I rarely do this in a book review, but I give five stars to The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, by Arthur Bennett. A former pastor, Darryl Craft, introduced me to this amazing book of prayers when he quoted it in worship. I decided to buy a copy and spend this year slowly reading them in morning devotions.
To say this is a popular, influential book is an understatement. First published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1975, it has been through numerous printings in the U.K. and USA. Collected and edited by British author Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision contains over 200 prayers of Puritans such as Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, and Charles Spurgeon (whom Bennett calls “the last of the Puritans”). However, Arthur does not identify the authors of the individual prayers. The prayers are grouped by sections under ten subjects such as the Trinity, redemption, penitence, and service. The final section are a collection of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week. These prayers use poetic rhythm and repetition to deliver a powerful emotional punch. For example, the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus” (p. 27) begins, “O Holy Spirit, as the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee…” Others use poetic imagery, as the prayer “Humility in Service” (p. 178), which includes the line, “O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood…”
Modern readers may find many of the prayers to be extremely self-deprecating and so full of humility that the reader appears too hard on himself. For example, “After Prayer” (p. 150), says, “Let me be as slow to forgive myself as thou art ready to forgive me.” I would question the spiritual healthiness of being slow to forgive oneself. Yet with that caution, modern culture has gone so far in the opposite direction, that most modern Christians could benefit from a healthy dose of feeling the heaviness of sin.
If you want to be inspired to pray with conviction, read this book, but read it slowly, to savor every morsel. Then read it again. That’s what I plan to do.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the final post in a series on predestination.)
The previous four posts have examined the Bible’s teaching on predestination, like shining a bright light to look closely under a microscope. But this final post is more like turning on all of the lights in the room, as we view the big picture of the overall teaching of scripture. The fifth truth is that it is not God’s will for people to perish.
Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV) says, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
John 3:17 (ESV) says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
First Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV) says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Second Peter 3:9 (ESV) says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Thus we read repeatedly in scripture that it is not God’s will that anybody perish; rather, God’s will is for all people to repent of sin and be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. God in his foreknowledge is aware that many people will reject the offer of salvation, and they will perish, but that is not God’s will for any individual. As Luke 7:30 (ESV) says, “the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves…”
Yes, the Bible speaks of those who believe in Jesus Christ as “the elect,” and “predestined.” Jesus could even speak of those who would believe as “my sheep” and those who do not believe as “not my sheep.” Since God already knows they will choose to believe, God can say that he chose them. However, we are not God– you and I do not know who will believe, and we do not know who will be among Jesus’ sheep. All we know is that God wants all people to be saved, and that Jesus invited, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved… (John 10:9, ESV). Hence, we must accept predestination as a mystery of God’s knowledge and will, and we must share the gospel with urgency. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11, ESV).
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. – Romans 1:26-27, ESV
Gay rights activists often object to this passage, claiming it does not apply to consenting adult homosexuals. Here are three objections they give, and a rebuttal to each:
1) Objection: Some say this does not apply to those whom they claim are “born” homosexual. They say that when it refers to “natural relations,” it means people born homosexual are natural, but if a person is not born homosexual, then it is wrong for them.
Rebuttal: But Paul plainly says that homosexuality itself is unnatural, and so does the rest of scripture. Genesis 1:27 says we were created male and female, and intended for heterosexual relationships. Sodom was destroyed, according to Genesis 19, because of homosexual sin. Leviticus 18:22 and 1 Timothy 1:10 also condemn homosexuality.
2) Objection: Some homosexuals say this verse in Romans only applies to abuse of children, saying it is meant to keep adult homosexuals from sexually abusing children.
Rebuttal: While child abuse is also wrong, notice that verse 27 says “men with men,” not men with boys. It plainly applies to homosexual acts between consenting adults.
3) Objection: Some will admit that the homosexual act is forbidden, but they will say that homosexual feelings cannot be helped, so as long as the person with homosexual leanings remains celibate, it is okay to be homosexual.
Rebuttal: While it is true that feelings cannot be helped, it is also true that feelings and desires, if encouraged, will lead to actions. Notice that verse 26 refers to “lusts,” also translated “passions,” as shameful.
Notice at the end of verse 27, homosexuals are described as receiving “in themselves the due penalty for their error.” The word “error” is the Greek word for “wandering” or “straying” from the truth. It is the same word used for the straying sheep in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:12, and for backsliding believers in Hebrews 5:2. And here is where there is hope: sheep and backsliders can return from their wandering, and according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, some of them did! Paul says that former homosexuals were washed and sanctified and changed!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
When someone falls into sin, we often speak about repentance and a “restoration process.” But what should the restoration process look like? Having been through the process myself, I believe that it requires three things:
1. The restoration process requires a balance of grace and truth. See Psalm 85:10-11. This usually means counseling (strong on grace) and accountability (strong on truth). It is imperative that the fallen person have people pour both grace and truth into their lives very early in the restoration process. They must be called to repentance, but they also need to be given hope that repentance leads to restoration.
2. The restoration process requires a “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2). This is the literal meaning of the Greek word for repentance, metanoia. There are three parts to this new way of thinking:
A. First, one learns to focus on praising God, which lifts from depression. See Psalm 42.
B. Second, one learns to forgive oneself. This usually takes time. C.S. Lewis said, “If God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”
C. Third, one learns to reject living in the past. See Philippians 3:13-14. Frank Pollard says, “To dwell on past sins is to invite one of two things: thinking about it will lead you to sin again, or you will spend your time in self-destructive despair. God has placed our sins in the sea of His forgetfulness and has put up a sign: ‘No Fishing Here.’”
3. The restoration process requires activity. A fall into sin usually results in being cut off from an activity the person loved; the sinner is acutely conscious of what he or she can no longer do. Within a few weeks of the fall, they must become busy doing something good to replace the former activity; otherwise, they can fall from idleness to depression and worse sin. This is the replacement principle found in Matthew 12:43-45. For example, a fallen coach can volunteer to help Little League baseball, a fallen pastor can volunteer to teach the Bible at a prison. Charles Spurgeon said, “Sedentary habits have a tendency to despondency.”
The restoration process can reclaim fallen people to service. Just ask Moses, David, Peter and Paul! But it will take time and personal investment in their lives.
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Above are photographs of fans of the pro football team, the New Orleans Saints. One is a photo of Saints fans in 1980, when the Saints were consistent losers. The fans wore bags over their heads and called the team the “Aints.” The other photo was taken in 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, and fans chanted, “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” What a difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!
Scripture gives us a powerful example of the difference in success and failure in the story of Joshua and the Israelites in the first and second battle of Ai. After their great victory over Jericho, when the walls came tumbling down, The Book of Joshua, chapter 7, tells the story of how they went up to the small city of Ai with only a small army of 3,000 men, and were soundly defeated. When Joshua cried out to the Lord in prayer, the Lord told him that the entire nation was suffering the consequences of the sin of one man, Achan, who had hid for himself some of the loot from Jericho which was supposed to be sacred to the Lord.
Joshua and all of the Israelites took drastic action, destroying Achan and his family, and then went up a second time to fight Ai. The Book of Joshua, chapter 8, tells how this time, they involved the whole Army, and devised a battle tactic that tricked the men of Ai into chasing a small Hebrew army. When the men of Ai abandoned the city to pursue the Israelites, a larger Hebrew army of 30,000 attacked the city, burned it down, and then both armies attacked the men of Ai from both sides, catching them in the middle with nowhere to run. It was a total victory– all of Ai was destroyed. Afterwards, Joshua took the people to Mt. Gerizim and Ebal and read to them to law of Moses and had them repeat the blessings and curses that Moses had told them to repeat.
For many years, my father, U.S. Army Chaplain Robert H. Rogers, preached a message on this passage called, “The Difference in Success and Failure.” Here are some important lessons that this story teaches us about the difference in spiritual success and spiritual failure:
HOW TO FAIL SPIRITUALLY
1. Belittle the task God gives you. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “Don’t send all the people… since the people of Ai are so few…”
2. Leave God’s work to a few people. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “but send about 2,000 or 3,000 men to attack Ai… don’t wear out all our people there.” The attitude of spiritual defeat says, “I don’t need to share the gospel or minister; that’s what we pray the preacher to do.”
3. Rest on past laurels. Victory at Jericho did not guarantee victory at Ai. Just because you have experienced spiritual victories in the past does not guarantee victory in the future. Celebrate the past, but don’t linger there.
4. Do no more than necessary. They were lazy, trying to get by with minimum effort to conquer Ai. Spiritual losers are apathetic like that, lacking passion for the word of God.
5. Ignore the slide into sin. This is very important. Notice the gradual slide into sin in four steps. Achan confessed in Joshua 7:21: “I saw,” “I coveted,” “took,” “concealed.” First he saw the gold and silver, then he desired it, then he took it, and after he took it, he hid it. This is exactly what I did in major sin in my past. I saw something, then I desired it, then I acted on that desire, and then I tried to hide my sin. People rarely plan ahead to get addicted to drugs or commit adultery and embezzle funds. Instead, they fall slowly into temptation. We cannot ignore those early warning signs against sin.
6. Ignore sin in your midst. This final caution is one that we Americans struggle with, because America is highly individualistic. We red in Joshua 7:1, “The Israelites… were unfaithful… Achan… took some of what was set apart, and the LORD’s anger burned against the Israelites.” How is it that God held all of Israel accountable for one man’s sin? This is the Biblical concept of corporate sin. Because we tolerate sin in our midst, and turn a blind eye, we are all complicit. Don’t you think somebody saw Achan hid the loot in his tent? If we fail to address sin in our own families, our own churches, and our own nation, we we fail spiritually.
HOW TO SUCCEED SPIRITUALLY
1. Become deeply concerned. When they were defeated by Ai, Joshua 7:6 tells us how Joshua responded: “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell before the ark of the LORD…” We, too, must become deeply concerned about sin and spiritual apathy.
2. Depend upon prayer. Joshua 7:7 tells us that Joshua expressed his concern by prayer. He didn’t run out and get the latest book on “10 Easy Steps to Church Growth.” Instead, he knew it required the hard step of humble prayer. This is a lesson he had to learn again, as we read in Joshua 9:14 that he and the Israelites failed to inquire of God in prayer in the matter of Gibeon, and they were deceived. We must depend on daily prayer to succeed in the daily spiritual battle against sin.
3. Remove sin from your midst. Joshua 7:10-11, 24-26 tells the graphic details of how they discovered that Achan was guilty, and they stoned Achan and his family to death in the valley of Achor. The judgment seems harsh to the modern reader, but it is a reminder that sin cannot be taken lightly. Jesus warned that if the right eye causes you to sin, to gouge it out, and if the right hand causes you to sin, cut it off (Matthew 5:29-30). Yes, the wages of sin is death– that’s the harsh reality of sin. But the good news is that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
4. Follow Godly leadership. After facing the sin, it says in Joshua 8:3, “So Joshua and the whole military force set out…” Joshua chose to be obedient to God, and the people chose to follow his godly leadership.
5. Enlist everyone for God’s work. The word “all” is repeated frequently in these two chapters. Joshua 7:25 says, “all Israel stoned them…” Joshua 8:3 says, “the whole military force set out to attack Ai.” Joshua 8:11 says,“All those who were with him went up…” At the first battle of Ai, they sent a small army of 3,000 against a city of 12,000 and were defeated. At the second battle, they went over 30,000 to ambush the city from behind, while an army of 5,000 attacked and withdrew, then attacked again in a well-planned tactic to entrap Ai. This required the involvement of all of the people. Families and churches that involve everybody in the spiritual battle will win every time.
6. Re-commit to God. Joshua 8:30-35 tells how they went to Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal and renewed their covenant with the Lord, to obey His laws. If we wish to see a lifestyle of continual spiritual victories in our own lives, we too must continually return to God’s Word and pledge ourselves anew to faithful obedience. The end result for them was the conquest of the Promised Land. What will it be for you and me?
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
“I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.” – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Oh! Beastly burdened groan
Piercing pain in my side
Blood dribbling from my mouth.
I shot the arrow and missed the mark
Boomerang cutting back at me
I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?
The incomprehensible creature comes
To pull our arrows out
But what will it be like?
I have grown accustomed to chopped flesh
No! I will keep my arrow
How else can I keep close contact with the wall?
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
Mark 11:12-19 says that Jesus returned to the temple on Monday of Holy Week, and when he found the money changers and people selling animals in the temple complex, he overturned their tables, and ran them out, cleansing the temple.
When you read Matthew and Luke’s gospel, it sounds like the temple cleansing happened on Palm Sunday, since those gospels simply tell about the triumphal entry and then say that Jesus cleansed the temple. However, Mark seems to be more precise about the time, while Matthew and Luke are not as concerned to give that detail. However, the way Jesus cleansed the temple is more important than the day He cleansed the temple. He does it with authority, demanding that the house of prayer should not be turned into a hiding place for thieves. All of this buying and selling was going on in the court of the Gentiles, the only place that Gentiles were allowed to worship near the temple. So their merchandise was a distraction from others being able to pray.
Just as Jesus cleansed the temple that day, He wants to cleanse our lives today.
Psalm 24:3 asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” The answer comes in the next verse: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol, or swear by what is false.”
Do my actions prevent others from worshiping God? Am I a distraction? Then I must repent and change my ways.
Monday, the day of cleansing, teaches us to cleanse our lives.