Sunday, May 31, 2009

2009 CVC budget challenges

This is a posting for the CVC family. These are my notes from a family chat at all services this weekend.

***

We need to have little family talk about the challenges and opportunities related to our finances – our budget.

First, thanks. This has always been a generous church. Your giving is changing lives. 27 people confessed their faith in Jesus through baptism just a couple of weeks ago. That wouldn’t have happened without your generosity.

Second, if you need help, ask us. Every week, we hear about people losing jobs, taking pay cuts, and needing financial help. We have a benevolence fund to help with mortgages and gas bills and food. Some of our people have more than they need and they give to the fund to help CVC people in need. It might be time now for you to be blessed by receiving. In a few months, it might be your time to be blessed by giving. For now, though, if you need help, call and ask for our Care Team.

Third, I’ve been asked by the elders to clearly communicate our financial situation as a church family.

Contributions have been coming in below budget for most of this year at about 88 percent of budget. We projected a loss of $364,000. So, back in March, we cut $175,000 out of the budget. Contributions are still coming in at about 88 percent of the budget. So, now the stewardship team and the elders are recommending that we cut an additional $159,000.

How do we do that? We‘ve prayed. The plan right now is to have an across-the-board 7.5% reduction of every staff person’s salary plus give each staff person five days of unpaid furlough. This would start in July. We approached the deficit this way in order to try to not eliminate any full time positions

This week I explained the situation to our staff. It was a tough conversation because we have a great staff here who already sacrifice much to serve Jesus.

We’ve asked our staff for any other ideas – to brainstorm creative ways to reduce budgets. And we would like input from you, too. To provide an opportunity for you to discuss finances, there will be a business meeting on Thursday, June 11, 7:00pm. It’s an opportunity for you to ask questions and provide suggestions and ideas.

Between now and July 1, we want to see what God will do. For example, Maryanne and I tithe to our church, but give over-and-above offerings to several ministries outside CVC. We’re praying about redirecting some of that over-and-above giving to CVC.

Last week, someone called and said, “Rick, I know our church is facing some tough financial challenges. So, my wife and I would like to encourage our congregation. The Lord has blessed us financially. If the people of the church will collectively commit to give $25,000 over-and-above their regular giving, we will give $50,000.” That was encouraging. So, we want to see what God will do between now and July 1.

Stay faithful with your regular tithes and offerings. If you’re in a time of need, be blessed by receiving. Call us for help. But if you’re enjoying God’s abundance, pray about giving CVC an over-and-above gift or increasing your regular offering. You can call or email Jackie Praskavich, our Financial Administrator, by June 22.

This is an opportunity for us to trust Jesus and even in a tough economic time, reach even more people for Christ. Thank you for your prayer and support. You are a blessing. Let’s continue to praise God and trust in His sovereignty.

Friday, May 29, 2009

How is God present in hell?

One of our Community Group leaders was confused by some comments I made in the Q &A at the end of Saturday's UpClose service.

Here's the Saturday night question: "If God is omnipresent, then is God in Hell?"

Our leader wrote, "Maybe I heard wrong, but [Rick] said. 'Yes. God is omnipresent, not only outside the box [the box being the universe] but everywhere inside the box. So, [God] is in Hell.'"

Our leader continued, "I thought the definition of hell was 'the absence of God'."

***

Here are my efforts to clarify:

Hi ____,

I was trying to be very specific in my wording on Saturday evening. Perhaps, I wasn’t as clear as I hoped to be.

1. The omnipresence of God means by definition that He must be present everywhere in the universe. There is no place where He is not. Since hell is in the universe, then we must conceive of a way in which He must be present there while not violating the awful, horrifying nature of hell.

2. Theologians have said that we might think of God as present in at least 3 ways.

a. God is present to sustain. Every person in the world experiences the presence of God to sustain. We all breathe His air. He makes our hearts beat. We eat His food. In that sense, He is present to sustain.

b. God is present to bless. Many people in the world experience the presence of God to bless. He brings good, joy, hope into our lives. Usually, when we say, “I feel close to God” we are expressing this sense of being blessed in either tangible or intangible ways. When the Bible speaks of God being present, it’s a brief way of stating that He is present to bless. When the Bible speaks of God being far away, it usually means He is “not present to bless.” (See Isaiah 59:2, Proverbs 15:29.)

c. God is present to judge. Because of the doctrine of the omnipresence of God, it is not theologically or technically accurate to say that hell is literally the absence of God. (Although I myself have spoken of hell in those terms.) It would perhaps be more accurate to say that hell is the absence of the presence of God to bless. It’s terrifying to think of this, but hell is the presence of God to judge. Theologians have said that heaven exists to the praise of the glory of His grace and that hell exists to the praise of the glory of His justice.

The theologian, Wayne Grudem, who has spoken with and co-edited a book with John Piper, wrote on this topic in his book, “Systematic Theology.”

Grudem writes, “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with His whole being, yet God acts differently in every space” (p. 173).

Grudem continues, “The idea of God’s omnipresence has sometimes troubled people who wonder how God can be present, for example, in hell. In fact, isn’t hell the opposite of God’s presence, or the absence of God? [No.] This difficulty can be resolved by realizing that God is present in different ways in different places, or that God acts differently in different places in His creation. Sometimes God is present to punish” (p. 175).

This should serve to motivate us even more to do whatever we can do to share the gospel of Jesus with the lost, to be used by God to “depopulate hell” and to “populate heaven.”

I hope this clarifies what I was seeking to express on Saturday evening.

I highly recommend Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I wish that every family in our church would own and use a copy regularly.

Thanks for the question. And thanks for being part of our Community Group ministry.

May God be present to bless you!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Practicing the Presence of God who is Now Here (5)

This is the last post for now on the topic of Pacticing the Presence of God from Jeremy Taylor's book, Holy Living, pubilshed in 1650. Check out the entire book online here. It's free. In fact, You can do tons and tons of free reading at Chistian Classics Ethereal Library. The mission of the CCEL is to build up the church by making classic Christian writings available and promoting their use.

The benefits of this Exercise.

The benefits of this consideration and exercise being universal upon all the parts of piety, I shall less need to specify any particulars; but yet, most properly, this exercise of considering the Divine presence is,

1. An excellent help to prayer, producing in us reverence and awfulness to the Divine Majesty of God, and actual devotion in our offices.

2. It produces a confidence in God and fearlessness of our enemies, patience in trouble and hope of remedy; since God is so nigh in all our sad accidents, he is a disposer of the hearts of men and the events of things, he proportions out our trials, and supplies us with remedy, and, where his rod strikes us, his staff supports us. To which we may add this, that God, who is always with us, is especially, by promise, with us in tribulation, to turn the misery into a mercy, and that our greatest trouble may become our advantage, by entitling us to a new manner of the Divine presence.

3. If is apt to produce joy and rejoicing in God, we being more apt to delight in the partners and witnesses of our conversation, every degree of mutual abiding and conversing being a relation and an endearment: we are of the same household with God; he is with us in our natural actions, to preserve us; in our recreations, to restrain us; in our public actions, to applaud or reprove us; in our private, to observe us; in our sleeps, to watch by us; in our watchings, to refresh us; and if we walk with God in all his ways, as he walks with us in all ours, we shall find perpetual reasons to enable us to keep that rule of God, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.’ And this put me in mind of a saying of an old religious person, “There is one way of overcoming our ghostly enemies; spiritual mirth, and a perpetual bearing of God in our minds.” This effectively resists the devil, and suffers us to receive no hurt from him.

4. This exercise is apt also to enkindle holy desires of the enjoyment of God, because it produces joy when we do enjoy him; the same desires that a weak man hath for a defender; the sick man for a physician; the poor for a patron; the child for his father; the espoused lover for her betroths.

5. From the same fountain are apt to issue humility of spirit, apprehensions of our great distance and our great needs, our daily wants and hourly supplies, admiration of God’s unspeakable mercies: it is the cause of great modesty and decency in our actions; it helps to recollection of mind, and restrains the scatterings and looseness of wandering thoughts; it establishes the heart in good purposes, and leadeth on to perseverance; it gains purity and perfection, (according to the saying of God to Abraham, ‘walk before me and be perfect,’) holy fear, and holy love, and indeed everything that pertains to holy living.

When we see ourselves placed in the eye of God, who sets us on work and will reward us plenteously, to serve him with an eye-service is very unpleasing, for he also sees the heart; and the want of this consideration was declared to be the cause why Israel sinned so grievously, ‘for they say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not: (Psal. x. 11. Ezek. ix. 9 ) therefore the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness.’

What a child would do in the eye of his father, and a pupil before his tutor, and a wife in the presence of her husband, and a servant in the sight of his master, let us always do the same, for we are made a spectacle to God, to angels, and to men; we are always in the sight and presence of the all-seeing and almighty God, who also is to us a father and a guardian, a husband and a lord.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Testimony from a rape victim

Yesterday, I read a testimony from someone at CVC who was a victim of rape. I asked for permission to publish her story on my blog. I trust it will be a real source of encouragement to some who have also suffered any kind of abuse. Her story is raw, real, insightful and honest. I am so grateful that God is working so powerfully in the life of this wonderful woman of God. And I am grateful for the amazing people she has met and learned from at CVC. To God alone be the glory.

This testimony was prompted by a tough question from a Saturday night UpClose service: "If God is always present, what do we say to a person who was physically or sexually abused and asks, 'Where was God when I needed His protection?'"

I have a friend, Dr. Mike Misja of North Coast Family Foundation. Mike just came back from a mission trip to Pakistan. He taught on the topic of “suffering” for a group missionaries there. I emailed Mike, “In just a few words, how would you answer that question?”

He wrote, “I don't have a good answer to your question. Though for His own reasons, God chooses [sometimes] to not intervene, it should not be implied that He is removed from our suffering and pain. Since the Holy Spirit lives within us, a case can be made that He experiences our suffering along side and within us, embracing the pain and tragedy of evil's assault. A key difference between Him and us is that He is able to understand His eventual redemptive use of the suffering. We must believe it by faith-which is given to us by Him.”

What you are going to read is a God-honoring illustration of someone who is beginning to understand "His eventual redemptive use of the suffering."

***

For years and years I thought God must have hated me for letting my abuse happen. I always asked, "Where was God for the hours that that man raped and hurt me. Where? Why?" I thought God Was No Where for so long!!!

About a year after the rape, I received Jesus as my Savior. I have no doubt that my salvation was genuine, but I had so much hurt, pain, and shame locked inside of me. I was told then to give it to God. That sounds all fine and well, but how was I suppose to do that when I didn't understand why God didn't stop what happened?

It hasn't been until this past year at Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) that I have realized God was there then. I may not have felt it or understood it, but I know it because "God is now here" in my life. This past year I have seen the hand of God work in my life. It is because of CVC and some of the people in it.

Never did I think I would ever deal with what happened in my past because it was so buried. But God moved through a CVC Bible Study and the ladies in it.

Life is hard right now because I am working through the abuse, the shame, and the hurt. It is different now though because I know God is here now.

Was He there that night? Yes. Why He didn't stop it somehow? We don't have those answers. I can't get stuck there, though, because I wouldn't be where I am right now in my life if none of that happened.

I keep thinking of a puzzle and the pieces. My life is a giant puzzle. I don't understand all the pieces but they are fitting together. Do I wish some of the pieces were different? Yes.

I didn't want to be raped, but I survived that night and that is one way I know He was there. He is here now in my life. And I know He was there then.

How did God feel about what was happening? I am sure He cried, probably wept. What didn't occur to me until recently was that He probably wept over the abuser as well - over what he was doing. That probably broke God's heart as much as seeing what I went through.

I am working through all of this. It is hard but I have great people in my life now such as the women in my Bible Study and the people of CVC. I wish I would have had someone to talk to or read about when I was 16. I would have not felt so alone and maybe a little more normal.

The pain is not erased and the memories are not forgotten, but God is walking with me daily through this. It is much easier to bear when walking with God when dealing with rape and abuse.
Satan knows exactly what to do - what thoughts to put in my head to make me think God didn't care about me. But God did care then and He does now.

One big thing that I have also recently learned is that "God does not waste suffering." I look at some of the people that have been able to help me and know some of what they have endured. God did not waste their suffering at all. They have been able to help me.

I am sure that their are plenty of other people that sit in congregations every week that have some of these same hurts regarding sexual abuse. It is horrible.

For me, part of the horror was an aloneness that I cannot describe. The shame is so over-powering. God does not want me to live that way.

Through studying God's word, I have seen what God intended for me to be. Unfortunately, so much from the rape changed that. Now, I am trudging through all of this the best I can. I want my little girl to know that God is now her in her life as well. I want to be the best mom and wife that I can be.

I can't do this on my own. I tried for years and I didn't get anywhere. I need God. I don't blame God anymore and I am not mad at Him. I love Him and I need Him in my life.

He didn't intend me to live weighed down with the shame, hurt, sadness, and fear that came with being raped. That is not what He wants for my life or for anyone.

I don't understand why what happened did but it did. I have faith in God that He will get me through this and use it somehow. I know I can't let go of Him.

This past year has been life changing for me. I am not turning back. Life is VERY hard right now but I am now leaning on God. I know HE IS NOW HERE!!!

He has always been here. It was me who wasn't fulfilling my end of the relationship. Satan had me exactly where he wanted me for the past 17 years. I was spiraling down so fast. But the feeling I have right now of God is so different. I am just seeking Him as much as I can.

I know and understand now that God loves me. I know that He doesn't hate me like I have thought for so many years.

I thank God for CVC and the ministries in it. God has put certain people in my life and it has changed me so much. God is changing my life. CVC is doing great things. The evidence is that God can move and work in the life of a rape victim. God can work in anyone's life and change the hurt. I am an example of that.

Is life all great now? No. It feels as if some days I am walking through hell with what I am dealing with. God does not leave me, though. I know He is here. I am "engraved on the palms of His hands" (Isaiah 49:16). What an amazing verse!!!

God does not waste suffering. He did not waste it on the people who have helped me. And I know He will not waste mine.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Practicing the Presence of God who is Now Here (4)

More from Jeremy Taylor and his book "Holy Living" on living life like God-is-now-here.

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Rules of exercising this Consideration (part 2).

6. Let us remember that God is in us, and that we are in him: we are his workmanship, let us not deface it; we are in his presence, let us not pollute it by unholy and impure actions. God hath ‘also wrought all our works in us:' (Isa. xxvi. 12.) and because he rejoices in his own works, if we defile them, and make them unpleasant to him, we walk perversely with God, and he will walk crookedly towards us.

7. ‘God is in the bowels of thy brother;’ refresh them, when he needs it, and then you give your alms in the presence of God, and to God; and he feels the relief which thou providest for thy brother.

8. God is in every place; suppose it, therefore, to be a church: and that decency of deportment and piety of carriage, which you are taught by religion, or by custom, or by civility and public manners, to use in churches, the same use in all places; with this difference only, that in churches let your deportment be religious in external forms and circumstances also; but there and everywhere let it be religious in abstaining from spiritual indecencies, and in readiness to do good actions, that it may not be said of us, as God once complained of his people, ‘Why hath my beloved done wickedness in my house?' (Jer. xi. 15)

9. God is in every creature: be cruel towards none, neither abuse any by intemperance. Remember, that the creatures and every member of thy own body, is one of the lesser cabinets and receptacles of God. They are such which God hath blessed with his presence, hallowed by his touch, and separated from unholy use, by making them to belong to his dwelling.

10. He walks as in the presence of God that converses with him in frequent prayer and frequent communion; that runs to him in all his necessities; that asks counsel of him in all his doubtings; that opens all his wants to him; that weeps before him for his sins; that asks remedy and support for his weakness; that fears him as a judge; reverences him as a lord; obeys him as a father; and loves him as a patron.

Practicing the Presence of God who is Now Here (3)

More from Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living (published in 1650) about how to live in the God-is-now-here way.

***

Rules of exercising this Consideration.

1. Let this actual thought often return, that God is omnipresent, filling every place; and say with David, (Psal. xiii. 7, 8.) “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, thou art there,” etc. This thought, by being frequent, will make an habitual dread and reverence towards God, and fear in all thy actions. For it is a great necessity and engagement to do unblamably when we act before the Judge, who is infallible in his sentence, all-knowing in his information, severe in his anger, powerful in his providence, and intolerable in his wrath and indignation.

2. In the beginning of actions of religion, make an act of adoration, that is, solemnly worship God, and place thyself in God’s presence, and behold him with the eye of faith; and let thy desires actually fix on him as the object of thy worship, and the reason of thy hope, and the fountain of thy blessing. For when thou hast placed thyself before him, and kneelest in his presence, it is most likely all the following parts of thy devotion will be answerable to the wisdom of such an apprehension, and the glory of such a presence.

3. Let everything you see represent to your spirit the presence, the excellency, and the power of God; and let your conversation with the creatures lead you unto the Creator; for so shall your actions be done more frequently, with an actual eye to God’s presence, by your often seeing him in the glass of the creation. In the face of the sun you may see God’s beauty; in the fire you may feel his heat warming; in the water, his gentleness to refresh you: he it is that comforts your spirit when you have taken cordials; it is the dew of heaven that makes your field give you bread; and the breasts of God are the bottles that minister drink to your necessities. This philosophy, which is obvious to every man’s experience, is a good advantage to our piety; and, by this act of understanding, our wills are checked from violence and misdemeanour.

4. In your retirement, make frequent colloquies, or short discoursings, between God and thy soul. Seven times a-day do I praise thee: and in the night season also I thought upon thee, while I was waking. So did David; and every act of complaint or thanksgiving, every act of rejoicing or of mourning, every petition and every return of the heart in these intercourses, is a going to God, an appearing in his presence, and a representing him present to thy spirit and to thy necessity. And this was long since by a spiritual person called, “a building to God a chapel in our heart.” It reconciles Martha’s employment with Mary’s devotion, charity and religion, the necessities of our calling, and the employments of devotion. For thus, in the midst of the works of your trade, you may retire into your chapel, your heart, and converse with God by frequent addresses and returns.

5. Represent and offer to God acts of love and fear, which are the proper effects of this apprehension, and the proper exercise of this consideration. For, as God is everywhere present by his power, he calls for reverence and godly fear; as he is present to thee in all thy needs, and relieves them, he deserves thy love; and since, in every accident of our lives, we find one or other of these apparent, and in most things we see both, it is a proper and proportionate return, that, to every such demonstration of God, we express ourselves sensible of it by admiring the Divine goodness, or trembling at his presence; ever obeying him because we love him, and ever obeying him because we fear to offend him. This is that which Enoch did, who thus ‘walked with God.’

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Practicing the Presence of God who is Now Here (2)

Here's more from Jeremy Taylor on Practicing the Presence of God from his 1650 book "Holy Living."

***

The presence of God is understood by us in several manners, and to several purposes.

1. God is present by his essence; which, because it is infinite, cannot be contained within the limits of any place; and, because he is of an essential purity and spiritual nature, he cannot be undervalued by being supposed present in the places of unnatural uncleanness; because as the sun, reflecting upon the mud of strands and shores, is unpolluted in its beams, so is God not dishonoured when we suppose him in every of his creatures, and in every part of every one of them; and is still as unmixed with any unhandsome adherence as is the soul in the bowels of the body.

2. God is everywhere present by his power. He rolls the orbs of heaven with his hands; he fixes the earth with his foot; he guides all the creatures with his eye, and refreshes them with his influence: he makes the powers of hell to shake with his terrors, and binds the devils with his word, and throws them out with his command, and sends the angels on embassies with his decrees: he hardens the joints of infants, and confirms the bones, when they are fashioned beneath secretly in the earth. He it is that assists at the numerous productions of fishes; and there is not one hollowness in the bottom of the sea, but he shows himself to be Lord of it by sustaining there the creatures that come to dwell in it: and in the wilderness, the bittern and the stork, the dragon and the satyr, the unicorn and the elk, live upon his provisions, and revere his power, and feel the force of his almightiness.

3. God is more specially present, in some places, but the several and more special manifestations of himself to extraordinary purposes. First, by glory. Thus, his seat is in heaven, because there he sits encircled with all the outward demonstrations of his glory, which he is pleased to show to all the inhabitants of those his inward and secret courts. And thus they that ‘die in the Lord, may be properly said to be ‘gone to God;’ with whom although they were before, yet now they enter into his courts, into the secret of his tabernacle, into the retinue and splendour of his glory. That is called walking with God, but this is dwelling or being with him. ‘I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ;’ so said St. Paul. But this manner of Divine Presence is reserved for the elect people of God, and for their portion in their country.

4. God is, by grace and benediction, specially present in holy places (Matthew 18:20; Hebrews 10:25), and in the solemn assemblies of his servants. If holy people meet in grots and dens of the earth when persecution or a public necessity disturbs the public order, circumstance, and convenience, God fails not to come thither to them; but God is also, by the same or a greater reason, present there where they meet ordinarily by order and public authority; there God is present ordinarily, that is, at every such meeting. God will go out of his way to meet his saints when themselves are forced out of their way of order by a sad necessity; but else, God’s usual way is to be present in those places where his servants are appointed ordinarily (I Kings 5:9; Psalm 138:1, 2) to meet. But his presence there signifies nothing but a readiness to hear their prayers, to bless their persons, to accept their offices, and to like even the circumstance of orderly and public meeting. For thither the prayers of consecration, the public authority separating it, and God’s love of order, and the reasonable customs of religion, have in ordinary, and in a certain degree, fixed this manner of his presence, and he loves to have it so.

5. God is especially present in the hearts of his people by his Holy Spirit; and indeed the hearts of holy men are temples in the truth of things, and, in type and shadow, they are heaven itself. For God reigns in the hearts of his servants; there is his kingdom. The power of grace hath subdued all his enemies: there is his power. They serve him night and day, and give him thanks and praise; that is his glory. This is the religion and worship of God in the temple. The temple itself is the heart of man; Christ is the high-priest, who from thence sends up the incense of prayers, and joins them to his own intercession, and presents all together to his Father; and the Holy Ghost, by his dwelling there, hath also consecrated it into a temple; and God dwells in our hearts by faith and Christ by his Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16; II Corinthians 6:16), and the Spirit by his purities: so that we are also cabinets of the mysterious Trinity; and what is this short of heaven itself, but as infancy is short of manhood, and letters of words? The same state of life it is, but not the same age. It is heaven in a looking-glass, dark, but yet true, representing the beauties of the soul, and the graces of God, and the images of his eternal glory, by the reality of a special presence.

6. God is especially present in the consciences of all persons, good and bad, by way of testimony and judgment; that is, he is there a remembrance to call our actions to mind, a witness to bring them to judgment, and a judge to acquit or to condemn. And although this manner of presence is, in this life, after the manner of this life, that is imperfect, and we forget many actions of our lives; yet the greatest changes of our state of grace or sin, our most considerable actions, are always present, like capital letters to an aged and dim eye; and, at the day of judgment, God shall draw aside the cloud, and manifest this manner of his presence more notoriously, and make it appear that he was an observer of our very thoughts, and that he only laid those things by which, because we covered with dust and negligence, were not then discerned. But when we are risen from our dust and imperfection they all appear plain and legible.

Now the consideration of this great truth is of a very universal use in the whole course of the life of a Christian. All the consequents and effects of it are universal. He that remembers that God stands a witness and a judge, beholding every secresy, besides his impiety, must have put on impudence, if he be not much restrained in his temptation to sin. “For the greatest part of sin is taken away (S. Aug. de verbis Dominicis. c. iii.), a man have a witness of his conversation: and he is a great despiser of God who sends a boy away when he is going to commit fornication, and yet will dare to do it, though he knows God is present, and cannot be sent off; as if the eye of a little boy were more awful than the all-seeing eye of God. He is to be feared in public; he is to be feared in private: if you go forth, he spies you; if you go in, he sees you: when you light the candle, he observes you; when you put it out, then also God marks you. Be sure, that while you are in his sight, you behave yourself as becomes so holy a presence.” But if you will sin, retire yourself wisely, and go where God cannot see, for nowhere else can you be safe. And certainly, if men would always actually consider, and really esteem this truth, that God is the great eye of the world, always watching over our actions, and an ever-open ear to hear all our words, and an unwearied arm ever lifted up to crush a sinner into ruin, it would be the readiest way in the world to make sin to cease from amongst the children of men, and for men to approach to the blessed estate of the saints in heaven, who cannot sin, for they always walk in the presence and behold the face of God. This instrument is to be reduced to practice, according to the following rules.

***

More to come from Jeremy Taylor...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Love lasts

One of our Community Group leaders asked Dan Fries, our Community Groups Director, a question. Below is the question and Dan's answer. It's good stuff.

***

We studied 1 Corinthians 13 last week. Great discussions came from it. The question below was submitted to me referencing 13:12 -13 where Paul tells the people of Corinth not to compete for spiritual gifts here on earth and to do all things with love. The discussion from my group was this: Is Paul saying that all we need on earth is faith, hope, and, most important, love and not to covet those persons with spiritual gifts or is he saying that in heaven all we'll have is faith, hope, and love and that we'll have no need for spiritual gifts? And, if it’s in reference to heaven, why do we need hope?

***

Dan Fries answers:

I’m going to try and indirectly answer your questions by describing how I understand this passage and hope that it will bring clarity to your conversation.

It’s very important to view these verses in chapter 13 in their context. In chapter 12, Paul talks about the importance of a variety spiritual gifts in the body of Christ, even those that may seem lesser or weaker.

Paul spends a lot of time talking about spiritual gifts in this epistle since the Corinthians were obviously very interested in them and even abused them at times (it seems the gift of tongues was exalted and over-emphasized).

Chapter 13 is introduced by the last verse in chapter 12 (12:31) which says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” The “more excellent way” is talked about in chapter 13.

In chapter 13, Paul compares the importance of love to the importance of spiritual gifts. The strong conclusion from the beginning to end of chapter 13 is that love is to be the overriding principle in the exercise of spiritual gifts because it is greater in priority and greater in permanence.

Paul covers the priority of love in verses 1-7, which you didn’t have any questions about. Verse 8 kicks off the latter half of the chapter with “love never ends.” The point is that spiritual gifts will end at some point, but love will not.

“The perfect” spoken of in verse 10 seems to be the state of events surrounding the return of Christ. So, at Christ’s returns, prophecy and tongues (and the incomplete knowledge they bring) will be obsolete.

These gifts represent all the spiritual gifts (or at least the ones associated with knowledge), and Paul likely chooses them because the Corinthians valued tongues and Paul was getting ready to talk about the value of prophecy (which is more edifying than tongues) in chapter 14.

Paul really wanted this church to begin using their gifts in subordination to the principle of love.

One of your questions dealt with the meaning of 13:13. The question lies with what “now” means. Is the current age in view or is heaven in view?

If it refers to the current age, it might make sense that faith and hope, while being important will not have the permanence of love.

I think that heaven is in view here because of the context of the whole passage. Paul seems to be saying that all three of these virtues are permanent (“abide”), unlike spiritual gifts. Thus, faith, hope and love will all be present in heaven even though love is superior (“the greatest”).

I haven’t thought much about how faith and hope will be present in heaven, but I have no problem believing that they are. Obviously an element of faith will be replaced by sight, but we’ll surely continue to have a thankful trust in God and His promises, and we’ll continue to learn more about Him throughout eternity. I have no problem believing hope will be a part of our eternal existence because Christ’s return is just the beginning point and there always will be expectation of greater things still to come.

When I write about “heaven,” I am not referring primarily to the intermediate state of being with Christ after death. What’s in view in this passage is the “ultimate” heaven, which is our eternal existence kicked off by events beginning with the return of Christ and our resurrection to a glorified state.

In fact, my understanding is that Scripture normally speaks about the latter view of heaven because our hope is closely tied with Christ’s return. The intermediate state can also legitimately be called heaven since we will be with God, but the ultimate heaven is what I long for since I’ll be in a glorified body, Christ will have returned, and God will have made (or will be making) everything new.

This last section of chapter 13 can be summarized in the following three statements: 1) Spiritual gifts have little value apart from love; 2) Spiritual gifts do not last, while love does. 3) Love is even superior to faith and hope, which do last.

Practicing the Presence of God who is Now Here (1)

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) wrote a book in 1650 called "Holy Living." Taylor was a clergyman in the Church of England who achieved fame as an author during the days of Oliver Cromwell. He has been called the "Shakespeare of Divines" for his way with words.

In the book"Holy Living," he talks about 1) the Care of our Time, 2) the Purity of our Intentions, and 3) the Practice of the Presence of God.

Below are some of Taylor's thoughts about why we ought to live like "God is now here." I know that his words are 17th century expressions. But read it carefully. It's worth it. More to come from Taylor tomorrow.

***

That God is present in all places, that he sees every action, hears all discourses and understands every thought, is no strange thing to a Christian ear who hath been taught this doctrine, not only by right reason and the consent of all the wise men in the world, but also by God himself in holy Scripture.

"Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?" (Jer. xxiii. 23, 24).

"Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. iv. 13).

"For in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts xvii. 28).

God is wholly in every place; included in no place; not bound with cords, except those of love; not divided into parts, nor changeable into several shapes; filling heaven and earth with his present power and with his never absent nature. So St. Augustine expresses this article.

So that we may imagine God to be as the air and the sea, and we all enclosed in his circle, wrapped up in the lap of his infinite nature; or as infants in the wombs of their pregnant mothers: and we can no more be removed from the presence of God than from our own being.

God of This City

I really like this song. And Kris Allen does a nice job leading it.

And please pray that God will do greater things in Cleveland and in NE Ohio.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A "God is now here" prayer

I was looking in my prayer journal today and I found a prayer based on and celebrating the omnipresence of God - the fact that "God is now here."

Why not stop for a few minutes and make this prayer your own expression to God?

***

O Almighty God, infinite and eternal, Thou fillest all things with Thy presence; Thou art everywhere by Thy essence and by Thy power; in heaven by glory, in holy places by Thy grace and favour, in the hearts of Thy servants by Thy Spirit, in the consciences of all men by Thy testimony and observation of us.

Teach me to walk always as in Thy presence, to fear Thy majesty, to reverence Thy wisdom and omniscience; that I may never dare to commit any indecency in the eye of my Lord and my Judge; but that I may with so much care and reverence demean myself that my Judge may not be my accuser but my advocate; that I, expressing the belief of Thy presence here by careful walking, may feel the effects of it in the participation of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Taken from "Holy Living" by Jeremy Taylor.

Coram Deo

Earlier this year, a friend asked a Christian leader named R. C. Sproul a question. He asked, "What's the big idea of the Christian life?"

Sproul gave him a Latin term. He said, "The big idea of the Christian life is Coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life."

This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of or before the face of God. To live coram Deo is to live one's entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.

To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God. God is omnipresent. There is no place so remote that we can escape His penetrating gaze. He is always present.

God is now here. If we really live in light of that fact, it will make a difference in who we are.

To live all of life in the presence of God is to live a life of integrity. It is a life of wholeness, unity, consistency. Forgetting the omnipresence of God leads to a life of confusion, inner conflict, and contradiction. We'll be disintegrated.

See, some of us want compartmentalize our lives into two sections: The spiritual and the non-spiritual, the secular and the sacred. Do that and you have failed to grasp the big idea.

All of life is sacred. If you try to compartmentalize your life, then none of life is truly sacred. To try to divide your life between the religious and the nonreligious is sac-religious.

This means that if you fulfill your calling as a salesperson, attorney, homemaker, or even as a person who is right now looking for work – if you live out your life in the very presence of God - then you are acting every bit as spiritually as a pastor who fulfills his calling.

Jesus was every bit as spiritual when He worked in His father's carpenter shop as He was when He taught in the temple.

God wants us to be people who live life in His presence. And that will cause us to live lives of integrity. Integrity happens when we live our lives with consistency. We live the same way in church and out of church. We live in a way that is open before God. All that is done is done as to the Lord.

If you believe that God is present when you get up, and when you are in your car heading to work – if you believe that He sees all your ways - then you will be careful not to do the least thing, not to speak the least word, not to indulge the least thought that might displease God.

Sometimes people curse around me and then catch themselves. “Oh, I’m sorry, pastor. I didn’t mean to offend you.” People often act more “holy” around me, around clergy types. They are careful about how they conduct themselves in word and in deed. But why? Why should you be more careful around a person like me than any other time?

How much more cautious ought you to be when you know that not a clergyman, not an angel of God, but God himself, the Holy One "who inhabits eternity," is always inspecting your heart, your tongue, and your hand at every moment.

God is now here. That changes everything.

In a prayer called the Lorica of St. Patrick, he prayed, “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise…”

That’s it. That’s the idea. That’s the way to live. Coram Deo. God is now here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Can we trust the Bible (9) - How to develop the habit of reading the Bible

Here's another answer to a Saturday night's CVC Upclose Q and A. This one comes from Gary Nave with a few edits and additions from me.

***

What’s a good way to help encourage a friend or relative to read the Bible regularly when they want to but have trouble making a habit?

***

The goal is to help the friend develop what might be called a "positive addiction" to daily Bible reading. Usually, when we think of addictions, we think of negative addictions which is simply another phrase for bad habits such as smoking, swearing, drinking, or gambling.

When something is bad for us, it becomes second nature. We become dependent on it, either emotionally or physically. When we try to do without it, we experience various degrees of discomfort.

"Positive addiction" is when you become dependent upon a good habit. For example, exercise can become a positive addiction. Those who have made exercise a pleasurable and frequent experience soon become "addicted" to it so that if they go a few days without exercise, they feel uneasy, depressed, or even irritable. Of course, if they go without exercise long enough, the discomfort will eventually pass. So, a "positive addiction" is a habit which is good for you, either physically, mentally, or spiritually. It is a source of pleasure and satisfaction. It is something that should you neglect it, begins to give you "withdrawal pains."

This "positive addiction" starts when a person is absolutley convinced that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that God really does speak to his people through His Word. They must believe that God wants to communicate to them about their daily lives, their family needs, their financial needs, their emotional lives, their hopes/dreams/concerns/frustrations/wins/losses. They must believe that God wants to equip them for the challenges of each day.

Without these beliefs, Bible reading will become a chore, not a loving communion with God. Why wouldn't you want to hear from Someone who knows you best and loves you most? One very real reason many people don't develop a habit of Bible reading is that they do not really believe that the Bible is God's means of building an intimate relationship with each of His children.

Practical tips of developing the habit of daily Bible reading?

Ask God to give you this habit. The world, the flesh, and the devil all battle against us to keep us out of the Bible. This is not a war you can win without divine help. You must pray that God will give you the grace to develop this habit.

Find a particular place to have your Quiet Time. It should be a place where you will not be distracted. It should be a place that you like, that you will look forward to being in each day.

Choose a particular time each day when you are alert and when you are least likely to be interrupted.

Select a reading plan. You are more likely to read the Bible if you have a plan. There are many reading plans and devotionals to choose from. If you are just beginning, don't seek to read too much at one time. Start by reading in the New Testament. You can join us at CVC by using the One Year Bible reading plan. If you are just starting, you could just read the NT and Psalm portions for each day.

Make Bible reading a priority before doing other things you also enjoy. For example, in the morning you may enjoy reading the newspaper, having a cup of coffee, watching the morning news, talking with your spouse, etc. Make sure that you spend time in the Word before you do that favorite thing. Or you may want to combine Bible reading with one of your favorite things, like drinking a cup of tea.

Use a modern version you can understand. Some good versions include: the ESV- English Standard version, the NASB- New American Standard Version, the NLT- New Living Translation, and the NIV- New International Version.

Purchase a study Bible to help you understand difficult verses and to use other helps like: author, date, time, them, outline, etc. Some good study Bibles include: ESV Study Bible (Rick's favorite!) or The Life Application Study Bible.

Write out your goal. You are more likely to stick to it if you have a written goal that you can refer to on a regular basis. Consider starting with a 45 day goal. It takes about 45 days to form a new habit. Once you form the habit of having a daily quiet time, you will miss it and be able to tell a difference when you miss it.

Share your goal with someone who will lovingly and encouragingly hold you accountable. Ask that person to check up on you occasionally.

Write down what God says to you. The use of the Loving God Journal or some other journalling method might be helpful.

Share your discoveries. Pass on the passages that encourage you. As you share what you are learning with others, you will grow.

Read with the intention to obey - to apply what you are learning. We are to be doers of the Word and not just hearers (James 1:22-24). As the old song says, the people who trust and obey are the ones who are happy in Jesus. The true joy comes in the application of God's Word (James 1:25).

Close each time of Bible reading with prayer. Psalm 119 is a prayer divided into 22 sections. Using a different section each day as a guide for prayer at the end of your time in the Bible would be a good way to close your time in prayer.

Most importantly, depend upon God. This means that you must pray about these things. Ask God to give you a hunger for His Word.

***

I like what my friend Joe says about his Bible reading. He says, "If I ever miss a day [which for him is rare], I always wonder what truth I missed that I will need throughout the day. I feel that if I miss a day, I am not ready to face the challenges and opportunities of the day ahead."

It's that kind of thinking that fosters the Bible reading habit.

How to leave a church

I have a friend in ministry who is a pastor and who just received a very hurtful letter from someone who is leaving his church. My heart really hurts for my friend.

To give people the benefit of the doubt, I don't think people mean to hurt their spiritual leaders when they move on to another ministry. But they often do. People either just leave without saying anything or they fire out parting epistles that point out all the flaws in the pastor and the church.

Take it from me. Every pastor knows he's flawed. And every pastor knows he's leading a flawed church. Most are seeking to do the very best they can as God's leaders.

When people leave churches they would do well to remember the advice "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

So, below is some of what I wrote to my friend. It's just some stuff from my heart. But maybe you could get some insight if you ever are led to leave a church.

***

Dear ______,

I’m so sorry that you are going through another painful leadership test/issue/trial.

These are the kinds of conflicts and partings that make us wonder if the ministry is worth it.

But, if I may, let me encourage you to look at all the people in your church who have come to Christ and who have grown in Christ as a direct result of your ministry. Please seek to focus on that. And seek to focus on the many, many people who love you and your ministry.

And, hard as it may be, realize that [the persons leaving your church] may not be mature enough in Christ to give you what is Christ-like – and what every pastor would like to have when someone grows in a different way and leaves a church.

They may not be mature enough and loving enough to be able to say, “Thanks, pastor, for allowing me into your life and heart. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of that which is so dear to your heart, the church you are pastoring. Thanks for being used by God in my life. Here’s how God used you to help me grow… [insert 3 or 4 ways you have grown here].

"God has used you to do something very, very significant in His kingdom. You have faith. You have courage. You are bearing fruit. I praise God for you. Please know that I value the work and ministry of [insert church name]. And I will treasure our time at this church.

"Now that I am growing in a different direction, it is time for me to seek another place of fellowship and service. I recognize that for many centuries mature and respected Christians have had differing views about theology. So, I really don’t disrespect those who differ on the non-essentials.

"I know God will continue to use you and bless you in the lives of others just as He has used you to bless me. Please pray that He will use me and bless me.

"Thanks for all the time you invested in me. Thanks for teaching me, for leading me, for praying for me, and for being an example to me. You have been and will remain a leader that I respect very much. I will continune to pray for you. All God’s best to you, my dear brother.”

***

After being in the ministry for almost 30 years, I hate to say it, but having a conversation or getting a note like that is something very, very, very rare.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

To tweet... or not to tweet

Recently, I entered the facebook and twitter worlds. I have been taking some good-natured heat (even from my own family!) about my twittering and facebooking efforts.

Admittedly, I am a novice. But I want to use any means possible to help fulfill the Great Commission. Paraphrasing Paul in I Corinthians 9...

I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the twitterer I became as a twitterer, in order to win twitteres. To those on facebook I became as one on facebook that I might win those on facebook. To those in blogdom I became as one in blogdom that I might win those in blogdom. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I like finding out little details about the lives of family members, staff members, and friends that I might not find out otherwise. I gain fuel for prayer and for conversation. So, I see all these new tools as a way to enhance (and create) create social connections and as discipleship tools.

Today, one member of our staff at CVC sent me a story from a Presbyterian pastor who just started to twitter. It fuels my thinking that twitter can be a discipleship tool. Here's how the story ends:

So, in God’s providence, within a couple of days of using Twitter, I’ve had an opportunity to meet and get to know a missionary in our denomination that I would never otherwise have had the pleasure to meet, evangelize a young, agnostic, college student who lives thousands of miles away, and put her in touch with that church planter who just happens to be planting a church in the town in which she lives.

To read the whole story, click here.

So, how will you use technology to make disciples?

If you want to know why to twitter, click here. If you want to get started with twitter, click here. If you want to read about 20 ways to use twitter, click here.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Can we trust the Bible (8) - How do we know which interpretation is right?

Recently, at our Up Close Saturday night service at CVC, we had lots of questions from attendees related to my message “Why can we trust the Bible?” Three questions shared some common elements:

1) Why are there so many interpretations of the Bible?
2) How do we determine which interpretation is right?
3) Why is the Bible hard to understand?


Once again, Dan Fries, our Community Groups Director, has agreed to help answer these questions: His response is below.


***


To answer these questions comprehensively would require more space than we have here, but these are some introductory thoughts that should begin to answer each of these elements.

The Bible certainly can be difficult to understand in many places. In fact, Peter says in II Peter 3:16 that there are some things in Paul’s writings that are “hard to understand” and that the “ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.”

It is certainly important to not be haphazard when discerning the meaning of Scripture. And it is important to begin Bible reading with prayer asking for guidance and wisdom from the Spirit.

Unfortunately, the medieval church became so fearful of untrained laypeople misunderstanding the Scripture and promoting heresy that they explicitly discouraged laypeople to read it. That was a wrong-headed and extreme perspective that the Reformers later corrected.

Instead, the Reformers promoted and believed in the perspicuity of Scripture – that the most important teachings of Scripture are clear enough for any layperson to understand.

At CVC, we agree, and we believe that the Scriptures should be regularly read and applied by every believer. There will be difficult passages that present opportunities for further study, but there is so much that is plain to the reader.

Generally, I’ve found that our problem is not with the Scriptures that we do not understand but with appropriating and living out the Scriptures that we already know.

The reasons for the multitude of competing interpretations among Christians are many. I believe most can be explained by three factors:

1) The first is the inherent sinfulness of humanity. Our reasoning ability and intellect were not spared by the Fall and certainly our motivations are often tainted when we approach Scripture. Many read the Bible with a specific agenda (conscious or not) like justifying their behavior or their beliefs. This commonly causes a mistake called “isogesis,” meaning “to read meaning into the text.” What we should be doing is “exegesis” which means to “draw meaning out of the text.” Our sinfulness is why the indwelling Holy Spirit in necessary to truly understand and submit to God’s Word (see I Cor 2:14).

2) The second factor is tied to the first, and it is the issue of authority. Many people do not hold the Scripture to be the final and only infallible authority for the Christian in matters of faith and practice. Some hold up their tradition as a higher authority than God’s Word. In this case, views of Scripture arise from the teaching of a particular religious figure or church rather than from the meaning of the text. Others hold their reasoning ability or personal experience as a higher authority than God’s Word, so if something in Scripture does not make sense to them logically or if it contradicts their “religious experience”, then they reject it or change it based on their own authority.

3) The third factor is our hermeneutic, which is our method of biblical interpretation. Our hermeneutic is largely informed by our view of inspiration. The doctrine of inspiration teaches that God superintended the human authors of Scripture so that, using their own personalities, they composed and recorded His message without error. Some people approach Scripture only focused on the human side of the equation and analyze the Bible as if it is only a piece of human literature. They find no other meaning beyond the historical. This is sometimes called “higher criticism” which results in contradictions and Bible study void of application as it ignores God’s ultimate authorship. Others completely ignore the human role and read Scripture as if it were literally dictated by God which can create very confusing interpretations. Others who ignore the human role look for hidden, secret and spiritual meanings that are not at all apparent in the text. This hermeneutic is often called “allegorical”, and it is purely subjective since it has no real guidelines to test an interpretation as to whether it is really from God.

The hermeneutic used by CVC and by most trained evangelicals is called “historical-grammatical” or “historical-literary”. I am convinced this hermeneutic is the only consistent and reliable way to interpret Scripture, and following it will help the reader of Scripture to determine whether an interpretation they’ve heard or read is correct.

In this hermeneutic, meaning is found by taking the text at face value, looking to the intent of the original author in the historical, grammatical, and literary context. The most important concept to remember is “context”. You must always consider the context when trying to discover the meaning of Scripture. There are several types of context to consider, which cannot be explained in a brief document like this, but they include intentional context, grammatical context, historical context, cultural context, stylistic/literary context, and the context within the progressive revelation of God. (Sometime in the next couple of years, CVC will provide training on how to study the Bible using this type of hermeneutic.)

The heart behind our hermeneutic is critical. We must be humble as we interpret Scripture. Many times people stumble because they believe that they can interpret Scripture with complete objectivity. Or they think that they don’t need anyone but themselves and the Holy Spirit to interpret the text. While this is appealing to our individualistic tendencies, the truth is that we must immediately challenge any personal interpretation that is genuinely new. We should intentionally place ourselves in accountability to the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church throughout the ages to guard against maverick and individualistic interpretations. A good commentary is one tool that can be helpful in finding interpretations that are accepted within the Christian community.

In summary, it is true that Scripture can be genuinely hard to understand at times, which is one reason why the Bible says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

We can rightly handle the word of truth by:

1) recognizing it alone is the final authority, not our church tradition, not our reason, and not our experience;

2) practicing a consistent hermeneutic that draws the meaning from the inspired text based on the intent of original author in context;

3) rooting out our pride/self-idolatry and instead rely on the Spirit to appropriate God’s Word and recognize the Spirit’s work in others and in the Church in interpreting God’s Word.

***

Thanks again, Dan, for your good work in helping to answer these important questions.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Can we trust the Bible (7) - Why do we think the New Testament is inspired?

Recently on a Sturday night, an attendee of CVC asked why we should believe that the New Testament is inspired by God when all that Jesus (and New Testament believers like Peter and Paul) likely had was the Old Testament Scripture. Since they affirmed that the OT was God's Word, so should we. But why should we believe that the NT is God's Word, too?

Good question. Because there were so many questions asked that Saturday night, I've asked our Community Group Director, Dan Fries, to help me with an answer. Dan is a wonderful man of God and is graduate of Cedarville University and has a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

***

It is true that when the original readers read a verse like II Timothy 3:16, they understood it primarily in reference to the Old Testament Scriptures. II Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." However, even by the time the orginal readers read or heard these words, at least some New Testament Scriptures were considered God’s inspired Word.

For example, in I Timothy 5:18 Paul says, "For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’" Paul quotes two different passages and calls them both "Scripture." The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4 and the second from Luke 10:7. This is a clear example of one of the New Testament Gospels already being called "Scripture" alongside the Old Testament.

Another example is found in I Peter 3:15-16. Here Peter refers to Paul’s writings as "Scripture" and puts them on the same level as "the other Scriptures" which would include the Old Testament. These verses read, "And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures."

In addition to the NT writers authenticating one another’s writings as Scripture, they also referred to their own apostolic words and writings as having divine source and authority. In I Thessalonians 4:2, Paul says that the instructions he gave were "through the Lord Jesus" (see also I Corinthians 14:37). In II Peter 3:2, Peter says to his audience that, "you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles." In Revelation, chapter 22, John clearly attributes divine authority and protection to that book.

Another strong passage affirming the divine authority of the apostles is found in I Corinthians 2. Paul says in verse 3 that his speech and his message "were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." Throughout the remainder of the chapter, he uses the pronoun "we" which would include (at least by implication) the ministry of the other apostles as well. He says that the wisdom they possessed "God has revealed to us through the Spirit" and that they spoke "in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit."

The stage is set for the inspiration of the New Testament by Jesus Himself as recorded in John 14:25-26 and John 16:13. These verses are part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples in which He predicts the coming and the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:25-26, Jesus says "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." Similarly, He says in John 16:13, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." Jesus wanted His disciples to know that the Holy Spirit was the agent by whom future divine revelation would be received, and He predicts and pre-authenticates His disciples’ future writings.

The apostles, as seen in Paul’s words in I Corinthians 2, understood their words (and writings) to have divine authority behind them because of the indwelling Holy Spirit of Truth.

The evidence of the New Testament, as we have seen, demonstrates clearly that the New Testament Scriptures were:

1) considered to be equal in status to the Old Testament;

2) believed to have divine authority by the apostles themselves;

3) predicted and pre-authenticated by Jesus in describing the Holy Spirit’s work of revelation through His disciples.

Therefore, we consider verses dealing with inspiration (e.g. II Timothy 3:16-17; II Peter 1:20-21) to apply with certainty to the New Testament Scriptures as well as the Old.

***

Thanks, Dan, for your help.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Loving God Journal report

It's always encouraging when you sense that God is using you.

Someone I don't even know sent this email about how God is using the Loving God Journal (LGJ) in his life. The LGJ is designed to help you read through the Bible in a year and to write down insights that god gives you. There is also a prayer guide in the back of the LGJ.

Below is what one man says about the LGJ.

***

I received your journal... [and] have been keeping it updated since the 1st of January... But for some apparent reason, I never came... in contact with you.

I look forward to writing in it everyday and this daily devotion has truly enhanced my walk with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As noted on the back of your Journal: "For additional copies, please contact: Rick Duncan." Well, I'm not in need of any additional journals at this time.

But I just wanted to thank you for this Journal because it has truly, truly, and truly has made a difference in my life (smile!!!!!!!!).

***

If you would like a copy of the journal, then you can pick one up in the foyer at CVC or send a request along with $10.00 to Karpos Press, 8140 Maplegrove Avenue, North Royalton, Ohio 44133.

Can we trust the Bible (6) - Why are certain writings included in the Bible while others are not?

When I spoke on the topic, "Why can we trust the Bible?" a few weekends ago, we had lots of questions on Saturday night. Several questions went like this: "How did we get our Bible? Who decided which books would be 'in' and which books would be 'out'? Who collected the work and put it together into ‘the Bible’? How can man determine the books to be included/excluded? How do you answer the question about other manuscripts that were rejected by a group of men that picked out the book so the NT? Some would say that the men picked out the ones they wanted and ejected the others because (they) did not like them." These are all questions related to the formation of the Bible - what has been called the “canon” of Scripture.

The word "canon" (Gk. for "a rule") is applied to the Bible in regard to its contents as the correct collection and list of inspired books. In the ESV Study Bible in an article on “The Canon of Scripture” we read, “The word was first applied to the identity of the biblical books in the latter part of the fourth century A.D., reflecting the fact that there had recently been a need to settle some Christians' doubts on the matter.”

For the purposes of this article, we will limit ourselves to a discussion of how the New Testament came to be part of our Bible and why we view it to be authoritative.

When Peter, John, Paul, and the other authors of the New Testament books were putting pen to papyri, they presumably did not know that what they were writing would later become Holy Scripture. Other people who were not apostles were, no doubt, writing spiritual literature, too.

Simply put, why were some writings included in the New Testament and others not?

The Old Testament prophets recognized that a new covenant was coming. For example, Jeremiah wrote, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant…” (Jeremiah 31:31, ESV). Since the Mosaic covenant led to the writing of one “testament” – what we now call the Old Testament – it was logical to expect a written “testament” to accompany the new covenant.

New revelation from God that was written followed each major act of redemption in the history of God's people. In the Old Testament era, scripture was written corresponding to the redemption of God’s people from Egypt, corresponding to the establishment of the monarchy, corresponding to the exile to Babylon, and corresponding to the restoration of God’s people to Israel. So, when Jesus came and the church was founded, it would be logical to expect new revelation from God.

In the ESV Study Bible, we read, “[Jesus] put [his] mission into effect through chosen apostles, whom he commissioned to be his authoritative representatives (Matthew 10:40, ‘whoever receives you receives me’). Their assignment was to ‘bring to… remembrance,’ through the work of the Spirit, his words and works (John 14:26; 16:13-14) and to bear witness to Jesus ‘in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). In time, the apostolic preaching came to written form in the books of the NT, which now function as ‘the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles’ (II Peter 3:2).”

There is a very real sense in which the New Testament writings attest to themselves that they are authoritative. When believers read the New Testament, there is an internal sense that one is reading, not the words of men, but the words of God. We, the church, recognize the voice of our Savior who says, “My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me” (John 10:27, ESV).

Having said that, we must not ignore the fact that for the first few centuries of the church, there were disagreements among the churches and among the theologians about which writings should be “in” and which should be “out.” This is not surprising since the writings were being circulated unsystematically throughout the Roman Empire.

Craig Blomberg, Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, writes, “The oldest nearly complete New Testament manuscripts still in existence date from the fourth century, but their predecessors probably emerged already in the third. Initially, there was not full agreement on the order of the books. It was natural to group the Gospels together and the letters of Paul together. Revelation naturally came at the end of the collection because it was the last one written and it also discussed the last things of human history. Acts, Hebrews, and the General Epistles ‘floated’ around in several places before they finally settled into where we find them today.”

It seems clear that even before the close of the first century, Peter recognized Paul’s writings as holy scripture. He writes, “Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (II Peter 3:15-16, ESV).

So, what were the criteria used to decide what to include in the Bible and what to exclude? There were primarily three: Is the writing apostolic, universal, and orthodox?

1) The question was asked, “Was this written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle?” This basically limited the writings to the first hundred years or so of Christian history.

2) The question was asked, “Is what is contained in this book orthodox – does it not contradict previously revealed Scripture, beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament?”

3) The question was asked, “Has there been a universal (or at least an extremely widespread) use and relevance of these writings throughout the church at large?”

Blomberg writes, “No debate seems ever to have surrounded the acceptance of the four Gospels, the Acts, the thirteen letters with Paul's name in their opening lines, 1 Peter, or 1 John. The other seven books that eventually ‘made it’ into the New Testament had various questions swirl around them. Did Paul write Hebrews or was it someone else? Does James contradict Paul on the role of faith and works? Was II Peter genuinely Petrine, given its dramatically different style and contents from I Peter? Were II and III John and Jude long enough and significant enough to merit inclusion? And just how was Revelation to be interpreted anyway?”

Blomberg continues, “Despite these questions, each of these seven books was eventually accepted. The late second-century Muratorian canon listed 21 books; early in the third century, Tertullian noted 22. About the same time, Origen mentions all 27, but observes that six are disputed. Eusebius, in the early fourth century, also lists all 27 and quotes Origen's references to doubts over certain ones.”

In the 4th century, the rise of false teaching and the rise of persecution caused church leaders to seek the wisdom of God in coming to firm agreement concerning which writings should comprise the New Testament canon. Christians had to decide, quite literally, which books they were willing to die for.

The ESV Study Bible reports, “In the year A.D. 367 the Alexandrian bishop Athanasius, in his annual Easter letter, gave a list of the NT books which comprised, with no reservations, all 27, while naming several others as useful for catechizing but not as scriptural. Several other fourth-century lists essentially concurred, though with various individual deviations outside of the most basic core (four Gospels, Acts, 13 epistles of Paul, I Peter, I John). Three African synods—at Hippo Regius in A.D. 393 and at Carthage in 397 and 419—and the influential African bishop Augustine affirmed the 27-book Canon. It was enshrined in Jerome's Latin translation, the Vulgate, which became the normative Bible for the Western church.”

The ESV Study Bible continues, “The apostolic word gave birth to the church (Romans 1:15-17; 10:14-15; James 1:18; I Peter 1:23-25), and the written form of this word remains as the permanent, documentary expression of God's new covenant. It may be said that only the 27 books of the NT manifest themselves as belonging to that original, foundational, apostolic witness. They have demonstrated themselves to be the Word of God to the universal church throughout the generations. Here are the pastures to which Christ's sheep from many folds continually come to hear their Shepherd's voice and to follow him.”

Want to learn more? You can learn more here (Blomberg’s article) and here (the ESV Study Bible article, "The Canon of Scripture."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Our story - a four circle presentation of the gospel

I really would be interested in your feedback about this presentation of the gospel.

Here at CVC we’ve been saying that we are wanting our people to go 3 for 3 in Living God, Loving One Another, and Loving the World. We’ve been trying to equip our people to be better witnesses when we go on mission. I think we’re better at the doing the good deeds (although we could certinaly improve in that department, too) and not doing as well at sharing the good news. So, we recently worked together with our young adult leaders in putting together a missional approach to sharing the gospel.

We’ve tried to incorporate some things we’ve learned from “Simple Church,” from James Choung, and from Scot McKnight. Our young adult staff really worked hard to help make this accessible to the emerging generation.

This approach to sharing the gospel is intended be less individualistic and more community-oriented than the commonly-used presentations over the last 50 years. This approach seems to me to more consistently flow with the theological storyline of the Bible – Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Mission. It also concludes by inviting people into the mission of the church rather than just focusing on how to avoid hell and gain heaven (although we certainly don't want to minimize the importance of that!).

Below is a four minute summary of the gospel that follows the storyline of the Bible. It uses four circles and begins with creation, moves to the fall, talks about the redemption found in Christ and His cross, and points us to our mission and the ultimate restoration of all things.

We wanted to keep this simple and, hopefully, memorable. If you can remember four circles, three words (God, others, world), and the storyline of the Bible (creation, fall, redemption, restoration), you should be able to reproduce this presentation without a ton of training.

We are thinking of using this approach in developing a 6 week class at CVC on how to share our story (actually, His story).

So, all you "theologians" and "evangelists" out there... we'd like some feedback to help us get ready for the class. Take a careful look/listen.

Keeping in mind that it's just a four minute presentation, what do you like? Not like? Where is this presentation strong? Weak? What are we getting right? Wrong? What do we need to change, delete, add, tweak? Are we in any way miscommunicating the gospel?



Thanks for your help!

If you'd like a written version of the presentation, just request a "napkin tract" from CVC, 5055 E. Wallings Road, Broadview Heights, Ohio 44147 or call 440-746-0404.

Or you can look online here (1), here (2), here (3), here (4), here (5), and here (6).

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The problem of evil

If you're a CVCer, I hope you're getting ready for this weekend's services at CVC. I hope you're planning on inviting a seeking or questioning friend.

We're still in the WHY> series. This Saturday night and Sunday morning we'll be learning about "Why bad things happen to good people."

It's good to think about this for ourselves. We all face troubles and we wonder "why." As believers, we need the encouragement and comfort from God's Word.

And it's good to think about this from the point of view of helping friends and family members who struggle with believing the faith because of "the problem of evil."

The problem of evil is the problem of reconciling the existence of evil or suffering in the world with the existence of God. If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then why does evil exist? Skeptics conclude, that either God does not exist or that He is not omnipotent, omniscient or benevolent, which would make God different from the God of the Bible.

William Lane Craig addresses this problem in a Q&A article entitled "Why does God permit suffering to continue?" He comments on Amos 4:6-11.

6 “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,”declares the Lord. 7 “I also withheld the rain from youwhen there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city,and send no rain on another city;one field would have rain,and the field on which it did not rain would wither; 8 so two or three cities would wander to another cityto drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me,”declares the Lord. 9 “I struck you with blight and mildew;your many gardens and your vineyards,your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,”declares the Lord. 10 “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. 11 “I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,”declares the Lord.
Amos 4:6-11 (ESV)

Craig writes, "The passage from Amos... reminds us powerfully, as C. S. Lewis put it, that Aslan is not a tame lion. People often say that God doesn’t send suffering into our lives but merely allows it."

He goes on to say, "The ancient Israelites didn’t understand that the calamities that befell them were in fact a severe mercy sent by God for their own well-being, but their intransigence short-circuited the good purpose that God had in mind (cf. Revelation 16. 9, 11, 21)."

Craig continues, "Non-Christians, used to a Santa Claus God, won’t understand this sort of tough love. But it’s not really difficult to grasp when you reflect that any finite amount of suffering is worth enduring in order to gain eternal joy and to avoid eternal ruin... (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul understood that the length of this life, being finite, is literally infinitesimal in comparison with the eternal life we’ll spend with God. The longer we spend in eternity, the more the sufferings of this life will shrink by comparison toward an infinitesimal moment."

Craig concludes, "So our reaction in times of suffering should be, as you say, to turn to God in faith and dependence on His strength to get through. When God asks us to undergo suffering that seems unmerited, pointless, and unnecessary, meditation upon the cross of Christ and his innocent suffering for our sake can help to give us the strength and courage needed to bear the cross that we are asked to carry."

To read more from Craig on the problem of evil, look here and here.

And come to CVC this weekend with a seeking or questioning friend to hear more about this topic from a pastoral perspective.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Can we trust the Bible? (5)

Why should we believe the Bible? Because of the witness of Jesus Christ.

You might be thinking, “Come on. You’re using Jesus to prove the Bible and the Bible to prove Jesus. That’s just circular reasoning.”

Well, not if you remember the reasons to believe in the resurrection. On Easter Sunday, we used facts not from the Bible per se, but we used facts from history to present that it’s reasonable to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And if Jesus rose from the dead, then He is to be worshipped. If He is to be worshippend, then He is God. And if He is God, then what He said and what He believed are true.

If you are going to call yourself a follower of Jesus, shouldn’t you believe what He believed?

Just what, then, did He believe about the Bible?

Turn to the gospels and read the words of Jesus and ask yourself, "What did Jesus really think about the Bible?" You'll find that Jesus based His whole life and ministry on the truth and authority of the Old Testament.

Jesus believed that all Scripture would be fulfilled.

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.
Matthew 5:18 (ESV)


Jesus believed that Scripture was fail-proof.

[Jesus said], The Scripture cannot be broken…
John 10:35 (ESV)

Jesus taught that no one should be slow to believe the Scriptures.

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!
Luke 24:25 (ESV)

Jesus taught that all Scripture is inerrant.

In Matthew 22:29, Jesus said, "You do err, not knowing the Scripture," implying that the Scripture does not err.

Jesus used the Bible to resist temptation (see Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). Jesus used the Bible to settle disputes (see Matt. 21:42). Jesus used the Bible to vindicate His authority (see Mark 11:17).

Jesus believed the Bible. And if He did, so should we who call ourselves His followers.

As Friedrich Schleiermacher once put it, “We do not believe in Christ because we believe in the Bible; we believe in the Bible because we believe in Christ.”

Why should I believe the Bible? Because of the witness of Jesus Christ.

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