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Monthly Archives: September 2018

My Convictions About Scripture

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 Scripture.

Revelation is that act of God in which he discloses himself to man. (I use “man” in this paper to refer to both men and women.  It is not intended to be sexist or to avoid political correctness.  I am simply following the pattern of Scripture where “man” refers to “mankind.”) It refers to the communication of truth that cannot be otherwise discovered. God reveals himself through nature (Romans 1:19, 20; Psalm 19), conscience (Romans 2:15), providence (Acts 14:15-17), the Scriptures (1 John 5:9-12), and through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The Scriptures themselves declare that they are fully and verbally inspired, that is, that they are God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Inspiration has to do with the recording of truth. The Spirit of God moved upon men to write the sixty-six books of the Bible (2 Peter 1:21).

The Scriptures carry with them the divine authority of God and are therefore binding upon man—on his mind, emotions, will, and conscience. They are the believer’s supreme authority for faith and practice.

Since God, the Author of Scripture, is true and cannot lie (Psalm 31:5; Titus 1:2), and is himself without error, it naturally follows that the Scriptures themselves are without error. In addition, the Scriptures declare themselves to be true (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). This inerrancy extends to all of Scripture as it is found in the original manuscripts. The Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms—history, science, moral, doctrinal. In telling the truth, the Bible allows for approximations, free quotations, language of appearance, and different accounts of the same event.

Illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit which enables man to understand God’s divinely-revealed truth (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). The Holy Spirit illumines both the unsaved man by conviction of sin (John 16:7-11), and the saved man by his teaching ministry (John 16:13-15).

I believe that Scripture should be interpreted using a literal (also called normal or plain) hermeneutic. It incorporates the following principles: 1) Interpret literally. Accept the literal meaning unless that meaning does not make sense. 2) Interpret grammatically. One must study the grammar of the text. This allows for figures of speech and the language of appearance. 3) Interpret contextually. Each verse must be interpreted in its various contexts (immediate context, context of the book, other books written by the same writer, whole of Scripture). 4) Examine the historical context taking the culture and historical setting into consideration. 5) Compare Scripture with Scripture, allowing it to interpret itself. 6) Recognize the progressiveness of revelation.

Canonicity concerns the recognition and collection of the God-inspired, authoritative books of the sacred Scriptures. Inspiration indicates how the Bible received its authority, whereas canonization tells how the Bible received its acceptance.

There were five key principles used in canonization. These are illustrated by the following questions: 1) Is it authoritative?  Did it come with the authority of God?  2) Is it prophetic?  Was it written by a man of God?  3) Is it authentic?  Did it tell the truth about God, man, etc.?  4)  Is it dynamic?  Did it come with the life-transforming power of God?  5) Was it received, collected, read and used?  Was it accepted by the people of God?  The first two questions were used explicitly, while the last two were applied implicitly.

Scripture, rather than cultural values, forms the basis of all our decisions and actions.  Expository preaching and teaching is vital because it helps to equip people to think biblically in order to measure their lives by the standards of Scripture.  The proclamation of the Word of God supported by prayer is the most effective tool we have to transform our people’s lives for the glory of God.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2018 in Scripture, Theology

 

Ministry in a Post-Truth Culture

How do we minister in a culture that no longer recognizes and/or accepts truth? How do we minister to Christians who no longer recognize and/or accept the truth? How do we speak truth to Christ followers who are more committed to personal happiness than personal holiness?

I am currently teaching an online course for Regent University entitled, “Intro to Bible.” One of the required textbooks is Abdu Murray’s volume, Saving Truth: Finding Meaning & Clarity in a Post-Truth World. The author begins by explaining the we live in a culture of confusion in large part because we are no longer committed to truth.

The Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as their 2016 Word of the Year. Murray explains that post-truth has two modes. One is a “soft” mode where we don’t care about the truth if it gets in the way of our personal preferences. In this mode, truth exists objectively, but our subjective feelings and opinions matter more. The second mode of post-truth is “hard,” where we show a willingness “to propagate blatant flasehoods, knowing they’re false, because doing so serves a higher political or social agenda.”

In the first chapter of the book, Murray explains how post-truth permeates our culture. In the second chapter, he shows how it has infiltrated the church.

The church has succumbed to post-truth’s soft expression in two seemingly contrary ways. On one hand, Christians have compromised the clarity of Scripture for the sake of acceptance and to avoid conflict. On the other hand, Christians have indulged the cultural practice of vilifying those with whom they disagree. These two seductions seem contradictory, but when they work together, they harmonize in a grisly degree.

I have experienced both aspects of this soft expression of post-truth. I’ve had some conversations with individuals who were more concerned with personal happiness. If Scripture contradicted their preference, they chose they preference. If obedience to Scripture meant sacrifice, they chose an easier path. “You have your truth and I have my truth,” I was told, showing that subjective feelings trumped objective statements from Scripture. If I disagreed and pointed out what Scripture said, then I was labeled as harsh and legalistic, in large part because I was unsupportive of their viewpoint.

Ministry is challenging to begin with. But when Christ followers buy into the prevailing philosophy of the day, it becomes even more challenging.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2018 in Books, Culture, Ministry, Scripture

 

How did God prepare Joshua for Leadership?

If you were asked to design a leadership training course, what would the curriculum consist of? What lessons would you want your protégé to learn? What characteristics would you desire to develop in your students? What experiences would you involve them in? How would you prepare someone for the task of leadership?

As we begin a new series in the book of Joshua, that is the question we want to start with. The book opens with Joshua as the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Israel. He was standing on the eastern side of the Jordan River, facing the challenge of crossing the river and conquering the Promised Land. But how did he get to that point?

Joshua did not suddenly appear like a jack-in-the-box at the death of Moses. Joshua was probably 80 years old when God placed him in this position of leadership. Scripture divides his life into three periods: forty years as a slave in Egypt; forty years as a servant in the wilderness; and twenty-five years in subduing the Promised Land.

The time in the wilderness served as a forty-year internship under the instruction of Moses. It included at least seven different experiences when God taught him significant lessons. All of the lessons could be summed up in one phrase—spiritual leadership requires a heart that is fully devoted to following God.

Preparation in the Battle with Amalek at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). When we are first introduced to Joshua, he is leading the army of Israel into battle against the Amalekites. While Joshua is fighting the battle, Moses is lifting up his staff to God. When Moses’ arms get tired, Aaron and Hur help support Moses. Joshua learns that all battles are spiritual ones and that victory comes by depending on God. Leaders work as though it all depends on them, but pray as though it all depends on God.

Preparation at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:9-18). Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel (of whom Joshua was one) are called to join God on Mt. Sinai. They enjoy a time of worship and a covenant meal in God’s presence. Leaving the seventy behind, Moses and Joshua go up further and spend six days with God in the cloud covered mountain. On the seventh day, Moses went on alone, leaving Joshua by himself on Sinai for forty more days. While the time alone tested Joshua’s patience and faithfulness, it also enriched his perspective of God’s character and majesty. Joshua learned that leaders need an enlarged vision of who God is.

Preparation in the Tabernacle (Exodus 33:7-11). As the servant of Moses, one of Joshua’s assignments was to be present in the Tabernacle while the pillar of cloud towered above the tent. True spiritual leadership demands a love for the quiet place. To lead well, we must desire God’s presence. We have to constantly fight the battle of doing versus devotion.

Preparation within the Camp (Numbers 11:24-29). Leaders are constantly told to promote themselves and to toot their own horn. Joshua apparently bought into that principle and was jealous for Moses when two men were prophesying in the camp. Moses helped Joshua learn that leaders allow others to share in the ministry. There is no limit to what a person can do if they don’t care who gets the credit.

Preparation in Spying out the Land (Numbers 13:1-14:45). Joshua was one of the twelve men commissioned by Moses to spy out the Promised Land. After forty days, the men brought back a good news, bad news report; a majority, minority report. The majority said it was a wonderful land filled with giants who would kill the Israelites. Joshua and Caleb said that God had already given the land into the hand of the Israelites. As Joshua learned that day, the majority is not always right. Leaders focus on the promises of God rather than the fears of the people. They need to stand for truth even if it means standing alone.

Preparation through his Commissioning (Numbers 27:12-23). Because of his outburst of anger and not honoring God, Moses was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. God held him accountable for his actions. Being a caring shepherd, Moses made sure Israel had a capable leader. So he commissioned Joshua to take his place. Joshua’s chief characteristic was not his military skills. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual leadership is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit.

Preparation through the Death of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:1-12). While Moses was the greatest spiritual leader Israel ever had, he was expendable. God’s plan depends on no one for all time, but all to serve him at a certain time.

7 Principles of Spiritual Leadership

  • Hard work + prayer = victory
  • Develop a large vision of God
  • Spend time alone with God
  • Share the credit with others
  • Stand for truth; Stand alone
  • Depend on the Holy Spirit
  • No one is indispensable

Spiritual leadership requires a heart that is fully devoted to following God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 16, 2018. It is the opening message in a series on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Treating People Like Jesus Did

Book Review: Love Like That: 5 Relationship Secrets from Jesus, by Dr. Les Parrott

The Great Commandment instructs us to love God and love people. The first part is certainly challenging but the second part seems impossible because of the culture in which we find ourselves. Dr. Les Parrott believes that by following the example of Jesus, we can be successful in practicing this commandment. That is the theme of his latest book, Love Like That: 5 Relationship Secrets from Jesus.

The author presents five ways to help us love more like Jesus. He devotes a chapter to each principle. (1) Be mindful—not indifferent—by seeing what others don’t. (2) Be approachable—not exclusive—by moving out of your comfort zone. (3) Be grace-ful—not judgmental—by not limiting your love to people who deserve it. (4) Be bold—not fearful—by speaking truthfully and risking rejection. (5) Be self-giving—not self-serving—by emptying yourself for empathy.

Each chapter follows a similar format. After an opening illustration, the author shows how the principle was demonstrated by Jesus. The author then provides a basic definition of the concept followed by several reasons that prevent us from practicing it. He includes a self-test to determine how well we are currently practicing the concept. He then explains what Jesus taught on the subject and then concludes the chapter with several practical ways to further practice the principle. Lest we think we can produce these qualities on our own, the author explains the role of the Holy Spirit in the Conclusion and how he empowers us to practice the five qualities.

The author combines biblical teaching, studies from psychology and sociology, insightful quotes, questions to ponder, as well as personal illustrations to explain his ideas. The book is relatively short and has a larger than normal font size which makes it very easy to read. A very helpful, practical book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2018 in Books, Jesus, Scripture

 

Life in a post-truth world

I find that comic strips are often accurate commentaries on today’s culture. Non-Sequitur has done several comic strips on the challenges of finding truth in today’s world.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2018 in Culture, Non-Sequitur

 

Church attendance trends

Growing up, my family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, youth group activities, Bible conferences, summer camps. We got Perfect Attendance ribbons for Sunday School. If the church held a service, we were there.

Today, people consider themselves regular attenders if they come once or perhaps twice a month. Instead of attending three times a week, they consider three times a month above average. A regular attender may come for a worship service, but seldom attends a Sunday School class or small group Bible study. And serving? Well, that’s asking a bit too much. One hour a week a couple times a month is their max.

We have lost sight of the instruction given in Hebrews 10:24–25.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Instead of worship, instruction, and service being a priority, church is now viewed as one option among many. Soccer, cheerleading, hiking, baseball, sleeping in, family outings, camping, museums, homework, etc., are all viewed as equal or more important than being part of the family of God in a local congregation.

Why are we surprised when our spiritual lives feel anemic?

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Church, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Fitness goals or lack thereof

With all the rehab I’ve been doing for the past 10 months, I can identify with the professor.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2018 in Fun, Personal growth

 

Statements of personal rededication

On the day that we rededicated our renovated facility, I challenged the congregation to rededicate their lives to Christ and the ministry of First Central Bible Church. I read a number of statements, most of which are part of our membership covenant. After I read the statement, I asked people to say, “Amen,” if they agreed. I included the Scripture reference so folks would understand I was not making up my own arbitrary rules.

1.     I will rededicate myself to Christ and the ministry of First Central Bible Church.
2.     I will love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:34-40).
3.     I will protect the unity of my church (Romans 15:5).
4.     I will act in love toward other members (1 Peter 1:22).
5.     I will refuse to gossip (Ephesians 4:29).
6.     I will follow the leaders of the church (Hebrews 13:17).
7.     I will pray for the growth of my church (1 Thessalonians 1:2).
8.     I will live as salt and light in my community (Matthew 5:12-16).
9.     I will share my faith with others (Acts 1:8).
10.  I will invite the unchurched to attend with me (Luke 14:23).
11.  I will warmly welcome those who visit (Romans 15:7).
12.  I will discover my spiritual gifts and talents (1 Peter 4:10).
13.  I will be let the leaders equip me to serve (Ephesians 4:11-12).
14.  I will develop a servant’s heart (Philippians 2:3-4, 7).
15.  I will help make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
16.  I will attend faithfully (Hebrews 10:25).
17.  I will live a godly life (Philippians 1:27).
18.  I will give financially regularly and generously (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
19.  I will seek to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
 

Sanctuary Rededication Service – photos

Carol was able to take some photos during our Sanctuary Rededication worship service this morning.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2018 in First Central Bible Church, Photos, Worship

 

Becoming an I2 (squared) Church: A Church of Irresistible Influence

Is the church really necessary? Is the church still relevant today?

In his book, Revolution, author George Barna said, “You don’t need a church to be true follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, you can be more fruitful and effective without the church.” Is that true? Is Barna correct?

There are some churches that just play religious games. Rather than live intentionally and aggressively, the theme song of many churches is “We’ve always done it this way.”

There are other churches that focus solely on meeting the needs of its members. Unfortunately, needs soon turn into wants. A toxic self-absorption can easily develop. “Us” becomes all that matters. Spiritual impact is rarely considered beyond the borders of the church property. The downside is that a “need-meeting church” can quickly become a black hole, existing for nothing bigger than itself.

There are many that are confused about the church. They dismiss it as out of date, out of touch, ineffective, and irrelevant.

Rather than be confused, we can be confident about God’s plan for the church. The church is central to God’s plan to reach the world with the message of salvation. In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus explains that a church centered on Christ is an irresistible influence.

In this passage, Jesus takes his disciples north to a retreat setting. Caesarea Philippi was a multi-cultural, pluralistic region. It had long been the center of Baal worship. Later, shrines were built to honor the Greek god, Pan. More recently to Jesus’ day, Herod the Great built a temple to honor Caesar Augustus.

Jesus seemingly commissions a community survey. He asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (16:13). A percentage of the people thought he was John the Baptist back from the dead. A handful of people concluded he was Elijah. Still others were convinced he was Jeremiah. A few more had no idea as to his identity, but held the opinion he must be one of the prophets.

Jesus turned the tables on the discussion. He moved from opinion to conviction, from general to specific, from “they” to “you.” He asked his closest followers, “Who do you say I am?” (16:15). Speaking for the rest of the group, Peter stated with conviction, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16).

In a world of many options, there is only one Savior. All roads do not lead to the top. Every belief and religion are not equal. It does matter what one believes. Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Jesus goes on to explain that a church built on himself will be an irresistible influence (16:17-20). Rather than giving clarity, this passage often confuses people. It has been mistaught and misunderstood throughout the centuries.

The phrase, “…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church …” is used by the Roman Catholics to teach that Peter was the first Pope and started the process of apostolic succession. In an effort not to be Catholic, Protestants go to the other extreme and say it refers to Peter’s confession, not the man himself. I think the answer is found in the middle.

The word, “Peter,” is a masculine noun, “petros,” and means, “rock.” The word, “rock,” is a feminine noun, “petra,” and means, “rocky slope,” or “mountain.” I believe that Jesus is commending Peter for his confession. He is the rock. Jesus is then referring to the rest of the disciples as the rocky slope or mountain. Peter is one rock among a rock quarry. He would become the first among equals, the leader of the disciples. However, we lose sight of Peter after Acts 12 when Paul gains prominence. In Ephesians 2:19b-20, the apostle Paul said the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but Christ is the cornerstone.

The next phrase in verse 18 says, “…I will build my church…” We need to remember that the church is built by Christ, not by our efforts. In addition, the church does not belong to me or to you. It belongs to Christ himself.

The last phrase in verse 18, “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” is often misunderstood. While it is true that the church is under attack by the forces of evil, we don’t get that doctrine from this verse. Instead, this verse tells us that the church will triumph over the enemy.

The gates of a city were not designed to be an offensive weapon. Instead, they were constructed to keep the enemy out and the citizens safely inside. Instead of the gates of hell attacking the church, the church is the one on the attack. We are on a rescue mission trying to save people from hell.

Another way to understand this phrase is to understand that Hades is the realm of the dead. When Christ says that the gates of Hades will not overcome the church, he is stating that death will not defeat God’s plan—not the death of Jesus or the death of other Christ followers. The church will be triumphant.

Peter took the keys of the kingdom (19) and opened the door for the gospel to the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10). Since “binding” and “loosing” (19) always refers to forgiveness (Matthew 18:18; John 20:22-23), Peter and the other disciples could determine what can/cannot be done in the early church; but only what had already been decided in heaven.

To sum up, an I2 (squared) church is centered on Jesus. He is the Son of God. We are to be passionate followers of Christ. We are to obey the great commandment to love God with every aspect of our being. The church belongs to Christ, not us.

An I2 (squared) church combines good works and good news. We are to love people. Rather than church being all about us, we are to be externally focused. We are to share the gospel and make disciples. We are to live as salt and light in the world. We are to serve others.

An I2 (squared) church is an irresistible influence. It has a positive impact in the community. As a result, God is glorified (Matthew 5:16) and people come to faith in Christ (Acts 2:47).

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 9, 2018. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.