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Category Archives: Scripture

Passing the Torch

One of the memorable events of the Olympic Games is the Torch Relay. The Olympic Flame is lit at Olympia in Greece and then carried by relay to the host-city of the games. For the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the flame traveled 101 days through 17 cities and provinces in South Korea. It was carried by runner, cow, robot, hot air balloon, and helicopter. The Torch Relay symbolizes the passing of Olympic traditions from one generation to the next.

Nearing the end of his life, General Joshua is ready to pass the torch to the next generation. When the book opens, Joshua and Caleb are 78 years old. In chapter 14, they are 85 years old.  Chapter 22 occurs that same year and peace is declared after seven years of fighting to conquer the Promised Land. In chapter 24, Joshua dies at the age of 110. Chapter 23, where Joshua passes the torch, occurs somewhere towards the end of his life, between 10-25 years after the events of chapter 22.

Joshua calls the leaders of Israel together (23:2). His message is simple and direct. Because God keeps his promises, we should obey his commandments. Since God has been faithful, we should be faithful.

Joshua begins by reminding the leaders of God’s faithfulness (23:3-5). Over the past seven years, they had been eyewitnesses of God’s power and miracles. They saw God part the Jordan River, bring down the walls of Jericho, rain hail down on the enemy army, and make the sun and moon stand still for the longest day of battle. Not only are these miracles cause for celebration, but they should instill confidence for the future.

In light of God’s faithfulness, we should stay centered on God’s Word (23:6-11). In 1:7-8, God told Joshua to obey and meditate on God’s Word. Now, Joshua instructs the leaders to keep and do God’s Word (23:6). As Joshua knew firsthand, it was the secret of success.

Joshua cautions Israel about not giving in to small compromises (23:7). Instead, they are to cling tightly to God (23:8). The word “cling” is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe a marriage relationship. In the same way that a marriage is made strong by a husband and wife holding fast to each other, so we are to cling to God. Clinging to God will bring power and victory (23:9-10).

In addition, Joshua challenges the leaders to love God with all of their being (23:11). Centering your life and God’s Word, clinging tightly to him, and loving him with all your heart will protect us from falling away from God.

Joshua closes his charge by reminding the leaders of what will happen if they disobey (23:12-16). If they give in to the short-term pleasure of sin and choose to associate and intermarry with their neighbors, they will lose God’s favor and he will no longer fight their battles for them. In addition, their neighbors will become a snare, trap, whip, and thorns. And they themselves will ultimately perish.

Godly living is not accomplished by winning a single skirmish but by enlisting for lifelong service. For Joshua and Israel, the clashing of swords had stopped, but the need for a faithful, diligent commitment was greater than ever.

Because God keeps his promises, we should obey his commandments.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 13, 2019. 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.

 

God can be trusted

The most valuable lesson my father taught me was that God can be trusted. During the last four years of his life, my dad lost his eyesight due to a blood clot behind his eye, regained his eyesight, his car was hit by a train at a faulty crossing guard, recovered from a broken shoulder and hip, was diagnosed with cancer, had surgery twice, and died eight months after the initial diagnosis.

Two months before his death, I sat in the car with my father and asked him, “What do you think God is teaching you through these trials?” He responded, “I have no idea. But I know he can be trusted.”

Trusting God’s promises is a lesson that General Joshua passed on to the leaders of Israel. After seven years of fighting to conquer the Promised Land, the statement is made,

Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:45).

Approximately twenty years later, Joshua restates his confidence in God as he nears the end of his life.

And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (Joshua 23:14).

Over the course of their lives, my dad, Joshua, and countless others have learned firsthand that God can be trusted to keep his promises. That is a legacy I want to leave for those who come after me.

 

Choose your perspective

I’ve thought a lot recently about the need to choose my perspective.

Do I worry about those who have left or do I minister to those who are present? Do I focus on how little I have to work with or how much God has blessed me with? Do I focus on my lack of strength and mobility or praise God for how much he has healed me? Do I focus on what I have lost or give thanks for what I have gained? Do I look to the past or look to the present? Do I remember the criticisms or do I listen for God’s praise? Do I strive to please people or do I focus on pleasing God?

Philippians 4:8 instructs me to choose what I think about. Philippians 3:12-16 encourages me to strain forward towards what God has in store for the future. Galatians 1:10 reminds me to focus on serving God rather than striving to win approval from people.

I need to choose my perspective and what I will focus on.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2019 in Personal growth, Scripture

 

An overview of the end times

A friend of mine, Lonnie Pacelli, has developed a 15 minute presentation providing an overview of the end times. In it, he profiles what Scripture says about the anti-Christ and provides a timeline of the events described in Scripture that will occur during the rapture, Great Tribulation, and the Millennium. As Lonnie explains, it is a 50,000 foot view of the panorama of the end times. It is a companion resource to go with the novel he wrote, The Lawless One and the End of Time, which I reviewed back in November. Well worth the read and listen.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2019 in Books, Scripture, Theology

 

When Misunderstandings Arise

While we may speak the same language, it doesn’t mean we use the same definitions. It follows that misunderstandings are part of daily life. Sometimes they lead to laughter, sometimes to broken relationships, and other times to conflict and war. Joshua 22 tells the story of a conflict between family members that led to the brink of civil war.

After seven years of conflict, the conquest of the Promised Land is complete (21:43-45).  General Joshua dismisses his troops to their well-deserved rest (22:1-4). Joshua 13-21 describes how the land was parceled out among the 12 tribes of Israel. According to Numbers 32, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh decided to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River rather than inside the Promised Land.

As Joshua dismisses the soldiers, he is like a concerned parent watching a son or daughter go off to college or into the world. He wonders whether or not they will walk with God. So Joshua challenges the people to the deepest spiritual commitment with six short commands—pay attention to God’s instructions; love the Lord your God; walk in his ways; keep his commandments; cling to God; serve God with all your heart and soul (22:5).

As the two and a half tribes head east, they set up a large, imposing altar on the eastern side of the Jordan River (22:10). The tribes who stayed in the Promised Land immediately jumped to the conclusion that their brothers had abandoned the faith. They were ready to go to war to bring them back (22:11-12).

On the one hand, Israel was to be commended because they took the holiness of God seriously. They were not willing to compromise one iota. On the other hand, they based their judgement on circumstantial evidence. They were cynical and suspicious and believed the worst rather than believing the best about their friends and family.

Rather than avoiding conflict at any cost, Israel formed a delegation to confront their supposed erring brothers (22:13-20). They went directly to their brothers and spoke what they thought was the truth. Unfortunately, they failed to ask questions and get all the facts first.

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and east Manasseh could have acted offended and sullenly refused to listen to the wrong accusations. However, they wisely took the opportunity to present their reasoning (22:22-23). In doing so, they also engaged in some blame shifting as they too had believed the worst about the tribes who remained in the Promised Land (22:24-25). They explained that rather than setting up a competing altar for worship, their replica altar was a witness to the unity of the entire nation (22;26-29, 34).

After hearing the explanation, the delegation from the west was satisfied and peace was restored (22:30-33).

In the Bible Knowledge Commentary, Dr. Donald Campbell gives four principles we can take from this chapter. (1) It is commendable for believers to be zealous for the purity of the faith. Compromise of truth is always costly. (2) It is wrong to judge people’s motives on the basis of circumstantial evidence. It is important to get all the facts, remembering that there are always two sides to every dispute. (3) Frank and open discussion will often clear the air and lead to reconciliation. But such a confrontation should be approached in a spirit of gentleness, not arrogance. (4) A person who is wrongly accused does well to remember the wise counsel of Solomon, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:11).

When misunderstandings arise, seek to be a peacemaker. In his book Living on the Cutting Edge: Joshua and the Challenge of Spiritual Leadership, Pastor R. Kent Hughes offers his adaptation of the beatitudes with these words—“Blessed are those who … do not assume the worst when they hear of the sins of another; go directly to supposed sinners; are frank and up-front about their concerns; are loving and magnanimous in their confrontations over sin; reprove their sinning brother in private; go a second time to their brother with others who care; will, when all else fails, tell it to the church—with tears.”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 6, 2019. 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.

 

Women’s Ministry Q&A with Pastor Mark & Jack

The women’s ministry at First Central Bible Church hosted a Q&A session with me and Jack Gilbert, our Minister of Adults and Outreach. It was designed as a follow-up to the Women’s Christmas Friendship Dinner. Though lightly attended, it was a good time of discussion.

Here’s a list of the questions that were asked and how Jack and I answered them.

Should we pray for immoral leaders? If so, what do we pray? Yes, 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says we should pray for all who are in authority. In Paul’s day, that meant Caesar, the leader of the Roman empire.

How can a Christ follower die well? One aspect is to start preparing now by studying what Scripture says about death, eternity, and heaven. A second aspect is to believe what you believe. A third aspect is to spend time with believers who are dying to encourage them by reading Scripture, singing favorite hymns and praise songs, and praying with them.

Is demon possession real? How is it manifest in today’s world? Yes, we are in the midst of a spiritual battle. There are some demons who possess individuals and it is seen in overt evil. They are other demons who influence people in making wrong decisions. Still others might masquerade as good people who lead others astray. Any time a believer engages in sin, they allow Satan to gain a foothold in their life (Ephesians 4:26-27; 1 Timothy 6:9-10).

How can we pray for someone’s salvation when we struggle to believe they can be saved? Claim the promises of Scripture about salvation (2 Peter 3:9). Be honest with God about your lack of faith. Ask him to increase your faith. Stay faithful in praying for the person.

Do you have plans to teach/preach a series on the book of Revelation? Not at this time. The book has been taught twice in the past six years at the church. Since I taught it last year when I was in Russia, my sense is that it would probably fit best in a classroom setting where people could ask questions.

How do you determine what you will preach on next? My philosophy is to preach the whole counsel of God. I try to balance teaching through Old Testament books, New Testament books, and topical series. I plan out my sermon calendar 6-24 months in advance so I know where we are going. This month we will wrap up our study of the book of Joshua. Next month we begin a study of the book of Hebrews which will take us into 2020. After that, we will study the life of David.

When it says God rested on the seventh day of creation, one author says he is still resting. Is that true and if so, what does it mean? Without reading the quote, I’m not certain what the author meant. Scripture says that God rested from his creation because it was complete. However, Scripture also says that God is actively at work in other areas of our lives (Philippians 2:12-13).

What is the role of good works in salvation? In the life of a Christ follower? Ephesians 2:8-10 and James 2:14-26 would be the core passages on the subject. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Good works play no part in our salvation. After we are saved, we are to engage in good works as evidence of our salvation.

 

A new day, A new year

As we begin a new year, consider what God might want to do in your life in 2019. Begin the year by obeying the instruction, “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10).

As many times as the word “new” appears in Scripture, chances are he wants to do something NEW in your life and mine.

Psalm 40:3 – He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

Isaiah 43:18–19 – “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 57:10 – You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, “It is hopeless”; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint.

Isaiah 62:2 – The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.

Isaiah 65:17 – “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.

Jeremiah 31:31 – “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,

Lamentations 3:22–23 – The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Ezekiel 36:26 – And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Peter 3:13 – But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Revelation 2:17 – He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Revelation 21:5 – And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Allow God to do a new work in your life in 2019.

Happy New Year!