Have You Heard of Machen?
Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. J. Gresham Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending.” Professor Machen was the author of the New Testament Greek grammar book that was the text for my first year of Greek. Though difficult that first year [the second, third, and fourth grew easier], I wanted to learn everything this language scholar had to teach. I came to understand and appreciate his love of Scripture. Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines of defense were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned the battle [i.e. the Bible is the true Word of God], we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity. He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the deity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. For Machen, this was not an option. Nor can it be us.
- Pastor Kleiser
And Then Came the Resurrection!
You remember how on the evening of that first Easter Sunday the disciples felt in the wake of the cross – they are behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. They are saying to one another, “Look what they did to Jesus! We’re next.” They are cowering, terrified, discouraged, despairing, and despondent. Their faith has crumbled and they’re waiting for that knock on the door when the soldiers come to arrest them and it will be their turn next. And then in John chapter 20, Jesus immediately came and stood in the midst of them. And He said to them, “Peace!” And He showed them His hands and His feet where the nail marks were. Here He is now alive and He gives them a mission – “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” You see, “Now that I live again, triumphant from the grave, everything changes. There’s a word for the world – a word of hope and good news. Jesus lives! A Savior of sinners. And so as I have been sent by the Father and have completed My mission, now I send you, go tell the world. Proclaim among the nations that Christ, who was crucified, dead, and buried, rose again from the dead and ever lives to save all who believe.”
An amazing moment! Life altering. Remember, they were despairing, broken, cowering in fear. Within forty days, however, we find them standing in the public square proclaiming boldly to everyone gathered in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost that “Jesus Christ is alive!” And then for the next forty years, they suffer and bleed and die proclaiming that same message. The change? From fear to faith, from cowardice to missionary.
Some of you know the story of Chuck Colson. He was one of President Nixon’s top advisors during the Watergate scandal. Colson eventually went to jail as a result of his crimes and then later came to know the Lord Jesus. He was wonderfully converted. This is Colson’s comment on the resurrection. He said, “I know the resurrection is a fact and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified they’d seen Jesus raised from the dead and then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned, and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it were not true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks! You’re telling me the twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years? Absolutely impossible.”
The fact that Jesus Christ came to them alive, risen from the grave, changed everything. It changed everything. It made cowards into missionaries. And while angels merely see it, the disciples proclaim it among the nations. Since Jesus is alive, we have a mission given to us. And the great question is, “How can we keep this good news to ourselves? How is it that our mouths are so often closed when we have such news to proclaim among the nations? Jesus lives! A perfect Savior of sinners.” “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” He says to us, the risen Christ.
- Pastor Kleiser
The Purpose of Pain
According to a recent article by Jeremy Linneman in The Gospel Coalition, “About 40 percent of Americans suffer from chronic, persistent, and untreatable pain. Imagine this: in a congregation of 200 adults, about 80 of us are currently in pain . . . Chronic pain,” he says, “is the second-most common reason individuals see a physician and miss work.” Archaeologists have discovered Babylonian clay tablets indicating that pain studies can be traced backed to very early historical cultures. In the middle ages, pain was considered a religious matter, sometimes seen as God’s punishment for sins, or as evidence that an individual was possessed by demons. Aristotle considered pain to be an emotional state opposite of pleasure. While this may be a reasonable comparison in how we perceive pain, there is much more involved in the process. Even today, many consider it their “cross to bear”. However, pain is a result of living in a fallen world. Tim Hager reminds us that, according to the Bible, "When sin entered the world, death entered, chronic pain, illness, and disease are a form of death."
You may be familiar with the quote from the G.I. Jane movie character, Master Chief Urgayle, when he explains, “Pain is your friend . . . it lets you know you’re not dead yet!” While this is a rather crude interpretation, there is some truth to it. A world without pain could hardly be considered a utopia. Take, for instance, the leper colonies in India, where they reap horrible consequences due to their inability to feel pain. Paul Brand, who worked among them for years, believes pain is a requisite for life, not antithetic to it. He proclaims, “God designed the human body so that it is able to survive because of pain.” Perspective is very important. Whether dealing with severe chronic pain or the inability to feel any at all, our focus must remain on the God who created us and loves us dearly. Pain seen negatively leads to discouragement. Biblically, it leads to dependence on God. C.S. Lewis is often quoted on this topic when he writes, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The Apostle Paul can certainly relate to what it’s like to suffer. He had the ability to avoid much of it but chose to endure for the sake of Christ “with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea” (2 Cor. 11:23-25). Yet, he preceded this story with his introductory greeting focused on the God who is greater than the circumstances. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Therefore, he could say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Cor. 4:8).
Author, Mary J. Yerkes, lists some of the benefits of enduring pain and suffering that draw us closer to the Lord: “Suffering produces intimacy with God (Job 42:5); Suffering equips us to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5); Suffering refines us (Isaiah 48:10); Suffering produces growth and maturity (James 1:2-4); Suffering conforms us into God's image (Romans 8:28-29).” While most of us would prefer to avoid pain altogether, it’s a reminder of our human frailty in comparison to the glories of eternity in heaven. For now, our faith and hope are in Jesus, who reminds us, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).
- Pastor Darbyshire
Some Bible students, perhaps many, have missed a key message from a very important New Testament verse. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Often that verse is interpreted as referring to concentric geographic circles. "Jerusalem," in this interpretation, represents one's own city, town or village . "Judea" is the surrounding area. "Samaria" is territory farther away. "The ends of the earth" -- those are the countries overseas or at great distances away.
However, to interpret Scripture properly we must consider how those who originally heard any statement would have understood it. And I think those who first heard Acts 1:8 would have considered the words of Jesus as primarily references with social and ethnic implications. This is surely true with respect to the word "Samaria." There was a region identified by that name. But it lay right in the middle of Palestine, closer geographically to Jerusalem than Galilee, the province where most of those who first heard Acts 1:8 actually lived. The uniqueness of Samaria was not a matter of its physical location but of its ethnicity.
The inhabitants of the region known as Samaria were descendants from the tribes that had made up the northern kingdom of Israel. They had been left behind in Palestine when many of their countrymen were carried away as captives in 722 BC by Assyria. Subsequently they intermarried to some degree with and were influenced by the customs of non-Jewish people who came in to occupy land that had been vacated by those who were taken into custody. As a result, Jews from the southern kingdom of Judah--who came back from Babylon in the 5th century to rebuild Jerusalem--regarded the Samaritans as religiously inferior and racially impure and therefore ethically not Jewish at all. Marriage to a Samaritan was forbidden, associations were limited and often conflicts developed between the two groups.
This antipathy persisted, sometimes with great intensity, well into the New Testament times. John 4:9 reflects the current situation when it comments, "Jews do not associate with Samaritans." The existing mutual prejudice is indicated in Luke 9 by the refusal of hospitality to Jesus by a Samaritan village and by the reaction of James and John, who wanted fire to fall from heaven upon that town. The Samaritans, then were an ethnic group living within Palestine who had long been regarded by Jews with prejudice and disdain if not outright hatred. Thus, when they heard him say, "Samaria," the Jewish disciples of Jesus almost certainly understood Him to be telling them they were to minister not to some people distinguished by their geographical distance but to a people nearby yet ethnically different, even to a group thought to be inferior and often despised.
Interpreted this way [and I think correctly] the reference to Samaria in Acts 1:8 constitutes a call to Christians in every age and place to minister to nearby ethnic groups, especially to any people who have been the victims of prejudice and discrimination. This is a responsibility we must recognize as part of the Great Commission. Of course we should show great concern for those who are at the "ends of the earth," and yet we must see that Samaria--meaning ethnic groups nearby--is equally a part of Acts 1:8. To respond properly to this responsibility will require many churches to change current attitudes. We are infected far more easily than we realize by the prejudices around us.
It must have shocked disciples to learn from Jesus that they were to minister to the very Samaritans they wanted to avoid. And although we may also find it difficult to face the practical implications of what Jesus said, we must obey Him with regard to our Samaria.
- Pastor Kleiser
His Honor Defend
For all his musical success and the millions he had made as a singer/songwriter, B.J. Thomas was $800,000 in debt and had a $3000-a-week drug habit. During a flight, he passed out and nearly died after overdosing on 80 pills. He confessed at the hospital that he really didn’t care whether or not he lived because his life had become such a disaster. Eventually, his wife became a Christian and invited him to come to the home of the friends who had explained the plan of salvation to her. Even though he really didn’t want to go, he later explained, “I felt such peace in that home that I knew they must know God.” As they prayed, peace came over him as well. He was born again and set free from the drugs because Christ was calling believers to honor Him and proclaim the good news to those who asked.
It isn’t always easy. Christ never promised it would be. The ones witnessing to B.J. Thomas felt that he was involved with demonic forces that were attempting to distract him from listening. God’s Word encourages us, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pe. 3:14-15). Earlier in the same epistle, Peter explains what this hope is that we are to testify about to unbelievers, “According to God’s great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pe. 1:3). And later in the same chapter, “You were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pe. 1:18–19).
When we are instructed to “Honor Christ the Lord as holy,” Peter refers back to a similar Old Testament passage in Isaiah 8:13, “But the LORD of Hosts, Him you shall honor as holy.” According to the British theologian Charles Ellicott, “This is the consequence of sanctifying Christ within by the worship of a pure life, that no moment, no questioner finds us unprepared to speak with freedom of our hope in Him . . . every Christian’s own life ought to be so free from taint, so conscious of Christ enshrined within, as to cause him no misgiving in defending the faith.” Honoring Christ is to sanctify, hallow, and set His name apart as holy, to honor Him as the all-powerful Creator of the universe. In recognizing Him for who He is, we have the proper perspective when it comes to defending the faith and giving living water to a thirsty and dying world.
“Believers must realize that we are living in a post-Christian era with a host of worldviews vying continuously for people’s commitments and, indeed, for their very lives,” says Hank Hanegraaff, “the Holy Spirit uses apologetic arguments as vehicles for clarifying the truth of God's Word.” It’s important for us to realize that we don’t have to be theologians or pastors in order to pass on this hope to others. Rev. 12:11 tells us, “And they have conquered him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” The blood of Christ and His resurrection have gained the victory over sin and death. Like B.J. Thomas, we have our testimonies of how He has changed our lives. Let’s be ready to defend the Word of God and the truths of what we believe.
- Pastor Darbyshire
Could This Be the Year?
I do not claim to have a stethoscope tuned into the heartbeat of evangelical Christianity, but I have certain impressions about current conditions. I believe that, at present, there is a careless interest among believers in the second coming of Christ. One wonders about this disinterest. Christ's return is still a key to our completed redemption which was forever settled on the cross when Jesus died in our place. This is still the only genuine hope for peace and order for a ravaged and chaotic world. In fact, we should be anticipating the appearance of our Savior with a rising tide of enthusiasm.
A.W. Tozer once observed that interest in Christ's coming declines when we begin to get so comfortable in this present world that we do not want to leave it. One Sunday morning service, some years ago, I preached on the imminence of Christ's coming. Following the sermon, I was asked by one of the young girls in our youth group if I really thought that Jesus might return that day. I discovered that she was disturbed by the possibility that He might come before a party that was scheduled for the following weekend. Perhaps, many of us are not anxious to be caught away to meet the Lord because there are a few more "parties" down here we yet want to enjoy.
Perhaps current "prosperity preaching" that proclaims God wants all Christians to be healthy and wealthy in the here and now diminishes our anticipation of the hereafter. But how tragically misplaced are our affections if we are so enamored with the pleasures and possessions of this present world that we do not long passionately to be personally with our Lord. How warped are our values if our interest in the riches and comforts of earth make us less enthusiastic about the glory to be revealed when He appears. One wonders also about the adverse effects of a careless interest in Christ's return upon the character of the church.
Some parents, who returned from vacation two days earlier than they originally planned, found their home in a shambles. The daughter who was left in charge at home had intended to clean up the place just before their return and was caught off guard by their early arrival. The expectation that we may see our Savior face-to-face at any moment has always caused Christians to be concerned about their conduct. If we do not take that possibility seriously we have lost an important incentive to holy living and some necessary spiritual housecleaning may be put off until another day.
Sometime ago, a man drove frantically across the country to his home because the region where it was located was threatened by floods and he wanted to make sure his dog had been taken out of danger. If we really believe that our lost loved ones and neighbors may at any moment be caught up in the floods of judgment that are to come sweeping over the world in the last days, we will be spurred to seek more diligently their salvation through our faithful witness and fervent prayers. Without that expectation we are likely to neglect evangelistic endeavors in which we should be engaged.
Despite the relative peace and plenty under which many of us live at the moment, tragedy can strike us at any time. And there are millions upon the earth right now in the midst of oppression, starvation, suffering, or war. Without a clear vision of a Savior who is coming soon to intervene in the affairs of this world, we have no hope in the midst of heartache to steady ourselves and no answer to give to a despairing world. Somehow, we must rekindle as a burning fire in the church the anticipation of Christ's second coming. And each of us must live with this prospect ever before us. It may be this year. It may be this month. It may be today!
- Pastor Kleiser
Thoughts for the Season
As we approach the holidays and reflect on the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, it’s easy to get so caught up in celebrating the season that we miss the Reason for it.
Every December, Daddy gets out the tree from a box that he keeps locked away
In a shed by the house, in a darkened place, until it’s time to be displayed
He’s always so grouchy ‘til the work is all done and every trimming is in its place
And Momma complains about the lines at the mall; sometimes, it’s almost too much to face
Everyone’s talking ‘bout Christmas spirit, but the rest of the year they don’t want to hear it
The Dutch Reformed pastor, Andrew Murray, understood that it’s easy to get so focused on the mundane, day-to-day activities and lose sight of what really matters. Therefore, he had to remind himself and his parishioners, “May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love and joy of God’s presence and not a moment without the entire surrender of myself as a vessel for Him to fill full of His Spirit and His love.” We sing the seasonal songs and cantatas, feel the excitement in the air, scurry about trying to prepare meals and find gifts to match seemingly endless lists, while barely brushing up against the manger, the humiliated couple, and the unmerited love of God’s greatest gift.
We add so much to the simple message of the Gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). When writing to an often confused and discouraged John Wesley, his mentor, William Law, explained, “You would have a philosophical religion, but there can be no such thing. Religion is the most plain, simple thing in the world. It is only, 'We love Him, because He first loved us.' So far as you add philosophy to religion, just so far you spoil it." Brother Lawrence, the lowly, monestarial kitchen aide, understood the necessity of being in the constant presence of God’s love when he wrote in his Maxims, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?” His words should be an encouragement for all of us to keep it simple, keep it joyous, and by the sage advice of Stephen Covey, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Jesus is the reason we celebrate; He’s the only reason we truly have to celebrate. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in Him (Psalm 118:24).
Let’s put the Christ back in Christmas
And bring a light to this darkness
Let the love for our Savior
Show the world what we celebrate this day for
“Let it be the most important thing we do, then, to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ" (Thomas a Kempis).
- Pastor Darbyshire
Reformation Day - November 1
Welcome to November! This first day of the month is regarded as Reformation Day. Of utmost importance to those who shared a kindred spirit with Martin Luther, the great reformer, was the reliability of Scripture alone [sola scriptura]. It remains so today. The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider ‘communion of saints’ down through the age.” – Michael Horton, “What Still Keeps Us Apart?”
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” – C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 1.
“Tradition is the fruit of the Spirit’s teaching activity from the ages as God’s people have sought understanding of Scripture. It is not infallible, but neither is it negligible, and we impoverish ourselves if we disregard it.” – J.I. Packer, “Upholding the Unity of Scripture Today,” JETS 25 (1982): 414
“Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If upon reading a particular passage you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two-thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.” – R. C. Sproul
Suit Up and Run to the Battle
In an article by Joshua Gill published in The Daily Caller, he gives a clear picture of what is happening during the aftermath of the recent hurricanes when he writes, “Christian non-profit organizations have outdone FEMA and provided the vast majority of the relief aid to victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Faith-based relief groups are responsible for providing nearly 80 percent of the aid delivered thus far to communities with homes devastated by the recent hurricanes, according to USA Today.” Per PJ Media’s article by Chris Queen, “Christian organizations are doing more than the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in response to Harvey and Irma. Faith-based organizations mobilize quickly, and Christians tend to act generously in times of need. The advantage to receiving aid from Churches and other faith-based charities is that the states and localities do not have to repay Christian non-profits the way they must pay back FEMA dollars . . . denominations have taken in donations and put boots on the ground all over the South.” He refers to Southern Baptists as “The best kept secret in disaster relief.”
As expected, Samaritan's Purse responded quickly to the needs in Texas following Hurricane Harvey and the Caribbean Islands following Hurricane Irma. They were able to rely on their teams in Canada to help in Florida after Hurricane Irma. Luther Harrison, Vice President of North American Ministries for Samaritan’s Purse explains, “Jesus called His followers to serve others as a way to show His love to the world. It's incredibly encouraging to see believers step up to the plate and follow God's commands to give, love, and serve.”
In 1 Samuel 17:1-51, we read about David’s confrontation with the Philistine giant, Goliath. The people were afraid. The giant was, well, giant and things seemed hopeless for the army of the Lord. Yet, in verse 48 we see, “When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.” While the people were evacuating Texas, Florida, and the World Trade Center, First Responders were running to the battle. In 2001, while other passengers on United Flight 93 were paralyzed with fear, Todd Beamer and a group of heroes said goodbyes to their loved ones, recited the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm, and proclaimed, “Let’s roll.”
Ephesians 6:10-20 encourages us to run to the battle with the whole armor of God. This includes “weapons” (see also 2 Cor. 10:4-5) that are defensive as well as offensive. While some may be offended by the message of the Gospel (1 Pe. 2:1-8), it is the main reason we go. We may donate to hurricane relief through the Chipola Family Ministry Center and that’s a great way to help, but our purpose is more than philanthropy. As Russell Moore encourages us, “The Church now has the opportunity to bear witness in a culture that often does not even pretend to share our ‘values.’ That is not a tragedy since we were never given a mission to promote ‘values’ in the first place, but to speak instead of sin and of righteousness and judgment, of Christ and His kingdom.” The battle is raging in our midst. Let’s run to it with the real Good News so that all the earth will know that there is a God who loves them.
- Pastor Darbyshire
Surprised by Suffering
You've heard of book reviews? This is a statement about a book 'must read.' Here's why. Suffering often seems to catch us by surprise. One day we are healthy, comfortable, and happy. The next we find ourselves ill or injured, struggling, and distraught. The pain that invades our lives may come from our own suffering or that of a loved one. But, no matter the source, we didn’t see it coming. All too often, our perplexity prompts us to suspect God of wrongdoing. In light of the effects of Hurricane Harvey in Texas this week, it seems good to me to remind the family of God to recall the promises of Scripture. This 'must read' does a good job at pointing us in the right direction. It is only one of many such books covering this vital subject, but be careful that you are not wasting time on those authors who might question the sovereignty of God at a time like this. God is God alone. He does what is right (Genesis 18:25).
In his classic book, Surprised by Suffering, republished in a revised and expanded edition, Dr. R.C. Sproul argues that we should not be surprised by suffering; instead, we should expect pain and sorrow in this life. Some are actually called to a “vocation” of suffering, and all of us are called to undergo the ultimate suffering of death. God promises in His Word that difficult times will come upon us, but He also promises that He allows suffering for our good and His glory, and He will never give us more than we can bear with His help.
Dr. Sproul offers solid biblical counsel and comfort for those undergoing suffering and for those who minister to the suffering, counsel that helps believers stand in times of trial with faith in a God who is both loving and good. Begin your ministry to those who are hurting with earnest prayer. Call on God to display His glory and call many to His salvation.
- Pastor Kleiser
Completely, Committed, Followers
A few years ago, an inmate ask me if I had read any books by Kyle Idleman and I had to admit that I had not. While I had seen his name in some catalogues, there really wasn’t anything that drew me to it at the time. We had been discussing some of the writings of David Platt - who I was familiar with, having read several of his books. As he drew the comparisons between the two, he said, “Chap, you need to check out the book not a fan.” Well, if he was going to compare it to David Platt, I was interested. To date, I believe that it is one of the best books I’ve read.
In the last year, City On A Hill has produced a video teaching series based on the book not a fan. We plan to use this for our men’s group study during VBS. It cuts right to the heart of the matter in the premises: “There is no forgiveness without repentance; There is no salvation without surrender; There is no life without death; and There is no believing without following.” He’s pointing out that there’s no lasting belief in these intangible concepts without tangible evidence to back it up. In other words, neither God nor people buy what we say we believe if we aren’t manifesting it in our lives.
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus did not command us to make converts, but disciples. In fact, in chapters 8:20-22 and 19:16-30, he rejected such conditional offers from those who said they wanted to follow Him. The standards are high and costly. In Luke 14:33, Jesus states, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” He’s placing perspective on our priorities. We show how much we love others by the sacrifices we’re willing to make to be with them. The same is true for the Lord. He wants us to love Him like He loves us. He wants completely committed followers who are willing to give of themselves for the sheep, like the Shepherd of our souls gave Himself for us. It is this type of love and commitment that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:1-6).
In our hearts, we must settle the issue, “Am I a fan or a follower?”
- Pastor Darbyshire
Lord, Do it Again
I have read about the great waves of spiritual revival in the 18th century that swept across the British Isles and that revolutionized life in the early American colonies, in what is commonly called by church historians the "first" and "second Great Awakening." In the early part of the century, generally speaking, society had fallen into moral degradation and the Church was worldly and dead. Speaking of England, A. Skevington Wood writes:
Moral degeneracy found its victims in every stratum of society and an uninhibited hedonism was the prevailing philosophy of the times. Not only was the sanctity of marriage widely ignored other symptoms of decadence began to appear. Drunkenness held the nation in its grip, from the gentry to the poorest of the poor. Gambling had swelled into an obsession of such proportions that it may fairly be questioned whether the craze ever wielded such absolute way in any country of the world. Amusements were often cruel and brutal (The Inextinguishable Blaze, page 9).
Of the Church, Wood says, Christianity had for the most part ceased to be a vital force. The spiritual life of the people had largely been smothered by the dense atmosphere of materialism" (page 15). Yet, during the Great Awakening, in congregation after congregation and in different denominations people began to fall under conviction for sin, ministers became zealous (some of whom were previously not even converted), societies were formed for the promotion of personal holiness, social evils were attacked and remedied and all kinds of benevolent ministries were instituted.
The effects of revival in America were perhaps even greater than in Great Britain. This outpouring of God's Spirit gave rise to the greatest missionary movement in the history of the world. Of course, there have been other periods of revival for the Church and in other places, But the stories of the first and second Great Awakenings particularly interest me because of the close parallels in social and ecclesiastical conditions of that age and ours. Words like hedonism and materialism and moral decadence used to describe that day are terms appropriate to ours. If God moved in a day of moral degradation and spiritual deadness before, He an surely o it again. If such a general revival could sweep across the English-speaking world so that the whole tenor of society and the Church could be altered for the 100 years which followed, it can most certainly happen again.
I have some idea of what it will take to bring this about. I sometimes wonder if enough Christians are sufficiently concerned to give God the opportunity to move upon the generation of our day with revival. A great many believers seem rather satisfied with the status quo. But from what I have read, it seems to me that the Great Awakenings of the 18th century began with relatively few people who were deeply moved to cry out to God for His Spirit to be poured out upon men. Perhaps the strong prayers of only a few more of us will unlock the floodgates of outpoured revival for our generation. As I have been reading about revivals of the past I have found myself saying over and over in my heart, "O Lord, do it again."
Faithful In A Pinch
In my reading this week, I was struck by the question posed by Pastor Mark Adams, “What makes a Church RICH? Have you ever thought about that? If the word ‘rich’ gives you too much of a negative impression—try these words instead: What makes a Church ‘healthy’ or ‘productive’? I mean, what is that ’asset’ which contributes MOST to making a Church FRUITFUL in that it consistently churns our believers who are serious about their walk with God?” One of the huge “assets” that the early
Church had was its unwillingness to compromise the truth - even in the midst of poverty and persecution.
During his reign from A.D. 81-96, Emperor Domitian made Caesar worship compulsory. Those who refused to comply - John, Simeon, the Bishop of Jerusalem, and others - were persecuted or killed. Once a year, every person was required to burn a pinch of incense and say three words, “Caesar is lord,” out loud. When they did this, they received a certificate—a certificate that was required to get a job and make a living. According to W.A. Criswell, “When the Christians were invited just to bow down before the Roman image, their lives could be spared if they would merely take a pinch of incense and put it on the fire that burned in the presence of the image of the Roman Caesar. The Christian died rather than compromise with a pinch of incense.” If they refused to participate in this seemingly simple ritual, they were committed to ridicule, persecution, and trying to survive as outcasts. The trade guilds would not hire them because they refused to worship Caesar and insisted on following Jesus alone.
In Acts 19:25-26, Paul incurred this kind of wrath at Ephesus when the idol-making silversmiths of Diana/Artemis rose up against him saying, “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade . . . Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands.” We see a similar situation in Revelation 2:8-11, with the persecuted Church at Smyrna. Extrapolating this environment to the modern Church, Vance Havener writes, “It is not easy to preach on Smyrna now-a-days. The average American congregation is in no mood to appreciate such a Church. In a day of quick prosperity, it is not easy to interest a well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed Sunday morning crowd in the ‘Smyrna brand’ of loyalty. We are not interested in what it costs to be a Christian, but in what we GET by being one. In a day of ‘Health, Wealth, and Happiness in Ten Easy Lessons or Money Refunded,’ for many, Christianity has become simply a better way to get rich or have a big time.” On a daily basis, we are asked to make choices to stand up for what we believe while the world presses us with the words of the Roman Proconsul, “What harm can it do? Revile Christ and you will go free.” Scott Molebean concludes, “Most of the time we are given the choice of a pinch of incense, not in a public forum, but almost casually. How easy to just throw that pinch of incense on the altar of this society. Who would know anyway?”
We must be willing to stand for the truth, no matter the cost. There was no condemnation in the words of Jesus to the Church at Smyrna because they were unwilling to compromise the truth, knowing the reward was far greater than anything the world could offer them. By emulating their example, we will also be healthy, productive, and fruitful for Christ.
- Pastor Darbyshire
The Macedonian Call
As we approach the month of May, it is already apparent that it will be a very busy month for many people. Schedules are packed with holidays (May Day, National Day of Prayer, Mother’s Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day), graduations, finals, and special events. Many will be traveling, attending multiple events, taking lots of pictures, and celebrating all of these wonderful and worthwhile things. We’ll be busy; there’s no doubt. It seems like we always are, regardless of the time of year. It’s easy to lose track of why we do some of these things in the first place. Consequently - in the midst of all the hustle and bustle - we lose track of our purpose for being the body of Christ and spreading the Good News to people who really need it.
In a recent survey by Church growth expert Thom Rainer concerning the reasons the Churches in America are much less evangelistic today than in the recent past, the top seven results were: 1. Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people. 2. Many Christians and Church members do not befriend and spend time with lost persons. 3. Many Christians and Church members are lazy and apathetic. 4. We are more known for what we are against than what we are for. 5. Our Churches have an ineffective evangelistic strategy of “you come” rather than “we go”. 6. Many Church members think that evangelism is the role of the Pastor and paid staff. 7. Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.
As a response to the alarming trend of negative Church growth and the need to mobilize the army of God’s sheep, FBC Executive Director Tommy Green has declared a “Macedonian Call” (Acts 16:9-10) in southern Florida, where it is estimated that 98 percent of the population is unchurched. He makes the clarion statement, “What is taking place in South Florida will stretch further north in migration of people and population . . . If we as a State do not have a strategy and commitment for South Florida, we are going to wake up and realize that for half of our State we’ve become pretty much irrelevant.” We must take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them because statistics say the majority of them are not going to come to us.
Paul heard the call and was available to present the simple Gospel message when the Philippian jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)? Following Peter’s sermon in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, the people were “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do’” (Acts 2:37)? As a result, three thousand souls were added to the Church.
How did this happen? What did they do with such a tremendous and drastic influx of new believers? Let’s examine the Church members’ responses to the Gospel message. 1. They boldly declared the Good News. 2. They called for the hearers to repent and be baptized. 3. They continued steadfastly in doctrine, fellowship, and prayer. 4. They maintained a healthy fear and reverence for the Lord. 5. They shared with those in need. 6. They focused on remaining in one accord with each other through visiting, praising God, and attending services together. 7. They were known by their community and maintained a favorable reputation. “And the Lord added to the Church daily (emphasis mine) those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
These are the tried and true answers to the challenges we face in today’s environment. If we are to remain relevant in our culture and in our own neighborhoods, we need to trust God for the results and be available to answer the Macedonian call to go and help.
- Pastor Darbyshire
Either We Die or He Dies
“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The Scriptures are very clear that the wrath of God is visited upon sinners or else that the Son of God dies for them. Either sinners are punished for their sins or else there takes place a substitution. Either the sinner dies or the substitute dies.
When Jesus Christ became “a curse for us” according to Galatians 3:13-14, He bore the full consequences of our sin. When God made Him sin that we might become “the righteousness of God,” then in some way He took upon Himself our sin and we bear it no more (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God made Jesus die as our substitute that death which is the wages of sin.
Christ died for us; He died that death of ours which is the wages of sin. In the death of Christ, God condemned our sins once and for all. All of God's condemnation fell in one fatal blow upon Christ. It was a divine sentence executed by God upon all sin.
The Christian method of justification is one that is substitutionary. It is based on the substitutionary aspect of the atonement. The sinner is acquitted through the substituted bloodshedding of Christ. He suffers what God does to sin. Jesus’ death makes visible what happens when man has God against him. Christ bore our condemnation so that we bear it no more. We are justified by a substitutionary process.
Our salvation depends completely on what God has done in Christ. Redemption points us to a price paid (1 Peter 1:18-19). Substitution tells us how much was paid and by whom and for whom it was paid. It was purchased at great cost, at the price of His own blood. Christ paid the price that bought our salvation. The Son of God died once for all for the sinner and thus put away his sin. There is therefore no room for human activity.
As our substitute, Jesus Christ made Himself one with those for whom He suffered. He stands in the closest relationship with those for whom He died. Moreover, since the wages of sin was borne by our Substitute, our salvation reaches its consummation only when the sinner has become one with his Substitute and views his sin and Christ’s righteousness with the same mind as his Substitute.
That is why the Scriptures demand a personal response of faith in the finished atoning work of Christ.
Our salvation is totally dependent upon our divine substitute who took our place on the cross. Jesus Christ bore what we should have borne; He is our substitute. Christ paid the price of our redemption. “Christ died for our sins.”
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. . . I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 15b). “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
The Bible insists that we put our faith and trust in that finished work of Christ on the cross in order to be justified before God. “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
Justification means that God declares the believing sinner righteous in His sight, which is a declaration of peace, made possible by Christ’s death on the cross (Rom. 5:1). No sinner can merit that right relationship with God. It cannot be earned by our virtue because we are sinners. The love of God is “poured out into our hearts” (literal translation). Before we were saved, God proved His love by sending Christ to die for us.
Have you responded by faith to God’s divine Substitute who died for you? Either He dies, or you will die. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.
- Pastor Kleiser
Earth: Our Unique, Watery Planet
Earth is uniquely designed for us to live, with a platform where we can observe both our world and the universe. One thing that makes earth so special is water. Secular and creation scientists agree that, for a planet to sustain life, it must contain liquid water in sufficient amounts and of the right composition.
Evolutionists say that the earth has been here 4.5 billion years. However, the Bible says that God created the earth and the waters only a few thousand years ago. “And God said, Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day” (Gen. 1:6-8).
70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. If the surface of the terrestrial earth was flat, the waters would cover it 1½ miles deep. However, in the evolutionary model, water could not have condensed this close to the sun as the planets were forming. In fact, in their model, the earth would have had to form with virtually no water. So how did all of this water get here? The Bible tells us clearly that God made the heavens and the earth. “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is God!), who formed the earth and made it (He established it; He did not create it empty, He formed it to be inhabited!): I am the LORD, and there is no other” (Is. 45:18).
While we know that God created the waters on the second day when He divided them from the firmament/heavens, secularists have to come up with a different answer that - no matter how outlandish and unreasonable it seems - must remove God and creationism from the equation. Two examples are that the earth was bombarded by icy comets and asteroids. The problem with these assumptions is that the earth’s water is not the same chemical composition as comet or asteroid ice. Based on the limited amount of ice that could have come from these sources, Science News states that “probably less than 15 percent of earth’s water could have been added from space.”
Our earth also has a magnetic field that acts as a force field to shield us from harmful solar radiation. Magnetic fields are produced by liquid metals moving inside the core of planets as they rotate. The magnetic field of the earth is decaying at a rate of 50% every 1400 years. With that rate of reduction - assuming that the rate remains constant - the maximum age of the earth’s magnetic field would be about 20,000 years old. After 400 years of research in magnetism, evolutionary scientist still cannot figure out how a supposedly 4.5 billion year old planet can still have a magnetic field. In fact, the National Geomagnetic Initiative Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources has proclaimed, “The mechanism for generating the geomagnetic field remains one of the central unsolved problems in geoscience.” Why is this important? Magnetic fields indicate that planets are young. Without our magnetic field, our earth would have been uninhabitable and liquid water would not exist in the necessary quantities to sustain life as we know it.
While there are many other factors that make our planet unique and remarkably well-suited to sustain life, determined evolutionists will continue to seek for answers outside of acknowledging the lordship of Jesus Christ. It would be better to draw the obvious conclusions from within the data that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4).
- Pastor Darbyshire
Nothing draws from a preacher the desire to be faithful in his pulpit ministry quite like the appetite of the people for the Word he is charged to proclaim. It is this appetite for the Bible that gives fuel "for the journey." In our part of Jackson County, there are gospel opportunities on every side. Our task in this year is to clearly identify our focused evangelistic efforts and then to develop creative strategies to let loose the Word of God outside of our four walls, that it may do “out there” what it has been doing among us “in here”. Our calling, remember, is not to provide a certain ‘flavor’ of church for those who like that sort of thing. No, the call of God is to “go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in” as we share the good news about Jesus with them (Luke 14:23).
Author John Piper has said that, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.” (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed., [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010] .
Jesus reminds us that “the Father is seeking true worshipers” (John 4:23). Making true worshipers is God’s mission. Christians for generations have agreed that our chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Being true worshipers is the purpose of all people everywhere. But, since there is no other way to make true worshipers out of rebellious idolaters than to proclaim the good news about Jesus, then we had better get busy about the mission of reaching the world with the gospel, starting right where we are! Worship is the goal and the motive behind our evangelism. It is the purpose for the existence of the church of Jesus Christ. Making more worshipers who will join us before the throne of King Jesus this year is our great purpose, and we must resolve together to go after it with renewed determination.
One great test of how far the Word of God has had its way in a church is to ask how far that church loves the things God loves, and to what degree its mission mirrors the mission of God himself. As we move deeper into 2017 together, will you join me in praying that the Word of God might have its way in our hearts, so that our mission might more fully mirror the mission of the Father in sending the Son to “seek and save the lost”?
- Pastor Kleiser
Resolve To Know
According to a recent surveys conducted by the University of Scranton and the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the Top 10 New Year's Resolutions for 2015 were: Lose weight, get organized, spend less and save more, enjoy life, stay fit and healthy, learn something exciting, quit smoking, help others, fall in love, and spend more time with family. According to their research, 45% of Americans usually make New Year's Resolutions, but only 8% are actually successful in achieving them. In fact, 24% say that they never succeed in their resolutions. Despite our best efforts of drumming up the willpower to accomplish things in our lives that would benefit ourselves, others, or fill our bucket lists, many of us fall short of the goals we set for ourselves and wonder how we could ever succeed at the goals God wants to accomplish in our lives.
The psalmist, Asaph, understood this point when he wrote, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps. 73:26). While he was considering the prosperity of the wicked and becoming discouraged at their apparent success and his lack, he wisely "went into the sanctuary of God (Ps. 73:17). With his focus now in the right place, he had a different perspective on his situation because he understood that God's plans never fail. In fact, we "can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).
While all of the top 10 resolutions have good intentions, you will notice that they all take a humanistic approach to resolving only issues in this life and lack any eternal perspective. Mark Cahill speaks to the heart of this issue when he writes, "What are you doing of significance today that will matter three-hundred-million years from now?
Here's a New Year's Resolution that we can all ascribe to keep in our hearts as Job did: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me (Job 19:25-27)!
Let's resolve to make resolutions that encourage everyone we meet to know the God who created heaven and earth and to spend all eternity with Him, rather than separated from Him. That's a plan that's guaranteed to succeed because "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Have a blessed 2017.
- Pastor Darbyshire
Many today think that humans exist merely because of a freak cosmic accident that had no cause or purpose. As Oxford University professor Peter Atkins said, 'We are just a bit of slime on the planet'. Even many who say that they 'believe in God' have been 'educated' in this new 'enlightened' way of thinking. Thus they now think that the Bible, which claims to be the Word of God, is merely the words of fallible men. Consequently, they see themselves as free to invent their own ideas about God, rather than submitting to what God has revealed in the Bible. This naturalistic philosophy [evolution] removes any clear source of authority in our lives. If there is no Creator-God who rules over us, then there is no ultimate basis for morality. We take seriously the example of the Apostle Paul in refuting arguments that stand against the knowledge of God [2 Corinthians 10:5] and the commandment of Jesus Christ that we have a duty to love God with all our hearts, soul and mind [Matthew 22:37]. We must apply intellectual rigor to our faith if we are to be faithful to our Lord and Savior's instruction. It is for this reason [and others] that we encourage you to visit an excellent website by going to creation.com. You can use the search window to find thousands of articles on the subject of creation. It is all free.
- Pastor Kleiser
Perhaps you’ve heard we have a newly discovered ancestor - found in a South African cave - named Homo naledi that is being lauded as the latest in a string of “intermediate species” or missing links. Despite its small size, sloped face, brain the size of an orange, ape-like shoulder joints, curved finger and toe bones, flared hips, and small teeth, which all resemble australopithecine apes, paleoanthropologists have labeled it a new species of human ancestor. However, the data does not support this notion any more than it supported the previous missing link misinterpretations and hoaxes.
There was “Lucy” or Australopithecus, a 3 1/2 foot tall chimpanzee with a knee replacement from a mile away; Ramapithecus, which turned out to be an orangutan; Java Man or Homo Erectus, a Gibbon monkey skull combined with a human leg bone found 50 feet away; Piltdown Man, a human skull combined with the jaw of an orangutan whose teeth were filed down; Nebraska Man, who was artistically drawn along with his family based off of the tooth of an extinct pig; Orce Man, whose skull was found to be a young donkey; and the ancestor of many Europeans, Neanderthal Man, a true human who was quite intelligent and scientifically advanced yet suffered from arthritis and rickets, causing him to stoop.
The truth is no undisputed missing links of any kind have ever been found in the billions of fossil samples. Percentages alone would be in favor of finding many by now if Darwinian macro-evolution were true. What we find is creatures suddenly appearing and reproducing “after their kind,” just as God said in Genesis chapter one. In fact, no archaeological discovery has ever disproven the Bible, rather they testify to God’s magnificent order and design. He created humans and land animals on the same day. Therefore, one could not have changed into the other because they both existed from the beginning.
One must abandon true science and the scientific method in order to force pre-conceived conclusions on the evidence. In other words, when the results are predetermined and the end justifies the means, this is not true science but contrived hyperbole and propaganda.
Paul warned Timothy about this type of gnōseōs (knowledge) that uses false assumptions to achieve misleading conclusions when he said, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge (science, in the KJV), for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21). God always stands behind His Word and pours out His Spirit upon His children to affirm and testify to reality and truth (Rom. 8:16).
Don’t be fooled by abstract, circular reasoning theories that can never be proven (Rom. 1:18-23), but trust in the God who made heaven and earth. True wisdom and knowledge come from God alone (Prov. 1:7; 9:10) and we can trust His Word when we examine the evidence.
- Pastor Darbyshire
Entering, Leaving, and Abiding
It’s been said that the only room from which no one can enter or leave is a mushroom. Since I’m not aware of anyone who actually lives in a mushroom, we must presume that the true answer to the riddle is that entering and leaving are normal parts of real life. In fact, all we ever really do in life is enter and leave. From the time we breathe our first breath to the very last, we are exiting one phase and moving into another. Sometimes, we abide in one place for a while and other times we move on quickly. Sometimes, it’s sooner than we anticipate and other times the mundanity seems perpetual. Scripture reminds us that we “do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (Jms. 4:14). Likewise, there will be a reckoning once our short time has passed. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
In John 15:7-11, Jesus states, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jh. 15:7-11). We are commanded to “occupy” (KJV), or rather, “engage in business” until He returns (Lk. 19:13). And, we are reminded that nothing is truly ours to keep but we should nurture, cherish, and be thankful for the blessings He bestows upon us while we are here. “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Jon Foreman has the right perspective when he writes, “Life is short. I want to live it well.” A holy life committed to the things that matter to the Lord is a life well-lived.
We are not to be uninformed or “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Because our hope is in the finished work of Christ, we rejoice because He has lovingly proclaimed, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). We know this world is not our true home and our spirits will return to the God who breathed life into us (Ecc. 12:7). This life will truly be a vapor in comparison. Yet, there are many who may be experiencing their best life now, but their eternity is a picture from the Inferno in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, “All hope abandon ye who enter here.” While God has promised us a future and hope, this is the future many will face unless we are diligent to cry out from the safety of our walled-cities, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire” (Zech. 3:2; Ez. 3:17-19)?
The Lord led the children of Israel through the wilderness with a cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire at night. These provided guidance and protection from the scorching heat of the day and the frigid temperatures at night. If they did not stay under the cloud, move as it moved, and remain where it remained, they would be in great danger. Likewise, we are to remain where God calls us to be and serve Him and others with all of our hearts while awaiting any pending marching orders. We enter where He leads us. We exit to where He takes us. In the meantime, we abide and remain faithful where He has us. I pray that we will discern God’s leading in each of these phases.
- Pastor Darbyshire
It’s been a tough month. The prayer lists get longer, as they always do. Many family members and friends are enduring chronic struggles with health issues - too many of which have become terminal - and yet we witness the resolve and hope that make such circumstances bearable.
We see an example of this resolve in the words of Job as he struggles with understanding the will of God in his circumstances. He proclaims, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). This type of trust goes beyond the scope of natural understanding. It looks beyond the appearance of a God who is unsearchable and inscrutable (Rom. 11:33) - and seemingly unfair at times - to the One we can trust with our past, present, and future. He doesn’t always answer our questions when we try to understand why things happen the way they do. Often, He simply asks us, “Do you trust Me? Do you believe My plan for the world as I have proclaimed it in the Scriptures? Do you believe I have your best interest in mind and will be glorified through your circumstances?”
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (the men of Judah given the names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego by the Babylonians) understood this concept as they boldly proclaimed their faith in the midst of dire persecution. They looked into the face of their afflicter, Nebuchadnezzar, and firmly declared, “We have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:16b-18). Years later, Queen Esther faced a similar situation in her desperate proclamation, “If I perish, I perish” (Esth. 4:16b).
Because we hope in the God who is consistent throughout history - “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) - we are able to rest in “the peace of God that surpasses understanding” (Phil. 4:7a). Our circumstances don’t dictate our faith, but the truth of God’s promises carry forward those who believe and trust Him. Therefore, we are able to stand and sing along with MercyMe:
“But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul…
Even if you don’t, my hope is you alone”
- Pastor Darbyshire
The Reliability of the Bible
For centuries, critics have tried to dissuade faith in the Bible by many false claims. They said that there was no evidence for reliable copies prior to the tenth century AD, the Bible’s historical references were not supported by any archaeological evidence, the writings were more polemic than factual, that many of the epistles were falsely attributed to the traditional authors, and that Jesus was never really a historical figure. Unfortunately for them, history and archaeology have sided with the Bible as new evidence comes to light and all but a few hardline ideologues have abandoned many of these claims.
So, is there concrete evidence that supports the reliability of the Bible? Absolutely. In fact, there is an overwhelming amount of support for the credibility of the authors and the early Church fathers in preserving the scriptural writings. Here are just a few examples of how the Bible has remained consistent from its origins until the present:
1. “In the case of the New Testament, we have thousands of complete manuscripts and multiple thousands more fragments available. There are more than 5,000 copies of the entire New Testament or extensive portions of it. In addition, we have several thousand more fragments or smaller portions of the New Testament” (Robert Velarde).
2. “Today there survives more some 25,000 partial and complete, ancient handwritten manuscript copies of the New Testament, as well as thousands of copies of the Old Testament...many of them predating the time of Christ…There are handwritten copies of the Old Testament, copied by scribes prior to Jesus’ birth, that survive to this day” (Charlie Campbell).
3. “There are also some 86,000 quotations from the early Church fathers and several thousand Lectionaries (church-service books containing Scripture quotations used in the early centuries of Christianity)…There are enough quotations from the early Church fathers that even if we did not have a single copy of the Bible, scholars could still reconstruct all but 11 verses of the entire New Testament from material written within 150 to 200 years from the time of Christ” (Ron Rhodes).
4. “The New Testament, however, has a fragment within one generation from its original composition, whole books within about 100 years from the time of the autograph [original manuscript], most of the New Testament in less than 200 years, and the entire New Testament within 250 years from the date of its completion” (Norman Geisler).
5. “The earliest undisputed manuscript of a New Testament book is the John Rylands papyri (p52), dated from 117 to 138. This fragment of John's gospel survives from within a generation of composition. Since the book was composed in Asia Minor and this fragment was found in Egypt, some circulation time is demanded, surely placing composition of John within the first century…No other book from the ancient world has as small a time gap between composition and earliest manuscript copies as the New Testament” (Geisler).
6. “The Old Testament (completed 400 years before Jesus’ birth) contains more than 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus’ life. Calculations using the science of probability on just 8 of these prophecies have shown that the chance someone could have fulfilled even just 8 of these prophecies is: 1 in 10 to the 17th power, or put another way, that is...1 in 100 Quadrillion” (Fritz Ridenour).
Can we trust the Bible? An overwhelming amount of evidence says we can. The early Church painstakingly made it a point to be as accurate in their transference and transcription as possible and God oversaw the operation to bring us the words from His heart.
- Pastor Darbyshire
Martin Luther is famous for his Ninety-Five Theses which launched the Reformation in 1517. Consider some of his quotes shown below and note his trust in Scripture. Church historians and theologians call it sola Scriptura: by Scripture alone. You might choose to use the expression "Sufficiency of Scripture." This is where we must take our stand.
Luther always pointed people to the Word of God as their ultimate hope and primary help in suffering, sin, and sanctification. The Scriptures, for Luther, are sufficient to comfort the hurting, confront the sinning, and cheer the saint.
1. “You have the Apostle Paul who shows to you a garden, or paradise, which is full of comfort, when he says: ‘Whatever was written, was written for our instruction, so that through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4). Here he attributes to Holy Scripture the function of comforting. Who may dare to seek or ask for comfort anywhere else?”
2. “Comfort yourself with the Word of God, the pre-eminent consolation.”
3. “It is thus very true that we shall find consolation only through the Scriptures, which in the days of evil call us to the contemplation of our blessings, either present or to come.”
4. “Nothing helps more powerfully against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts than occupying oneself with God’s Word, having conversations about it, and contemplating it.”
5. “I have learned by experience how one should act under temptation, namely, when any one is afflicted with sadness…. Let him first lay hold of the comfort of the divine Word.”
6. “Therefore, whenever anyone is assailed by temptation of any sort whatever, the very best that he can do in the case is either to read something in the Holy Scriptures, or think about the Word of God, and apply it to his heart.”
7. “If you now attempt, in this spiritual conflict, to protect yourself by the help of man without the Word of God, you simply enter upon the conflict with that mighty spirit, the devil, naked and unprotected.” Such an endeavor would be worse than David against Goliath—without God’s supernatural power helping David. You may, therefore, if you so please, oppose your power to the might of the devil. It will then be very easily seen what an utterly unequal conflict it is, if one does not have at hand in the beginning the Word of God.”
8. “Christ heals people by means of his precious Word, as he also declares in the 50th chapter of Isaiah (verse 4): ‘The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to speak a word in season to the weary.’ St. Paul also teaches likewise, in Romans 15:14, that we should obtain and strengthen hope from the comfort of the Holy Scriptures, which the devil endeavors to tear out of people’s hearts in times of temptations. Accordingly, as there is no better nor more powerful remedy in temptations than to diligently read and heed the Word of God.”
9. “Let us learn, therefore, in great and horrible terrors, when our conscience feels nothing but sin and judges that God is angry with us, and that Christ has turned His face from us, not to follow the sense and feeling of our own heart, but to stick to the Word of God.”
- Pastor Kleiser
The Ministry of Encouragement
"For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you." Philemon 7 (ESV)
The Bible speaks clearly about the value of refreshing others in the work of the Lord. Whether it is due to a personal difficulty or to a disheartening event like Hurricane Michael, there will always be the need either to refresh others or to be refreshed ourselves in our service for Christ.
There are a lot of reasons why the Lord’s people need encouragement and refreshing. When the disciples were so busy in their work with the Master, He urged them, in no uncertain terms: “Come apart into a desert place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31) Because they had been so busy, they “did not have time to eat”. They needed to be refreshed so that they could be revitalized for further ministry – just as the Lord’s people need to do on occasion. When Elijah was struggling with personal issues such as disappointment, unrealized expectations, anger and self-pity, he needed to be refreshed in his spirit. God saw to it that he was refreshed when an angel ministered food and drink to him. It was after this that Elijah had his perspective realigned. (1 Kings 19) He needed to be refreshed in the work even though he had just experienced a great victory at Mount Carmel. He was restored in a dramatic way and his ministry continued on with more manifestations of God’s power. (2 Kings 1) His experience reminds us of the need that many of the Lord’s servants have to be encouraged in the wearying and often unappreciated work they do.
When David and his men came back to Ziklag and discovered that the Amalekites had captured their women and children and all their possessions, David and his men lifted up their voice and wept until they had no more power to weep. The people then turned on David and spoke of stoning him, bringing him great distress. (1 Sam. 30:1-6). But when David “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (v. 6) he was refreshed and on the strength of that refreshment rallied his troops so that they were able to recover all. What could be a clearer example of the need to seek the Lord’s face and be refreshed if we are to be success in the battles of the Lord?
There are many reasons why the Lord’s people need encouragement along the way. There are also examples how we can refresh or encourage others in the Christian life. For example, in writing to Philemon, the apostle Paul highlighted the value of the ministry of refreshment. He expressed his great joy and consolation knowing that the hearts of the saints were refreshed through the actions of Philemon (v. 7). Whether those actions came in the form of practical help or through an encouraging word in due season, it achieved the same effect – the Lord’s people were strengthened in heart and mind and God was glorified. Later, Paul would appeal to Philemon to again refresh his heart in the Lord by demonstrating Christ-like forgiveness toward his runaway slave, Onesimus (v. 20). Considering the situation and the tears and trials that the apostle experienced in the work of the Gospel (Acts 20:19), is it any wonder why he would welcome such encouragement? Philemon was one who refreshed the Lord’s people and he did it through his practical actions and through his personal attitude.
How can we in a practical way be a refreshing influence to the Lord’s people? Perhaps, it could be through kind words or an appropriately timed phone call to tell a fellow believer that you appreciate them or have been praying for them in their need. Showing hospitality to the Lord’s people can also refresh their hearts in the Lord. In the case of the Lord’s servants, perhaps it can be through the provision of a “home away from home” – a “get-a-way” like the one provided by the great woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4), where Elisha was refreshed in the midst of regular ministry. She was amply rewarded for her kind deeds to Elisha — and so will you if it is done for the Lord’s sake. There are multitude means by which we can refresh one another in the Lord – all motivated by one main ingredient, love for the Lord and for His people. We have seen recently this aspect of encouragement many times to ‘homeless’ people as a result of Hurricane Michael over the past several weeks.
Living the Christian life is not easy and there are many perils along the way. The ministry of refreshment is one way to effectively help fellow Christians avoid many pitfalls. The world will offer its alternative ways of “refreshment” – subtle, alluring ways in which we need to be wary. Of the many lessons that we can extrapolate from the tragic example of the man of God in 1 Kings 13, one is this: the Lord’s people can be very vulnerable to the enemy’s devices during the time when they are most in need of refreshing. Rather than letting the world compromise our convictions and cause us to veer from the narrow path of faith, let us be those who look for opportunities in our lives and actions to refresh the hearts of the Lord’s people. As we do, it will be said of us: “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you”. Whether we are on the giving end or the receiving, as long as we are serving Christ, there will always be the need to be refreshed or encouraged in the Lord.
Lessons of Loss
These holiday seasons are different from the preceding ones. Many of us have experienced life-changing events, of which the repercussions will be felt for years. We have sorrows that will last and many days, weeks, and months of work to do, but we have a renewed reason to be especially thankful.
A similar occurrence happened back in 2001, when we experienced an attack on American soil that harkened back to the memory of 1941 at Pearl Harbor. We were attacked on our own soil and, suddenly, our world was no longer a safe place to live. Whatever was to follow, we knew distinctly that the world had changed. In his northjersey.com article, Jim Beckerman makes the observation, “The danger, as 9/11 fades further into history, is that the annual observances will devolve into a ritual, a formality, a mere obligation to be checked off in order to get back to business.” Pearl Harbor had become that and it’s infelicitous that we are so ready to forget our own history.
While it took years to lose the heart-felt significance of these tragic events, we are already seeing that the aftermath of Hurricane Michael has faded into a passing thought to those who were not immediately affected by it. Grace Vasquez (radio.com) pleads with Floridians, “Don’t forget the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael . . . As we all go on with our lives . . . and we begin thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas, our fellow Floridians in the Panhandle area are still in shock over losing almost everything after Hurricane Michael a few weeks ago.” After the initial shock of the utter devastation, we witnessed people thanking the Lord that they and their families were alive. We worked until we were exhausted to help each other set up generators, collect food, water, gas, and clothing, tarp houses, share what we had, and resolve to be good neighbors to people we didn’t know (why we didn’t is another discussion). When people felt secure again and the Facebook images began to fade, the world moved on to the next headline. But those who remain cannot forget, nor should we. It’s not that we should play the martyrs to garner attention and pity. That’s not the story that needs to be told. We need to remember that we took the time to love and care for people, all people: friends, family, neighbors, and complete strangers. We invited them in, met their needs, built relationships, and gave them the hope that can only be found in the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ.
After a successful campaign helping Achish and the Philistines, David and his men return to Ziklag to find the Amalekites had raided the city, burned it with fire, and taken their families captive. David and his troops “raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep” (1 Sam. 30:4). They were so upset that his make-shift army spoke of stoning him. “But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (1 Sam. 30:6b). Rather than throwing a pity party or trying to reason with them to save himself and his position, David went straight to the priest, Abiathar, to inquire of the Lord what he should do. This was no time for mere mortal reasoning and reactionary thinking. He needed supernatural advice and direction. He didn’t try to bargain with the Lord or tell Him what he wanted Him to do. Instead, he asked the Lord for His plan of action and his own marching orders. All too often, we want to present our ideas to God and hope He’s in a good mood that day and willing to rubber stamp our plan. In his wisdom, David submitted to the Lord’s plan and left the outcome to Him. As they followed the Lord’s plan, they won the battle, lost nothing that had been taken, and added additional wealth that they were able to use to bless others.
Sometimes, God uses loss to simplify our perspectives and draw us closer to Himself and each other. I pray that we don’t forget the lessons of loss and become cynical as we walk through these holiday seasons together. Our hope is in the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, the One who has His eye on the sparrow, can count every hair on our heads, and knows our names. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about, reciprocating the love of the Lord and loving our neighbors? May you be blessed as you commit to being a blessing to those who need to know “the hope that is in you” (1 Pe. 3:15).
- Pastor Darbyshire
Some Practical Suggestions for Meaningful Bible Reading in 2019 (and beyond)
1. Saturation as a Means to Meditation
So, what do I mean by saturation or immersion in the Bible? Simply this: Choose a book (or two) of the Bible and soak yourself in it by reading and re-reading it numerous times. As an illustration, you may wish to begin with a small book of the Bible like Philippians, First Timothy, First Peter or others. You can read this book daily for five days each week (two days are left for catch-up). It will not take you long. You may do this for several months reading it through as many as 50 times. Do you think you will know something about the book by then?
Or, you may read a longer book completely through in one five-day week. For instance, Luke is 24 chapters long, so each day you will read about five chapters. Do this weekly read-through for several months.
So, you see, the smaller books may be read completely through each day, but longer books can be read in a week. But the key is reading in as many times as possible, saturating yourself in it.
The book of Genesis is so foundational to the rest of the Bible, you may choose to start with that book (50 chapters). You may wish to add a New Testament book like Matthew (28 chapters) if you are ambitious. You could read these every week or every two weeks. So, on a five-day plan, reading Genesis and Mathew every week would be a little less than 16 chapters a day, taking an hour and a half to two hours depending on how you read and meditate. If you read these every two weeks, you would read less than 8 chapters a day and would spend around an hour or possibly less. This can also be done for several months. I suggest at least four to six. You may work out your own plan as well. The important thing is to immerse yourself in Scripture by repeated readings but there are some other important suggestions to enhance the reading of the Bible.
2. Read to understand
Make understanding and applying the passage your goal. Each time you read through the whole book, you will feel that you are increasing in your understanding. Try to figure out why the author has written that book. Agonize over the meaning of difficult passages. Attempt to figure out how the book is laid out. Don’t be satisfied with a surface understanding, but press on in your thinking for much more.
3. Read aloud some of the time
You will be amazed what reading the Bible aloud will do for your understanding. Sometimes the passage only opens up this way. A chapter of Scripture read aloud usually takes about five minutes of time.
4. Mark your Bible
It was the renowned English pastor, Charles Spurgeon, who said, “A well-marked Bible is the sign of a well-fed soul.” Use the special Bible marker pens for marking since they are acid free, small tipped, and do not bleed through the page. They are available at LifeWay.
5. Purchase a good Bible
The Bible is your main tool in life. It is worth spending some money on it. Get a reliable translation. I prefer the ESV, but you may receive recommendations for another version. If possible, obtain a Bible with space for marking. I have a wide-margin Bible for study but use a more convenient size for the pulpit. And make sure your Bible has a good cover. As you invest your time in the word, marking it in special ways, you will be glad the Bible is usable for a long time. A full leather Bible is needed, in my view. Bonded leather often cracks, and, of course, paperbacks are not usable for long.
6. Read with others when you can
Reading with others when possible is so encouraging. Some people add this to their regular reading. For instance, you might pick a book to read over and over for a couple of months with your spouse before dropping off to sleep. Reading for distance is not the goal. Just pick up the next night where you left off. You may read until one of you falls asleep. Re-read the book again and again with no pressure about how much you read.
Or, you may wish to read once a week or even daily with a friend via Skype or by phone. Some people do this with a relative or friend long distance as a way to engage in good spiritual activity together. Your reading often promotes some discussion about meaning that is natural. At first, you are just reading. But, as you go along, reading even a time or two more, you will start to see things that beg to be discussed.
7. Listen to Scripture
I make use of audio Bible tools. The Bible is read in various translations online on several sites such as YouVersion.com or BibleGateway.com. My favorite audio Bible has been downloaded for use when I’m driving or at night before sleeping and when I wake up in the middle of the night. I set the timer under “Settings” so that it will not continue after I’ve fallen asleep.
8. Pay attention to geography
Although not everyone will not think this is helpful, remember that God put place names, mountains, roads and waterways in the Bible for a purpose. I find that sometimes they actually make the interpretation of a text far more meaningful and memorable. For instance, to know that the Gadarenes, where the demon possessed man lived, is on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee helps you understand why people were herding pigs, which were forbidden for Jews to eat. You may wish to use the maps in the back of your Bible. Better yet, obtaining a nice atlas is very helpful. Or you may visit a site like BibleAtlas.org where you can type in the name of the place and a map will appear.
9. Share what you find
It’s quite exciting to read the Bible and to discover new insights or to finally understand why a book was written or how it is put together. You need to share your insights. Make this a habit and you will be able to encourage many other people while you also are growing.
10. Read the same book(s) with friends for maximum insights
If a friend or several friends all tackle the same book or set of books, the door is open for lots of great sharing when you see each other or when you email each other. This is a huge help for growth as a believer.
We have such a short life after all. If you do what I’m suggesting, think how you can begin to grow like you never have before. Being a believer is serious business; you need a guide like the Bible. The Spirit of God intends to use it in your life. There is no reason to think you cannot do this. Once you begin on a more serious approach to Scripture, I doubt that you will be able to turn back. You will mark that day as a major turning point of your personal history. Who knows what God will do through a person like you if you will just fill your mind with the word of God?
- Pastor Kleiser
We just celebrated National Sanctity of Human Life Day, where we honor the lives of unborn children and the people who are trying to save them and give free information to men and women about the choices they have when it comes to bringing children into the world. While many choose sides on the issue, others choose to stay out of the discussion altogether. It’s important that we get all the facts about the choices we make before we make them.
It is written in the Declaration of Independence for the United States of America, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This changed in 1973 with the Roe vs. Wade court case that legalized abortion in the US. The Court took the position that the Fourteenth Amendment statement, "No State shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," did not apply to unborn children because - in their opinions - unborn children do not qualify as constitutional persons. They went on to say that the Due Process Clause contains an implicit “right of privacy” which, by extension, includes the right to abortion. Since this devastating decision, nearly 61,000,000 children have been aborted in the US and, according to the Guttmacher Institute, this number still hovers around 900,000 per year as of 2016.
Inevitably, what God says is even more important than what the US Declaration says. The Bible states, “In the beginning, God created” (Gen. 1-3). “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Ps. 127:3). On several occasions, God chastised the children of Israel for emulating the pagan practices of the Ammonites, Moabites, and Canaanites, who offered child sacrifices to their gods (Molech, Chemosh, Baal) to appease them and to benefit the parents at the children’s expenses (see Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 18:10-13; 2 Ki. 16:3; 21:6; 23:10; Jer. 32:35; Ez. 20:26,31; 23:37-39). According to Dr. Charles Patrick of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Today’s Molech is the abortion industry, sacrificing babies for the idol of financial greed, veiled in the hopes of the development of new cures through biomedical research.” While there are extenuating circumstances and every case has its own story attached, an article from Biblearchaeology.org addresses the redemptive power of Jesus in each of these situations, “Often abortion is the evil solution to the consequences of a sexual sin. Whether a pregnancy results from fornication or adultery, where the mother is a guilty participant in the sin, or a pregnancy results from rape or incest, where the mother usually is the guiltless victim of another's sin, abortion is an ungodly solution. For the Sovereign Redeemer is able to bring about good where there was evil. A new creation resulting from a sexual sin is an extraordinary witness to this redemptive truth.” This is why A Women’s Pregnancy Centers (https://www.awpcmarianna.com/) and other pro-life organizations emphasize the dangers of abortion and the gift of raising children or allowing a loving family to adopt them.
The early Church recognized the unborn child as already having full recognition as a human being. Tertullian writes, “For us murder is once for all forbidden; so even the child in the womb, while yet the mother's blood is still being drawn on to form the human being, it is not lawful to destroy. To forbid birth is only quicker murder. It makes no difference whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it comes to birth. He is a man, who is to be a man, the fruit is always present in the seed.” The Church recognized that we are God’s workmanship from the beginning and have His image stamped on our lives (see Ps. 139). Israel’s blessings and curses were inherent to their offspring as well as the land the Lord had granted them. There is a valuable lesson here for all of us. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deut. 30:19-20).
- Pastor Darbyshire