Book Review: Reflections on the Existence of God

51ooxPFriDL._AC_UY436_QL65_.jpgInstead of closing with the perfunctory “I was sent this book in exchange for reading it and promising to write a review,” I am going to open with it. Because that is exactly how I encountered this book. But I am glad I did, because I can also honestly say that it is a very readable, very quotable Christian apologetics source which I would recommend to anyone.

Reflections on the Existence of God, by Richard E. Simmons III is not a random series of reflections, but follows an orderly progression of arguments for the existence of God in general, then building concept upon concept, through specific Christian commitment —  it is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in that way. It comprises very brief, 4-5 page “chapters” he calls “essays.” But this format makes it very readable — you can get in an “essay” even if you only have five minutes to spare. Each is quick-hitting, and contains historical, foot-noted stories.

Did I say it was very readable? I intended to start the book by reading just 2-3 pages one Wednesday night after prayer meeting, and ended up reading 50! This happened several times during the course of my time in the book. Each little chapter draws you into the next — just like you’d pop another M&M into your mouth!

For any Christian interested in strengthening and sharing their faith — and especially preachers and teachers — Simmons’ book is a gold mine of stories, quotes, and illustrations for sermons and other messages: Continue reading

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The Providences of 1776

fullsizeoutput_4232I’ve made a personal “tradition” of reading David McCullough’s 1776 on the 4th of July 
for the last couple of years. The book is a marvelous retelling of this pivotal year in the story of America. A repeated theme that impressed me in this last reading was the number of “miracles” — or what theologians might call works of “The Providence of God” — which contributed to the birth of The United States, which, had “circumstances” gone the other way in one or more of these cases, might never have taken place. Following are a few examples: Continue reading

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“His Grace Prevails” (Psalm 117 sermon)

Last Sunday we spent some time looking at Psalm 101:3, which gives us an important commitment towards holiness: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.” I hope that you were able read and memorize that verse this week – and especially I hope you USED it to avoid the enemy’s temptations.

But if we are honest, many of us will say that we did not. We failed to use the word, and indeed failed – perhaps many times – to do what was right when we look back at last week. So is all lost? NO: thank God for His grace. “His grace prevails,” is our “follow up message” of sorts today. Even when we as His people fall short, His grace prevails over us, as we see in Psalm 117:2: Continue reading

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“No Worthless Thing” (Psalm 101:3 sermon)

On this Father’s Day, we can remember one of the great “Father/Son” teams in American history, John Adams, and his son, John Quincy Adams, both of whom served as President of the United States. When he was only ten years old, John Quincy had the opportunity to go overseas with his father when John was appointed ambassador to France. His mother, Abigail, would remain at home with the other children. Abigail was a wise Christian women, and she believed that this was the chance of a lifetime for little Johnny, but she also admitted that she had a “thousand fears” for him. “Assuredly he would encounter temptation, she wrote, but to exclude him from temptation would be to exclude him from the world in which he was to live.”  (David McCullough, John Adams, p. 176)

Just like John Quincy Adams, you and I live today in a world which is full of temptations and snares — possibly more today than ever before. The important thing for us as God’s children, is that we recognize those temptations, and make some commitments to help us and those we love, to fight against them. Psalm 101:3 today is one of the great verses in the Bible which will help equip us to fight against temptation: 

“I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.”

Continue reading

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“Waiting For Our King” (Psalm 110 sermon)

When I was growing up I loved the story of Robin Hood — I had an oversized green t-shirt that I would wear, with a brown belt around my waist, as I would take my bow & arrows out into the field. Now, we know that Robin Hood was a legend, but like our books of historical fiction today, it was based on some historical facts: that King Richard the Lionhearted had gone off to the Crusades and had been held prisoner on the way back, and his evil brother John took over as king in his absence. Historians tells us that John was very cruel and oppressive, and the people of England longed for the return of their beloved King Richard the Lionheart, which he finally did. The legend of Robin Hood was supposedly set during that “interim” time while the people were suffering under John, and waiting for the return of their King. 

Those of us who are alive today are very much like the people of England under the reign of King John. We are living in a world that is oppressive and cruel and sinful in many ways — and we are waiting for our King, King Jesus, to come back to Earth and set us free. Just HOW we wait for Him is vital, as we see in Psalm 110 today:  Continue reading

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“The Ministry of the Intercessor” (Psalm 106:19-23 sermon)

Congressman Kellogg of Illinois read the reply from Secretary of War Stanton: the stay of execution for a young man from his home state had been denied. The young man was scheduled to be executed at sunrise the next day. “This man is not going to be shot,” Congressman Kellogg cried, and he went straight to the White House. The guards at President Lincoln’s door tried to stop him — the President was in bed! — but he swept right past them. Kellogg ran right into Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom and cried out: “This man must not be shot. Why he is an old neighbor of mine; I can’t allow him to be shot!” Lincoln listened quietly to his pleas, and then said slowly, “Well, I don’t believe shooting will do him any good. Give me that pen.” (Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 581)

Congressman Kellogg threw dignity and decorum aside, and interceded with the most powerful man on earth, the President of the United States, that a young man he knew, might be saved. Congressman Kellogg is the picture of what an “intercessor” is. 

We need intercessors today. Our country needs intercessors today, badly. Our children and grandchildren need intercessors. God’s kingdom work needs intercessors. But what does it meant to be an intercessor? We learn a lot about “The Ministry of the Intercessor” in Psalm 106 this morning:  Continue reading

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“Preparing the Way for Our King” (Luke 3 sermon)

In 1789 George Washington was elected as the first President of the United States — and the country went wild with celebration. Washington, who was reluctant to take the office, left his home at Mount Vernon to make his way to New York City, where the temporary capital was. Back in those days, it took him seven days to travel from Virginia to New York. But he didn’t go alone. Word of his impending arrival had gotten out, and Washington’s route became a “triumphal procession,” as crowds and local officials from every town came out to meet him. When he came to Philadelphia, he found that they had built arches over the bridge in his honor, and had decorated the bridge with evergreens. As he approached the city, they brought him a white horse to ride into town on. Arriving at the Hudson River, at New York City, he found they had prepared for him a 47-foot ceremonial barge just to ferry him across, powered by 13 rowers, one for each state. He was greeted by a 13-canon salute, and the Governor and other officials met him, and escorted him to the President’s Mansion they had prepared for him there at Franklin House. George Washington was “head and shoulders” above every other, THE single most respected man in the country. So they prepared the way before him as he came to the inauguration.

Now I love George Washington. But we need to remember as we come to worship, every Sunday, there is Someone greater One than George Washington here. And we need to make preparation for Him, and what He wants to do in our lives, in His church, and in our world. Last week we talked about the importance of “preparation for worship;” how we shouldn’t just “show up” to worship, but we need to come prepared: being rested, and having walked with God in our own worship time, so that we are “full of the Spirit” when we come. We saw that confession of sin is another element in being prepared and “full of the Spirit” for worship. God says in Isaiah, “I cannot endure iniquity, and the solemn assembly.” Our sins pollute our worship, and God won’t accept that. If we really want to be prepared to worship God, we need to take our sins seriously.

This is what the ministry of John the Baptist was all about. Luke tells us that God sent him before Jesus began His ministry, to prepare the way before Him. We need to learn from John’s message and ministry, because God wants to do similar things in our lives today: Continue reading

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“Coming Back To Worship ‘In The Spirit'” (Luke 2:27 sermon)

It’s good to see people starting to come back and participate in our worship services again — it’s been growing over the last 2-3 weeks, and hopefully that will continue. But many are suggesting that we won’t ever get back to “normal”  after this COVID crisis; that it will never be “normal” like it used to be, again. That may be difficult in some ways — but I think we can also look at it in a more positive way: when we come back to worship, let’s come back in a new, and different, and even BETTER way than we ever have before. And our scripture for today gives us a good goal for HOW we could come back to worship in a better way:
Verse 27 says of Simeon that “he came in the Spirit into the temple …”.
This is a great description of him, and it’s also a good goal for each of us to have as we come back to worship, that we would not come back to “normal,” but that we would come back to worship “in the Spirit.” Continue reading

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“Blessed Is She Who Believed” (Luke 1:45 sermon)

A few months ago, our ladies ministry had a neat fellowship, in which they painted little decorative signs for their homes, with a portion of scripture on each one. The ladies painted some good verses: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me;” “Be still and know that I am God;” and so on. It was a fun fellowship for them, and they came away with some good scriptures for their homes out of it.

The other day while I was reading Luke 1, I came across a little part of a verse that I thought would be good on one of those signs. It’s from when Mary had gone to visit Elizabeth, who gives Mary a blessing, as the mother of the Messiah, and she said to her in :45, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” I thought, “Blessed is she who believed …”, that would be good on one of those signs! But more importantly than just making a good verse for a sign, it’s a great verse for us all to apply to our lives today!

Certainly it’s a fit scripture for Mothers Day: “Blessed is she who believed” — but the application is only for women, but for ALL of us: “Blessed is she who believed …”, or we could also say “Blessed is HE who believed …”, or “Blessed are ALL who believed … that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to them by the Lord.” Let’s look together for a few minutes at the example of faith that God gave us through Mary, and a couple of ways that we can apply her example in our lives today. Continue reading

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“The People of Joy & Gladness” (Luke 1:14 sermon)

H.L. Mencken was an American writer and commentator in the mid-1900’s, and he is famous, among other things, for his quip that “Puritanism (is) the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

That’s the picture that many people have of the English Puritan Christians, but as Theologian J.I. Packer says, those Puritans have gotten “a bad rap.” The Puritans were indeed known for their holiness, and for working hard, but they also knew how to have fun and celebrate. As Packer points out, they had dances after their weddings — and they even had dances after their ministers’ ordinations!

It should not surprise us that the Puritans were people of joy. Because if you study them, you will find that they were some of the godliest people who have ever lived on earth. And the people of God, the Bible tells us, are to be “People of Joy and Gladness.”

We find ourselves now in the second month of the COVID-19 crisis, and in any crisis, it’s easy to get anxious, or discouraged, or depressed. But as the people of God, we need to remember that God made us for joy and gladness, just as He tells Zacharias in Luke 1:14:

“You will have joy and gladness.”

Joy and gladness should characterize the people of God, not only in Zacharias’ time, but in our lives today as well. Continue reading

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