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Category Archives: Scripture

Preparing for Victory

National Geographic once ran an article about the Alaskan Bull Moose. The males of the species battle for dominance during the fall breeding season, literally going head-to-head with antlers crunching together as they collide. Often the antlers, their only weapon, are broken. That ensures defeat. The heftiest moose, with the largest and strongest antlers, triumphs. Therefore, the battle fought in the fall is really won during the summer, when the moose eat continually. The one that consumes the best diet for growing antlers and gaining weight will be the heavyweight in the fight. Those that eat inadequately sport weaker antlers and less bulk. The Bull Moose has to learn the principle that strength for trials is best developed before it’s needed.

What is true for the Bull Moose is also true for us. Victory is not won during the battle. Victory is won during the preparation. If we want victory over the trials that will come our way, we must commit ourselves to holiness. Only then can we enjoy the protection and blessings that God promises.

In Joshua 5:1-15, Joshua learns four key principles about preparing for victory. He must recognize God’s providence, recommit himself to obey God’s plan, rejoice in God’s provision, and recognize God’s presence.

Recognize God’s Providence (1). The miracle of the parting of the Jordan River accomplished two key things. One is that the surrounding nations were completely intimidated. The second is that the enemy understood God was fighting for Israel. If we want victory, we must train our spiritual eyesight to see where God is already at work. Then we join him and participate in his plan.

Recommit yourself to obey God’s Plan (2-9). Israel now finds themselves between the flood swollen Jordan River and the city of Jericho. Rather than issue the order to attack, Joshua instructs the people to prepare themselves spiritually. In so doing, Joshua helps the people understand that they were facing a spiritual battle, not merely a physical one.

On the one hand, it seems odd that God would reinstitute the practice of circumcision at this point in time. If nothing else, Israel will be vulnerable while the men heal from the operation. On the other hand, since circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, Israel needed to reaffirm their relationship with God before they could claim the covenant land. They also needed to be circumcised before they could celebrate the Passover.

Since the nature of our battle is spiritual, it requires that we not only prepare our bodies and minds, but that we prepare our hearts to obey.

Rejoice in God’s Provision (10-12). Now that they have reaffirmed their commitment to God, Israel could celebrate the Passover in their new home. God stopped providing their daily provision of manna and the people started living off the land.

Sometimes God provides through extraordinary means. Sometimes he provides through ordinary means. Sometimes he provides manna and sometimes he provides through the normal cycle of planting and harvesting. Either way, we need to discover that God’s grace is enough and we should give thanks.

Recognize God’s Presence (13-15). Feeling the lonely pressures of leadership, Joshua seemingly goes for a nighttime stroll near the city of Jericho. He encounters an unknown warrior and challenges him, “Friend or foe?” The warrior identifies himself as the Captain of the army of heaven.

Like Joshua, there are times when we ask, “Whose side is God on?” Instead, God asks us, “Whose side are you on?” Like Joshua, we need to learn to depend on God for success. We must come into his presence with humility and worship him. Only then do we discover that God is ready and willing to fight our battles for us.

Where do you need victory today? Are you dealing with a difficult boss? Are you facing opposition at school/home/work? Are you trying to share the gospel with a neighbor? Do you need strength in caring for a loved one?

Public victories are won in private. We must be spiritually prepared if we want to do God’s work effectively. We must commit ourselves to holiness if we want to enjoy God’s protection and blessings.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 21, 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.

 

Put on the Armor of God

Book Review: Overcomer: 8 Ways to Live a Life of Unstoppable Strength, Unmovable Faith, and Unbelievable Power, by Dr. David Jeremiah

What would happen if you faced your challenges in the name of the Lord? What would life be like if your goal in every situation was to bring glory to His name? What would happen if you fully embraced God’s strategy for victory?

If you did those things, you would be living as an Overcomer. And believe it or not, that’s who you are if you have placed your faith and hope in Christ: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

This enticement is found in the prologue of pastor and author Dr. David Jeremiah’s latest offering, Overcomer: 8 Ways to Live a Life of Unstoppable Strength, Unmovable Faith, and Unbelievable Power. The book describes how to put on and take full advantage of the armor of God in daily living.

Using the 8 pieces of the spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6, the author describes how we can overcome weakness with strength, falsehood with truth, evil with good, anxiety with peace, fear with faith, confusion with wisdom, temptation with Scripture, and everything with prayer. Dr. Jeremiah focuses on King David in the first chapter as he was the Old Testament’s greatest overcome. In the final chapter, he tells the story of Jesus, history greatest overcomer. The author combines biblical teaching, personal illustrations, encouraging stories, insightful quotes, and practical ideas that will encourage the reader.

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.

 
 

My Convictions About the Role of Women in the Church

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 Role of Women in the Church

Scripture affirms that women are equal with men as image-bearers of God and in their personal standing before God and the church (Geneses 1:27-28; 5:1; Psalm 8:4-8). In the following areas, men and women share a personal equality: 1) Salvation by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Peter 1:18-19); 2) Co-heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7); 3) Equality in the new creation (Galatians 3:28); 4) Indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9b); 5) Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); 6) Standing before God (Romans 5:1-2); 7) Men and women are interdependent (1 Corinthians 11:11-12); 8) Access to God in prayer (1 Corinthians 11:4-5); 9) Nurtured by the Word (1 Peter 2:2); 10) The priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5); 11) Receiving spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 27-31; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:10-12).

While Scripture teaches that men and women are equal, it also teaches that within the church there is a basic pattern of functional order in which men are given headship—the task of leadership, and women are to be subject to this leadership (as are men who are not designated leaders) (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:26; 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:9-15). These role distinctions are the result of God’s established order in creation and the principle of headship (Genesis 2:21-22). In addition, they find their pattern within the Trinity where a functional subordination is practiced by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit even though they are equal to God the Father.

Scripture also demonstrates that women have unique and significant ministries to fulfill along with men in the church because they are gifted with the same spiritual gifts as men. There are no gender distinctions in the distribution of spiritual gifts. The office of elder or pastor is not open to a woman (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), but as with a man, she can exercise her gifts without holding this office. The Scriptures indicate that a woman may participate actively in corporate worship, but she is not to teach or engage in activities in which she has authority over a man or men in this sphere (1 Timothy 2:12).

 

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2018 in Church, Scripture, Theology, Women

 

My Convictions About Social Drinking

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 Social Drinking

I believe that Scripture does not condemn drinking (John 2:1-12; 1 Timothy 5:23), but rather drunkenness (Proverbs 20:1; 23:35; Ephesians 5:18). However, I believe alcohol, tobacco, and drugs should be avoided because they can control a person (1 Corinthians 6:12). While I may feel I have the freedom to drink, I choose not to because I don’t want this issue to become a stumbling block for others (Romans 14:1-15:7).

 

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2018 in Scripture, Theology

 

Of Conflict & Critics

One of the occupational hazards of ministry is that not everyone loves what you do and say. Not everyone hangs on your every word and thinks you are wise beyond your years. Some have the opposite opinion and think you are an idiot.

Dealing with conflict & critics, warfare & worries, fighting & fears, all come with the territory. In that sense, not much has changed in 2,000 years. During the first century, that was the experience of the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 7:5, he wrote,

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.

The apostle Paul felt pressure from two sources. On the one hand, he faced opposition from non-Christians. He was persecuted by unbelievers. He also had critics within the Christian community. Some of the Corinthians apparently didn’t like his first letter. On the other hand, Paul was burdened with worry over the health of the churches he had planted. He was concerned about the spiritual growth of individuals. His affliction including “fighting without and fear within.”

I suppose I should take comfort in knowing that I stand in good company when I get shot at. I must be doing something right when I am accused of being a “judgmental hypocrite and a failure as a leader” as I was this past year when I didn’t agree with someone’s viewpoint. I’m not alone when I wake up at 4AM concerned about an individual’s spiritual well-being and prompted to pray for them. I shouldn’t have been surprised when a recent visitor commented that, in their opinion, the church would never grow because I lack the right personality to be a pastor. I should understand I stand in good stead when I feel the weight of responsibility for the health and vitality of the church. I stand in a long line of pastors who experience fightings without and fears within.

Rather than worry about the conflict and the critics, rather than whine about the burden of ministry, I need to be faithful to follow Christ and to be and to do what God has laid on my heart. I need to seek to please him rather than trying to keep everyone happy.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2018 in Personal growth, Scripture

 

My Convictions About Marriage, Divorce, & Remarriage

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 Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

We live in a culture where the institution of marriage is under attack. Marriage is not valued and divorce is prevalent. As a pastor, I feel a responsibility and a burden to help people understand what Scripture says on this topic. The goal is not to heap guilt on those who have experienced the pain of divorce. Rather, I want to help affirm the sanctity and permanence of marriage so as to help build strong marriages and prevent future divorces.

The institution of marriage was created by God in order to display his glory to the world and to provide joy for his creatures. It provides a glimpse of the covenantal love of God for his creation.  The roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives reveal the relationship of Christ with the church (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Marriage was divinely instituted by God from the very beginning. According to Genesis 2:24-25, a marriage exists in God’s sight when a man leaves his parents, cleaves to his wife, and becomes one flesh with her.

The marriage union is exclusive (“a man . . . his wife . . .”), publicly recognized (“leaves his parents”), permanent (“cleaves to his wife”), consummated by sexual intercourse (“become one flesh”) and leads to intimacy (“naked … not ashamed”). It is a covenant relationship between a husband and wife and between the couple and God.

In principle, marriage is a permanent, lifelong union. Because God is the one who joins a man and wife together, no one should attempt to tear them apart (Mark 10:9).

Because God instituted marriage, he considers divorce a breach of covenant, an act of “treachery,” and something which he “hates” (Malachi 2:16).

Divorce is a violent act that tears people, families, and communities apart. Since marriage is designed to reveal God’s goodness, glory, and faithfulness, anything that disrupts a marriage—division, discord, divorce—should be taken very seriously and avoided.

Before discussing the possible situations when divorce might be allowed, it should be noted that divorce is nowhere commanded nor even encouraged in Scripture. While divorce was allowed, it was not prescribed or commanded. Since divorce was present in the Old Testament, Moses provided guidelines for how to handle divorce in order to protect the “innocent” party (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

In Matthew 19:8, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 24. He explains that Moses permitted, but did not command or require divorce. Divorce was merely a concession necessitated by individuals whose hearts were hard. Rather than seeking a divorce as the easy solution, repentance and reconciliation are always the best options. Even when divorce is possible in some cases, working towards reconciliation within the context of a faith community is always preferable.

Regardless of the symptoms of marital strife, the root cause is always sin and pride. It is always one or both spouses’ rebellion against God. Both spouses must respond to the gospel by faith and repentance. Thankfully, God has provided reconciliation with us through the person of his son, Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:1 speak of this reconciliation.

Since marriage brings together two imperfect people, it is a challenging endeavor that must have Jesus Christ at the center of the union. It requires the constant practice of love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, and humility that were displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins in order to reconcile us to God.

As stated previously, divorce is never the best option. However, Scripture indicates that there are two circumstances in which divorce is permissible after all attempts at reconciliation have been exhausted.

First, an innocent person may divorce his/her partner if the latter has been guilty of sexual immorality (Matthew 5:31-32).

The term for “sexual immorality” is a broad one that includes things such as adultery, homosexuality, incest, and bestiality. In the case of adultery, the offended spouse is encouraged to offer forgiveness and restoration (though it might be a difficult and slow process). In the event that reconciliation is not possible, the offended party has the freedom to be released from the marriage.

Secondly, in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, Paul discusses a situation where a believer is married to an unbeliever. The guiding principle is that the believer should not initiate the divorce if the unbeliever is willing to stay in the marriage. However, if the unbeliever refuses to remain in the relationship and chooses to desert the marriage, the believer is therefore free.

In the case of unrepentant and continued abuse, the abused is encouraged to immediately separate for the sake of safety and is also expected to inform the elders of First Central Bible Church. The elders will attempt to work with both parties in the hope of bringing about repentance and reconciliation. While we might counsel separation, we would not counsel divorce as it does not meet the criteria for a biblical divorce.

For all divorces which have occurred for reasons other than sexual immorality or an unbeliever deserting the marriage, the expectation for both parties is to pursue reconciliation. Until reconciliation with the former spouse occurs, both spouses are to remain unmarried as indicated by 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.

Where Scripture permits divorce, it presupposes the right to remarry. In addition to remarriage being allowed in the two situations mentioned above, a partner may remarry when their mate has died (1 Corinthians 7:39).

As a pastor, my responsibility is not to be preoccupied with divorce and its grounds, but rather with marriage and its institution. Because God’s purpose is marriage, not divorce, my teaching on marriage must begin with God’s plan for the permanence of the marriage relationship. However, when an individual has gone through a divorce, whether for biblical or unbiblical reasons, I must minister to them at their point of need. In such a case, the shepherding of the individual is essential, with the hope that the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation would take root. Even when the marriage covenant is broken, it should not lead automatically or necessarily to divorce, but rather be an occasion for caring instruction on the duty and way of forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. Ultimately, my counsel must start and finish with the understanding that the foundation of a healthy marriage is a right relationship with God, with Jesus Christ at the center.

 

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2018 in Marriage, Scripture, Theology

 

What do these stones mean?

What do you have that reminds you God answers prayer? What helps you remember God’s good gifts down through the years?

When our children were young, we had a prodigal hamster named Smokey. One Friday morning, we discovered Smokey was not in his cage. We turned the house upside down looking for him. Before sending the kids to school, we gathered together and prayed that God would keep Smokey safe and return him to us. Throughout the day, I continued to pray that God would return Smokey safely so that my children would know God answers prayer. Twenty-four hours later, he showed up in my son’s bedroom. Placing him back in his cage, he gulped down as much food and water as he could hold. We gathered as a family and prayed again, this time thanking God for answering prayer and returning the wayward rodent back safely. Afterwards, I wrote the details down in my journal so that I would not forget God’s goodness to my children.

Following the death of Moses, the children of Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land. Poised on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, opposite the city of Jericho, they awaited the orders of General Joshua. In Joshua 4, God gave Joshua his marching orders, which included a curious directive. Twelve men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were to each take one stone from the middle of the Jordan River to the place of the first night’s encampment. There they were to erect a 12-stone memorial over the dry riverbed of the Jordan. These stones were to act as a vivid reminder (a memorial) of God’s work of deliverance and an effective means for the Israelites to teach the next generation.

God commanded Joshua to establish “Stones of Remembrance” (1-7). Kneeling at the foot of the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the dry riverbed, 12 men pried up large stones and then carried them on their shoulders some eight miles to Gilgal, the site of their new camp site. We don’t know if they piled them in a heap or arranged them in a circle, but it was a monument to the momentous event they just witnessed.

Verse nine indicates that Joshua erected a similar monument in the middle of the riverbed. This second memorial would only be visible when the Jordan was at its lowest level.

There must have been shouts of joy when the priests stepped out of the riverbed and the waters of the Jordan roared back. There was probably dancing and singing around the campfires that night.

In God’s good timing, they arrived in the Promised Land on the tenth day of the first month. On that same day forty years previous the first Passover Lamb was selected (Exodus 12:3-6). God had arranged for their arrival in Canaan four days before the annual Passover was to be celebrated, on the very day when preparations were to begin.

The stones of remembrance were to remind people of the past (7), witness to the nations in the present (23-24), create a teachable moment in the future (6, 21-22), and inspire people to trust God forever (24).

Since there was no Instagram account or Facebook page commemorating the event, God provided Israel with a visible reminder of the miracle he had performed (7). This was necessary because Israel was a forgetful bunch (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). Psalm 78 provides the history of a nation who continually forgot what God had done.

The stones also served as a witness to the nations (23-24). The crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River were meant to inspire the surrounding nations to discover who God is. Rahab heard about the miracles and wanted to follow God (Joshua 2). The stones would be a visible invitation to “come and see” the greatness of God.

The stones would also serve a conversation starter. Over time, the following generations would ask their parents, “What do these stones mean?” The parents could then tell the story in great detail (6, 21-22). As parents, we need to be on lookout for opportunities to teach our children and others about who God is. Skinned knees, school exams, missing hamsters, service projects, ministry trips and many others provide opportunities to teach our kids that God answers prayer and provides for our needs.

Lastly, the stones of remembrance would inspire future generations to trust God forever (24). We have to be careful, though, not to allow memorials to become idols. While Gilgal was a place of remembrance for Joshua, it was the scene of idol worship during the ministries of Hosea and Amos.

I have numerous “Stones of Remembrance” in my office. When I look at a certificate for 30 years of service to Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, I recall the encouragement I received from John, Maggie, Phil, and others during difficult days. I remember the people who trusted Christ as Savior during the many seminars I taught. When I look at the many gifts I received while ministering in Russia, I remember how God answered prayer for safety, health, financial provision, wisdom, and much more. When I look at a family photo, I remember how God answered prayer to provide spouses for my two daughters, and met our needs as a family in countless ways. I also have a shelf filled with journals I have written in over the past 30+ years. They record what God has taught me, how he answered prayer, and the many experiences he has brought me through. All of these serve to help me remember who God is and what he has done.

What helps you to remember God’s goodness in your life?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 14, 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.