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Monthly Archives: September 2018

A Faith that Works

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, Solomon made an interesting statement. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart…” In Joshua 2, we see an example of that statement. We meet a woman who was prepared and ready, so much so that when the message of deliverance came, she risked everything she had to take advantage of it. The story of Rahab and the two spies demonstrates that true faith is active faith.

Faith takes bold risks (2:1-7). The book of Joshua begins with a transition. Moses died and General Joshua is in charge of the nation of Israel. God gave Joshua the command to cross the Jordan River.

In verse 1, Joshua demonstrates that planning and faith go hand in hand. While trusting God for the outcome, Joshua sends two spies on a reconnaissance mission. They are to “look over the land, especially Jericho.” Before moving forward, Joshua wants to gather as much intelligence as he can.

The spies enter Jericho and try to blend in as best they can. A prostitute named Rahab takes them in and gives them lodging. Is this merely a coincidence or an example of God’s providence? Since she is the only one in the city who believes in the God of Israel, I believe God sovereignly and providentially brought them together.

Over the centuries, people have tried to soften Rahab’s profession by referring to her as an innkeeper. The idea of God using a prostitute as part of his plan offended their sensibilities. While she has a checkered past, she also reveals the beginnings of faith and a willingness to risk everything to follow God.

The spies certainly failed the secrecy test. The king of Jericho learns of their presence and asks Rahab for some answers. Her first step of faith is to lie. In fact, she tells three lies: “I did not know where the spies came from;” “They already left;” and “I do not know where the men went.” Unbeknownst to the king, Rahab had hidden the spies on her rooftop under sheaves of grain.

Rahab’s actions beg the question, Does God approve of lying? Does the Bible teach situation ethics? We need to understand that while the Bible records lies, it doesn’t condone them. Abraham (Genesis 12:10-20), Isaac (Genesis 26:6-11), and David (1 Samuel 21:2) all lied on occasion. The Bible faithfully records their actions, but does not give approval to them.

On the one hand, Rahab risks her life to protect the spies. On the other hand, she lies to protect the spies. While she makes a strong statement of faith, her lifestyle has not changed. At best, we might classify Rahab as a young, immature believer.

Faith makes bold requests (2:8-14). Prior to going to sleep for the night, Rahab meets with the spies on the rooftop. She demonstrates the beginnings of her faith with four “I know” statements. “I know the Lord has given you the land.” “I know the fear of you has fallen on us.” “I know all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.” “I know the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” She had heard the evidence for God and she chose to believe.

Based on her knowledge of God’s judgment and her belief in his sovereignty, Rahab asks the spies for mercy. “Please spare my family.” Rahab cries for mercy and God extends grace to her.

Faith is rewarded (2:15-24). Rahab begins to act on her growing faith. The two spies give Rahab three instructions: “Hang a scarlet rope in the window;” “Gather your family into the house;” and “Tell no one anything.” If she follows through, they will spare her and her family when Jericho is attacked. Rahab obeys and helps the men escape the city by climbing out a window.

Rahab’s faith is rewarded in four specific ways. One, Israel was encouraged by the spies’ report (2:23-24). Two, Rahab and her family were spared during the attack (6:24-25). Three, Rahab was declared righteous because of her actions (James 2:25). Lastly, Rahab became the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5-6).

How can you put your faith into action this week?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 30, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

“Nice try” is not enough

Many of us approach salvation like Charlie Brown. We try really hard. But our efforts only leave us frustrated.

Fortunately, salvation is not a matter of trying hard. It is a matter of accepting the gift of God’s grace.

Ephesians 2:8–9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2018 in Peanuts, Scripture, Theology

 

My Convictions About Men & Women

When I was ordained to the ministry in 1988, I had to write a paper stating my views on a number of areas of theology—Scripture, God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Man, Salvation, Church, Future Things, Angels & Demons, Spiritual Gifts—as well as several current issues—Marriage & Divorce, Homosexuality, Abortion, Social Drinking, and the Role of Women in the Church. When I transferred my ordination to the Evangelical Free Church in 2005, I had to rewrite the paper. Since people periodically ask me questions about these areas, I think it is time to restate my convictions about what Scripture says on these issues.

Here are my convictions about what Scripture says about Men & Women

Scripture declares that God created man from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). He was created in the image and likeness of God, with the ability to reason, choose good and evil, feel, and relate to others (Genesis 1:26-27). This gives man a dignity of being and a position of responsibility. It also lays the foundation for a sane system of ethics and redemption.

God created Adam and Eve sinless (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:16-17). As a result of Adam’s disobedience (Genesis 3:6), sin entered the world and all men sinned in Adam (Romans 5:12). Sin is anything contrary to the character of God (Romans 3:23). It results in physical death (Genesis 2:17), and spiritual separation from God (Romans 6:23).

As a result of the fall, man is now a sinner by nature (Psalm 51:5) and by choice. He is totally depraved in his mind, will, and emotions. Depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he can be, but it does mean that he is unable in and of himself to please God (Jeremiah 17:9). Because he has violated God’s law, he is eternally lost unless God comes to his aid. Both those who have never heard of God’s love and those who have rejected his love are lost without Christ (Romans 1:18-25). At the time of the new birth (John 3:3), God forgives the person’s sins (Jeremiah 31:34), puts his Spirit within the individual, and gives him a new and divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

In terms of man’s nature, the question arises as to whether or not man has a dichotomous (two-part) or trichotomous (three-part) nature. It would seem that Scripture supports both views. Regarding the dichotomous view, Scripture makes a distinction between the material part, the “outer man,” and the immaterial part, the “inner man” (2 Corinthians 4:16). While the soul and spirit are distinct (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12), they both make up the “inner man.” Regarding the trichotomous view, Paul indicates that all three parts (body, soul, spirit) are involved in the process of sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2018 in Scripture, Theology

 

My Convictions About Spiritual Gifts

When I was ordained to the ministry in 1988, I had to write a paper stating my views on a number of areas of theology—Scripture, God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Man, Salvation, Church, Future Things, Angels & Demons, Spiritual Gifts—as well as several current issues—Marriage & Divorce, Homosexuality, Abortion, Social Drinking, and the Role of Women in the Church. When I transferred my ordination to the Evangelical Free Church in 2005, I had to rewrite the paper. Since people periodically ask me questions about these areas, I think it is time to restate my convictions about what Scripture says on these issues.

Here are my convictions about what Scripture says about Spiritual Gifts

A spiritual gift is a God-given ability for service. It is neither a place of service nor a ministry to an age group nor a procedure. These gifts are given for the purpose of edifying the church (1 Corinthians 12:7), and for the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Each believer has at least one gift (1 Peter 4:10), sovereignly distributed by God at the moment of salvation (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11).

In regards to the sign gifts (tongues, interpretation, healings, and miracles), I would characterize my position as non-charismatic, but open.  I am non-charismatic for the following reasons:

  • There are four periods in history when sign gifts appeared—Moses & Joshua; Elijah & Elisha; Jesus & the Apostles; the two witnesses in the Tribulation.  In each case, the purpose of the gifts seems to be to authenticate God’s representatives and the fact that he is doing something new.
  • The purpose of tongues, specifically, and the sign gifts in general, is to convince unbelieving Jews of the truth of the gospel (1 Corinthians 14:22).
  • The same word used for “tongues” in Acts 2 is also used in other parts of Acts and 1 Corinthians and indicates it is a known language, rather than an unknown prayer language.
  • Speaking in tongues is not a sign of the baptism with the Holy Spirit and has no direct relation to a person’s spiritual condition.

While I am non-charismatic, I do not feel I can be dogmatic that the gifts do not exist today. While Scripture indicates that these gifts will cease, it doesn’t say clearly as to when they will cease. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 indicates that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will cease when “the perfect comes.”  Cessasionists equate that phrase with the closing of the canon of Scripture.  Others tie the phrase “when the perfect comes” (10) to “see face to face” (12).  If that’s the case, then the possibility exists that the gifts won’t cease until Jesus comes.

My feeling is that if the sign gifts exist today, they would probably be manifest in a third-world, missionary context where the gospel has not yet penetrated. While it is possible that this gift exists today, it should be strictly controlled, not unduly emphasized, and exercised according to the guidelines given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. The approach I take is “seek not, forbid not” (1 Corinthians 14:39).

 

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2018 in Scripture, Theology

 
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Wise Advice

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2018 in Fun

 

My Convictions About the Holy Spirit

When I was ordained to the ministry in 1988, I had to write a paper stating my views on a number of areas of theology—Scripture, God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Man, Salvation, Church, Future Things, Angels & Demons, Spiritual Gifts—as well as several current issues—Marriage & Divorce, Homosexuality, Abortion, Social Drinking, and the Role of Women in the Church. When I transferred my ordination to the Evangelical Free Church in 2005, I had to rewrite the paper. Since people periodically ask me questions about these areas, I think it is time to restate my convictions about what Scripture says on these issues.

Here are my convictions about what Scripture says about the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). He is declared to be God (Acts 5:3-4). Rather than being a mere influence or a divine power, the Holy Spirit is a person. This is evident through the use of the masculine personal pronoun (John 16:13ff), and through the characteristics of personality that are ascribed to him such as intellect (1 Corinthians 2:11), feelings (Ephesians 4:30), and will (1 Corinthians 12:11). He is not, however, merely a person. He is a divine person. He possesses attributes of deity such as being eternal (Hebrews 9:14), omniscient (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), omnipresent (Psalm 139:7), true (1 John 5:7), and holy (Romans 1:4). Works of deity are also ascribed to him, such as creation (Genesis 1:2), inspiration of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), and raising of the dead (Romans 8:11). He is associated with the Father and the Son in the baptismal formula (Matthew 28:19), the apostolic benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14), and in the administration of the church (Ephesians 4:4-6).

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon certain people to equip them for a specific function or task (Exodus 31:3; Judges 3:10; 6:34). His personal relationship with men in the Old Testament was limited and he was at times removed (1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51:11).

The Holy Spirit had an active role in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He caused Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:35), and anointed Jesus at his baptism (John 1:32; Acts 10:38). Christ was filled, led, and empowered by the Spirit (Luke 4:1, 14). The Spirit endeavors to bring glory to Christ (John 16:14).

In the work of salvation, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). He regenerates believers (Titus 3:5), indwells them (1 Corinthians 3:16), baptizes them into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), and seals them (Ephesians 1:13-14). He also fills (Ephesians 5:18), guides (Romans 8:14), teaches (John 16:13), gives spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1), and prays for the believer (Romans 8:26).

One of the blessings of the New Covenant is the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which was given at the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). At the moment of salvation, Christ baptizes each believer into his church (1 Corinthians 12:11). This promise is conditional upon repentance and faith, universally available, and outwardly signified by baptism (Acts 2:38-41). Each believer is commanded to be filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This filling is to be a continuous yielding to the Spirit in obedience and faith, with the result being the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:19-21).

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2018 in Scripture, Theology

 

How Do I Survive Change?

Many people approach change like my good friends Calvin and Hobbes.

Like Calvin, many say “I hate change!” and avoid it at all costs.

Since change is part of life, we should not be saying, “How can I avoid change?” Even “How can I survive change?” is perhaps not the right question to ask either. Instead, we should be asking, “How can I thrive in change?”

The Old Testament leader, Joshua, was no stranger to change. Throughout his lifetime, he progressed from slave to servant to spy to soldier to statesman. Along with way, he had to deal with the death of his mentor, Moses, and the loss of friends. He faced a fear of failure, the challenge of leading a nation into the unknown, and facing numerous enemies.

The first chapter of Joshua’s book provides us with a several principles of how to survive and thrive in change. We are to anticipate and prepare for change, step out in faith, be strong and courageous, and fill our life with God’s Word. The first principle comes from an observation about verse 1. The remaining three principles are direct commands in verses 2-9. Weaving them together, we learn that we are to take the first step of faith and then follow it with further steps of obedience.

Anticipate and Prepare for Change (Joshua 1:1-2). Verse 1 begins with a statement of change, “After the death of Moses …” While it sounds sudden, it was not unexpected. In Deuteronomy 27, Moses was told by God of his impending death. Moses took the necessary steps to prepare his successor, Joshua. Moses commissioned Joshua in the sight of the people. Joshua and the nation of Israel knew this change was coming.

As a pastor, I’ve had the joy of performing many weddings over my 30+ years in ministry. Before agreeing to perform the wedding, I require the couple to meet with me for 6-8 sessions of premarital counseling. I want to make sure they are prepared for marriage, not just for the wedding itself.

The better you anticipate the change … the better you prepare for change … the better you are able to adapt and thrive.

Step Out in Faith (1:2-5). Joshua is given a direct command in verse 2, “Go over this Jordan.” Considering the river was at flood stage (3:15), this was a daunting challenge. When you add in the fact that crossing the Jordan was like throwing the gauntlet and declaring war on the people of Canaan as well as the fact that Joshua was not taking in a group of hardened soldiers, you can imagine his trepidation and fear.

It is significant that the promise of success comes after the command to obey. Like the Oklahoma land rush of 1889, God explains that Israel can claim every piece of land they walk on. While there will be opposition, no one will be able to stand against them.

Like a child is unafraid to walk through a scary forest because they are holding on to their daddy’s hand, so Joshua and Israel do not need to be afraid. God promises, “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”

Be Strong & Courageous (1:6, 7, 9). The command to “be strong and courageous” requires more than a superhero’s mask and cape. It requires stepping out in obedience to what God calls us to do.

When my children were younger, we read a number of stories and books. Many times we would come to the end of a chapter and the hero or heroine would be in danger. When my kids would beg to know what happens next, I’d say, “Wait until tomorrow.” After they went to bed, I’d flip ahead a few pages to see how they story would turn out. When God tells Joshua that Israel will inherit the land, God was explaining how the story would end.

God again encourages Joshua with the promise of his presence. “…for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua could be confidence because of God’s promise and his presence.

Fill your Life with God’s Word (1:7-8). When we talk to young believers about spiritual disciplines, we encourage them to read God’s Word. I find it interesting that God gives Joshua two instructions. He is to obey God’s Word and to meditate on God’s Word. Rather than emptying his mind, he is to fill it with God’s promises and instructions. Instead of merely reading and thinking about it, he is to commit himself to obedience. Only then will he enjoy true success. Only then will he accomplish what God wants him to do.

As you think about your life this week, what obstacles are in your way? What Jordan Rivers do you need to cross? What is God calling you to do? What is the step of obedience that he is asking you to take? Take the first step of faith and then follow it with further steps of obedience.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 23, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.