Monday, June 29, 2020

Unity in the Faith (Pt 1)


One of the guiding principles of the church I am currently serving is, unity in the Faith. That statement raises several questions. What is unity? What is the Faith? Why unity in the Faith rather than unity in something else? What is it that unifies believers? Etc. Throughout this week I will attempt to answer at least some of these questions. Let’s begin with the question of unity. What is unity?
Jesus prayed, in John 17:20-21
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
His prayer was that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, would be one as he and the Father are one. What does unity between the Father and the Son look like? After asserting, “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God,” the Athanasian Creed goes on to say,

There is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

There is one God, but three coeternal, coequal persons. That is a mystery we cannot wrap our heads around, but we can believe it. The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father, but Father, Son, and Spirit is one God. When Jesus says that he and the Father are one, he is not talking about uniformity. He is talking about unity. They are coequal, coeternal, and one God, yet they are not the same.

We can learn from this about our own call to unity. We are called, as believers in Jesus Christ, to be one, but we are not called to uniformity. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” The text then goes on to say, “the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). The Body of Christ, the Church, is one, yet many members with different gifts. There is both unity and diversity within the Body.

We often confuse unity with uniformity. Uniformity means that we agree about everything. Uniformity means that we all think exactly the same. That is not unity. Unity recognizes that we are unique individuals with unique gifts and callings. Because God has called you to a particular ministry or passion does not necessitate that the whole church is called to that same ministry. Because we have differences of opinions on how things should be done, or what we should be doing does not mean that we are not in unity. Unity recognizes and respects the fact that God has gifted each of us differently. Each part is needed. Each perspective is valuable. In 1 Corinthians 12:15-20 the Apostle Paul teaches,
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
Unity means “many parts, yet one body.” Unity means that we agree on the core tenents of the Faith while honoring the differences within the Body. Unity means that we embrace together the mission to which God has called us while respecting the different gift, perspectives, and callings that God has placed on each individual. Unity is not uniformity. We are called, as believers, to unity. We are not the same, but we are one in Christ. Is that what the World sees when it sees us?

Saturday, June 27, 2020


Psalms 27:11-14 (ESV)
[11] Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
[12] Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
[13] I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
[14] Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!

In a world that feels like it has gone crazy and is out of control, in a world where honest people are locked up in their homes while anarchists take over their cities, in a world where good is called evil and evil is called good, these verses speak loudly. This is a Psalm of David. He gave his country hope when he killed Goliath with a stone. He served his king by playing music for King Saul when he was oppressed. He protected people and refused to kill the king when he had the opportunity. Yet he was attacked and chased all over the country fleeing for his life. Still, his prayer was “Teach me your way, O LORD. . . . Give me not up to the will of my adversaries. . . . I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD. . . . Wait for the LORD.” In these days may we too learn to wait for the LORD and trust in him.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Grounded on the Word (Pt 3)


2 Timothy 3:14 (ESV)
[14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

A life and a ministry grounded on the Word of God is like a Light House standing through the fiercest storms, guiding ships through dangerous waters. We need to be grounded on the Word. For the church that I am currently serving as an Interim Pastor, that means four things. I wrote yesterday about grounding our understanding of morality, and our practice on the Word of God. We also want to be grounded on the Word in terms of our theology and stewardship.

I have friends who have strayed from orthodox Christian beliefs. My observation is that they allowed their emotions to drive their understanding of the Scriptures rather than allowing the Scriptures to drive their theology. When we come to the study of God’s Word we cannot begin with a sense of what we believe to be right or true. We must begin with the following questions:
1. What does the text actually say?
2. What does the text mean?
3. How would the original audience have understood the text?
4. How does that apply to my context?
Too often we begin with question 4 and rarely get to the other three questions. But question 4 must come last or it will adversely color our understanding of the Word. Our theology must be grounded in a careful exegesis of the Word of God. Exegesis is a $50 word that means that we draw out of the text what is there rather than reading into the text what we expect or want to find.

2 Timothy 2:15 tells us, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Awhile back I was shopping for a car. I found one online that I liked, and made arrangements to go see it. The car I saw online looked like a deep forest green to me. When I drove in the yard where the car was, there sat a dark blue car. I said to my wife, “Where it the green car?” and She said, “What green car? The car is blue. The car in the picture online was blue.” My expectations and misperception almost convinced me that someone had pulled a switch. When we come to the scriptures assuming that we know what it will say, we risk the same error. We risk reading what we expect the Word to say rather than paying attention to what it actually says. We must be careful to handle God’s Word carefully. Our theology must be grounded in a careful reading of the Word.

Our stewardship must also be grounded in God’s Word. This deserves a whole sermon in itself. Stewardship is about more than giving money. We were designed to oversee and care for God’s creation. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Gen 1:26). As believers in Jesus Christ we recognize that nothing we have belongs to us. We are stewards of all that we have. When we fail to understand this, our “stuff” becomes our god. Our possessions begin to possess us. Stewardship is about recognizing that all we have belongs to God.

Gifts, tithes, and offerings, are a simple recognition that all we have belongs to God. As believers we do not give simply because we are commanded to give. We are told to give because we need to be reminded that our stuff is not ours. It has been my observation over the years that those with nothing are often more willing to give than those who have much. The more we have, the more our stuff controls us. When we have nothing we more readily recognize those in need, we identify more quickly with them, and we more easily let go. The United States of America is a wealthy nation. We, of all believers, need to learn to loosen our grip on what we have or we risk serving the wrong god. Stewardship is grounded on the Word of God.

A life and a ministry grounded on the Word of God is like a Light House standing through the fiercest storms guiding ships through dangerous waters. We need to be grounded on the Word. We need to ground our understanding of morality, practice, theology, and stewardship. on the Word of God. Anything less is like building on quicksand.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Grounded on the Word (Pt 2)


In a previous blog I wrote that “a life and a ministry guided by public opinion is like a leaf blowing in the wind. A life and a ministry grounded on the Word of God is like a Light House standing through the fiercest storms guiding ships through dangerous waters. We need to be grounded on the Word.” What does being grounded on the Word look like? For the church I am currently serving as an Interim Pastor, it means four things. I’ll write about two of them today. It means being grounded on the Word in terms of our understanding of morality, practice, theology, and stewardship.

To be grounded on the Word of God means that my sense of morality is determined and defined by the Scriptures. The Book of Judges ends with these words, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25). The first time I read that I thought, “Wouldn’t that be great if everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” But then I realized what that means. It means that each individual gets to define morality for himself or herself. It means that society lives with no standards of right and wrong. It is the very thing that Moses warned them not to do. He said that when they got into the Promised Land, “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes. (Deut 12:8). Rather, they were to do “what is right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deut 13:18).

Anarchy has been the cry of many in recent days. But no society can exist in anarchy. Anarchy is an absence of order or regulation. I find it interesting that the anarchists who have taken over a portion of Seattle found it necessary to put into place a regulation for addressing disagreements and offenses. In their society without rules they have established a Conflict Resolution Advisory Council. No society can exist for long without rules. It is just reality that when you have more than one person there will be disagreements. Rules are necessary. When rules of morality are left to the individual then someone is always the underdog. Someone is always taken advantage of. When rules of morality are left to public opinion then they are constantly changing, creating systemic anxiety. Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Mt 7:24). What we believe to be right, moral, and true must come from something bigger than ourselves. We look to the Word of God to establish our sense of right and wrong.

Further, we look to the Word of God to establish our sense of how we are to live and how we are to do church. Those practices that are neither established nor condemned by God’s Word are open for debate. For example, whether we meet together Sunday morning or Sunday evening, whether we meet online or face-to-face, whether we meet at 10:30am or 11:00am, whether we meet outside or in a building are questions of preference. The Bible does not speak to them. But, whether we meet and what we do when we meet are defined by the Word. We meet to worship corporately and to teach God’s word. The early church came together for “teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Ac 2:42). The Psalms call us to worship. Worship, teaching, communion, fellowship, and prayer are the practices of the church. How those are practiced and when they are practiced will vary or change, but worship, teaching, communion, and prayer occur when the church comes together. The practices of the church are grounded on the Word.

We cannot build strong societies nor can we build strong churches by public opinion and ever changing morals and practices. Who we are, what we do, and how we live must be grounded in something bigger than ourselves. We look to the Word of God to define our morality and our practice. The question “Where stands it written?” should guide every decision and practice.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Grounded on the Word (Pt 1)


Psalms 119:17-20, 97 (ESV)
Deal bountifully with your servant,
that I may live and keep your word.
Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
I am a sojourner on the earth;
hide not your commandments from me!
My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.

Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.

Psalm 1 starts out, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:1-2). The same word for delight is used when Samuel asks, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” (1 Sam. 15:22). We delight in His law and He delights in our obedience from the heart.

There are at least three different words used in Psalm 119 to indicate that we, as believers, should delight in, take pleasure in, or enjoy God’s Word. Delighting in, pleasuring in, and enjoying God are demonstrated by delighting in His Word. It is one thing to enjoy a worship experience, or to revel in the outward expressions of God’s glory which we see in nature, but if that pleasuring, that reveling, that enjoying is truly in God then we will find ourselves drawn to His word as well as to his worship. If this is not true in our lives, if we do not find ourselves drawn to the scriptures of our God, then perhaps it is the experience we love rather than the God of the experience. Can we say with the Psalmist, “Thy law is my delight” (Ps 119:174b), “Great are the works of the LORD; they are studied by all who delight in them” (Ps 111:2)?

Do you have an ever-increasing love for God and His word? As believers in Jesus Christ, one of the guiding principles of our lives and ministries should be a love for God’s Word. His Word should guide us in areas of morality, practice, theology, and stewardship. Our lives need to be grounded, but not grounded on just anything. They need to be grounded on the Word of God.

A life and a ministry guided by public opinion is like a leaf blowing in the wind. A life and a ministry grounded on the Word of God is like a Light House standing through the fiercest storms guiding ships through dangerous waters. We need to be grounded on the Word, but that necessitates that we actually know the Word. “How blessed is the man who . . . . his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:1-2). May we learn to love the Word of God as did the Psalmist.


Friday, June 19, 2020

Being a Man (Pt 3)

This week I have been reflecting on what it means to act like a man (1 Cor 16:13). To act like a fully mature man carries the idea of living courageously. It means having the courage to stand alone. It means being courageous enough to follow the path in which God is leading you no matter how hard it is. Finally, it means being courageous enough to be patient.


It doesn’t take courage to insist on my way now. It doesn’t take courage to bully or berate others. King Saul was not known for his courage. According to 1 Samuel 10:22, when Saul was installed as King, he hid among the baggage. Later as King, he was threatened by David’s presence and tried to kill him. He threw a spear at David. He plotted his death. He chased him all over the land trying to kill him. It doesn’t take courage to use power to hurt others or insist on my way now.

It doesn’t take courage to manipulate or pressure others into doing what I want. In Mark 6, Herod’s wife Herodias manipulated Herod into killing John the Baptist. There was no courage there, only self-centered vengeance. Because she did not like John telling her that she was wrong, she manipulated her daughter into asking for John’s head on a platter. Courage does not manipulate or pressure others into doing what we want.

Courage waits patiently. It takes courage to patiently wait for God to change hearts and minds. Daniel was told he could not pray to God for thirty days. He didn’t rally the troops. He didn’t petition the King, or hold a sit-in at the capital. He simply went on doing the right thing. He continued to pray. When he was thrown into the Lion’s Den for disobedience, he patiently waited through the night surrounded by hungry lions. It doesn’t take courage to scream and yell when we are wronged. God was his protector. Psalms 37:7 says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” It takes courage to trust God and wait patiently.

It takes courage to rest in the omnipotent sovereignty of God when we can’t see any solution. Samuel anointed David to be the next King after Saul. Several times David had opportunity to end Saul’s life. When Saul entered a cave in which David and his men were hiding, David’s men encouraged him, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you’” (1 Samuel 24:4). But David refused to kill one who had been anointed as King by God. He was running for his life and hiding out in caves, but he had the courage to wait on God’s timing.


When Queen Esther’s people, the Jews, were threatened with annihilation, she knew she had to approach the King about it even if it might cost her life. It takes courage to do the right thing no matter what the consequences. It takes courage to say with Queen Esther that I will do the right thing, “and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).

Courage is patient. As a man, courage means being patient with your wife. It means being patient with your children. It means being patient with your co-workers. It means being patient with those to whom you minister. It means being patient with those who minister to you. It means being patient with those who do not yet see how great your ideas are. It means being courageous enough to admit when you are wrong, and being patient with others when you are right. Courage is patient. Act like a man. Be courageously patient with others.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Being a Man (Pt 2)


1 Corinthians 16:13 says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” To “act like men” means to act or behave like a fully mature man. It carries the idea of acting or living courageously. But what does that mean? Yesterday I reflected on the truth that to act like a man means to have the courage to stand alone. It also means having the courage to take the difficult path.

Just because something is hard does not necessarily mean it is right. I had a friend years ago who believed that if something was hard, difficult, or uncomfortable then that must be what God wanted him to do. That is bad theology. There is rest in following Christ. Hebrews 4:9 says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” If rest is a central part of following Christ, then always choosing the path I do not want, or making the choice that is most difficult seems contrary to the will and purpose of God. Because my friend was trained and gifted in certain areas, he believed that it would be wrong for him to pursue work in those areas. That seemed too easy and therefore, he reasoned, it could not be God’s will. But it is God who gifts us. It would be a denial of God’s purpose to reject or ignore those giftings. So, hard does not necessarily mean right.

Always choosing to follow the easy path, however, is also bad theology. Matthew 7:13 warns that, “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction.” If you always choose the easy path you will fail to love your wife and family, you will fail to reach your potential, and you will fail to accomplish your calling. Marriage and family takes work. It is sometimes easier to walk away, but that is hardly God’s will. He calls husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Read the record of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:36ff), or the arrest, trial, and crucifixion that followed. Jesus path was hardly easy. If I am to love my wife like that, then it sometimes means sacrifice on my part for her good.

One of the things that irritates me is when a child will fail to try something because it is hard. Maybe they are not ready yet. I get that. But if they never learn to make difficult choices, if they never learn to do things that are hard, then they will never learn to succeed. No one becomes a great athlete by making the easy choices. To be a great athlete takes discipline, determination, and lots of hard work. No one becomes a great leader by only making easy choices. The leaders who always make the easy choices actually fail to lead. They become wishy washy. They change their minds and their direction often depending on the prevailing wind of opinion around them. They are not respected or honored. Great leadership takes hard decisions and personal discipline.

Acting like a man means being courageous enough to follow the path in which God is leading you no matter how hard it is. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Ps 23:4). Acting like a man means being courageous enough to love your wife no matter what. It means being courageous enough to love and discipline your children in ways that are in their best interest no matter what they want. It might mean taking a job you don’t like in order to feed your family. It might mean sacrificing something you want in order to stay out of debt and save for the future of your family. It might mean stepping into a ministry or leadership role that you don’t feel qualified for. I’ll let you in on a secret, no one is ever qualified for ministry and leadership. Effective ministry and leadership is about dependence on God, not independence and self-assurance. Acting like a man means being courageous enough to take the difficult path when that is where God leads. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor 16:13).


Monday, June 15, 2020

Being a Man (Pt 1)


With Father’s Day rapidly approaching, and my oldest grandson getting married, I have been reflecting on what it means to be a man. 1 Corinthians 16:13 says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” That phrase, “act like men” is actually just one word in the original Greek, but that one word is significant. It carries with it the idea of courage and strength. To act or behave like a fully mature man (which is what the word means) is to act or live courageously. But what does that mean? It likely could mean a number of things in different settings, but consider three aspects of courage. I will address the first in this blog and the other two in future blogs.


First, there is the need for courage to stand alone. We all like affirmation. We like people to tell us how great we are, how important we are, or how intelligent we are. If our sense of significance and self-worth is rooted in what others think of us then we will always waver with the prevailing winds of people’s opinions. Rather than being “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Ps 1:3), we become “like the chaff that the wind drives away” (Ps 1:4).


Men have the courage to stand for truth, holiness, and compassion no matter what anyone else says or thinks. When Joshua was ready to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land after Moses died, God told him, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Josh 1:7). Joshua’s courage to stand firm no matter what came from a commitment to the Word of God.

Jude quotes Peter, warning, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (Jude 18). Jeremiah warned, “The prophets will become wind; the word is not in them” (Jer 5:13). The wind constantly shifts. It blows hard, and then it becomes quiet only to gust again. It blows from the north, only to shift and blow from the west. It swirls and gusts with no predictability. When we follow public opinion we are like the wind blowing in all directions. But men have the courage to stand alone and not be blown about by every wind of popular opinion. To be a man means to have the courage to stand alone on the Word of God no matter what others think, say, or do.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Division or Unity


Psalms 13:1-2 (ESV)
[1] How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
[2] How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Psalms 43:5 (ESV)
[5] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

We are living in crazy times. Probably not unprecedented in the history of the world, but certainly unprecedented in our lifetime. As truth and righteousness are denigrated, churches are accused of being hateful and deceitful, and the world seems set on fire with rage, it is hard to be hopeful. This morning I identified with the verses above and wondered how to live as a people of truth and peace in a world of unjust treatment and false accusation. “How long shall my enemy be exalted over me” (Ps 13:2)? “Why are you cast down, O my soul”  (Ps 43 5).

Then I came to Psalm 73, “I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin” (Ps 73:17-18). The false accusers, the angry and violent are standing on slippery ground. They will not stand forever. My hope goes beyond this life. Theirs ends with death.
Psalms 73:16-18 (ESV)
[16] But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
[17] until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
[18] Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.

And then I came to Psalms 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Notice that God does not say, “How good and pleasant it is when people understand you.” It does not say, “How good and pleasant it is when people appreciate you.” It does not say, “How good and pleasant it is when you are treated nicely with respect and honor.” It is “good and pleasant . . . when brothers dwell in unity!”

The Enemy has an old weapon on his belt called Division. It is an old weapon because it works so well for his purposes. It is old, but it is not rusty. When our differences become more important than our common faith, when our minor theologies that divide us become major and the major theology that unites us becomes minor, when our differences turn into division, then the Enemy has done his worst. We get angry over Christians being killed for their faith. But truthfully, division is worse than death. In death we have victory and life. In division we destroy our testimony.

Read Jesus’ prayer in John 17 again. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be kept and sanctified in the truth, and unified in the faith. It is the unity that convinces the world that God sent Jesus. He prayed to the Father, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (Jn 17:23). If we are going to be worshipping together in Heaven, then it is highly inappropriate that we are accusing, dividing, and hating one another here.

Psalms 133:1 (ESV)
[1] Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Connecting People Around the Word

This week I have been reflecting on our church’s central ministry focus of connecting people around the Word. We need to connect people because we were designed for community. We need to be connected around the Word because the Word of God is transformative.

The first evangelistic message was preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost. His message started with a quote from the prophet Joel. When Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch in the desert he explained the Scripture to him and the man came to faith. Peter reminded believers that they were “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). There is power in the Word. The same Holy Spirit that convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment is the Holy Spirit that inspired the Bible. He uses his Word to draw people to faith. Evangelism happens around the Word.

Discipleship happens around the Word. As the Church began, “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching” (Acts 2:42). After talking about how he should conduct himself, Paul encouraged Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). Jesus teaching with the crowds and with his disciples was largely made up of references to, allusions to, or direct quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures. Over the centuries, when missionaries have gone into illiterate areas, one of the first things they do is develop an alphabet and teach people to read. Then they translate the Bible into their language. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German so the average person in the church could read the Word for themselves. Wycliffe was a predecessor of the reformers. His insistence on translating the Scripture into the language of the people was the fuel that fired the reformers. Discipleship happens around the Word.

Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church put more emphasis on Church authority than on Scriptural authority. For them, Bible interpretation is best left to the professionals. But the thing that drove the church from the beginning was the availability of the Scriptures to the people. The universal use of the Greek language in the First Century made that possible. Granted, not everyone had Bibles, but they had access to the Scriptures, and the letters and writings of the Apostles and eye witnesses to the resurrection were distributed far and wide. Christianity has always been a religion of the Book.

Why do we connect people around the Word? Because evangelism, discipleship, and church teaching and authority are grounded on the Word. From the beginning, the catch phrase of the Evangelical Free Church of America has been, “Where stands it written?” That should raise three questions for us. 1. Am I in the Word? 2. Are we teaching the Word? 3. Are we connecting people around the Word? If we are to glorify God by sharing, teaching, and fellowshipping, it must be around the Word. Let me challenge you to pick up your Bible today and spend a little time listening to God through his Word.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Around the Word


The church I am currently serving has identified its purpose in this way, “We exist to glorify God by sharing the gospel, teaching the Word of God, and fellowshipping with each other.” The primary way in which we intend to do that is by “connecting people around the Word of God.” Why around the Word? The simple answer to that question is that the Word of God is transformative. We live in a broken world. Covid-19 and the devastating and infuriating death of George Floyd are just two immediate examples of the immense need for healing and transformation in our world. We seek to connect people around the Word of God because it is there that we find healing and transformation.

The Bible is transformative because it is the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is not man’s ideas about God. It is not a record of people’s encounters with God or with the supernatural. It is “breathed out by God.” That phrase is the translation of a single Greek word that means the divine inspiration or inbreathing of God. He is the source of the Scriptures.


As our creator, he know us. He knows how we are designed. He knows how we are intended to function and why. And he knows our brokenness intimately. As the omniscient God, he saw us choose to place our will above his. With a broken heart he has watched us destroy all that he created and that we were supposed to oversee and care for. He knows our brokenness, and he has given us his Word to bring about our healing and transformation. The Word is transformative because it is the Word of God.

The Word of God is also transformative because it is the revelation of God. By that I mean not only that God reveals truth in the Scriptures, but that he reveals himself in the Scriptures. Theologians talk about both general and special revelation. General revelation is that which we see in creation and in our own consciences. Romans 1:19-20 says
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Psalms 19:1-4 says,
[1] The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
[2] Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
[3] There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
[4] Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
God has revealed general truth about his existence and his power through creation and conscience. We call that general revelation. Special revelation is when God specifically speaks. That special revelation is the Scriptures, the Bible. It is in general revelation that we learn that God is and that he is powerful. It is in special revelation that we learn that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, gracious, patient, loving, merciful, but also just, holy, and unapproachable. Having been created in the image of God for the purposes of God, his Word is transformative because it is in his Word that we learn who God is. His Word is transformative because is it the Word of God and the revelation of God.

It is also the power of God. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The word “active” is a word that means full of energy, or energized. God’s Word is energized to discern even our thoughts and intentions. 1 Peter 1:23 says that believers are “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (1 Thess 2:13).
It was the Word of God that was at work in their lives. God says in Jeremiah 23:29 “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Romans 12:2 challenges believers to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. Psalms 119:9 asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” It then answers, “By guarding it according to your word.” Renewal and transformation occurs through the Word of God because it is the power of God.

We choose to connect people around the Word of God because it is transformative and life changing. It is transformative because it is the Word of God, the revelation of God, and the power of God. People love to connect. They need to connect. It is as they connect around the Word of God that lives are transformed to the Glory of God.

Connecting People

The church I am currently serving as an Interim Pastor has a central ministry focus of connecting people around the Word. Let me reflect, for a time, on those first two words: Connecting people. Why connecting people? Why not reaching people, training people, equipping people, or some other verb describing what we want to accomplish? There are at least three biblical reasons why we chose the phrase “connecting people.”

First, community reflects the nature of God. God is, by his very nature, community. He is one God, one essence, but three persons. The Trinity was involved in creation. God, the Father, said, “Let there be. . .” (Gen 1:3) and there was. God, the Spirit, “was hovering over the face of the waters” in creation (Gen 1:2). John 1:3 says of God, the Son, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Yet Jesus prayed in John 17:5 “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” There is a mystery in the Trinity that is beyond human comprehension. There is but one God, yet God is, by his very nature, communal. Connecting people, community, reflects the nature of God.

Second, community reflects the nature of humanity. We were not designed to go it alone. When God created Adam “the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’” (Gen 2:18). Rarely in the Scriptures do you find God using people apart from community. The disciples were almost always together. Moses had Aaron. Abraham had Sarah and a large contingent of servants. Joseph pined for his family even after his brothers sold him into slavery. Elijah had Elisha. Daniel had his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. If this Covid-19 isolation has taught us nothing else, it has highlighted the yearning in people’s hearts for community. Connecting people reflects the nature of God and humanity.

Third, connecting people reflects the nature of all creation. Psalms 19:1 asserts, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Genesis one and two remind us that all creation was designed and brought into existence by God. In his design, he created a world that is interdependent. From the human body to global weather systems, from flora to fauna, from ocean to desert all of creation is interconnected. Destroy the bees and crops fail because they don’t get pollinized. Wipe out the rain forests and the whole world is affected because the trees are not producing enough oxygen or removing enough CO2. All of creation is interconnected.

Our central ministry focus is connecting people around the Word. Why connecting people? Because it reflects the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and the nature of all creation. We were designed for connection. We don’t just want to reach people. We don’t just want to evangelize people. We don’t just want to train or equip people. We want to do those things in and through connection and community, and that is as it should be. Don’t try and go it alone. Church is about community. Who are you connected to?

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Connecting People around the Word

Last week I wrote about the purpose of the church. The church I am currently serving says it like this, “We exist to glorify God by sharing the gospel, teaching the Word of God, and fellowshipping with each other.” Sharing, teaching, and fellowshipping ̶ there are a lot of ways to do that, but the primary way that we want to accomplish our mission is by connecting people around the Word of God.

That statement has two key elements, connecting people and the Word of God, but there are at least three implications. The first is that church is not about individuals, it is about the body. When I serve communion I will often say, “As we pass the bread, take it and eat it between you and God because being a Christian is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” But when I pass the cup I will often say something like this, “Being a Christian is not about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a corporate relationship with his Body, so please hold the cup and we will drink it together.” It is an idea I borrowed from a friend, but I like it. In my experience, we have placed so much emphasis on the personal relationship aspect of Christianity that we have lost the importance and value of the Body. In the Bible you rarely find believers functioning or worshipping alone. Body life is important.

Second, evangelism is accomplished through relationship. People want to be connected. People are looking for meaningful relationships. If this Covid 19 isolation has done nothing else, it has highlighted the importance of connection. Acts 2:47 says of the early church, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” People were drawn to faith in Christ as they observed those first believers living in community, caring for one another, and talking about their new faith. The Church Growth movement developed a perspective that church should be a comfortable place for unbelievers so that they can come and hear the Gospel. I think that may have been a useful strategy once, but I believe that as our culture has significantly shifted the strategy needs to change. People are looking for someone who actually cares about them. They are looking for relationship. As we connect with pre-believers and invite them into our circles to think and talk about the Word of God they are drawn to Christ. I believe that today more than ever, evangelism is about relationship.

Third, discipleship is done corporately around the Word of God. There is an excellent discipleship guide called One on One Discipleship. But I think it misses the point. Jesus discipleship was almost always done in a small group, not one on one. It is rare to see Jesus having a private conversation with one of his disciples. There are almost always at least three of them together, if not all twelve or more. I believe that there are appropriate times for one-on-one conversations, but much effective discipleship happens when small groups of three to twelve are talking about the Scriptures together. The discipler is the guide, but much of the growth comes from two things. It comes for the questions others ask. It comes from the answers others give.

Some time ago I went through training for small group dialogue teaching. The question was raised: What if someone gives a wrong answer to a question, or says something that is bad theology? It was fascinating to watch the answer to that question develop. The “teacher” often did not have to correct the wrong thinking because someone else in the group would address it. There is something about discipleship in groups that we have missed with our emphasis of one-on-one.


Connecting people is important. The Church is a body, not disconnected parts. Evangelism and discipleship are often more effective when done in relationship and community. So, we exist to glorify God by sharing, teaching, and fellowshipping, and we do that by connecting people around the Word of God. Who is God calling you to connect with this week?

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Fellowship

Fellowship is one of those words that everyone thinks they understand, yet few of us really get. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They persisted in fellowship. It was a significant part of who the church was and how it functioned. In many of our churches today, fellowship has simply come to mean a potluck, or chatting about the weather, politics, and work over a cup of coffee. But the word has a significant emphasis on giving.

Fellowship can mean being together, but even there it is about more than just being in the same room. There is an aspect of intimacy, of really caring about one another. But the word also means to give to one another, or help one another. It is even used to refer to taking up an offering for someone or contributing in some way to their need. Fellowship is not just about being in the same room. It is about caring, giving, and helping.

Churches often describe themselves as friendly and caring, but I have been in some churches where I got the sense that people were only willing to be in the same room with each other for the preaching. I’m not sure they really liked each other, and they didn’t seem to care to be together apart from Sunday morning. I was in one church where a board member said, “There are some homes in this congregation that I have never been in, and I never will be in.” What we do on Potluck Sunday then, could hardly be considered fellowship.

Others have a spiritualized understanding of fellowship. For them, it is not fellowship unless we are talking about the Bible or about God. Certainly God and the Scriptures are central to our lives and therefore our discussions, but gathering to rebuild a church member’s burned out house, gathering to collect funds for a needy family, gathering to encourage an anxious brother or sister, gathering to discuss how to help a hurting community ̶ these are aspects of fellowship as well. One aspect of the early church was that they genuinely cared for one another.

A common enemy will do that. As new believers, the early church not only had a new faith and a new awareness of the presence of God in their lives, they were also under suspicion and attack by the Jewish elite. It is amazing how a common enemy can bring people together. When cancer shows up, people we wouldn’t care to associate with suddenly gain our concern and compassion. When isolation from a pandemic comes on the scene, suddenly we are wondering how our brothers and sisters are doing even though we hadn’t inquired about their welfare in two years. Difficulties, trials, and enemies tend to remind us of what is important. Perhaps if we were more aware of the truth that we are “strangers and exiles” (1 Pet 2:11) in this world, we would care more for one another.

The church exists to glorify God. One of the ways in which is does that is through fellowship. Fellowship is about being together, encouraging one another in the faith, and helping and serving one another. The church, then, will glorify God, not by having more potlucks (or pot-blessings, if you don’t like the word luck), but by being together and genuinely caring for one another and serving each other. Jesus’ prayer for us was that we would “become perfectly one” (Jn 17:23). That is not something that can be programmed. It has to start with the heart attitude of each individual. Church is not something we can do alone. So, how is your heart?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Teaching the Word

Our church’s mission is to glorify God in three ways, sharing, teaching, and fellowshipping. Sharing the gospel is about developing relationships with pre-believers and sharing our story. I will address fellowship in a future blog. Teaching is a central part of who we are. When we say teaching, we do not mean teaching in general, but specifically teaching the Word of God.

The Great Commission is to make disciples. That process involves bringing people to a point of commitment in baptism, and teaching them.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).

Teaching has two parts to it. It includes both information and action. Making disciples was not just about teaching, but about “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Information is important. It is important not only that one have faith, but that faith has the proper object. If I have faith in a rotten foot bridge I risk falling through it. On the other hand, I know people that are extremely fearful of any bridge even though they have driven across strong, sound, trustworthy bridges thousands of time. Their fear is unfounded. Jeremiah wrote of manmade idols, “They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish” (Jer 10:15). The object of one’s faith is just as important as the faith itself.

It is the responsibility of the pastor and teachers of our church to teach God’s Word well. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching . . . “ (Ac 2:42). Jude appealed to us “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). What we believe is important, but what we do with what we believe is equally important. Jesus taught, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Mt 7:24). Jesus teaching was not so that his disciples could pass a theology test, as important as theology is. His teaching was intended to be put into action. Teaching God’s Word is about both information and application.

I have heard some sermons passionately calling people to action, but there was little biblical content to their message. I have heard sermons eloquently describe and explain the Scriptures, but there was no call to action. The two must come together. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Notice that the value of scripture is expressed in three words and a phrase: teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness. Three of those four are about action and application.

We believe that we glorify God by teaching his Word well and motivating those who hear to put his Word into action in their lives. Romans 12:2 tells us not to be squeezed into the mold of the world, but to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The goal of that renewal is not so that we can pass a Bible knowledge test, but so that we will be able to “discern what is the will of God” (Rom 12:2). Our goal then, as believers, is to know God’s Word well and put it into practice in our lives. The old hymn had it right, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey” (John H. Sammis, 1887). It is to that end that we teach the Word of God, and in trusting and obeying God is glorified.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sharing the Gospel

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Francis Shaeffer observed that there is an order to that. We must first glorify God in order to enjoy him. The church I am currently serving says that its mission is to glorify God by three means: Sharing the gospel, teaching the Word, and fellowshipping with each other. Why sharing the gospel and what do we mean by that?

Jesus’ final words to his disciples, according to Acts 1:8, were, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Revelation 12:11 says that believers conquered the Serpent of Old “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Too often we have thought of evangelism in the context of sales. We somehow think that, as believers, our job is to convince people to believe in Jesus. For some that is motivation, for others that is scary and intimidating. But that is not what we are called to do.

Matthew 28:19-20 says that because all authority in Heaven and earth rest on Jesus, we are to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing . . . [and] teaching. . .” Notice two things. First, our job is to make disciples, not decisions. Second, making disciples involves baptizing and teaching, but not convincing. Evangelism is part of our larger purpose of making disciples. It is an early step in disciple-making, but it is not salesmanship. Evangelism is essentially witnessing to what we have seen and experienced. It is the Holy Spirit who will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8).

It is our job to simply testify to what God is doing in our lives. When we say, “Sharing the gospel,” that is what we mean. The gospel is the Good News that in our brokenness, God took steps to restore us to life. As believers, our testimony is not that we prayed a prayer and now we’re going to Heaven. Our testimony is that we were broken, cut off from God, and without hope until we met Jesus. Perhaps the reason that we are so hesitant to share the gospel is because we have not truly experienced God’s grace in our own lives.

I put my faith in Christ as a young boy. When I took evangelism class in Bible College I was taught that our testimony involves the elements of who I was before Christ, how I came to faith in Christ, and who I am now. I struggled with that. As a young boy coming to faith in Christ I had no deep sense of sin or brokenness that led me to faith. I had no story of great sin. I felt, therefore, that I had no testimony. Two things changed that. First, I began to realize that my testimony was not who I had been before faith, but who I would have been without faith. I had a keen awareness of how broken my life would have been without Jesus. My testimony involved what God kept me from more than what he saved me out of.

Second, I had a crisis of faith as a young pastor. I felt that perhaps I wasn’t saved. I reasoned that if I was truly saved, I wouldn’t have the struggles I had, and I would be more disciplined in my faith. I was desperate and discouraged until one day I faced the real question: If I were to die and stand before God, and he were to ask my why he should let me into Heaven, what would I tell him? It was at that moment I realized that my only answer was that God said he would accept me because of Jesus. At that point I let go of my need to achieve some level of discipline or maturity and came to rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Sharing the gospel is not about being a salesman. Sharing the gospel is simply about developing relationships with pre-believers and sharing our story. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convince people. Sharing our testimony is what glorifies God. What is your testimony? How is God at work in your life today? If you have no testimony, perhaps you need to reassess your relationship to God. Who are you, and how has God changed the trajectory of your life?

Monday, June 1, 2020

To the Glory of God

The church I am currently serving has as its mission statement one simple phrase: We exist to glorify God. That is qualified by three means by which we seek to glorify God: Sharing the gospel, teaching the Word, and fellowshipping with each other. But, what does it mean to glorify God?



Jesus prayed, in John 17:1, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” His desire was to glorify the Father. Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 10:31, concerning our purpose as believers, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Glory is greatness. Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and offered to give him, “all this authority and their glory [their greatness]” (Lk 4:6). On the mount of transfiguration, in Luke 9:30-31, three of the apostles saw, “two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory.” God revealed himself to the Israelites in the wilderness through thunder and lightning, clouds and smoke, and the whole mountain of Sinai trembled. It was an expression of his greatness or glory. Glory is the visible expression of the greatness of God resulting in people honoring him.



To say it another way, for us to glorify God means that we are the visible expression of God’s greatness resulting in people honoring God. Whatever we do, we are to do it so that people see God in us and honor him. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus taught us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The question we need to ask ourselves each day is whether people are seeing God in us. Do they see God in us through our work? Do they see God in us through our family? Do they see God in us through our recreation? Do they see God in us in our political discussions? Do they see God in us through our compassion, service, and care?



We exist to glorify God? That is our call. That is our purpose for life. Too often we, as believers, have lived for ourselves. We have lived for our personal peace and affluence. We have lived to be comfortable. That not only destroys our testimony, it goes against our created purpose. We exist to glorify God. May it be so.

Prayer Myths (Pt 2)

Prayer is a significant part of the Christian life. Yesterday I wrote about three myths we often hold regarding prayer. Today I would like t...