians we are always connected with God in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is accordingly the story of Jesus in the context of Old Testament prophecy and how through him God came down from outside time and space to dwell in our hearts.

The Person of Jesus

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Transcendence_2018

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Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-20, English Standard Version

Nativity_12212013In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

John Ortberg.: Who is this man?Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

John Ortberg.  2012.  Who Is This Man?  Unpredictable Impact of an Inescapable Jesus.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

John Ortberg’s new book, Who Is This Man?, is a biography focused on the unexpected influence Jesus has on the many spheres of our lives. Ortberg writes:

“After his disappearance from earth, the days of his unusual influence began.  That influence is what this book is about…Normally when someone dies, their impact on the world immediately begins to recede…Jesus’ impact was greater a hundred years after his death than during his life…after two thousand years he has more followers in more places than ever.” (11).

Talk about influence. Most of us would be happy if our parents and/or kids listened to us.

Details, Details

Ortberg has an eye for details and for things contrary to expectations, either today or in ancient times. For example, in evaluating Jesus as a leader, he outlines his strategy for influencing people.  Paraphrasing a pep talk by Jesus for the disciples, he writes:

“Here’s our strategy. We have no money, no clout, no status, no buildings, no soldiers…We will tell  them [Jewish and Romans leaders, Zealots, collaborators, Essenes] all that they are on the wrong track…When they hate us—and a lot of them will…we won’t fight back, we won’t run away, and we won’t give in.  We will just keep loving them…That’s my strategy.” (107)

Huh?  Who would have thought that a group using this strategy would even survive the first century, let alone influence anyone.

Background

John Ortberg[1] is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park[2], California which is part of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO), a new denomination formed in 2012[3].  According to the foreword written Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, this book started out as sermon series.  The book is written in 15 chapters, including:

  1. The Man Who Won’t Go Away,
  2. The Collapse of Dignity,
  3. A Revolution in Humanity,
  4. What Does a Woman Want?
  5. An Undistinguished Visiting Scholar,
  6. Jesus Was Not a Great Man,
  7. Help Your Friends, Punish Your Enemies,
  8. There Are Things That Are Not Caesar’s,
  9. The Good Life Versus The Good Person,
  10. Why It’s a Small World After All,
  11. The Truly Old-Fashioned Marriage,
  12. Without Parallel in the Entire History of Art,
  13. Friday,
  14. Saturday, and
  15. Sunday (5).

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and acknowledgments, and followed by an epilogue and references.  I was first exposed this this material in a men’s group discussion where we viewed the DVD.  There is also a separate study guide.

Ortberg is Well Rounded

Ortberg is surprisingly well read drawing on details from a range of resources ancient and modern[4].  For example, describing a bit of his own background from a psychologist’s perspective he writes:

“The quickest and most basic mental health assessment checks to see if people are ‘oriented times three’:  whether they know who they are, where they are, and what day it is.  I was given the name of Jesus’ friend John; I live in the Bay area named for Jesus’ friend Francis; I was born 1,957 years after Jesus. How could orientation depend so heavily on one life?” (11)

He observes that each of his 3 orientations (who, where, and when) were influenced directly by Jesus.  Pretty good influence for someone who lived 2,000 years ago!

Holy Saturday

One of the chapters that impressed me the most was the chapter called: Saturday.  Saturday after Good Friday and before Easter is starting to be celebrated as a religious holiday in itself—I often wondered why. Ortberg describes these 3 days as a typical 3-day story with a specific form: day 1 starts with trouble; day 2 there is nothing; and day 3 comes deliverance[5]. The problem with day 2 is that you do not know if day 3 is coming—faith is required. Saturday is the only day in 2,000 years when not a single person on earth believed that Jesus was alive. It’s only on the third day that you know you are in a 3-day story! (175-177) Next year I think that I will look for a Saturday service to attend.

Assessment

John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man?, offers a fresh description of Jesus, his thinking, and his life. Most Christians today have heard too many bland accounts of Jesus for our own good—so much so that we have trouble hearing God’s voice in these accounts. Ortberg’s insights come in explaining Jesus’ context so artfully that Jesus’ radical contribution is more obvious—Jesus steps out of the picture frame into the room with us. This is the kind of book that, after reading a couple chapters, you will want to buy copies for your family and friends.  In other words, drop what you are doing and read this book.

[1]http://www.JohnOrtberg.com

[2]http://mppc.org

[3]http://eco-pres.org

[4]As a writer and publisher, I immediately picked up on the absence of footnotes in this book.  References are given in the back of the book sequenced by chapter.  However, there are no footnotes or endnotes indicated in the text itself. Actually, I liked this style of referencing because the text flows more naturally with fewer distractions.

[5] Other 3-days stories that he mentions are:  Abraham (Gen 22:4), Joseph (Gen 42:17-18), Rahab (Jos 2:16), and Esther (Est 4:16).

 

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Prayer Day 4: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Eternal and Compassionate Father. Help us to accept You into all aspects of our lives. Thank you for creating us in your image. Bless our families. Forgive our sin and rebellion. In the power of your Holy Spirit, restore to us the joy of your salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eterno y compasivo Padre. Ayudan nos a aceptar tú en todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas. Gracias por crean nos en tu imagen. Bendicen nuestras familias. Perdonan nuestros pecados y rebelión. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, restauran a nosotros el gozo de tu salvación. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

 

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Prayer Day 3: A Christian’s Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Almighty Father, beloved son, ever-present Spirit. We praise you for creating us in your image, for walking with us even as we sin, and for patiently restoring us into your favor. Strengthen our sense of your identity. In the power of your Holy Spirit, unstop our ears; uncover our eyes; soften our hearts; illumine our minds. Shape us more and more in your image that we also might grow. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, amado Hijo, siempre presente Espíritu. Te alabamos por crea nos en tu imagen, por caminar con nosotros incluso cuando nos pecamos, y por restaurar nos patentemente en tu favor. Fortalece nos en tu identidad. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, destapa nuestro oídos; descubre nuestros ojos; suaviza nuestras corazones; ilumina nuestros mentes. Forma nos mas y mas en tu imagen que podemos también crecer. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Prayer Day 2, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Heavenly Father:  We praise you for creating heaven and earth; for creating all that is, that was, and that is to come; for creating things seen and unseen.  We praise you for sharing yourself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; our role model in life, redeemer in death, and hope for the future.  We praise you for the Holy Spirit, who is ever present with us; who sustains all things; who showers us with spiritual gifts.  Open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, te alabamos para creación de los cielos y de la tierra; para creación de todo que es, que fue, y que sera; para creación de las cosas visibles e invisibles. Te alabamos por compartir ti mismo en la persona de Jesús de Nazaret; nuestro modelo en la vida, redentor en el muerto, y la esperanza para el futuro. Te alabamos por el Espíritu Santo, quien está presente con nosotros que duchar nos con dones espirituales y sustentar todo las cosas. Abierta nuestras corazones, iluminar nuestros mentes, fortalecer nuestros manos en su servicio. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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