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Book Review on Mariano Rivera’s “The Closer”

The Closer: Reviewed by Tim Challies

Mariano Rivera has never been one of my favorite people. After all, for many years he was a fixture for the New York Yankees, divisional rivals of my own Toronto Blue Jays. When a game came to the final inning and the Jays were down by a run or two, Rivera would jog onto the field and shut it down. Once he came onto the field, the outcome was rarely in doubt.

But he has retired now, and I like him a lot better. No sooner did he retire than he got to work penning his memoir, The Closer. It’s quite a story. Born in abject poverty in Panama, Rivera grew up in, on and around fishing boats, working with his father to scrape together a living. When the tides were out, he and his friends would play baseball on the beach, improvising the equipment they needed: wadded up fishing nets for balls, rocks for bases, tree branches for bats, and milk cartons for gloves. It was an unlikely start to one of the great baseball careers.

When he was in his late teens, Rivera began playing shortstop for a nearby amateur baseball team. One day the pitcher played so badly that Rivera was asked to take over for a couple of innings. The results were so impressive that friends contacted a scout for the New York Yankees. Rivera gained a try-out, then a minor league contract. And the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to become the most dominant closer in the history of the game, earning 652 saves in the biggest baseball market in the world. He was an All-Star 13 times, won 5 World Series, and was once the World Series MVP. He had a storybook career and through it became world famous and fantastically wealthy, with his earnings topping $150 million. He has come a long way from that fishing boat in Panama.

But there is more to his story than baseball. In his early twenties Rivera was exposed to the gospel and became a Christian—an unashamedly outspoken Christian. While the book describes his life, it also describes his faith and, to borrow a sport’s metaphor, he leaves it all on the field. He tells how important his faith has been, how it has sustained him, and how the Bible has given him guidance throughout his life.

The Bible can’t tell you the story of my walk with the Lord, but it can tell you everything about how I try to live, and why the love of the Lord is the foundation of my whole life. For me, the Bible is not just the word of God, but a life road map that is packed with wisdom that you cannot beat even if you spent the next hundred years reading spiritual books and self-help books. It is the best kind of wisdom: Simple wisdom. This sort of wisdom, from the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, verse twelve: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

As is the case with most sports memoirs, this one is dominated by descriptions of games and plays. Those who love sports, and who love the Yankees in particular, will find it riveting. Those who are a little less enthusiastic about sports may find themselves skimming over certain sections. And if you’re like me, you may find yourself silently finding yourself hoping he’ll lose the games, just because he’s pitching for New York. In any case, Rivera’s story is a good one and well worth reading.

Source: http://www.challies.com (June 18, 2014)

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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Bridging the Gap From the Biblical Text From “Then” to “Now”

1 Triangle, 3 Corners, 4 T’s

Unknown

By Tim Challies

Every word of the Bible was written at a certain time and in a certain context. Even the most recent of those times and the nearest of those contexts is at a great distance from us in time and space. Thus, when we read the Bible, we have to determine how those words apply to us today in our very different times and very different contexts. It is not always a simple task.

TTTT1We have all seen situations—and many of us have caused situations—where we have been sloppy in going from the text to today. The young man who marches three times around a young woman and waits for her walls of romantic resistance to crumble is not properly understanding how to go from the text to today. Similarly, the muscleman who tears a phone book in half while quoting, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is not properly accounting for the context of that verse.

There are different ways Christians attempt to get from the text to today in ways that are faithful and accurate. I’m going to borrow from my friend James Seward and display one of these ways with a triangle that has four T’s on it. Look at figure 1 and you’ll see it: One triangle, three corners, four T’s.

TTTT2We will begin with the right side of the triangle. Let’s let the top corner represent our text—any text within the Bible. The bottom-right corner will represent today. You can see this in figure 2. What we are prone to do is to hurry our way from the text to today, just like that young man and that muscleman. We underestimate or under-appreciate our cultural and chronological distance from the text and are too quick to assume we know how to apply the text to our lives today. We sometimes get it right, but often we do not. Every Christian acknowledges this as a potential problem and different traditions attempt to deal with it in different ways.

I am convinced that the most faithful way to deal with it leads us to the bottom-left corner of the triangle. The TT down there stands for them/then—the people for whom the words were originally written (see figure 3). What if, instead of going straight from the text to today we go from the text, to them/then, and only then to today? In this way, before we apply the text to ourselves, we attempt to understand what the words meant to those who first heard them. So when Paul wrote the church in Philippi and said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” what did he mean? What did he mean to communicate to them/then? Once we have established what the text meant to them/then, we can more accurately apply it to ourselves—to us/now.

TTTT3How can we go from the text to them/then? Broadly, through prayer, through meditation, and through study. We pray and ask the Holy Spirit to illumine the text so we rightly understand it; we meditate on the text, expecting that God will reward this deep contemplation with greater understanding; we study the text through cross-references, word studies, sentence diagraming, commentaries and other resources. We do all of this to understand what the text meant to the original recipients.

Once we have done that—once we have a solid understanding of what the text meant to them/then, we are prepared to visit the third corner of the rectangle. Now we take what we have learned and we ask how it is meant to impact us today. How do we do this? Largely through prayer and meditation, though some further study may be involved. Now we pray and ask God to show us how he can apply his truth to the specifics of our lives and times; we continue to meditate on the text, looking for immediate application, and still trusting that God will use our deep contemplation to give us insights into his Word. You can see this all in figure 4.

TTTT4In his book Expositional Preaching, David Helm gives an example of how he, an experienced preacher, was too quick to go from the text to today. He had determined that he would preach 2 Corinthians 8-9 at time when his church needed a financial boost. Even before he began his sermon preparation he knew what he would say—he had a major theme, he had an outline, and everything else he needed to make a great, Bible-based appeal for money. But as he dove into the text he realized that his understanding of the text was too simple: this text isn’t about regular and cheerful giving to meet the church budget, but about a famine relief collection for churches full of Jewish Christians. He came to see that this collection was meant to serve as a test of these Corinthian Christians so that if they gave generously, it would show that they aligned with Paul and the gospel over against the so-called super-apostles. When he went from the text to today he had one sermon, but when he went from the text to them/then to today he had a very different one, and one that more faithfully understood the original meaning of the text. I suspect almost every preacher—every expositional preacher, at least—has had a similar experience at one time or another.

A couple of weeks ago I quoted David Helm and his concern with lectio divina. His concern is exactly this—that lectio divina may too quickly move from the top of the triangle to the bottom-right. It moves from one corner to the other through prayer, meditation and contemplation, but in all of that may not adequately account for the distance between the text and today. This is true, at least, when lectio divina is done apart from serious study and serious work in the text prior to that contemplation. On the other hand, people who value study may be too reliant on their effort while short-changing both prayer and meditation (and I put myself squarely in this camp). And this is why I find this simple triangle so helpful. In three corners and four little T’s it helps us move from the text to today in a way that faithfully captures what God means to communicate to us.

Source: http://www.challies.com (June 2, 2014).

 

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What You Should Know About The Prosperity Gospel: Creflo Dollar – A Case Study

The False Teachers: Creflo Dollar

By Tim Challies

Creflo Dollar

Creflo Augustus Dollar, Jr. was born in College Park, Georgia on January 28, 1962. Though he was raised in a church-going home, he did not have a conversion experience until the summer following his freshmen year at West Georgia College. Even after this experience he felt no pull toward full-time ministry as his heart was set on being a professional football player. It was only after that football career was cut short by injury that he began to consider other options. In 1984 Dollar received a Bachelor of Science degree in education and soon began work as a educational therapist. The next year he married Taffi, with whom he would eventually have five children.

While recovering from his football injury, Dollar had begun to lead Bible studies among his fellow students and he gained a reputation as a skillful and charismatic teacher. He called his study “World Changers Bible Study.” By 1986 he had determined that he was not meant to be a therapist but that the Lord was calling him into full-time preaching ministry.

He and Taffi founded a church and they held its inaugural worship service in an elementary school cafeteria. Only eight people attended that service, but the congregation soon grew and was renamed World Changers Church International (WCCI). In less than ten years the church had grown exponentially and Dollar’s sermons were being broadcast over the radio through Creflo Dollar Ministries. In 1995 WCCI moved to its current location, the 8,500-seat World Dome in College Park, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

Today World Changers Church International serves nearly 30,000 members each week through the main campus, 6,000 through an affiliated congregation in New York City, and thousands more through many satellite campuses across America.

Dollar is known for his extravagant wealth which includes two multi-million dollar homes, expensive cars, and even a private jet. Creflo Dollar Ministries made headlines several years ago when it was one of six ministries audited by U.S.Senator Charles Grassley. “My goal,” he said, “is to help improve accountability and good governance so tax-exempt groups maintain public confidence in their operations.” The ministry was deemed uncooperative. MinistryWatch, an organization that reviews Christian ministries based on their financial accountability and transparency awarded Creflo Dollar Ministries an F rating and has added it to their Donor Alert listing. Dollar made headlines again in 2012 when his daughter called police to their home, charging that Dollar had choked and hit her. Dollar denied the charges which were dropped after he completed an anger-management program.

 FALSE TEACHING: PROSPERITY GOSPEL

Creflo Dollar is one of the foremost proponents of what has become known as the prosperity gospel. This doctrine teaches that God has promised his people financial and other forms of prosperity in this life, if only God’s people will take the necessary steps to claim it. A uniquely American creation, this false teaching has since been exported across the world where it has especially taken root in the developing world. In one of his Bible studies Dollar lays it out:

As the righteousness of God, your inheritance of wealth and riches is included in the “spiritual blessings” (or spiritual things) the apostle Paul spoke of in Ephesians 1:5. Based on Psalm 112:3, righteousness, wealth and riches go hand—in—hand. You have every right to possess material wealth—clothes, jewelry, houses, cars and money—in abundance. It is that wealth that not only meets your needs, but also spreads the Gospel message and meets the needs of others.

The Bible says that wealth is stored up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22, New American Standard). However, it will remain stored up until you claim it. Therefore, claim it now! You possess the ability to seize and command wealth and riches to come to you (Deuteronomy 8:18). Exercise that power by speaking faith-filled words daily and taking practical steps to eradicate debt. Like God, you can speak spiritual blessings into existence (Romans 4:17). Remember, doubt keeps silent, but faith speaks!”

The way such prosperity is activated is by the planting of seeds, so that the person who wants financial prosperity must plant a seed of financial prosperity. Needless to say, such seeds are usually through a donation to a ministry like Dollar’s.

You can say, “Oh, God, I need money! The rent is due. The baby needs shoes. And what about my breakthrough?” But if you haven’t sown financial seed, how can you expect a financial harvest?

If you wanted to grow apples, would you plant cucumber seeds or pumpkin seeds? You would not! So why do people expect to receive financial increase when they purposely plant anything and everything but what is needed? They will plant hope seed, shout seed, dance seed, and even “claim it” seed! All of these are good things, but alone and without the appropriate seed, they are unproductive.1

FOLLOWERS & ADHERENTS

Creflo Dollar is one of the most prominent and most successful teachers of prosperity theology. He preaches live to tens of thousands of people each weekend and his “Changing Your World” broadcast extends to nearly every country on earth. He publishes CHANGE magazine which has 100,000 subscribers, and he has written several bestselling books. His voice extends around the world and every week hundreds of thousands or even millions of people listen to him.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

  1. The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement. Prosperity teachers look to God’s covenant with Abraham and see its fulfillment as providing material prosperity to Christians today. Dollar’s mentor Kenneth Copeland says, “Since God’s Covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!”
  2. Jesus’ atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty. They hold that Jesus’ atoning death provided not only for our spiritual needs but also for our financial prosperity. Thus it is only sin that keeps us trapped in poverty or anything less than abundant wealth.
  3. Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God. Creflo Dollar and others like him teach that giving to the Lord’s work is primarily a means of gaining further compension from God.
  4. Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity. Many prosperity gospel preachers, Dollar among them, teach that we, like God, have the ability to speak reality into existence when we speak in faith. Thus faith becomes a force that allows us to speak prosperity into our lives.
  5. Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity. Dollar writes, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass. … It is a key to getting results as a Christian.” Thus prayer is little more than a means through which we bring about our desires for wealth.

Al Mohler says it well: “Prosperity theology is a False Gospel. Its message is unbiblical and its promises fail. God never assures his people of material abundance or physical health. Instead, Christians are promised the riches of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and the assurance of glory in the eternal presence of the living God. In the end, the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers salvation from sin, not a platform for earthly prosperity. While we should seek to understand what drives so many into this movement, we must never for a moment fail to see its message for what it is — a false and failed gospel.”

Source: http://www.challies.com (May 29, 2014)

 

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