Tuesday, December 30, 2014


In my thirty-eight plus years of ministry, I have received many compliments on my sermons – some sincere, and some, well . . .  But the compliment that means the most to me came from a fellow missionary after I had preached at a missions conference.  The missionary said, “You remind me of a professor I had at San Francisco (San Francisco Baptist Seminary).”  I knew immediately who he meant because that same professor later took a position at Detroit Baptist Seminary teaching homiletics, practical theology, and church history.  It was there that I had the privilege of sitting at his feet: That professor was Eugene J. Petersen.
 Dr. Petersen was an inspiring teacher, but it was --and is -- his example more than his instruction that has had the greatest impact on my preaching.  Through my admiration for the man, his preaching style has rubbed off.  I'm not nearly the preacher Eugene Petersen is, but I'm moved that someone thought I sounded like him.
            Dr. Petersen, who is now 92, was born in southwestern Iowa to Danish immigrant parents. He was raised in Harlan, Iowa, and studied at the University of Minneapolis, the LeHavre School of Education in France, and Fuller Theological Seminary.  He received his Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Fuller.
            As a young man, called to preach the Gospel, Eugene found himself caught up in World War II. He preached his first sermon in 1943 shortly before shipping out to France.  He fought in eastern France where, according to Paul Fussell, the average life expectancy of an infantryman in the front lines was 17 days.[1]  But Christ had his hand upon Eugene J. Petersen.
            After the war, Eugene continued his studies and his preaching, pastoring churches in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Michigan.  He also taught seminary for 30 years in San Francisco and Detroit.
            My favorite sermon by Dr. Petersen is curiously titled, "Christ Honors A Donkey."  It touches me because Dr. Petersen encourages guys like me that Christ uses the ordinary, the less than ordinary, and those who make mistakes.  The repeated theme in that sermon never fails to touch my heart and lift my spirit: “Whatever Christ touches, He dignifies.”  Christ touched Eugene Petersen and dignified his long, productive ministry. 

[1] See The Boys' Crusade and Wartime by Paul Fussell. The horrific battle endured by Petersen’s 275th Infantry Regiment, 70th Division, is recounted in a book co-authored by Eugene J. Petersen, titled Ordeal in the Vosges.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Angels appear throughout the pages of Scripture, interacting with people on behalf of God.  It may come as a surprise to some that no heavenly angel is actually named before the Book of Daniel, and only two are named in all of Scripture!  Some facts of Scripture stand out because of their frequent mention, while others stand out even more because of the rarity of their occurrence.  The two angels mentioned by name certainly catch our attention.

The Angel Gabriel
The first angel to be mentioned by name in Scripture is Gabriel.  The name means “mighty man of God.”[i] Gabriel seems to be God’s messenger to impart understanding of what God has revealed or is about to reveal.  To Daniel, Gabriel interprets the dreams God had given the prophet.

And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, "Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision." (Daniel 8:16)

. . . while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding.” (Daniel 9:21-22)

Gabriel disappears from the divine record until he returns in the Gospel of Luke.  From Luke we learn more about this blessed messenger of God.  Gabriel appears first to the aged priest Zacharias to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive and bear a child who would become a mighty prophet and prepare the way for Messiah.  The prophet’s name would be John, and he would be known as John the Baptist because of his ministry of baptizing repentant sinners.

The angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (Luke 1:19)

Six months later, God sends Gabriel on an even greater mission: To announce the conception and birth of Jesus, the Son of God, to the Virgin Mary!

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-35)

Later, when Mary’s fiancĂ© Joseph discovered that she was pregnant and quite naturally assumed the worst, an angel appeared to him in a dream, explaining the holy and divine nature of Mary’s conception and of the child she was carrying (Matt. 1:20).  Yet the name of that angel is not given in Matthew.  To Mary, Gabriel appeared in person; to Joseph, some angel, perhaps Gabriel, appeared in a dream.  Still, Joseph believed that God had sent that message through the angel in his dream, and he took Mary to be his wife.

The Angel Michael
Michael, whose name means, “Who is like God?” is a very different angel from Gabriel.  Michael holds a high rank in the heavenly realm, and he is more of a warrior.  In Daniel, Michael is called, “one of the chief princes” (10:13), “your prince,” that is, of Israel (10:21), and “the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people” (12:1).  In Jude 1:9 he is called, “the archangel.” Michael is the champion on the side of other holy angels who do battle against demonic forces (Dan. 10:21).

In keeping with his role as a champion and warrior, Michael appears in the New Testament standing up against Satan himself and later waging a victorious war against him:

But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"  (Jude 1:9)

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:7-9)

While the name Gabriel in the Bible is given only to the angel, the name Michael was given to ten ordinary men in the Old Testament.  Jewish traditions concerning the Archangel Michael go far back in Israelite history. 

It is appropriate that the only two angels to be named in the Bible figure prominently in the life and work of Jesus, the Messiah: Gabriel at the annunciation of Jesus’ birth, and Michael at Christ’s final victory over the devil.

We must always guard against any semblance of worshiping angels.  But we should thank God that He has provided these heavenly beings to be “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).

[i] The Hebrew word geber has the idea of being valiant or mighty. The name Gabriel is a combination of geber (mighty or valiant) + el (God).