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Category Archives: Scripture

Faith is not a blind leap

The world’s idea of faith is summed up in this Non-Sequitur comic strip.

However, faith is based on facts and has a foundation. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some translations may describe the objective sense, “substance,” or the subjective sense, “confidence” or “assurance.” It helps us to understand that faith is both a conviction and a sense of certainty. One author described it as the title deed on which we build our lives. The verse helps us to understand that faith is the organ that helps us to see the unseen.

The African Impala is a beautiful animal that can jump over a height of ten feet and a span of 30 feet. But it can be kept in a zoo enclosure with only a three-foot wall. The reason is that the impala will not jump where it cannot see where its feet will land. Faith enables us to trust God and to venture into the unknown and the unseen.

C. S. Lewis described the substance of faith when he said, “We trust not because ‘a god’ exists, but because this God exists.” Since we have a record of how God worked in the past, we can trust him for the future.

While faith certainly requires a step of faith, it doesn’t necessity a blind leap. We can step out in faith knowing that God will guide and lead us each step of the way.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2020 in Faith, Hebrews, Non-Sequitur, Scripture

 

Responsibility to Church Leaders

We seem to have a love/hate relationship with leadership. We want to be led, but we don’t want to follow. We want leaders to provide clear direction and vision, but we want the freedom to pursue our own agendas. One of the prevailing values of our culture is individualism. And nothing and no one better get in the way of me pursuing ME!

Our emphasis on individualism means that we chafe against the command in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” And yet, the passage explains that there are benefits for the leader and the individual when we follow this command. As the author explains in Hebrews 13:17-19, Submitting to church leaders makes their job easier and more enjoyable, and we enjoy the benefits as well.

It would be easy for me to skip over this passage out of fear of being perceived as an autocratic dictator or the criticism that might come my way. Whether you shoot the messenger or not, please understand that God speaks clearly about this issue of obedience and submission to church leaders.

Obey your church leaders (17). Since the context of Hebrews 13 is corporate ministry and religious issues, it is evident that the leaders he has in mind as pastors and elders in the church. The author indicates that the aim of church leaders is the benefit or profit of the congregation, especially the good of their souls.

We need to recognize that “Obey your leaders and submit to them” is a command rather than a suggestion. It involves a voluntary subordination, followed by a desire to do what the leader suggests. Rather than focus on the possible exceptions, focus on the clear teaching of Scripture. Keep in mind that submission is only an issue when you don’t agree with what the leader is asking for. Then, you have to make the choice whether or not you will submit.

The author gives several reasons why we should obey and submit. One reason is that pastors and elders maintain a constant watchfulness over the spiritual health of the congregation. A second reason is that God will hold the leaders accountable for how they carried out this task. A third reason is that ministry can either be a joyful exercise or a draining burden depending on how the congregation responds. We can either make the leaders’ task easier or more difficult.

Obey

Resist

Submit

Demand a voice

Support vision

Personal agendas

Make task easier

Make task harder
Joyful leaders

Groaning leaders

Personal growth

No benefit

Pray for your church leaders (18-19). While the author of the book has a clear conscience about his life and ministry, he also recognizes he is just as susceptible to temptation as those he is warning. So he asks his readers to pray for him.

How will you respond to these instructions? Let me encourage you to obey your church leaders and pray for your church leaders. Submitting to church leaders makes their job easier and more enjoyable, and you will enjoy the benefits as well.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 26, 2020. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

How should we respond to our church leaders?

This Sunday at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, we will unpack Hebrews 13:17-19 as we consider our “Responsibilities to Church Leaders.” Here’s a video preview of the topic. Hope to see you this weekend.

 

I’m glad I don’t have it all together

I used to struggle with people’s expectations. Take your pick—personality, performance, preaching—I don’t measure up to what “they” expect a “perfect pastor” should be and do. In regards to my personality, some want me to be someone different—more gregarious, more outgoing. I’ve been told to my face that I don’t have the right personality to be a pastor. One went so far as to tell me the church would never grow because of my personality.

In my lower moments, I wondered if God made a mistake. He either gave me the wrong personality when he created me, or he should never have called me into ministry. Why did he give me a task that he did not equip me for? Those were the whispers I listened to and told myself.

I was recently reading 1 Corinthians 2 for our monthly elders & wives Bible study. I was struck by the fact that the apostle Paul took great pride in his weakness. That way, the focus was on Jesus rather than himself.

1 Corinthians 2:1–5 – 1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul explains that he gave up asking God to take away his thorn in the flesh because he learned to depend on God’s grace. He discovered that his weakness was actually a position of strength.

2 Corinthians 12:8–10 – Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Since I seem to fall woefully short on the perfect pastor scale, that must mean there is more room for God to demonstrate his power. My weak personality and preaching skills (according to some) are actually a position of strength. It means God has more room to work and that more glory will go to him. Rather than whine and complain, I need to give thanks that God wired me as he did. I need to spend more time praying that God will demonstrate his grace and power.

Thank you, Lord, for how you put me together. Thank you for the training and experiences you have brought me through. Thank you for my weaknesses and limitations. Thank you for putting in a position where I have to depend on you. Pour out your Spirit and demonstrate your power and glory. Amen!

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2020 in Bible Study, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Understanding the process of spiritual growth

Book Review: Growing in Holiness: Understanding God’s Role and Yours, by R. C. Sproul

How do you grow spiritually? How do you progress from new faith in Christ to spiritual maturity? This is the question addressed by R. C. Sproul in his book, Growing in Holiness: Understanding God’s Role and Yours. The book is drawn from his lectures and explores the doctrine of sanctification, how to deal with obstacles and continue to grow towards greater maturity in Christ.

The book is written in an easy to read, conversational style. Dr. Sproul presents practical and helpful ideas, both to understand the doctrine of sanctification and how to press forward. He talks about how to deal with the obstacles presented by the world, the flesh, and the devil. He explains how to pursue righteousness. He clearly explains how we can have the assurance of our salvation and greater confidence in Christ. He stresses the importance of displaying love and developing the fruit of the Spirit. The author concludes by encouraging us to grow up into the fullness of Christ.

This is a helpful, practical book for a new believer who wants to understand what the Christian life is all about. It provides encouragement for a Christian who is frustrated by the lack of growth and progress in their life. Whether new to the faith or a long-term believer, the book will encourage all to press on and persevere.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 

Life in the Church

Who are the individuals that impacted you spiritually? What did they do? What did they say? How did they encourage you in your spiritual journey?

One of the people that touched my life was John Miller, my youth pastor while I was in high school. John challenged me as to who was the Lord of my life. He taught me about the Holy Spirit, and allowing him to fill and empower my life. John had a huge impact on me as a teenager.

Remembering godly leaders is one of the principles mentioned by the author of Hebrews in 13:7-16. In 13:1-6, he addressed moral issues—loving one another, welcoming strangers, ministering to those who suffer for the gospel, honoring marriage, and having a right perspective about money. In 13:7-16, he turns his attention to religious practices. He speaks about following godly leaders (7-9) and worshipping and serving Jesus Christ (10-16). He explains that devoting yourself to worshipping and serving Christ will strengthen your heart and please God.

Follow godly leaders (7-9). The author gives three characteristics of godly leaders (7) and three characteristics of false teachers (9). Godly leaders proclaim biblical truth, demonstrate faith, and live a lifestyle of endurance and victory. We are to remember their impact, consider how they lived, and imitate their faith. In contrast, false leaders promote false doctrine, emphasize externals, and have no effective spiritual results.

On the surface, verse 8 seems out of place. However, it appears that the author is painting a contrast between earthly leaders and Jesus. Earthly leaders come and go, but Jesus lives forever. In the past, Jesus suffered and died for our sins. In the present, he intercedes for us as our high priest. In the future, Jesus will return to conclude God’s work.

Godly Leaders

J

E

S

U

S

False Leaders
Biblical truth

False doctrine

Faith

Rituals
Life worth imitating

No lasting results

Worship and serve Jesus Christ (10-16). Using the phrases, “inside the camp” and “outside the camp,” the author paints a contrast between religion and a relationship with Jesus. His point is that we should not return to religion when Jesus provides a better way.

Inside the camp (10-11)

Outside the camp (12-14)
An altar you can’t participate in

A better altar, Jesus, that we have full participation in

Animals were sacrificed that covered sin temporarily

A better sacrifice, Jesus’ death once for all, that makes people holy

False sense of safety and security in religion

True identity and security in a relationship with Christ

 

We can endure suffering because we have a lasting reward

The author concludes this section by stressing the importance of worship and praise. Our lips are to echo what we believe in our hearts (15). Worship through sacrifice and service is what pleases God (16).

Devote yourself to Jesus—Follow him, Worship him, Serve him.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 19, 2020. It is part of a series of expository sermons the on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Sandwiched between Faithfulness & Fruitfulness

I live my life sandwiched between two tensions. I want to be found faithful while at the same time, I want to be found fruitful.

As a pastor, I struggle with numbers. I watch the graphs of our attendance and chart the ups and downs of our giving. I know that people pass judgment on me based on those figures. People look at those numbers and determine my worth.

However, I know that my success is not measured by numbers. The artificial measuring sticks—bodies, budgets, buildings, baptisms, books, broadcasts, and blogs—are valuable indicators, yes, but they are not what God will use to evaluate and determine whether or not I am successful.

God will not evaluate my ministry based on the size. He will evaluate whether or not I was faithful. “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master does not praise his servants based on their production. The one with the five talents received the same reward as the one with the two talents. Both were faithful in using their talents for the master and heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

People may judge my success or failure based on numbers and size, but God will evaluate whether or not I was faithful to use the gifts and abilities he has given me for his service. I get that.

And yet, at the same time, I want to be fruitful. In John 15:1-11, Jesus speaks of the progression of moving from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-20), some of the seed produces thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some hundredfold.

I desire to produce much fruit. I want to be one who produces hundredfold. While that may be my desire, I recognize that I cannot produce anything in my own power. Much fruit only comes as I abide in Christ and his life flows through me. God is the one who produces the size of the harvest.

This brings me back full circle to faithfulness. I must be faithful to abide in Christ and depend on him for life, growth, and fruitful ministry. I must rely on him to determine how, when, and where he will use me. I must be faithful to use everything I have for his glory. I must focus on depth—building deeply into my life and the life of others—and allow him to determine the breadth and effectiveness of my ministry.

May I be found faithful and fruitful. The one is up to me. The other is up to God. I need to live contentedly between those two tensions.