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Category Archives: Scripture

The Pressure of one’s Peers

We generally equate peer pressure with the teen years. But as my wife and I were discussing recently, peer pressure doesn’t go away, it just changes shape.

In elementary school, we were concerned about having a “cool” backpack or lunch box. In junior high, we wanted to be part of the in-crowd, the cool kids. In high school, we had to wear the right fashions, listen to the right music, and attend the right parties. As a high school senior, the pressure was on to be accepted into the right college or university and receive more scholarship funds than our rivals.

In our twenties, people asked when we were going to get married. We felt left out when our friends starting pairing up and heading to the altar. Then it was the pressure to buy a house, establish a career, and start a family. Since we attended seminary after college and waited to start a family until after I finished school, we were certainly behind the pace of our peers.

In our forties & fifties, we measured ourselves against other parents on the barometer of how well our children were doing in school, what extracurricular activities they were involved in, and whether they scored the winning goal or touchdown or made the honor roll.

Now that we are in our sixties, my wife and I feel pressure about retirement. We are being asked, “When will you retire? Where will you retire?” We start to ask ourselves, “Can we take an exotic, foreign vacation like our friends?” Then there is the pressure to have grandkids so we can tell our friends about what they are doing.

As a pastor, I feel the pressure of how the church down the street or across town is doing. Does Church A have more people than we do? Is Church B meeting their budget? Is Pastor C on the radio? Does Pastor D have a podcast? Is Pastor E a published author? I ask myself the uncomfortable question, “Am I as ‘successful’ as my peers? Do I measure up?”

It seems that I need to review and embrace the apostle Paul’s instruction in Galatians 1:10.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Rather than succumb to the pressure of my peers, I need to focus my attention on pleasing the audience of One.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2018 in Bible Study, Personal growth, Scripture

 

What’s a Leader to Do?

One of the greatest leaders during the 20th Century was Sir Winston Churchill. He led Great Britain during the dark days of World War II. Among his more memorable quotes were, “Never, never, never give up,” and “If you are going to go through hell, keep going.”

In his first letter, the apostle Peter warns his readers that persecution is coming. In 3:14, he states, “If you should suffer for righteousness …” In 4:17, he points out, “It is time for judgment to being at the household of God …” During times like this, people look to their leaders for comfort and guidance. It is no surprise that in 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter explains the role and task of the church leaders. He explains that shepherd elders willingly serve as models as they lead and care for the people God has entrusted to them.

Peter’s Qualifications (1). Peter was an apostle. He was part of Jesus Christ’s inner circle. He was a leader of the church in Jerusalem. However, Peter doesn’t play those trump cards. Instead, he writes with humility and describes himself as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s suffering, and one who will share in the glory to come.

The Task of the Leader (2a). The New Testament uses three different terms to refer to the same church leaders. The words are used interchangeably in Acts 20:17, 28, and 1 Peter 5:1-2.

Greek word

English word Focus
“poimen” Pastor/Shepherd

Attitude of the leader

“presbuteros”

Elder Character of the leader
“episcopos” Overseer/Bishop

Task of the leader

Rather than provide a detailed job description for church leaders, Peter focuses more on the HOW rather than the WHAT of shepherding. We have to turn to other passages of Scripture to get a fuller idea of the task of pastors and elders. Their task includes:

  • Protecting the flock (Acts 20:28-31)
  • Feeding the flock (Acts 2:42; 6:1-7)
  • Leading the flock (Acts 11:29-30)
  • Caring for the flock (Matthew 18:15-18; Acts 6:1-7; James 5:14)
  • Shared leadership

The Manner of the Leader (2b-3). Peter spends more time addressing the manner in which leaders are to lead, and especially what they need to guard against.

 

Avoid this – “Not”

Do this – “But” Guard against
Reason Have to Want to

Laziness

Motive

Greedy Serving Self-indulgence
Style Dictator Model

Hunger for power

The Reward of the Leader (4). Peter explains that there will be a day of reckoning. Those who lead and shepherd well will receive a crown of glory.

As church leaders, we need to ask ourselves difficult questions. Am I fulfilling my responsibility? What’s my reason? What’s my motive? What’s my style or manner?

As members of the congregation, we should pray for our leaders. We should submit to their authority in order to make their task easier. We should choose leaders based on their character.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 19, 2018. It is part of an ongoing series in the book of 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Through fiery trials

While on vacation, we visited Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. They contain two of the biggest trees in the world, General Grant Tree and General Sherman Tree. Sequoias start out from a seed the size of an oatmeal flake and grow to incredible size. General Grant has a 40 foot diameter base. General Sherman is the largest tree in the world by volume. Some of the trees are as old as 1,500-2,000 years.

For over a century, officials tried to suppress fires for fear of destroying the trees and forests. In the 1960’s, Dr. Richard Hartesveldt discovered that Sequoias need fire to regenerate. Fire causes the cones to release the seeds, exposes bare mineral soil in which the seedlings can take root, and recycles nutrients into the soil. Fire also burns away the undergrowth and removes competition.

In the same way that fire helps Sequoias grow, so trials help produce character growth in Christ followers. The apostle James tells us to welcome trials as friends because they will deepen our character (James 1:2-12).

While I don’t enjoy fiery trials, tests, or difficult seasons of life, I would like to become as tall and solid as a Sequoia.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2018 in Bible Study, National Parks, Scripture

 

Semper Gumby – Vacation version

Years ago, we adopted the motto of “Semper Gumby” for our short-term ministry trips. It is the attitude of “Always Flexible” and refers to the mindset of holding your plans with an open palm and allowing God to rearrange your schedule as he deems necessary.

It is one thing to practice Semper Gumby on a ministry trip. It is quite another thing when you have to implement it in real life, and especially on vacation.

One year ago, Carol and I made reservations to spend five nights in a cabin in Yosemite National Park. We received an email this morning saying our reservations have been canceled. This was necessitated by the ongoing battle with the Ferguson Fire in northern California. The park was originally closed on July 25 and scheduled to reopen on July 29, then August 3. Now, they will reevaluate on August 5.

Semper Gumby! We now scramble to figure out plan “B.”

Philippians 4:11–13 – 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2018 in Personal growth, Scripture

 

I’m Done With Sin!

Someone once asked C. S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”

Most of us want to avoid suffering at all costs. We long for a comfortable, risk free, ease filled life. And yet Scripture teaches that there are benefits to suffering. One of which is that suffering teaches us to withstand temptation. Suffering also teaches us to live for Christ in the present because God will judge sin in the future. These principles are found in 1 Peter 4:1-6.

The noted English architect Sir Christopher Wren was supervising the construction of a magnificent cathedral in London. A journalist thought it would be interesting to interview some of the workers. So he chose three and asked them this question, “What are you doing?” The first replied, “I’m cutting stone for 10 shillings a day.” The second answered, “I’m putting in 10 hours a day on this job.” The third said, “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren construct one of London’s greatest cathedrals.”

Change your mind about suffering (1). In 1 Peter 3:13-17, Peter explained that it is better to suffer to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong. In 3:18-22, he showed that Christ provided the ultimate example of one who suffered for being righteous. Now in 4:1, Peter says that we need to embrace suffering by following the example of Jesus. Like a soldier putting on his armor before a battle, so we are to change how we think about suffering. In the same way that Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:7-8), so suffering helps us break free from sin. A proper attitude towards suffering can act like armor protecting us from temptation.

Live for the will of God (2). Our culture tells us to live for ourselves. We even coined the word, “selfie,” to express the desire to be the star of our own show. In contrast, Peter says that God’s will should be the compass by which we navigate our lives.

Break completely from your old habits (3). Peter tells us that we have had more than enough time to live a lifestyle of sin. It’s time to break free and stop sinning.

A catalog of sin

Sensuality

Unrestrained pleasure Sexual sins

Individual sins

Passions

Lust; evil desires

Drunkenness

Habitual nature of sin

 

Excessive drinking

Orgies

Carousing; drinking party that leads to sex

 

 

Group sins

Drinking parties

Lawless idolatry

Idol worship; bringing the world into worship

Misdirected worship

Don’t be surprised when the world acts like the world (4). If you take a stand for Christ, you may get quizzical looks. Your old friends won’t understand why you don’t want to go bar hopping with them. They may even accuse you of being “too holy.”

No one will escape the final judgment (5). God will hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Because God will judge, the gospel must be preached (6). We need to be active in sharing the gospel with those who desperately need it. Those who believe the message will have a reason and a purpose for living.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 29, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

What does Scripture say about marriage, divorce, and remarriage?

The elders & wives of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, meet monthly for dinner and Bible study. Over the past year, we’ve been working our way through the Minor Prophets. I recently asked if we could meet for an extended study on a Saturday morning to work through the biblical passages on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. We would then put our conclusions into writing in a position paper on the topic.

To prepare for the study, I gave our team a study packet. (Click on the link to download a copy of the study guide.) It included:

Key Scripture passages on marriage, divorce, & remarriage (3 translations & 2 paraphrases)

  • Genesis 2:23-25
  • Deuteronomy 24:1-4
  • Malachi 2:16
  • Luke 16:18
  • Mark 10:1-12
  • Matthew 5:31-32
  • Matthew 19:1-12
  • 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
  • 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
  • 1 Corinthians 7:39 (Romans 7:2)

Commentaries

  • Bible Knowledge Commentary (popular level, provides a good overview)
  • New American Commentary (more detailed and sometimes technical)

Taking personalities, biases, and culture out of the equation …

  • What does Scripture say?
  • While the commentaries should help us, they should not be a substitute for the Scripture passages.
  • Focus on the Scripture, not what your favorite author says.

I’ve written the first draft of the position paper, but we have not yet discussed it. In case you are curious, here are the bullet points of our conclusions.

  • Marriage is God’s plan; a spiritual dynamic; lifelong and permanent; challenging and takes work.
  • Divorce is not commanded or required. In fact, it breaks God’s heart. Rather than divorce, we should encourage couples to pursue reconciliation.
  • Divorce is allowed under two circumstances–adultery; desertion by an unbelieving spouse.
  • Where divorce is allowed, remarriage is allowed.
  • If the divorce is not for biblical reasons, the individuals should either reconcile or remain single.

 

 

The Triumph of the Cross

Some passages of Scripture are straightforward and easy to understand. Others are more difficult.

In our study of 1 Peter, we encounter both varieties. The commands in 1:16, “You shall be holy” and 2:11, “abstain from the passions of the flesh” may be difficult to practice, but are clear in their instructions.

1 Peter 3:18-22 is of the latter variety. These verses are a bit more confusing and challenging to understand. During the Reformation, Martin Luther commented, “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle meant.”

If we don’t handle this passage carefully, we can easily wind up with the heresy of universalism or salvation by works. If you misinterpret 3:19, “he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,” you could conclude that people have a second chance to believe after death. This would lead to universalism, the idea that everyone will eventually be saved. If you misinterpret 3:21, “Baptism … now saves you,” you can conclude that grace is not enough, that baptism is necessary for salvation. This results in the mistaken doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

When we study difficult passages of Scripture, we must remember the rules of interpretation. (1) Look for the main idea of the passage. If you spend all your time chasing cross references, you can lose the forest for the trees. (2) Study the circles of context. A verse is part of a paragraph which is part of the book which is written by an author. There should be a consistent use of a word throughout. (3) Seek the plain sense unless it doesn’t make sense. Interpret Scripture in a literal manner, taking into account figures of speech. (4) Seek agreement with orthodox theology. One verse or passage should not contradict another portion of theology. (5) Don’t build your theology on isolated and obscure passages of Scripture.

Putting these rules into practice, the main idea of 1 Peter 3:18-22 is … When you suffer for doing right, remember that Jesus died for you. Jesus’ death resulted in triumph over sin and the spirit world.

Christ died for our sins (18). Verse 18 provides the reason for Peter’s claim in verse 17 that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Peter provides an example of what he means.

Verse 18 is one of the shortest, simplest, and richest summaries of the meaning of the cross of Christ. In a short series of statements, Peter points out that Christ’s death is all that is necessary to provide for our salvation, the ultimate purpose of Christ’s death was to bring us to God, and that the resurrection secures and guarantees the results of Christ’s death.

Christ proclaimed victory over the spirit world (19-21). In these three verses, Peter gives two vivid illustrations to reassure us of Christ’s victory and our security. It reinforces what Peter said in the previous section (13-17) about not fearing persecution.

Illustration #1 speaks of the imprisonment and judgment of disobedient spirits or angels (19-20a). These verses raise several questions and some possible answers. Who are the spirits? (1) Unbelievers from Noah’s time; (2) Old Testament believers; (3) Fallen angels. When did Christ make his proclamation? (1) During the days of Noah—pre-incarnate Christ preaching through Noah; (2) Between his death and resurrection. What did he proclaim? (1) Salvation; (2) Victory

Looking at the various options, here are the three main views of this passage. (1) Many of the church fathers believed that between Christ’s death and resurrection, Jesus preached to the dead in Hades, the realm of the dead. (2) Many of the Reformers held to the view that Christ preached through Noah to the people in Noah’s day. (3) Most scholars today believe that before or (more likely) after his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels.

In Illustration #2, Peter talks about the salvation of Noah & his family. However, he is really talking about baptism. The phrase, “Baptism now saves you,” does not refer to salvation by works. Rather, it is an act of obedience that demonstrates an inner change.

As the resurrected and ascended Lord, everyone and everything is subject to Jesus (22). Christ has broken the power of evil. He now sits in an exalted position of royal authority and dignity alongside God the Father. Christ’s sovereign authority over all spiritual forces is an assurance to believers facing persecution.

Implications for Today (Adapted from 1 Peter: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, by Wayne Grudem. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988, p. 160-161):

  • Noah and his family were a minority surrounded by hostile unbelievers; so are we (3:13-14; 4:4, 12-13).
  • Noah lived a righteous life in the midst of a wicked world. Peter encourages us to live the same type of life (3:13-14, 16-17; 4:3-4).
  • Noah witnessed boldly to those around him by believing God and building the ark. We are to live good lives and be prepared to answer the questions of unbelievers (3:14-17).
  • Noah realized that judgment was soon to come upon the world. Peter reminds us that God’s judgment is certainly coming, perhaps soon (4:5, 7).
  • At the time of Noah, God patiently waited for repentance from unbelievers before he brought judgment. God is still patient today.
  • Noah was finally saved with only a few others. Though we may be few, we can have the confidence that we will be saved, for Christ has triumphed and has all things subject to him (3:22; 4:13, 19; 5:10).

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 22, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.