Pastors Newsletter – July 2009

I absolutely love the summer! It is my favorite season of the year and this month is going to be great! It is also going to be a busy month for Hope Church. Just to run through the calendar, we have our monthly potluck on July 5th, the Ice Cream social is on July 9th, the Crawford County fair service is on July 19th, and Ted Evans will be our guest preacher on July 26th. So it will be a busy month, but I am excited to see what our great God and King does over the course of this month. Friends, God is moving in mighty ways – are you on-board with His agenda?

I would also like to mention that this is a special month in that it marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of the great reformer, John Calvin. Even though Calvin is one of the most influential men in history, most people are unaware of the significance of his life and many have misconceptions about his teachings. On our July 12th service , I am going to try to answer the question, “Who was John Calvin and What is Reformed theology?” It is not an easy task to answer those two huge questions but I know it will prove to be a fruitful study.

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you will have probably noticed that there has been a lot of high profile deaths lately. The deaths of TV personality Ed McMahon, actress Farrah Fawcett, pop star Michael Jackson, and salesman Billy Mays have dominated the news media in recent weeks. Closer to home, Skip Rox, friend of Steve and Cyndi Solinger, went home to be with the Lord this past Tuesday. It has been said that most of society lives in denial of death. Oh sure, we know the statistics that 1 out of 1 dies, but we convince ourselves that we don’t have to worry about death. I fear that even during this time where we are hearing more about “death” in the news than usual, that most people will not stop and ask the hard questions about death. Does how I live in the here and now actually matter for eternity? If I died today would I be ready to meet my Maker? Am I truly living for something bigger and greater than my own little kingdom? Folks, it is my prayer that the people of Hope Church would ask these kinds of questions of themselves and also be concerned for their friends who, perhaps, are not asking these kinds of questions. We just never know when our time on this earth will end. Are you making this day count for eternity?

HELPFUL TIPS FOR READING THE BIBLE

1 . OBSERVATION

7 STRATEGIES TO FIRST-RATE READING:

1. Read Thoughtfully – don’t be afraid to put your thinking cap on
2. Read Repeatedly – read it over and over and over and over till you get it
3. Read Patiently – good bible study does take time and we need to be patient with it
4. Read Critically – ask: who?, what?, where?, when?, why?
5. Read Prayerfully – this is key – pray, “Lord, teach me through you Word.”
6. Read Meditatively – reflect on the text, chew on it, dwell in it, so that you can act on it
7. Read Purposefully – purposeful reading looks for the aim of the author

6 THINGS TO LOOK FOR:

1. Things that are emphasized
2. Things that are repeated
3. Things that are related
4. Things that are alike, and unlike
5. Things that are true to life
6. The big picture perspective

2. INTERPRETATION

5 KEYS TO INTERPRETATION:

1. Content – if you have correctly done the work of “observation”, this will be easy
2. Context – look for the literary, historical, cultural, geographic, and theological context
3. Comparison – in short, we compare scripture with scripture
4. Culture – does the cultural setting have any effect on the meaning of the text?
5. Consultation – this involves the use of secondary resources

3. APPLICATION

8 QUESTIONS TO ASK:
1. Is there an example for me to follow?
2. Is there a sin to avoid?
3. Is there a promise to claim?
4. Is there a prayer to repeat?
5. Is there a command to obey?
6. Is there a condition to meet?
7. Is there a verse to memorize?
8. Is there a challenge to face?

Adapted from Howard Hendricks’ book “Living By The Book”

Pastors Newsletter – June 2009

Greetings to everyone in the Hope Church family. It is hard to believe that the summer is here and that we are already into the month of June. I must admit that I am very excited about the summer and all that it holds. As I reflect back on the first few months of 2009, it is so clear that God is powerfully at work in our church. I sense a growing hunger among the people of Hope Church to know and understand the Word of God. I see a desire to live more and more like Jesus every day. And I am witnessing a growing love for the people around us and a desire to serve others and spread the love of Jesus Christ to a hurting world. It is this reality that excites me and gives me great hope for this summer and beyond.

As we survey the world around us, it would be easy to get discouraged. The current administration continues to disappoint us and some are probably wondering if the recession will ever end. We recently learned that the GM plant in Mansfield will be closing in June 2010 which will no doubt deal a blow to the local economy. I want to encourage you to seek the Lord and trust him with your life. Yes, we do not know what the future holds, but if you are walking with Jesus day by day, you have nothing to worry about because He will take care of you. Did you know that in the Bible, we read the words, “fear not” 365 times? I think God knew we would need that assurance every day of the year. I also want to remind you of the incredible opportunity we have as a church. In these difficult times, people are searching for hope. We need to take advantage of these opportunities and show them the love of Jesus Christ. And in their search for hope, we need to pray that many would find the doors to Hope Church. We know what the hope of the world is and what a great privilege it would be to help rescue those who are perishing. Do you love you friends enough to tell them about Jesus Christ? I want to finish by reminding you of our mission as a church.

“Hope Church exists to glorify God by learning, following, and sharing the Word of God and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, both locally and globally, through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.”

What is a Healthy Church Member?

1. A Healthy Church Member is an Expositional Listener

Expositional listening is listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians.

2. A Healthy Church Member is a Biblical Theologian

The Bible is God’s self-revelation. So to practice biblical theology is to know God himself and to be committed to understanding the grand themes and doctrines of the Bible.

3. A Healthy Church Member is Gospel Saturated

We not only understand the gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ) but we memorize the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel, review how the gospel has changed us, and study the gospel.

4. A Healthy Church Member is Genuinely Converted

In conversion the Spirit grants the twin graces of repentance and faith to sinners who turn from their sin and turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

5. A Healthy Church Member is a Biblical Evangelist

Every true Christian will have a desire to share with others the gospel message which includes: 1. The Holiness of the sovereign God, 2. The sinfulness of man and the judgment due him, 3. The need of man for a new heart and perfect righteousness, 4. The fact the only Jesus Christ has provided the righteousness we need, 5. The need to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.

6. A Healthy Church Member is a Committed Member

A healthy church member understands the value of being committed to a local church and the importance of using their gifts and abilities for the glory of God.

7. A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline

Discipline is about education and learning, order and growth. It is discipline in the life of the congregation and the healthy church member that provides the atmosphere for growth and development that leads to the rare polished jewel of Christlikeness.

8. A Healthy Church Member is a Growing Disciple

Hebrews 6:1 exhorts us to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” God never intends for us to stay the same and never grow. Rather, He intends that we pursue holiness and righteousness and to be Spirit-filled.

9. A Healthy Church Member is a Humble Follower

A healthy church member honors the elders, shows open-hearted love to their leaders, is teachable, obeys and submits to leaders, follows the leaders’ example, and prays for their leaders.

10. A Healthy Church Member is a Prayer Warrior

Pray constantly, pray in the Spirit, pray for laborers and shepherds, pray for all the saints, pray for those in authority, and pray for those who abuse and persecute you.

Taken from Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What is a Healthy Church Member?

A tribute to the Bible

My Father-in-law has this giant bible (Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible) that has all kinds of study notes and other helpful material. A few days ago, he read to me a portion found in the study notes of 2 Timothy 4. It is a tribute to the Bible. I decided to put it in my blog because I believe we Christian’s often forget the power of the Book. The authority of Scripture is coming under attack from every conceivable direction and we must not forget that the Bible is GOD’S WORD to us. It is our source for all truth and the moment we abandon the Book in favor of worldly wisdom or anything else, we are headed down a deadly path. Anyway, here is the tribute.

The Bible is not an amulet, a charm, a fetish, or a book that will work wonders by its very presence.

It is a book that will work wonders in every life, here and hereafter, if acted upon and obeyed in faith and sincerety. It is God’s inspired revelation of the origin and destiny of all things, written in the most simple human language possible so that the most unlearned can understand and obey its teachings. It is self-interpreting and covers every subject of human knowledge and need now and forever.

As a literary composition, the Bible is the most remarkable book ever made. It is divine library of 66 books, some of considerable size, and others no larger than a tract. These book include various forms of literature – history, biography, poetry, proverbial sayings, hymns, letters, directions for elaborate ritualistic worship, laws, parables, riddles, allegories, prophecy, drama, and others. They embrace all manner of literary styles in human expression.

It is the book that reveals the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts binding, its histories true, and its decisions immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. The Bible contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveller’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here heaven is opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good is its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill your memory, rule your heart, and guide your feet in righteousness and true holiness. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully, meditatively, searchingly, devotionally, and study it constantly, perseveringly, and industriously. Read it through and through until it becomes part of your being and generates faith that will move mountains. The Bible is a mine of wealth, the source of health, and a world of pleasure. It is given to you in this life, will be opened at the judgment, and will stand forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the least to the greatest of labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

Nuff said

Christian Hedonism

6 years ago I read a book that rocked my world. I was studying at Briercrest Bible College and one of my course readings was John Piper’s book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Recently, I purchased a copy of the book (I had taken it out of the library originally) off amazon.com for 86 cents and this morning I sat down and read the first chapter. Let me just quote for you the first couple lines of the book. “The ultimate ground of Christian hedonism is the fact that God is uppermost in his own affections: The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.” The last part of the quote is a take-off on the first question of the Westminster shorter catechism which asks: “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” As I started to read this book for the second time, it brought me back to my first encounter with this book and how my theology was transformed. I grew in a Christian home where we regularly attended church, but somehow, in my narrow understanding of Christianity, I had missed this critical aspect of theology that the gospel is not just about “me.” I believed that Jesus Christ died to forgive me of my sins so that I could go to heaven and avoid hell. While this is not untrue, it fails to grasp the big picture of the nature of God and what He is doing in redemption history. Unknowingly, I had made the gospel more about me than about the glory of God. It was about me getting something (salvation), inheriting something (eternity in heaven), and avoiding something (eternity in hell). What reading Piper’s book did for me was that it started me on a journey towards understanding that the gospel is all about God and is much bigger than just “me.” To quote further from chapter 1, Piper explains that, “God’s saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation, and restoration are not God’s ultimate goal. These He performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. The bedrock foundation of Christian hedonism is not God’s allegiance to us, but to himself.”

Perhaps this is nothing new to you, but I am concerned that some of our churches have contributed to this misrepresentation of the gospel. In our desire to grow our churches, we have resorted to the consumer approach that is characteristic of western society. Whatever the consumer wants, the consumer will get. So for years church leaders have done surveys in their areas to see what people are most interested in having when it comes to a church? They knew that in order to attract new people, we have to have what they want. It should not be surprising to us that church-goers have developed the mind-set where if one church does not have what they want, they simply go down the road to the next church where they can find it. Little thought is given to whether or not God is glorified or whether the Word of God is proclaimed. It has become more a matter of meeting the needs and preferences of the individual consumer. This method has been successful in so far as attendance and numbers are concerned, but when it comes to the matter of making disciples of Jesus Christ, it has been a disaster. This is just one example of many how the church has become like the world and how our theology has become much more man-centered than God-centered.

When I first read Desiring God, the God that Piper was describing (and backing up with loads of Scriptures) seemed so selfish to me. To think that God was concerned with his own glory went against so much of what I was taught concerning pride and humility. At the time, I had not thought through one of the primary reasons we go to church in the first place – to worship God and praise his Holy name. The genius of Piper is that he brought together for me the glory of God (and God’s complete satisfaction in himself) and my personal happiness. The two are not at all incompatible. It is human nature for us to seek happiness and pleasure and enjoyment. Sometimes we think this is bad, but it is only bad when we seek that happiness and enjoyment in the wrong things – namely, the world. When our greatest joy and pleasure is found in God, God is glorified. That is what He desires for us. Here is another quote from the end of chapter 1. “All the works of God culminate in the praises of his redeemed people. The climax of his happiness is the delight he takes in the echoes of his excellence in the praises of the saints. The praise is the consummation of our own joy in God. Therefore God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are the same pursuit. This is the great gospel! This is the foundation of Christian hedonism.”

So in summary, I thank God for how he uses different things in our lives to draw us to himself and allow us to come to a fuller understanding of himself. As Christians, one of the most important aspects of our walk with the Lord is understanding that it’s not all about me – its about God and his glory. But that does not mean that we can’t find enjoyment and God and delight in serving him. Quite the opposite. As we read in Galatians 5, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Wow! Who wouldn’t want that!

Without faith it is impossible to please God

This past week, I had the privilege of spending some time with my mentor/ordination supervisor, Bill Strader.  Bill is the pastor of Bucyrus Alliance Church and has about 25 years of ministry experience.  God has really blessed me with some outstanding mentors and Bill is one of those men.  As we were talking, the subject of “faith” came up.  This probably does not come as a shock to you – two pastors talking about faith.  Bill was sharing about some of the incredible things that God is doing at his church.  The church is growing like crazy and people are coming to Christ – very exciting times!  What does Bill primarily attribute this sudden growth to?  Faith.  Yes, it almost seems almost too simple, doesn’t it?

We hear the word “faith” used all the time in Christian circles.  We say, “he made a faith commitment”, or “my faith is really growing”, or “she is a person of faith”, etc. etc.  It has become such a generic term that I think we have lost some of the power that is conveyed in that word.  There are so many ways we can use the word that it is easy to forget the core meaning of it.  In Hebrews 11:1, we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  and then verse 3 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  So the author of Hebrews seems to be saying that faith involves trusting in something unseen.  Of course, this goes against human nature.  We tend to trust in the things that are most obvious and evident to us.  This is what makes faith in God such a jump for so many people.  But yet, in spite of this difficulty, millions of people have made “professions of faith.”  They have prayed to God (believing that He is real) and asked him to forgive them of their sins and asked Jesus to come into their lives.  Sadly, for many, this is the extent of their “faith”.  They trusted Jesus for that one day with the expectation that when they die, they will go to heaven and God will not send them to hell.

The missing ingredient in the far too common experience that I just described is that when you make a profession of faith, it is an everyday faith.  We are trusting Jesus with our lives every single day for the rest of our lives – not just some day in the future when we die and eternity awaits.  When you start to follow Jesus, you will be required (yes, its not optional) to step out in faith on a daily basis.  He is going to ask things of you that you could never possibly do in your own strength.  But remember what the Bible says – My strength is made perfect in your weakness.  God wants to be glorified through your life.  As you step out in faith and believe in his sufficiency, he will come through and show his power.  Let me encourage you with a verse that has encouraged me.  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Friends, I think our vision of God is often far too small.  We don’t readily believe that God is capable of doing great things through us.  When we believe this, He won’t.  Until we are willing to take that step of faith, God will not show his power in us.  But, little by little, as we step out in faith, and experience his power working through us, you will be amazed at what God does in and through your life.  Are you willing to take that step?  Are you willing to believe God for the seemingly impossible?