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He has told you, O Man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God... (Micah 6:8)

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Thursday, 22 September 2016 17:52

Spiritual Warfare Bible Study for Christian Leaders

Written by Russ Brewer
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when God is blessing and satan is attacking

Introduction

1) Where in the life of our church is God working?

a. _________________________________________________________________

b. _________________________________________________________________

c. _________________________________________________________________


2) What threat does this create to Satan and the demonic world?

a. _________________________________________________________________

b. _________________________________________________________________

c. _________________________________________________________________

When God is working

Introduction

3) The Bible is full of examples of when God is working. Where in scripture do we see God working and what does it look like?

purify and strengthen

4) Read Exodus 4:24-26. In verse 24, what was the Lord seeking to do?

a. In verse 25, what did Zipporah do? What does this imply Moses had not done yet?

b. Why does the Lord require purity in His leaders?

c. In what ways can serving as a leader actually purify us?

d. Even though purification is not easy, why is it a good thing?

e. What are some dangers if we don’t grow in the Lord, while we serve as leaders?

5) Read 1 Samuel 30:1-6. What was happening in this account?

a. In verse 4, how did the people respond to the tragedy in verses 1-3? In a sense, where did they “go to” for strength and comfort?

b. We can see how much this strengthened and comforted them in verse 6. What were the people talking about doing? Why?

c. At the end of verse 6, what did David do?

d. When people are “taking up stones” against us, how do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord?

e. How can we strengthen one another in the Lord?

when satan is working  

Discourage and derail

6) Read Job 1:10-12. When Satan sought to bring Job to doubt God, he attacked Job’s family, finances and health. How might losses like these…

a. Discourage God’s servants?

b. Cause them to doubt God?

c. Cause them to lose the ability to have the time or focus on serving Christ and His people?

7) What kinds of things can happen to God’s servants to discourage them?

Anger and Unforgiveness

8) Read Ephesians 4:27. This verse says to not be angry and to not give the devil a foothold. How can anger get our focus off of Christ and His kingdom, and thereby giving Satan a foothold?

9) 2 Corinthians 2:11 speaks heavily of forgiveness as it relates to galvanizing a church against the schemes of Satan. Why is forgiveness so critical to a healthy church?

a. Why does Satan’s schemes seek to create attitudes of unforgiveness amongst God’s people? What does this produce amongst God’s people?

b. If we see an attitude of unforgiveness, how should we address it?

Divide and Conquer

10) Read Jude 16. This verse lists several attitudes that hinder the work of God. What do these attitudes look like and how do they hinder God’s work?

a. Grumblers & fault finders

b. Following after their own lusts (e.g. desires, opinions)

c. Speaking arrogantly

d. Flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage

11) Read 1 Timothy 5:19. This verse says to not receive an accusation against an elder unless there are two or more witnesses. Timothy was a godly church leader; why would Paul need to warn him about receiving accusations about other leaders?

a. How does that relate to the steps of reconciliation given by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17?

b. If Timothy were to receive every accusation against an elder, without this requirement of 2 or 3 witnesses, what would likely happen to that leader or ministry?

12) Absalom at the City Gates – 2 Samuel 15:1-12

a. Satan rarely uses a crackpot to cause disunity. Who was Absalom? What was he like?

b. In verse 2, what was Absalom doing? Why did he rise early?

c. How did Absalom’s counsel create a seed of doubt in the minds of others? What impact did that have on David’s ability to minister? (c.f. verse 6) Why?

d. What response, or lack of response, did we see in David and the rest of the leaders? How did their silence contribute to the problem?

i. Who should they have talked to?

ii. What should they have said?

13) What principles can we glean for maintaining unity when people start creating an “us/them” or “divide and conquer” approach to the leadership?

a. _________________________________________________________________

b. _________________________________________________________________

c. _________________________________________________________________

Confusion and Disorder

14) Paul and the Fortune Telling Slave - Acts 16:14-22

d. How was God working in verses 14-15?

e. What was the slave girl doing in verse 17? What effect did this have?

f. How much of what she saying was untrue?

i. How can saying “accurate” information sometimes be harmful?

g. When Paul commanded the spirit to leave her, in verse 18, how was it viewed in the community?

i. Why can the “right” response appear wrong to some people?

h. This fortune-telling slave created a situation that could not be resolved cleanly. How was this effective in undermining the ministry of Paul?

15) What principles can we glean for maintaining unity when Satan creates confusion and disorder?

a. _________________________________________________________________

b. _________________________________________________________________

c. _________________________________________________________________

Conclusion

16) 2 Corinthians 4:7–12 “7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you.”

a. In verse 7, what is at stake in Paul’s ministry?

b. When Paul is not crushed, not despairing, etc. is that because Satan has given up his assault against Paul? If not, why is Paul strong in the face of such trials?

c. Why does Paul talk about “we”? How can we help one another when facing these kinds of trials in our ministries?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016 10:31

Unity in Leadership when Satan Attacks

Written by Russ Brewer
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A key component of leadership is maintaining unity in the midst of the enemy's attacks. Often well-intentioned men need to be trained in how to handle Satan's attacks--especially when he seeks to discourage, divide and discredit God's servants. The following study can be used on a retreat, at a leadership meeting, in a conference breakout session, etc. Feel free to modify this for your purposes. Thanks and God Bless!

when God is blessing and satan is attacking

Introduction

1) Where in the life of _________ is God working?

a. _________________________________________________________________

b. _________________________________________________________________

c. _________________________________________________________________


2) What threat does this create to Satan and the demonic world?

a. _________________________________________________________________

b. _________________________________________________________________

c. _________________________________________________________________

When God is working

Introduction

3) The Bible is full of examples of when God is working. Where in scripture do we see God working and what does it look like?

purify and strengthen

4) Read Exodus 4:24-26. In verse 24, what was the Lord seeking to do?

a. In verse 25, what did Zipporah do? What does this imply Moses had not done yet?

b. Why does the Lord require purity in His leaders?

c. In what ways can serving as a leader actually purify us?

d. Even though purification is not easy, why is it a good thing?

e. What are some dangers if we don’t grow in the Lord, while we serve as leaders?

5) Read 1 Samuel 30:1-6. What was happening in this account?

a. In verse 4, how did the people respond to the tragedy in verses 1-3? In a sense, where did they “go to” for strength and comfort?

b. We can see how much this strengthened and comforted them in verse 6. What were the people talking about doing? Why?

c. At the end of verse 6, what did David do?

d. When people are “taking up stones” against us, how do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord?

e. How can we strengthen one another in the Lord?

when satan is working  

Discourage and derail

6) Read Job 1:10-12. When Satan sought to bring Job to doubt God, he attacked Job’s family, finances and health. How might losses like these…

a. Discourage God’s servants?

b. Cause them to doubt God?

c. Cause them to lose the ability to have the time or focus on serving Christ and His people?

7) What kinds of things can happen to God’s servants to discourage them?

Anger and Unforgiveness

8) Read Ephesians 4:27. This verse says to not be angry and to not give the devil a foothold. How can anger get our focus off of Christ and His kingdom, and thereby giving Satan a foothold?

9) 2 Corinthians 2:11 speaks heavily of forgiveness as it relates to galvanizing a church against the schemes of Satan. Why is forgiveness so critical to a healthy church?

a. Why does Satan’s schemes seek to create attitudes of unforgiveness amongst God’s people? What does this produce amongst God’s people?

b. If we see an attitude of unforgiveness, how should we address it?

Divide and Conquer

10) Read Jude 16. This verse lists several attitudes that hinder the work of God. What do these attitudes look like and how do they hinder God’s work?

a. Grumblers & fault finders

b. Following after their own lusts (e.g. desires, opinions)

c. Speaking arrogantly

d. Flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage

11) Read 1 Timothy 5:19. This verse says to not receive an accusation against an elder unless there are two or more witnesses. Timothy was a godly church leader; why would Paul need to warn him about receiving accusations about other leaders?

a. How does that relate to the steps of reconciliation given by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17?

b. If Timothy were to receive every accusation against an elder, without this requirement of 2 or 3 witnesses, what would likely happen to that leader or ministry?

12) Absalom at the City Gates – 2 Samuel 15:1-12

a. Satan rarely uses a crackpot to cause disunity. Who was Absalom? What was he like?

b. In verse 2, what was Absalom doing? Why did he rise early?

c. How did Absalom’s counsel create a seed of doubt in the minds of others? What impact did that have on David’s ability to minister? (c.f. verse 6) Why?

d. What response, or lack of response, did we see in David and the rest of the leaders? How did their silence contribute to the problem?  Who should they have talked to? What should they have said?


13) What principles can we glean for maintaining unity when people start creating an “us/them” or “divide and conquer” approach to the leadership?

a. _________________________________________________________________

b. _________________________________________________________________

c. _________________________________________________________________

Confusion and Disorder

14) Paul and the Fortune Telling Slave - Acts 16:14-22

d. How was God working in verses 14-15?

e. What was the slave girl doing in verse 17? What effect did this have?

f. How much of what she saying was untrue? How can saying “accurate” information be a detriment?


g. When Paul commanded the spirit to leave her, in verse 18, how was it viewed in the community? Why can the “right” response appear wrong to some people?


h. This fortune-telling slave created a situation that could not be resolved cleanly. How was this effective in undermining the ministry of Paul?

15) What principles can we glean for maintaining unity when there Satan created confusion and disorder?

a. _________________________________________________________________

b. _________________________________________________________________

c. _________________________________________________________________

Conclusion

16) 2 Corinthians 4:7–12 “7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you.”

a. In verse 7, what is at stake in Paul’s ministry?

b. When Paul is not crushed, not despairing, etc. is that because Satan has given up his assault against Paul? If not, why is Paul strong in the face of such trials?

c. Why does Paul talk about “we”? How can we help one another when facing these kinds of trials in our ministries?


Friday, 23 May 2014 18:11

Slaves of Christ

Written by Russ Brewer
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Introduction

The concept of slavery always has and always will be one of the most repugnant social institutions humanity has ever seen. It violates every sensibility in us. The idea of one person “owning” another cuts to the very core of justice. While much can be said about slavery (and we will in a few minutes), the fact remains that the Bible says in numerous places we are slaves of God, righteousness and Christ.

Consider these following verses (all verses are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted):

· 1 Corinthians 7:22  "For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave."

· Romans 6:22  "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life."

· 1 Peter 2:16  "Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God."

· Acts 27:23  "For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me."

· Revelation 22:3  "There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him."

As we consider these verses and what they teach, we will address what it means to be a slave, what it means to be Christ’s slave, and the impact on our lives.

Slavery Defined

In the New Testament, each of the occurrences of the word “slave” is the Greek word “doulos” (or a variation of it). Doulos comes from the word “deo” meaning to bind (Strongs, 1401). It was the term for a slave (Liddel/Scott, 210). It referred to one who was completely controlled by someone else, or something else (Luow & Nida, 1:472). The ancient Greek writer, Xenophon, explained that “doulos” speaks of one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another (Trench, citing Xenophon, 30). Likewise, to be a slave means one person’s will is completely bound to the will of another. It requires complete dependence and undivided allegiance.  (Zodiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, 1401).

The word “doulos” occurs 182 times in the Greek New Testament. It’s the run of the mill term for slave. Actually, in most places in the New Testament where the word “servant” is used, it’s the word “doulos.” Thus, rather than being a rare word, it’s occurs throughout the New Testament.

Much confusion in the Christian life can be resolved by understanding the principle that we are slaves of Christ, rather than his servants. The word “servant” implies we have a will; we have a “say” in the matter; that we could tell the Lord we’d rather not obey Him right now. However, if we realize all those “servant” verses should be translated as “slave,” suddenly the scriptures come alive with what it means to live for Christ and follow Him.

To make this clearer, we need to understand the other Greek words that could have been used to describe our service. For instance, the standard Greek word for “servant” is the word “diakonos” from which we get the word “Deacon.” It’s from the root word “runner” and means someone who runs around serving others. If “diakanos” had been used those 182 times, we could easily make the case that we are servants of God as opposed to slaves. And while “diakanos” does occasionally speak of our service to Christ; usually it has the focus of serving other people.

There was the Greek word “therapone” from which we get the word ‘therapy.’ This was the idea of serving another person voluntarily.

Another word, “oiketes,” was a house slave. Although this person was a full slave too, their status was higher than the “doulos.” The “oiketes” lived in homes. They weren’t work animals to be used up and discarded.

Finally, there was one more word for slave called “uperetes.” This was a galley slave. They probably had an even lower status than “doulos”—and Paul even describes himself as an “uperetes” in 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants (uperetes) of Christ.”

So, when the New Testament describes our relationship with Christ, it often uses the term “doulos.” For instance, one of our favorite verses is Matthew 25:23 which says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Yet the word there is “doulos” and the NAS even correctly translates this verse as, “Well done, good and faithful slave.”

Likewise, in Philippians 2:7, Paul speaks of Jesus and says, “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” The actual word there is “doulos” and thus Jesus Himself took the form of a slave.

Just as a person was a slave in their era, and required to fully obey the will of his master, Christ was a slave of His Father. In the same way, we are slaves of Christ and obligated to do his will.

To understand this point further, let’s talk about slavery in the New Testament times.

Slavery in the New Testament Times

The life of a slave in the ancient world was different than many of us might realize. On the one hand, it was an abusive and oppressive system. For instance, according to the Roman law of Patria Potestas, a slave owner essentially had life and death power over the life of his slave. During the ancient world slaves were so common they were often treated with disregard.

It has been estimated that at any given time, half of the empire were slaves—that’s 60,000,000 people (Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, 292). The entire economy ran on the system of slavery. In fact, a person who had no slaves was considered as poor as a homeless person. It has been said in those days, having only three or four slaves was considered poverty. Having ten slaves was scarcely sufficient. Having 200 slaves was a good amount. But someone who wanted to count in society needed to have 1,000 slaves working for him. Wealthy Romans might possess as many as 20,000 slaves (The NT Milieu, ed by Du Toit, Section 5.3.3-514).

Slavery was certainly an evil system. The church father Chrysostom said, “Slavery is the fruit of covetousness, or degradation, of savagery.” People were often forced into slavery against their will (though we’ll see in a moment many actually chose slavery because of its potential benefits). Likewise, it is true that in many situations, slaves had no rights. They could be crucified, sold, branded and emasculated against their will.

The entire Roman economy was based on slavery. In terms of market principles, the ancient Roman economy was somewhat similar to ours. No doubt, there are massive differences between our two economies, but generally speaking, Rome was based on market economics. There were elected leaders, there were taxes, and there was trading and shipping.

Thus, part of the reason for slavery was simply to drive the economy.

The Romans engaged in business ventures somewhat like we might today, except typically these businesses were run by households. Whole households would own farms, mines, ships, pottery works, etc. Obviously, these business ventures would produce goods to sell and the whole house would benefit.

Here’s where slavery was key. The Romans despised labor. They felt it was beneath them. So to get anything done, they used slaves. Often these slaves were imported from conquered nations. These slaves weren’t always cheap and they weren’t always unskilled. In fact, it was common to have slaves as the teachers. Slaves even taught medicine. Some of ancient history’s most well-known writers were once slaves—such as Dionysius and Eutychides. Some of our most beloved Bible characters were once slaves—heroes like Joseph and Daniel are inspirational examples to us.

Another reason for slaves is a way of handling masses of people. Their society did not have a safety net of welfare and food stamps. A person in dire straights had no way of receiving care. Working in the home of a slave owner granted them food, clothing and a roof over their heads. In an odd way, slavery actually helped to  extended the lives of many millions of people.

In many cases the slaves were living in better conditions than a free person. Often, a slave walking down the street was dressed as well as a freeman. If they came from wealthy homes, they were often dressed better than some freemen. Slaves and freemen were so much alike the Romans instituted a law that slaves needed to wear a designation so they could be distinguish from free citizens. Thus, many times individuals sold themselves into slavery.

This is not to gloss over the evils of slavery. By far the most common way a person entered slavery was to be the unfortunate citizen of a conquered nation. As the occupiers entered into a city they gave the residents two choices: slavery or death. Many chose death, but even more chose slavery. No doubt the conquering nation felt they were being merciful in granting life to these people. This is even more astounding when we understand many served in a family business and eventually earned their citizenship.

When we think of the American abuses of slavery; we think of permanent ownership. Roman slavery was not this way. Roman slaves were not without hope, and for diligent slaves, it was a path to Roman citizenship. The Romans learned early on that if a slave had no incentive of freedom, he also had no incentive to work hard. Slaves needed to work hard because an owner might have hundreds of slaves. Thus, he needed each one to justify his room and board. This was a motivation for slaves: they could eventually purchase their citizenship (Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, 126).

Slaves would receive 5 denarii a month. Because their living expenses were already paid for, 5 denarii a month would have been twice the discretionary spending of the average freeman. Thus, if they saved their allowance, they could soon purchase their freedom. Cicero wrote a diligent slave could earn his freedom in seven years (Cicero, Philippic, 8.32).

There was both a humanitarian and economic reason for the freeing of slaves. As slaves became older, their skill would increase and therefore they were “worth” more. But on the other hand, as they became older, the cost to keep them healthy also grew. Therefore, their owner could sell them their freedom at a high price because of their skill, and then with the profit buy a cheaper, younger slave and still have money left over (Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, 118). It was said most diligent slaves purchased their freedom by 30 years old.

When slaves of Roman citizens became free, they also became Roman citizens. Likewise, freed slaves were not permanently relegated to the lower classes. Slaves themselves could own property and even other slaves (Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, 126). Likewise, the potential wealth of ex-slaves was limitless—ancient Roman philosopher Pliny spoke of an ex-slave who had amassed a fortune of 4,000 slaves, 7,200 oxen, and a cash savings of 60 times the fortune of some senators (Pliny, Natural History, 33.135).

Finally, when a Roman slave owner died it was common to free all his slaves. This was so common that eventually the government began to regulate this practice to not flood the society with 500-1000 slaves in a day. The book Conquerors and Slaves by Keith Hopkins, has an section of a chapter titled, Why did the Romans free so many slaves? The freeing of slaves in the Roman empire was designed, among other reasons, to reduce the natural repugnance of such a system.

We must not gloss over the evils of slavery but we do need to understand the world of slavery in biblical times. It has been said that no other book has done more to free slaves than the Bible. At the same time, the Bible tells us we are Christ’s slaves. Likewise, Jesus says we are to love God and serve Him  as our Master (Matthew 6:24). Furthermore, He Himself became a “doulos” to show us how to fully obey our Heavenly Father. Thus, when Paul and the other biblical authors teach this principle; they do not envision a Master who cruelly beats his slaves, but rather a kind and gracious Lord who loves and cares for His servants. Now let’s discuss what it means to be slaves of God.

Our Slavery

As we began, the Bible teaches that all true believers are slaves of Christ. Sometimes you’ll hear a person say, “I’m not a slave of anyone!” One of the principles we have to understand is we are all slaves. It’s not as though we used to live as free people, but then became slaves of Christ. Instead, the Bible says we were always slaves, except that now our ownership has transferred from an evil master to a righteous Master.

The Bible is very direct in saying all people are slaves—we are either slaves of sin or slaves of Christ. Romans 6 makes this abundantly clear. Let’s quickly look at some key verses from Romans 6.

Romans 6:16 says, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” Paul’s point here is when we are captive to a certain behavior, we are enslaved to it. Keep in mind, all the words “slave” in Romans 6 are from the Greek word “doulos.”

So what were we slaves to? The next verse in Romans 6 makes this clearer. Verse 17 says, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed”. Likewise, Jesus said in John 8:34, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” If we sin, we are slaves of sin.

When Romans 6:16 says, “…you were slaves of sin…” this is the condition of every person outside of Christ. Ephesians 2:1–2 states this idea in slightly different words: "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." We all formerly walked according to the course of this world and Satan. Why? Because we were slaves. No one is free. We are all slaves.

Praise God we have been set free from this evil master by Jesus Christ. Romans 6:18 goes on to say, “and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Again, notice we have been “...freed from sin…” How were we set free? By Christ.

This is what the term “redemption” means. Redemption means to purchase something. It has the idea of us being on a slave block, under the evil master and ownership of sin and Christ comes up, pays our price and purchases our freedom from that old master of sin. Ephesians 1:7 explains this when it says, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." Christ has redeemed us and wiped away the former deeds we engaged in while we obeyed our former master of sin.

Does this mean Christ has bought us, paid for our forgiveness and now we’re free to go off and wander the fields of life on our own? No. We were bought by Christ and now we have been taken to His home—our new home. Our old home was a vile dungeon where we were engaged in sin and being tortured and tormented. Now we are brought to a new home and treated as princes. We are not treated as galley slaves. We are not treated as field workers. We are treated as sons and we live as sons.

Here’s what we need to understand—even though we are sons, we still must obey our Heavenly Father. Ultimately, He is still our Master. Just because He is loving and gracious and good to us as adopted sons, does not mean we are free to disregard Him and disobey Him. He still calls the shots. We still must obey.

Going back to Romans 6, verse 18 says: “and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” We are still slaves, but we are slaves of righteousness. Verse 22 rounds out the thought by saying: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” Again, we are slaves of God who now obey God.

You see, we are no longer bound to the master of sin, we no longer have to obey it. We’re set free. We’re liberated. However, we are still bound to obey God. Remember when we read Ephesians 1:7 which says, “In Him we have redemption through His blood…” A few verses later, in verse 14 it says we are “God’s own possession.” As God’s own possession, our will is now captive to our Father’s. He is still the Master. We are still His servant.

This means we must do what is right and pleases Him. Once we have been set free from sin, we are no longer slaves to it. We no longer are bound to do what is wrong. Now our default orientation is to do right. We seek what is right. We long for what is right. We are grieved when we do wrong. We sometimes still sin, but at the end of the day, our heart’s desire is to do the right thing.

And here’s what we need to understand about our new slavery. Since we are free from sin; that means we are now bound to do what is right—and the right thing is always to obey Jesus. There is no such thing as being freed from sin into a condition of doing whatever we want. If God is our Master, we will want to obey Him. If we still want to sin, then sin is still our master. It’s that simple. We can’t thirst for righteousness while at the same time thirst for something Jesus doesn’t want for us. We either obey sin or we obey God. Romans 6:16 gives us no other options.

Therefore, by definition, being set free from sin means we are finally free to pursue holiness and righteousness. We are finally able to obey the Lord. That’s why Romans 6:22 says, “now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness.” It leads to holiness because we can now actually pursue what pleases the Lord.

Practical Application:

The application of this principle is obvious—when Jesus is our Master, we will obey Him. We will seek to know His will through His Word. We will read it, study it, learn it, know it, and live it. It will become the guide for how we live life. Like a slave listening to his Master, His Word will mark and decide our actions, our decisions, our goals, and our objectives.

Our lives will begin to look different from before. For instance, there will be times when we may not “want” to have our daily devotions, but because Jesus is our Lord, we will. There will be times when we may not “want” to go to church, but because Jesus is our Lord, we will. There will be times when we won’t “want” to engage in the acts of righteousness God calls us to, but because He is our Lord, we will.

Yet, even in this new condition, there will be times when our old nature rises up against our new nature. Even the eminent apostle Paul struggled with sin. He said in Romans 7:14 “…I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” The fact remains, even though we have been set free from sin, our flesh keeps going back to our old master. Like an old horse that continues to follow familiar paths, our flesh will always want to go back to our old habits. That’s why we need to keep reminding ourselves of these truths throughout all our days. If we have been set free, even though we may be riding a horse that wants to go the old way, we can control it and guide it to righteousness. And we can say with Paul a few verses later, “I joyfully concur with the Law of God… (Romans 7:22).” We will always struggle with our flesh, but if we are born-again, we have received the Spirit of God that crucifies our flesh (Romans 8:13) we might live and walk with Him.

Although we’ve stated it several different ways; in all of this, we need to understand our freedom from sin, and our freedom in Christ, does not mean we have the freedom to do whatever we want. Why not? Because that would be sin! If we just go off and live life any way we want; in complete disregard for Christ, then we are engaging in sin. Romans 14:23 says, “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” To live a life unconcerned with God would be to live a life without faith; and this would be sin. As we mentioned earlier, Jesus said in John 8:34, “…everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” Therefore, to engage in habitual disregard for Christ means to sin and to habitually sin means to be enslaved to sin. So, tying this back to Romans 8:13 if we live in sin; we will die. Why? Because we have demonstrated Christ is not our Lord and Master and we are still in bondage to sin.

Objections

Having said all of this, there are a couple of questions that might be asked.

For instance, “What kind of person enslaves their own children?” The heart of this question is rooted in the wrong perception of slavery. Remember in our discussion of slavery earlier, God graciously brings us into His home and His family. He lavishes His grace upon us (Ephesians 1:8) and treats us as adopted sons (Ephesians 1:5). He even extends to us an inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:11). In all these ways, He abundantly and graciously blesses us. Perhaps a similar question could also be asked—“What kind of person who has been bought out of a horrible enslavement would question the goodness of a Master who takes us from a dungeon of slime and puts us into a palace of blessings?”

Similarly, another question might be asked, “If I am set free from slavery, why do I have to now obey Jesus?” There are a couple of verses that seem to teach contradictory thoughts. For instance, in John 15:15 Jesus says, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” Galatians 4:7 says, “Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” In light of everything we’ve discussed, what do these verses mean?

Well, for one thing—they do not mean we have to choose one principle and reject the other. We are not to approach the Word of God as a salad bar where we only agree with the things that we like.

As we’ve already demonstrated, the Bible clearly states our condition as slaves of God. But it also states our condition as sons of God. Both are true and neither is mutually exclusive. How do we understand this?

In the biblical world, children obeyed their parents. The Ten Commandments even say, “Honor your father and your mother.” This principle was so serious Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says rebellious children could even be stoned. The principle is clear—God took obedience seriously. If a child did not to obey his or her parents, they could be cut off. And while the New Testament does not reinstitute the death penalty for disobedient kids, it does not remove the command. Instead, passages like Ephesians 6:1-3 reiterate it. The principle continues: children, obey your parents.

Thus, when we are reconciled to God through Christ, He adopts us as children. We have the rights and privileges of children. We have a status as children. This does not remove our requirement to obey. We are still captive to do the will of the father. Even in John 15:15 where Christ calls us “friends,” the full thought begins in the preceding verse which says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” We are friends, but we are required to obey. Likewise, we are sons, but we are required to obey.

Moreover, these passages (John 15:15 and Galatians 4:7) speak to the Father’s disposition to us. They are both given to demonstrate the heartbeat of God is not as a harsh, uncaring Master. God knows us as His children. Christ knows us as His friends. He knows us like sons. He knows us like family. So, when He commands us to obey Him in any situation He allows into our lives, He knows what we can bear. His disposition is not to mercilessly make us miserable, but to lovingly lead us to the place of our greatest fulfilment and joy in submission to Him.

Final Thoughts

At this point, we still may not be thrilled with this concept. The question is not to figure out if we agree with this doctrine. The question is, “Does the Bible teach this?” The undeniable answer is, “Yes, it does.” I may not have expressed these thoughts fully or the most eloquently, but we cannot deny the Bible teaches we are slaves to Christ. Like every other tenet of scripture, we need to let the Bible tell us what is true—and we need to likewise come humbly to these texts and submit to them. This is what it means to have Jesus as our Lord and Master.

So, now one final question remains: Is Jesus your Master? If not, it is time for you to surrender to Him. Romans 10:13 says, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” To call upon Jesus as Lord means to surrender to Him and obey Him as your Master. We should regularly acknowledge this to Christ. If you have not done this recently, I encourage you to begin today.

Thanks for reading, and may we together press on to love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ.

Together in Christ,

Russ Brewer

Thursday, 10 April 2014 19:34

Reasons to Join in a Church

Written by Russ Brewer
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Reasons to Join in a Church

Or reasons to go to church

Related to Jesus—Church is a place…

1. To worship God publically and publically show our commitment to Him (Ps 96:3). If we do not declare His glory publically, what does that say about us? (Matt 10:32)

2. To tune our worship to truths about God that we might not otherwise declare of Him (Ps 96:1).

3. To serve God and His people and be a part of the work He is doing (Phil 2:13).

4. For God to teach us from His Word using trained shepherds who do carefully teach the text. (1 Cor 4:6)

5. To join with God’s heartbeat—God is about His church and if we're not about His church, how can we say we have fellowship with the Holy Spirit?

6. To obey God’s commands to " not forsake the assembly together" (Heb 10:25).

7. To bring our tithes and offerings before the Lord (Ps 96:8).

8. Where God reigns rather than Satan.


Related to Others—Church is a place…

1. To join with the body of Christ and strengthen them in their service to the Lord.

2. To encourage others by our presence. We encourage others letting them know that they, their ministries and the things of God are valuable to us.

3. To experience the flow of God's grace amongst His children (Eph 4:16).

4. To use your unique gifts and fulfill your unique calling, not as a lone-ranger but joining with the work God is doing in and through a church (1 Cor 12:7).

5. To be equipped for the work of service (Eph 4:12).

6. To learn to bear with the weaknesses of other people that you might otherwise not associate with.

7. To be a part of God’s family and learning to love the 'family of God' even when they are not ‘ideal’ people.

8. To learn of needs of others so that we might pray for them (Eph 6:18).

9. To learn our obligations to other believers, to ourselves, and even to non-Christians.

10. To fulfill the “one another” commands such as love one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, be hospitable to one another, etc. We cannot obey these commands unless we have a clear role in the body of Christ.


Related to Yourself—Church is a place…

1. For God to work in us (Phil 2:13).

2. For God to shape us to be the people He calls us to be (Eph 2:21).

3. For to find friends that are “closer than brothers” (Prov 18:24).

4. For us to be built up in love and good deeds (Heb 10:25).

5. For us to find comfort during our times of needs (2 Cor 1:2-5).

6. For us to find others who can give us counsel and wisdom from the word of God (Prov 15:22).

7. For us to keep spiritually balanced and therefore spiritually effective. One of Satan’s main tools to sideline the Christian is imbalanced Christianity. Attending church, being sharpened by others, involves grinding off the burs of imbalance and inflexibility.

8. For us to draw upon the strength of others when we are weak (1 Thess 5:14).

9. To find people worth modeling after/emulating (Phil 3:17).

10. To learn from a man of God bringing the Bible to bear on you specifically and not a mass audience.

11. To develop life-long relationships with godly/wise people whom will help guide you in your walk with Christ.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 11:10

Logos Bible Software Review

Written by Russ Brewer
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When most people are looking for Bible Software” they are looking for something that will help them understand the Bible. They want the ability to search the Bible for words and phrases, a few dictionaries, perhaps a few commentaries keyed to the passage, etc.

When people go hunting online for Bible software to buy, “Logos” always is at the top of the list b/c of its impressive features. I have owned Logos for about 12 years and have been using it for going on 20 years. I was using back in the Windows 3.1 days when I was in college at Moody Bible Institute.

Understanding the value of Logos for you first begins with understand what Logos is. I usually try to tell people that Logos is not really “Bible Software” like what they're thinking (as in my description above). It’s better viewed as an extremely sophisticated bookshelf. The price is high because you’re buying top-notch resources—the kinds of commentaries, dictionaries, journals that scholars use. You might spend $300 on a set of commentaries, Logos will sell those to you in a package with many others for $500, but you’re getting tons of other books too. The key question is: Do you want to study the Bible, or do you want a library about the Bible? If you're a pastor, or preparing to be a pastor, then you will very likely benefit from the power of a good library. If you're not a pastor (even if you're a very scholarly Bible class teacher) you may want to read this whole review to decide for yourself.

The fact is, that almost all the Bible Study that I (and most other people) want to do can be done better and quicker with something other than Logos. Logos is SLOW. Logos is CUMBERSOME. Frankly, for daily use, I don’t like it. As a nearly 20 year user, I’ve seen it degrade in functionality tremendously (it was awful back in the Windows 3.1 days but it began really humming along nicely during the “Libronix” days and now it’s slick but terribly slow again—just opening it up can take a few minutes and I have a brand-new computer). A pastor needs Bible software for more than just complex searches—we need it to glance at a word’s Greek root while in a theological discussion with a church member, we need it to find a verse during a counseling meeting, we need it to double check a verse address while preparing a sermon. For all of these needs (which are my primary day-to-day needs) Logos almost literally doesn’t work. Since it takes so long to open, I’ve had some many times where me and someone in my office are just staring at the computer waiting for it to load and I'll eventually just jump over to an online Bible study site and find what I’m looking for immediately. Consequently, because it is slow and cumbersome, for most of my basic Bible needs, I use BibleHub (http://biblehub.com/) and just recently started using Blue Letter Bible again (http://www.blueletterbible.org/index.cfm).

Logos can technically do anything you want, but it doesn't do it in a way that makes sense. I find that I have to literally watch their tutorial videos nearly any time I want to do something that extends beyond my normal usage. Moreover, I find their video format of “help” very unhelpful. If it their manual was simply written, I could just skim it to find to the part I’m looking for. Instead, I need to watch a 15 minute video to find the one key that was 5 seconds of content. Or I have to search one of their forums to find a dozen people trying to answer a similar question and wade through the helpful ideas, unhelpful ideas, opinions etc. Consequently, if I can’t figure it out right away, I tend not to even try. Thus, rather than being able to do “anything” I find that for me, Logos can do very little.

There’s also the issue of owning a product that automatically goes obsolete unless you keep up with the technology. It’s as if you own a book where the print fades every five years and you need to have it re-inked again just to read it. That’s very frustrating. It’s not exactly Logos’ fault—and they claim that you’ll never have to buy your resources again—but I find that in reality, I’m shelling out hundreds of dollars every few years. Consequently, over the last 10+ years, I have given them thousands of dollars. I have begun to regret that investment. I’m not sure I wouldn’t do it again, but I probably would have bought less packages. In fact, I have pretty much stopped buying Logos’ resources and returned to print for things like commentaries.

Another point is their mobile apps. IMHO, they barely work. I first got a smartphone specifically so that I could have my “library” in my pocket all the time. I figured it would be great to reference a greek word while in a conversation with someone. The reality is that all the slow, non-intuitive issues with their desktop software translates to their mobile apps too. I find that I rarely use it because it just takes too long. I'll be listening to a sermon and the preacher will say, “Now let’s look at Romans 10:9” and because the Logos app is so slow, by the time I’m actually at the verse, the preacher is way beyond it. I’m using a Samsung Galaxy S4—hardly a slow phone.

So the question again boils down to why a person would want to have Bible Software. If they are looking for a powerful way to access thousands of books—then Logos is the best. Having given this candid and somewhat negative review, I still would say that every pastor should own and use Logos every week. Even though I am frustrated with Logos, the fact is that when it comes to “opening books” I own, Logos is great. In fact, I would say that the level of scholarship I employ in a typical sermon-preparing-week probably surpasses what even scholars could do a generation ago. Logos enables me to hit this level of scholarship relatively easily. But that’s with the understanding, it’s not the “Bible study” elements that allow me to have such scholarship, but rather the ability to open up tons of books in seconds rather than hours. If you’re not the kind of person that wants to read a ½ dozen dictionaries on a word, or study Philo’s use of a word, then Logos’ primary (perhaps only?) strengths won’t mean much to you.

Those are my thoughts. Thanks for reading

Tuesday, 11 June 2013 11:10

Did God create evil?

Written by Russ Brewer
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Did God Create Evil? Often people wonder, “If God is omnipotent, did God create evil?” We are obviously uncomfortable answering “yes” to this question and often we start hunting for answers. Invariably, our hunt produces additional questions: What is evil? Where did evil come from? Why didn't God stop evil from starting? Here are some of my thoughts regarding these answers.

First, we need to properly understand what “evil” is. The Bible often compares evil to darkness (Ephesians 6:12, Luke 22:53, Col 1:13) and goodness to light (Matt 4:16, Luke 11:36, 1 John 1:5, etc.). When we study what light is, it is simply photon particles assembled together and traveling in wave form. But what is darkness? Darkness is just the absence of those photon particles. There is no particles of "dark”, there are just less particles of light. There’s a not a physical way to add darkness, it can’t be packaged up. It’s just the absence of light photons. In the same way, “evil” is just the absence of good.

So when God created the world, He created it perfectly good (Genesis 1:31). In being perfectly good, He also created it with the capacity to turn away from beholding His awesome goodness. He gave humanity the capacity for true moral choice. In doing so, He created an environment where humanity can disengage from His goodness and seek that which is less good. Seeking anything less than God’s total goodness is, in some measure, seeking evil.

This is the condition of the realm in which we live. All of us are in a state of variable goodness. Sometimes we seek God fully (or so we think). Sometimes we seek Him half-heartedly. In reality, when we seek anything less than God’s fullness of perfection, in some measure we’re saying that we’re content with a smidgen of evil in our lives. This is why all of us must daily seek to be fully surrendered to God so that we might have the fullness of His goodness and purity in our lives.

So, why did God allow this? In many ways, we are going to have to wait until we are with Him in glory for the answer to this question. I suspect that once we leave this cursed dimension, and we are with God in glory—we’ll understand completely what God has been doing. More than that, Isaiah 45 says that we’ll agree with everything that God has done.

But still, between now and that day, how do we understand why God allowed humanity to seek anything less that His perfection? The best explanation I know is to say that God seeks His ultimate glory. Along these lines, He has sovereignly ordained this route for greater glory as we both praise Him willingly and find our joy in Him as we turn from sin.

Let me illustrate it this way: We would all agree that it is more glorious to have love that is expressed, rather than merely to have love. For instance, it’s good that I love my wife. But if I never tell her I love her, that’s not as good as if I expressed my love. Even more so, it’s better for me to show my love through tangible actions. Thus, if I really love my wife, I show her the most honor by expressing my love and showing her my love.

Similarly, it brings God more glory if we offer Him praise willingly. You see, God could have created us to be robots that mechanically had to praise Him—and in some ways, this is what He has done in creation (Psalm 19:1). But when it came to us, God created us with the capacity for choice because it is better when we choose to worship God willingly. Now I believe that God is sovereign over our choices and none of us resist His will, however, each person who is in fellowship with God would acknowledge that we worship Him sincerely and willingly. We are not being forced to worship Him. Not only that, but we also find greater joy in Him as we turn from our sin and find the wisdom of His ways. This route has increased our love and gratitude for God and gives us the capacity to willingly express this love and gratitude towards Him.

To tie these pieces together, since God is all-knowing, and all-powerful, and all-wise--He always knows and chooses and does that is best. Thus, in some way that we won't fully understand until we're in glory, God has decided it is best to allow this condition where humanity can choose to worship God or choose to look away from Him. Since this is the best route God could have chosen, any other route would have been to do evil Himself, and that is impossible for Him.

There will be a day when all those who willingly praise God will enter into His Kingdom. Likewise, all those bent on seeking evil will go away from them into Hell. This is because seeks true worshipers (John 4:23-24). Those who do not desire to worship Him will not have to, but their immortal soul will go to a place where His goodness is totally absent—Hell.

So, those are my thoughts. Are they the full story? Obviously not. There is still much more that can be said. There are literally books on the topic that seek to plumb the depths of this difficult question. But these cursory thoughts get us started and they help me to rest assured that God is in control and have redemptive purposes in our lives.

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Intentional Ministry

Developing a “Vision Statement” for Your Church (Ugh, the term “Vision” is so annoying)

Introduction:

Imagine this familiar scene: Your church is having a late night leadership meeting. During the meeting one member has a great idea that they can’t wait to share. This person is bubbling up with enthusiasm for their idea. They finally get their chance to tell the whole group and...whoosh, you can feel the life being sucked out of the room. This good-natured person is certain their idea would solve all the problems. But instead it falls flat. It's DOA. Not well-received. Not embraced.

What happened? Often, the root stems from a lack of unity around the mission, objectives, goals and tactics of an organization. More than likely, the person’s “great idea” was actually a “tactic” (more on that below). In their mind, their tactic satisfied the goals of the organization, its objectives, and its mission. But the rest of the committee couldn’t see the connection or didn’t believe it would be effective. Perhaps they had different goals in mind. Perhaps they had different objectives. Perhaps, even, they had a different sense of the mission of the church.

When this occurs, the results can be disastrous. Hopefully the unity of the group absorbs this challenge and handles the moment with kindness and forbearance and manages to press forward. But all too often these disheartened committee members are so discouraged by having their “great idea” rejected that they resign from the committee and perhaps leave the church.

The solution to these problems can often boil down to good, clear leadership. The church needs a clear, objective plan of action. The church needs direction. And the leadership board is tasked with establishing the mission and objectives while working with the ministry leaders to figure out the goals and tactics. Without this formula; the pursuits of the church often end up being driven by expedience, ease, or whoever has the strongest personality and most influence. The church ends up being led by arbitrary forces that can be hit or miss in terms of effectiveness, rather than proceeding according to a prayerful intentional plan of action.

The church needs leadership to develop a plan for intentional ministry. This happens when the leaders prayerfully determine the “right” things to do, and then work with the ministry leaders to fulfill these objectives. This produces unity and joy within the church body.

This essay are my thoughts on how to develop a plan for intentional ministry.

Is this about developing a “Vision”? Below are some of my thoughts about how to unify the church around a common mission statement, set of objectives, measurable goals and specific tactics. However, before I explain each term, you may notice the relative absence of the term “Vision”. This is because the result of the work that follows comprises the “Vision Statement”—I prefer to view this as intentional ministry because I find the term “vision” widely misunderstood and often confused with other elements that comprise well-thought through ministry.

Churches often misunderstand the difference between a “Mission” (and the ensuing objectives, goals, tactics) and “Vision”. Sometimes the church’s mission will even be called its “Vision”. This ends up further confusing the matter. What’s worse, sometimes churches will cast a “Vision” statement though it’s is really a list of tactics—things that the pastor hopes to do one day. It’s not uncommon for a pastor to be considered one who has lots of “Vision” just because he can dream up all kinds of things for the church to do. This is not having vision, it’s a pipe-dream and unless its tied to the church’s mission, objectives and goals, it ends up frustrating the rest of the leadership.

So again, the “Vision” is the overall picture of how to do the ministry of the church. It’s not a single element of the church’s ideas for ministry, it’s everything.

Mission Statements, Objectives, Measurable Goals, Specific Tactics

Mission: Before anything else can happen, the elders need to identify the “mission” of the church. The “mission” speaks to why the church exists. It is the fundamental purpose of the church. A good mission statement is ultra-succinct, not just to make it memorable, but because the mission is, by definition, the foundational purpose of the church.

Church mission statements will probably follow something along the lines that the church exists to obey and glorify God, build disciples, reach the community, etc. Although some churches might add additional thoughts, most mission statements will contain these elements.

Longer mission statements occur (I believe improperly) when they are cluttered with “objectives” and “goals” which we’ll talk about below. Objectives and goals are vital to the process, but they must be kept in their proper place. Likewise, sometimes mission statements are amplified with flowery verbiage. Not only does this make them unnecessarily long, but it decreases the power of the succinct mission statement.

Ideally, the mission can be boiled down to a slogan such as “Exalt, Edify, Engage” or “Connecting _______ (the target community) to the Lord.” The slogan should be stated in a manner that encapsulates the mission statement in a memorable and easily understood phrase. This this is presented in the church publications (print and online) so that each member and visitor understands the mission and can carry it forward in their own lives while telling others about why they should come to that particular church.

Once the mission is framed out, the leaders needs to prayerfully determine what objectives they need to accomplish in order to fulfill their vision.

Objectives: Objectives frame out how the church will fulfill its mission statement. It’s about what the church does. It answers the question: what must we do and be in order to fulfill this mission statement? Sometimes this is called the “purposes” of the church. Objectives (or purposes) of biblical churches consists of things like worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service. They can also contain affirmations of core principles of the church. They may even contain the kinds of ministries offered, or the manner in which they are offered.

Objectives demonstrate how the church fulfills the mission. The “mission” covers why the church exists, the objectives covers how the church does this.

Goals: Once objectives are established, they need to then be broken down into measurable goals. Goals are the detailed items that need to accomplish the church’s objectives. Goals must be specific, measurable and attainable. A goal that is unmeasurable is at best an “objective”, but more likely just a hope, dream, ambition or desire. Either way, an unmeasurable “goal” is not a goal.

One of the most common ways to establish goals is to do a S.W.O.T. analysis. S.W.O.T. stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. During this phase, the leaders need to list each objective of the church and prayerfully discuss its Strengths: what has the Lord given and blessed? Weaknesses: how can we develop the church to meet this objective? Opportunities: where has the Lord given us solutions that moves us forward in reaching the objective? Threats: are there real-live issues or problems that might threaten our ability to reach this objective?

In working through a SWOT analysis, the leadership can begin to assess the goals needed for the upcoming year. Goals should be those that can truly be attained. Unrealistic goals end up discouraging those in leadership. (In some cases, “unrealistic” goals are actually objectives and can be put in that section).

Along these ideas, when formulating goals, various items ought to be considered. For instance, the elders should have a clear sense of what God expects of a mature Christian. This can include matters of knowledge (e.g theology, Christian living, etc), aspects of personal piety kinds & frequency of prayer, certain passions (for the lost, homeless, widows), etc. The leadership should also discuss what the church wants to accomplish in local and overseas missions. Moreover, when thinking about goals, the elders can (and should) work with the ministry leaders to prayerfully identify what the specific ministry needs to accomplish.

Sometimes goals are too “high”—they might be measurable and attainable, but not likely achievable with the current dynamics of the situation. Perhaps the ministry leaders lack the skill to accomplish these goals. Perhaps the facility simply can’t support these goals. In this case, the goal needs to be pulled from the overall vision statement so as not to needlessly discourage the church and/or leaders. They can, however, be a part of the leadership discussion for forward thinking down the road.

Likewise, goals should be framed keeping spiritual realities in mind. Leaders need to avoid falling into the trap of establishing attendance numbers as goals (e.g. that the Sunday School ministry needs to have 100 people coming out). Ministry is a spiritual endeavor. We must factor in the battle between the work of God and the work of Satan. Faithful ministry infused with God’s grace might not achieve man’s number-driven goals. It might be unwise and impractical to require the youth group to grow by 50 kids next year. If the youth group is actually teaching biblical truth, there may instead be an uprising of students who reject the group. Conversely, it is possible for a youth group to grow (and thereby “succeed”) because it is actually being unfaithful to the church’s overall vision statement. Thus, generally speaking, ministries should avoid using attendance numbers as goals. They can, however, establish goals for the content taught, the number of events offered, or staff training, or the kinds of ministries & programs offered, etc. Therefore, goals need to be framed in terms of spiritual objectives while avoiding attendance goals.

This whole process can be facilitated with a brainstorming session(s). During this session, the mission and objectives are reviewed and potential goals are discussed. Generally they can be added to the list—regardless of their merit in a brainstorming fashion. Then they are discussed in terms of best fulfilling the church’s mission and objectives. Finally, the leadership prayerfully decides which “goals” best become the action plan for that particular ministry during that particular year.

Lastly, as mentioned already, the church board should discuss the ministry goals on an annual basis. Often a leader will want to accomplish a certain “goal” that is not feasible for a variety of reasons. This goal can be tabled, or placed on the long-range planning list, for a future year evaluation. If the leadership board evaluates this vision statement on an annual basis, then the members can have a sense that when God provides, that goal might be revisited. This allows for maturing & developing thoughts to be folded into the action plan of the church. This also preserves unity because one leader’s passion might be put on hold for a year (or more) but then as the other leaders come to see the need, or as the dynamics allow, that tabled goal may one day be put added to the Vision Statement. In some cases, a particular goal may be placed on the goal list not as a “goal” to accomplish, but rather the goal is for the board to come to a unified conclusion as to whether or not that goal should be on the church’s future list of action steps. Following this procedure, Lord willing, unity will be maintained along the way.

Tactics: Next, the board needs to work with the ministry leaders to set in place tactics that can be implemented to accomplish those goals. Tactics are the specific action items that will bring about the goals. They can range from theoretical to ultra-specific. This is where the elder board can meet with the ministry leaders, explain the church’s vision and objectives, and work with the ministry leaders to establish goals and tactics that fulfill the mission and objectives.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for ministry leaders to skip over objectives and goals and go right to tactics. This is where disunity begins to rear its head. Good leadership is needed—not to control the ministry leader’s thinking, but to affirm the mission and objectives of the church and then help identify tactics to accomplish the goals. Without building on this common ground; tactics can quickly become “this-is-my-favorite-idea” action points that leads to frustration and discouragement for everyone involved.

When leaders lay the groundwork of the church’s mission, objective and goals, working out the tactics becomes fun and exciting; particularly because many levels of leadership can be involved. The elders can give the mission & objectives to the ministry leader. The ministry leader then calls a meeting for his or her ministry team. They go over the mission and objectives (and goals) as given by the elders, but then seek to establish tactics that fulfill the church vision. In this way, each ministry has the freedom and latitude to let their gifts, skills and desires fold into the overall direction of the church.

Evaluation: This final step is as important as all the preceding ones—without it, the above items are a waste of time and energy. Intentional ministry means establishing the direction of the church and then making modifications along the way. Thus, every year the ministry goals and tactics of the church should be evaluated to determine their effectiveness; not to criticize ministries and leaders, but to ensure that the church is actually accomplishing its mission and objectives. Without evaluation, churches get bogged down in sacred cows and the classic “this is how we’ve always done it” kind of thinking. Tactics that don’t work need to be discarded. Goals that have been met need to be celebrated and replaced with new ones. New ideas need to be folded in. New dynamics need to be identified. With each passing year, the church will move the body forward in attaining their mission and objectives.

This is intentional ministry: establishing the mission, identifying the objectives, determining the goals to fulfill the objectives, developing and initiating appropriate tactics, and then evaluating them for their effectiveness.

Communicating with the Church

Once the above areas of development are identified, the leaders can begin to map out the best avenues to teach these principles to the congregation. This instruction needs to take three primary forms.

First, the congregation needs to understand the overall objectives and purpose of the church. They need to understand that there are areas of spiritual development that God expects of them, and that they are accountable to Him to develop.

Second, the congregation needs to be taught on the particular objectives themselves. These items can be taught in venues such as Small Groups, Sunday School, conferences, etc. Each year, the elders should evaluate what was taught in light of what should be taught to confirm that indeed the overall objectives of the church are being furthered.

Third, the congregation needs to be told why the church is doing what it does (and not something else). Some goals for each ministry (probably not all) need to be given to the church and explained. The church needs to understand how that ministry operates in harmony with the overall church mission and objectives. This will help them know how they can support that ministry and keep it before the Lord in prayer. Once they see the intentional design for a particular ministry, some people may even decide to be involved furthering that vision statement. But they won’t likely get involved if they don’t know what the ministry objectives and goals are. Moreover, if they DO want to be involved in a ministry without knowing the church’s vision statement, they might be looking for a place to live out their own “vision” which leads back into the overall problem of disunity.

Communication of the overall mission statement is not just a matter of good organizational dynamics, it’s a matter of being diligent to preserve the bond of unity.

Conclusion:

Does this sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Several books, articles and handouts are already available to help in this process.

God bless you as you seek to closer align God’s church with God’s word.

So those are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.

Grace and peace, Russ


Mission, Objectives, Goals, Tactics Worksheet

 

What is the mission of the church?

 

What objectives must be in place to accomplish this mission?

1)

2)

3)

4)

5)

Take each objective and establish specific goals and tactics that need to be accomplished in order for that objective to take place.

Objective #1:

a) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

b) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

c) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

 

Objectives #2

a) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

b) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

c) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

Objectives #3

a) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

b) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

c) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

Objectives #4

a) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

b) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

c) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

Objectives #5

a) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

b) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

c) Goal:

i) Tactic:

(1) Evaluation:

ii) Tactic:

 

(1) Evaluation:

Saturday, 31 March 2012 15:13

The Arc of Life

Written by Russ Brewer
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The Arc of Life

- Living life at any age -

As I turn 40 today, I can’t help but get a bit philosophical about life and its natural course.

As a pastor I work with people of all ages and from all places of life. On any given day, I’ll counsel teens, young adults, middle aged people and senior citizens. I’ve prayed with prostitutes and politicians, dined with drug dealers and doctors; and while I still have much to learn about life, I have a unique perspective that seems worthy of mentioning.

Because I have spent so much time with people of such an array of stations in life, I’ve observed something I’m calling the “Arc of Life.” What I mean by this term is that there is a natural rhythm of life that keeps pace with us, and even limits us, to what we can or should be doing at any given time. I began seeing this arc of life as I have had the chance to develop such close relationships with people of so many different ages and accomplishments. What I’ve seen is that there is a natural arc to life, an arc of productivity, an arc of family, an arc for things of God.

The book of Ecclesiastes has a passage (made famous in the 60’s by Bob Dylan and The Byrds) that speaks to this arc:

Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. 5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. 6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. 7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak. 8 A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.

Now you’ll see in this passage that God has ordained certain times for certain activities. There may be a degree of flexibility from person to person, but by and large, life in alignment with the Lord follows this arc: preparation> production> concentration> transition. I have found that our modern society that seeks to throw off all restrictions—people no longer think in terms of proper times and proper seasons. But whether or not we understanding it, our lives follow this arc. The less we live in harmony with it, the less peace and joy we’ll find.

In a nutshell, the arc begins with childhood—this is where children learn about life, about values, about work and play, etc. The lessons they learn here propel them into early adulthood.

Then, in early adulthood people decide upon their course for life. They refine their skills and step away from the edge of the pool and start swimming. Along the way they pick up a spouse, have children, and settle down. They are moving up the arc.

In their middle-aged years (from about 30-50) they are living in a renaissance of personal productivity. They are producers—making something, having an impact, seeing results. They are full of activity—if it can be done, they will do it. Should it be done? Maybe/maybe not, but they’ll give it a try. The folks have time, resources, vision and passion. They are nearly at the top of the arc.

But I have seen—when a person is following God’s natural arc—somewhere between 50 and 60 years old, rather than the typical notion of “slowing down” that the world pounds into our thinking, instead when a person has properly followed this arc, during this time they will enter into a realm of purified productivity—they are ultra productive, but not existing in a realm of hectic activity. They will be wise and seasoned. They will know what matters. They will still have resources of energy and vision to accomplish great things; but they will have the added blessing of seeing life from an eternal perspective. They start marking days and years and realizing that they can leave a legacy if they focus on the right things. They have the discernment to leave behind things that waste time, and they focus on what will count for eternity. Now they are at the top of the arc.

Where they go from here depends on how they have gotten here. If they have followed God’s arc to this point, they are rich with perspective and wisdom. They have much to offer others and seek to pass the baton on to the next generation of leaders. Their joy is found in giving away the riches God has given to them. They have much to offer and people come to them to receive. They continue to lead, but they lead into the twilight, lighting the way for those who follow, and because so few today have followed God’s arc to this point, many people gaze at these saints with love, joy, respect and gratitude.

This is the arc. It is an arc filled with hope, optimism and peace. It’s an arc most could follow, but few choose.

The more I interact with people, the more I see how living out of balance with this arc causes great misery. It seems as though society has increasingly derailed good people from this perspective. Society, with its sophomoric wisdom, tells itself that it can ignore this arc, that there are more immediate ways to happiness, that we shouldn’t be bound by such naïve notions. Yet people wonder why our misery continues to rise, our contentment continues to lower, and we increasingly descend into despair—especially as we age. Life is painful and without knowing their place on the arc, they forsake hope and give up.

And that’s why I thought I’d take a moment to write this post—for many people reading it—there is still time to redirect efforts and recognize our place on the arc.

First and foremost, the Lord needs to be at the center of our lives. Back in High School, I thought I was pretty cool by saying that God was my Co-Pilot. What I didn’t realize then is that a statement like this is simply foolishness. God IS the Lord and master of ALL life—even if we ignore Him or deny this truth. I can say I don’t believe in gravity, but it still dominates everything I do. God is not our co-pilot, He is THE pilot! He has determined the course of our days and the times and places we live. He is moving us along this arc whether or not we admit it. Unless we are surrendered to Him, we’re going to find that each stage of the arc is frustratingly toilsome. We’ll be out of sync with God’s natural rhythms of life.

We’re like a blind person, sitting in a canoe, being carried down a stream. We don’t know where the stream is going and we can’t see where we are, but we’re paddling with all our might into the darkness. The solution is to recognize what God is doing and let Him lead. This kind of trust and knowledge of God requires that we are reconciled to Him. It’s not enough to be fatalistic and just “go with the flow”. It’s more than that—we need to surrender and do God’s will. This means we need to be in a right relationship with Him.

How do we do this? Well, here’s the basics: God is holy and pure and dwells in absolute purity and perfection. Therefore, He can’t have any sin in His presence—otherwise, it wouldn’t be perfect any more. But sadly, each of us sin, each of us do things that are not like God. This means two things: we are out of fellowship with God here and now, and when we die, we will be out of fellowship with God forever (e.g. we go away from God because we can’t enter into His presence). If we are not in fellowship with God here, we are off His path for our lives.

But God wants us in fellowship with Him, God wants us near. So He sent His son, Jesus, to earth to be our atonement. Jesus was perfect—like God—never sinning. His death on the cross was to shed His life for us; to cover us with His perfection. This is His gift to us: eternal life. We don’t earn this, like any gift, we receive it when we reach out for it by faith. We confess to God we have sinned. We ask Him to be the Lord of our lives and turn us from the things that break our fellowship with Him. Once we recognize and submit to Him as the Lord of our lives, His presence and grace infuses everything we do and He enables us to live out His plan for us. Thus we walk the arc, fulfilling His will, experiencing His peace, knowing our lives are pleasing to Him.

Let’s get back to the arc of life…so, how do we teach it to our children? First, we need to connect our kids to the Lord at a young age. From this root stems a successful life (that is, one that is successful in the eyes of God). When God is at the center of our lives, we fulfill each stage of the arc with His hand guiding us and His strength working within us. We have peace knowing that each season is operating unto God and He will not fail to accomplish His will for us.

As we enter into young adulthood, we get equipped for a life of usefulness and productivity. During these years, we need to hold Christ at the center of our lives to keep from getting off His arc. The world is full of wild lures, seeking to draw us from God’s arc for our lives. Countless people burn through these equipping years without gaining the tools they need to really live. The result is the rest of their lives, they feel like they are playing catch-up, never quite in step with the pace of life.

Likewise, we need Christ at the center of our lives as we steam through the middle-aged years. These are the years when we can accomplish so much for eternity. These are the years when we make an impact. These are the years when we accomplish what we’ll be remembered for. Yet how many people rage through these years and just as they leave this era, they look back suddenly realizing the moment has past and the days were squandered? The old rock band, Rush, wrote a song called “Anthem”—I remember singing its key lyrics: “Live for yourself, there’s no one else more worthy living for”. But if this is our anthem, regret will eventually come like the plague.

But if Christ is the center of our lives during these years, we’ll have tremendous productivity—not just in our workplace, but in our homes and in our churches. We’ll go on Short Term Missions trips. We’ll sacrifice to fund overseas church planting. We’ll volunteer for a crisis ministry. We’ll do things that matter.

As we get older, if Christ is at the center of the arc, when we enter those Golden Years—we’ll find they truly are golden. Not because they are without pain or worry (likely, our pain and discomfort will increase) but rather we’ll have a life-time of godly wisdom that we can pour into our children and others in our family and in our church. We’ll have wisdom validated by a life well-lived and people will be blessed in our hearing.

And lastly, when we enter those twilight years—if Christ has been at the center of our lives, we’ll have known that we have spent them for eternity. We’ll see and know that time is short. We’ll have peace and contentment knowing that life has not been wasteful toil, but rather joyful Christ-filled service. We will have been connected to Christ, the Vine (Jesus taught about this in John chapter 15), for our entire lives and will rejoice in the hundred-fold harvest of fruitfulness as Christ has lived our His life through us.

From here, for God’s people, there will be no “end” that awaits us, but rather a beginning—a beginning of the next phase of life (REAL life) where we walk with Christ face-to-face, in glory, without the weight of sin; where we can fellowship with Him and His people with purity and joy. We will step into eternity in harmony with the arc of life, knowing that indeed God has always been faithful.

So beloved, like it or not, you are on this arc. How are you doing? Is Christ guiding you on the path? Is He the Lord of your life in all His entirety? If you are young, are you gathering the resources to live life well? If you are middle-aged, are you maximizing the productivity of these days? If you’re in your golden years, are you using your wisdom and remaining reserves for eternity? Are you in the twilight years? Are you looking forward to forever with the Lord letting these last days be spent in fellowship with Him and His people? I prayerfully hope so.

The arc of life…to follow it in righteousness is to know peace and joy and productivity. To fight against it is to know toil, frustration and ultimately despair. If you have not aligned with God’s arc for your life, now is the day for repentance. Now is the day to let Him be the Lord and surrender to His will.

Again, if you’re not sure, here’s how:

Begin by praying to God and recognizing that He is holy and right about what is good and righteous. Recognize that you have not lived with absolute purity before Him. Recognize that when you measure yourself against His purity, He has every right to cast you from Him into Hell. But also recognize that He has provided His Son Jesus in your place. Jesus lived a perfect life and when He died, He died as a substitute for God’s people—that way, God’s holiness and justice are preserved, and we can be forgiven. Call out to God for forgiveness. Repent and turn your life to follow His ways. That means knowing what the Bible says by reading it. That means doing what the Bible says. That means joining with a church and getting involved. That means talking with Him in prayer and listening to His Spirit.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably not too late to align yourselves with God’s arc of life. If you do that, while I won’t guarantee that life will go perfectly, I can guarantee that God will be with you and strengthen you to accomplish and persevere through all that He brings your way.

Thanks and God Bless.

Those are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012 17:23

How do we know that the Bible is God's Word?

Written by Russ Brewer
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How do we know that the Bible is actually the Inspired Word of God?

Is the Bible actually God's message to us? When you think about it, this is one of the most important questions a person can ask. If the Bible is a message from God, we must listen to it and set our lives by it. If it is simply a religious text from antiquity, we might marvel by it, but we certainly won’t submit to it.

So IS the Bible inspired? Many people would say “yes” but not be able to give much support. Others would say “no” and might cite something they learned from a college professor or the DaVinci Code. Others would say “I’m not really sure and I don’t really care.” If you’re in any of these groups, I urge you to read closely what we’re about to cover.

If the Bible was inspired, what would expect from it? Pause right now and think about that. What would you expect from the Bible if it were truly a message from God?

I would imagine that you’d probably expect it to be deeply meaningful, deeply important, deeply inspiring. If you thought longer about it, you’d probably also think that when it spoke of things that were related to fact—such as geography, science, history, etc., it would be true. Lastly, if there were areas that it foretold events to come, you’d expect them to actually come about in the manner that was given to us. Well, let me encourage you that the Bible is all this and more!

Let’s start with some foundation concepts that we need to build upon.

For one thing, the Bible claims to be God’s message to us. Now before you start shouting “circular reasoning!” hear me out—in just a few moments, I’ll attempt to show you how we know the Bible is from God. But we need to know that it really presents itself this way. No one reads the ingredients on a box of Fruit Loops and wonders if it’s a message from God. Why would they? It never claims to be. Likewise, the book The Wizard of Oz doesn't claim to be a message from God so no one spends any time wondering about the truth-claims of its message.

But the Bible is different. In over 3000 separate instances, it claims to be a message from God. Over and over it says, “Thus says the Lord…” Over and over it says, “Grace to you and peace from God…” Over and over it says, “Hear the Word of the Lord…” So with 3000 statements like this, we need to sit down and consider the validity of statements such as these. Has the Lord really said these things? Is the Bible a clear and faithful copy of what God wants us to know?

As we dig deeper into this point, let’s think through some of the ways we’d expect God to show that He has indeed given us His message in the Bible.

For one thing, the Bible ought to be true in areas of history, right? Indeed! The Bible is the most consulted ancient text in existence. It is frequently used to explain the archaeological findings in the Middle East and often countries in those areas will have parks & monuments at places where biblical events took place. Modern archaeologists routinely use the Bible to triangulate their findings. The New Testament book of Luke is considered one of the most reliable sources to understanding the political conditions of ancient Rome.

So these days, the Bible is regularly acknowledged to be historically reliable, even by secular scholars. But this wasn't always the case. A couple centuries ago, scholars used to say that the Bible was filled with factual errors in relation to historical events. They’d cite a few examples of people/places that they assumed never existed. For instance, they use to say that the most famous king of Israel, known as David, never existed. He was just myth. And then they'd tease out the conclusion and say that since David never lived, massive sections of the Bible must be historically inaccurate. This "factoid" (a false fact presented as true) was often cited until the early 1990s. Then in 1993, archaeologists found steles (historical monuments of the ancient world) that referred to King David. Suddenly, one of the key examples of "biblical errors" came to an abrupt end. Wow, David really lived. 

The same is true for ancient people groups such as the Hittites, mentioned in the Bible. For much of modern scholarship, there had yet to be found any trace of the Hittites. The notion of Hittites really living was laughed at by scholars. But over time, not only has archaeology found proof of the Hittites, they now have the capital in along the Turkey/Syria border. Google “Hittite Capital” and you won’t find anyone saying “the Hittites were mythical people.” 

Well, we could go on and on with more examples, but the point has been made, the Bible IS historically accurate and these attempts to discredit it consistently end up being disproven.

How about geography? Did all those places really exist? When we read the book The Wizard of Oz, we hear about the Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road. In some ancient myths we hear about mythical places like Atlantis. The Book of Mormon talks about a whole subcontinent located below North America called Nephi. Yet no true scientist recognizes that these places have ever existed.

On the other hand, when you look at the Bible, it’s amazingly current. You’ve probably heard of Jerusalem, Jericho, Gaza…these are all real places today and are on the evening news all the time. They are also mentioned throughout the Bible. They are real places. Sure, some cities have changed their names but that’s not a problem—if you look at the history of many towns in America, they often change their names (note Hagerstown, MD). But where the Bible is concerned, there are NO lost continents, no mysterious lands, nothing like that at all. It’s just straight fact—in fact, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Bible is actually used in archaeology to help determine what cities are being discovered when they’re dug up.

Let’s go on to science…

People often say that the Bible is full of scientific inaccuracy. What they’re talking about is really the first few chapters of Genesis, because (let's be honest) these chapters are a pretty jarring read if you’ve never read anything like them before. You’ve got God creating things in the blink of an eye and not in the order we'd expect. To our modern senses, it seems so contrary to what we learn in High School and College. If that's you, I can relate. I didn't grow up reading or believing the Bible. At first, these chapters threw me too. So, I was once there too, I know how it is.


But I gave the Bible an honest look. If God COULD do anything, He certainly could do everything Genesis 1-11 contains. Likewise, if the Bible is truly from God, than either it really happened as it is described (which I personally believe) or at least it’s something God wants us to understand because the theology of the first eleven chapters of Genesis is amazing. If you are interested in this topic, there are many books that seek to prove the reality of Genesis through REAL science. Don’t let the skeptics drown out the voices of these up and coming scientific discoveries. Increasingly, our ability to examine nature is proving (rather than disproving) these things. Studies in String Theory, Time-Dilation, DNA, and astronomy continue to verify rather than discredit the Bible. Likewise, Creationist theories such as Irreducible Complexity and Apparent Age answer many (perhaps even most) questions from skeptics. And while I don’t have the time or resources to go into this exciting branch of science, look into these links and consider for yourself if perhaps the Bible is saying things that are true after all.

Another important point to understand is that the Bible is a book written to all mankind from God. Not everyone in history had 145 IQs. Not everyone in history understood cause and effect, scientific theory, etc. Yet the Bible is written FOR the professor of Harvard just as much as for the Motilone Indian in Columbia--both need to be able to read it and understand it. The wording had to be accurate, but meaningful. Therefore, the wording God uses accurately explains His truths in a manner that actually makes sense to all people groups throughout history. When you consider this point, it's quite astounding that a Berkeley Professors and a NFL football player and a CEOs can all find out that indeed, God's Word is true.

So we need to understand, when the Bible talks about science, it’s accurate--it might not use the same terms as we do, and it might not be as precise as our modern science, but when it speaks to matters of life and nature, it is accurate. For instance, the Bible says that the Earth is round (Is 40:22) –that wasn't even the prevailing belief in science until a few centuries ago. Likewise, it describes a limitless expanse of the universe (Is 55:9). Likewise, it talks about the stars being innumerable (Jer 33:22) and while we have tried to map and count every star, thanks to Hubble we've found out that some “stars” we’re looking at are actually whole galaxies--definitely not numerable! Sometimes you'll hear people talk about the dimensions of a giant round bowl in 1 Kings 7--it's 30 cubits around and 10 cubits across. The quick math says that pi would have to be "3" rather than 3.14. This is one of the few "Bible inaccuracies" that some people throw out. But there's a backstory that they are missing. For one thing, 3 and 3.14 aren't so far off, when you think about it and not bad for people who didn't have modern mathematics. But more importantly, the full description of the text in 1 Kings 7 explains that the disk is shaped like a flower where the lip flairs outward so that the dimensions of the lip are different than the inner dimensions of the bowl. Thus the questions of "pi" are resolved when we understand the irregular shape of the sides of the bowl. So all this is to underscore, that while I'm not saying that the Bible is a science text book, I am saying that when it refers to things that can be examined scientifically, it is accurate.

So far we’ve talked about how the Bible is amazingly frank and candid when it discusses matters of history, geography, science, etc. But these don’t fully convince or satisfy us—a telephone book better be pretty accurate, but we don’t put our eternal soul in its hands. So let’s move on…

The Bible is more than just an accurate ancient book, indeed it has a voice and tone that sets it apart from all other literature. When you read scripture, there is a powerful message that is being bull-dozed into your soul. It’s a message of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. It’s a message of God’s goodness and man’s rebellion. It’s a message of the measures God has done to reconcile us to Him, and it’s a message of the horrific reality that awaits those who refuse Him. This message is so complete, and so unified, we take it for granted. I doubt anyone reading what I just wrote blinked an eye because this is simply the message of scripture through and through. The fact that scripture has this message is something of a miracle in itself.

You see, the Bible is an old book. And not only was it old, it was written across a spectrum of cultures and regions. Some of it is a record of oral tradition that is so exact that it baffles modern scholars. Some of it is a force of unity that it amazes its students.

Here’s what I mean. The Bible was written by about 40 authors over 2000 years. Think about that for a minute. Have you ever heard JFK’s speeches? While they are beautiful, they clearly represent a perspective on life that is different from most of ours today. And yet, that was only 40-50 years ago! Look at the changes in America in the last century—from technology, to morality, to politics, to the family. Our nation has changed. And yet the Bible has an amazingly unchanging message from cover to cover.

And it wasn't just because they were all drinking the same Kool-Aid. Back then, generally is was just the rich who had access to education. Generally just the rich had access to the writing implements to record information. Generally just the rich had access to other copies of literature. Yet the Bible was written by the rich and the poor. It was written by kings and peasants; doctors and fisherman. It was written from Israel, Babylon and even a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. If Americans, can't agree with Americans from 40-50 years ago, how could the Bible be so unified when written over such a span of time and by such a spectrum of people?

And lest you think I’m talking about the obvious stuff—like “God is loving” I’m not. I wouldn’t be very impressed if the only unified thing the Bible could say about God is that He is loving. But there is so much more! There are subtle “rivers” of truth that flow throughout scripture that would be missed if it were not for the complete revelation. For instance, you may not know this but the classic phrase from Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is nestled into a subtle statement of the doctrine of the Trinity. Genesis 1:2 talks about “God” (the Father). Genesis 1:2 talks about the Spirit. Genesis 1:3 talks about the “Word”—which is another term for Jesus. A few verses later, when God talks about creating people, He says in Genesis 1:26 “Let us make man in our image”—wow, it sounds like God is plural there. However, in the very next verse it says, “God created man in his own image”–now it’s back to singular. Even in these verses we can see the germinal idea of the plurality of the godhead united in one person (sorry for the fancy theological terms there). That’s an amazing and subtle message that is carried through the whole Bible.

I could go on and talk about the unified message the nature of sin and the need for faith instead of works, the coming Messiah, the nature of God’s wrath, the nature of prophecy, etc. These, and countless other themes, are quite astounding in their unity. They present God in a complex array of facets, each complementing and further highlighting the person and nature of God. When you really take the time to look at these, and consider them in light of how the Bible has 40 authors over 2000 years, it’s beyond possible.

No other religious work can say this. The Book of Morman claims to be from God along with the Bible, but its contradictions with the Bible are dizzying. The Quran has so many contradictions, they have a whole system of how to handle them. They solve the problem by saying that whatever was spoken last overrides whatever was said earlier! Wow! [Now, just in case you’re thinking Christians do that with the Old and New Testaments, there is a huge difference. For one thing, the Old Testament has large sections that are about ceremonial law of sacrifices. But the ceremonial law was fulfilled (and therefore finished) in Christ so now we don’t need to follow that specific code anymore. It was legitimately fulfilled and therefore its purpose and presence is complete.] Going on, let's pause to consider Hindu writings. Hinduism has so many "gods" that no one even tries to assemble Hindu teachings into a single source. Their teachings cover so many “gods” that their contradictions end up being something akin to brand loyalties--you choose a god much like choosing Pepsi over Snapple. You like the taste of this god over that one. Again, the Bible is nothing like this.

As we look at the Bible, we begin to develop the clear impression that this book is like none other. Sure lots of books claim to be from God, but none have the precision, form, power, and message of scripture. Indeed, the very theme of the Bible is unlike anything else: God is holy and pure. He created man without sin. Man rebelled against God and has been cast from His presence. God loved man despite this rebellion. God made the way for man to be reconciled to Him: He sent His perfect Son who would give His life as a ransom for their sins. Then God would even give people the faith necessary to believe this message. Finally, God would place His Holy Spirit into His people so that they could then live and walk with Him. It’s an amazing message without parallel in the rest of the world.

And this brings us to our final “proof” that the Bible is the Word of God—it truly changes people’s lives. I once heard a proverb from Winston Churchill that "the world is run by tired men." I don’t know if he really said it, but it makes sense that he would because he was known to function on just four hours of sleep during World War II. The thing is, if we were to take Winston’s words and apply them to every person’s life in every situation, we’d really bungle the whole world. Everyone would be exhausted and things would start falling apart. What was “wise” for one dude, doesn't apply to all men everywhere.

But the Bible is not like that. The Bible (when interpreted and applied correctly) is relevant for every person in every culture in every epoch of humanity. It’s power works in kings and aboriginals. It’s transforming nature cleanses movie stars and skid row bums. As a pastor, I have a front row seat in watching God change people’s lives all the time; it's what keeps me excited about the ministry. I’ve seen first-hand how the clear, simple message can being about the total new birth in a prostitute so that after she followed it’s teachings, she was transformed and was nothing like the person she once was. I knew her before and after and her life is a miracle of the handiwork of God. The Bible changes lives. If you set out to obey each line of scripture, you WILL be different. And that difference won’t come as the result of your own “boot strap” will power, it comes by the power of God, through His Spirit, working in you and through you. It’s truly amazing!

So having said all of this, now we’ve got to make a decision. What are we going to do with all of this? Can we simply walk away? Do we have that luxury? Is that even an option anymore? Indeed it is not. You must decide what you are going to do. At this point, you can either harden your heart to God, or you can surrender your heart to Him and commit—like the psalmist in Psalm 119:4—to obey God’s word diligently.

Lastly, keep in mind that the message of the Bible is clear: We need a savior to reconcile us to God. I've written another blog post article about how we can be saved by God when we surrender to Him.

Also, if you have time, here's my personal story about how God transformed my life. If you come to Him, He will work in your life too.

If you need help, drop me a line. I’d love to help you walk with God through the study of His word.

Thanks and God Bless!

Russ

 

 

 

 

 

 

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