Thursday, June 21, 2018

PILGRIMS MAKING PROGRESS


“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  (Hebrews 11:13)

Scripture gives Christians the title, “pilgrims,” as those who are traveling through this world to their real home in heaven.  Identifying ourselves in this manner helps us evaluate the focus of our life here and whether we are progressing to our goal hereafter.

Based on this truth, I will lead a Wednesday night Bible study of John Bunyan’s classic, “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”  We will begin August 1, so you will find securing a copy of the book before the end of July helpful.  I have a few more copies of the special edition we are distributing which you can purchase for $11.  I can order more, when these are gone, but the price might increase by a few dollars.  You may already have a copy—and you can download one very cheaply—but it might be helpful to have the same edition as it has Bible study and personal reflection questions, and as we study we can all be “on the same page” as it were.  I am going to do my best to record these studies for those who cannot be there each session or who are prevented from attending.

John Bunyan (1628-1688) was a Baptist pastor in England.  Bunyan was arrested for preaching the Gospel, and spent twelve years in prison.  He would later be jailed again for a briefer time.  It was during his imprisonment, that he would have a dream, which became, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” that would be published after his freedom was obtained.  That book has been one of the most published and widely read books in the English language, other than the Bible.

Here are some reasons to study it:

1.      It “is a vivid portrait of every true Christian’s spiritual journey.” We can see ourselves in this book—the challenges, pitfalls, and blessings of our pilgrimage.
2.      It has “many rich word-pictures.”  A picture is painted over and over that gives us many fresh insights into Scriptural truths.
3.      It “shows the difference between true and false Christians.”  Not all who profess faith truly possess faith and we need to examine our hearts accordingly.
4.      It has a theme, the precious doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints.”  It challenges us to press on in faith, and that we endure to the end not in order to be saved, but because we are saved—that the grace that saves us, seals us, sanctifies us, and secures us for heaven.
(The italicized words come from an article “Why We Should Read ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ ” by Brian G. Hedges, published in “The Banner of Truth” magazine—that motivated me to do this study)

I have read it at least three times, and am looking forward to studying it with you.

Your Fellow Pilgrim,
Pastor Dennis

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

STEPS OF SORROW ON THE HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN



God is aware of the most intimate details of our lives.  He sees the hidden hurts, and feels our deepest sorrow. 

None of our steps are obscured from Him--He counts everyone.  Sometimes those steps take us where we would not wish to go--into deep valleys of grief.  Our earthly wanderings may find us in an unemployment line, a homeless shelter, a hospital room, a divorce court, or a funeral home, for instance.  We are reminded that this world is not home.  We are pilgrims passing through. 

Yet, it is good to recall that God counts every step, and He knows the final one which will bring us to our true home above.  When tears wet our pillow in dark nights, and none other sees, it is clearly observed by God--and He cares!  The psalmist says that He puts those tears in a bottle and documents each sorrow. 

Earth's heartaches are invested in heaven, where they draw interest and will pay great dividends in eternal joys.  Paul puts it like this, "For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor.4:17 HCSB)  All of earth's hurts, will be washed away by eternity's happiness.  What seems to be an enduring, crushing burden will be seen as momentary and light compared to what God has for us!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

CAN I TRUST THE BIBLE? The Experiential Testimony: THE MYSTERIOUS POWER OF SCRIPTURE EXPERIENCED, Part 4


In this series, we have entered the courtroom of truth and have presented witness after witness of the trustworthiness of the Bible.  We have listened to the logical rationale for why God must speak and that Scripture is the way He would have chosen.  We have examined evidence that is found internally in the text and externally in archaeology, history, prophecy, and science that verifies the Bible’s veracity.  Then we have considered this week the experiential testimony of what the Word of God has done in its God-given power.  At last, I add my own witness.  This Book has been life-changing for me.  I have read it through repeatedly, studied it intensely, and have taught it extensively for over forty years—and I am more certain of its authority and accuracy today than ever.

Paul wrote:  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ ” (I Corinthians‬ ‭1:18-19‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)‬‬

This is the message which the world says is foolishness, but which God in His grace has infused with saving power to those who will believe it.  There is something of mystery how God can take such a message and employ it to transform a life.  I cannot fully explain how, but I have experienced it, and seen that life-change in many people.  I cannot fully explain electricity, but I am not going to sit in the dark until I do!

We see the power of the Word IN CREATING FAITH.   “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom.10:17) This is a matter of salvation.  The Spirit of God used the Word of God to produce saving faith in God.  The seeds of truth were sown in the soil of my soul by my parents and preachers and teachers for eighteen years until faith was produced—and the more I hear it, the more I believe it.

There is a mysterious power in the Word IN CULTIVATING GROWTH.   Believers are to be, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,” (1 Peter 2:2).  This is a matter of nutrition.  Being born of the Word, we are then nourished by it.  I will tell you that whatever growth I have experienced in my Christian life has been from feeding on the Word.  Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, appealing to the authority of the Word to overcome the devil, when He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt.4:4)

That leads to the next dimension of the Bible’s power IN CONQUERING SIN.   “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.”  (Ps.119:11) This is a matter of sanctification. This is the Sword of the Spirit to beat the Devil.  It’s how Jesus did it. There is no other way.  When I have looked to the power of truth to resist temptation, I have known victory.

Then, there is the power of the Word I have witnessed IN COMMUNICATING TRUTH. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (2 Tim.3:6-17) This is a matter of mission.  I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture to change lives, build the church, and impact the world.  As a man of God, I have stood equipped with the Word of God to lead the people of God in the mission of God, week after week, month after month, year after year, for more than four decades.  I have never wondered about what to say—trying to figure out some novel message.  I just open the Book, dive in, and then stand with a Bible in my hand, and see its wonderworking power!  Last Sunday, almost 400 souls sat in an auditorium to surrender thirty minutes of their life to hear what I had to say—really what God had to say through me.  That is a mystery and a marvel—a miracle of God’s Word!

Has the Word transformed you?  Have you received with meekness the implanted Word which is able to save your soul?  Are you feeding on it?  If you have read this far, then I assume you have some appetite for truth.  O, taste and see the Lord is good!  Have you hidden that Word in your heart through memorization and meditation so you might live a holy life?  Will you be equipped by the Word to be useful for God in this world, so that one day you may hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. …Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matt.25:21)

I cannot persuade you against your will to believe the Bible.  There are people today that refuse to believe the earth is a globe.  They think it is flat!  One of my dear grandmothers died convinced that men never walked on the moon—it was all staged in Hollywood.  What I have done is given you met the burden of truth—that if you weigh all the evidence, it gives you the ground for this verdict: the Bible is the Word of God, beyond REASONABLE doubt.


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

CAN I TRUST THE BIBLE? The Experiential Testimony, Part 3: THE MARVELOUS POWER OF SCRIPTURE WITNESSED





The Word of God has a transforming power.  We see this again and again in history and in our own experience.  Consider these claims:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 1:16; 12:2 NKJV)

So, we find a life radically changed by the initial action of the Spirit of God through the Word of God—the power of the Gospel—and how that life continues to be transformed into Christlikeness as the mind is renewed through the truth, reoriented to the will of God expressed in the Word of God.

Scripture brings THE TRANSFORMING IMPACT ON SOULS. James writes, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (1:21)

A man was confronted by a skeptic, “Surely, you don’t believe that story about Jesus turning water into wine.”  “Oh, yes, because in my life, He has turned wine into bread!”  How many have been delivered from alcohol, addiction, adultery, atheism, anger, and such through the power of the Gospel!

The Bible also yields THE TRANSFORMING INFLUENCE ON SOCIETY.  We often marvel at the miracle of Jonah being swallowed by a whale and surviving three days to tell about it.  There is a story in the book harder to swallow.  I believe it, but it is incredible!  That is the account found in chapter three of a vile and violent pagan people—an entire city turned to God.

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”  (Jonah 3:1-10)

Amazing!  My heart prays, “God, do it again in Washington, DC and let the spiritual awakening sweep across the land and globe!

Think about the impact the Word has had on our world.

It is woven throughout the fabric of our literature.  The writings of Shakespeare, Dickens, Doestoevsky, Tolkien, and if you want a modern, popular writer: John Grisham, whose works are filled with Biblical themes and allusions.  Marilynne Robinson wrote in the NY Times: “The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know.” 

It is the foundation of our laws.  The Scripture’s influence on English Law is undeniable.  Daniel Webster said in 1820, “ Let us not forget the religious character of our origin. Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary.” 

The Word of God has elevated life wherever it has been proclaimed.  Its message gave impetus to the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, and schools.  You might be surprised to know that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were begun to propagate the Gospel by training preachers.  Great social reforms like abolition and the Protestant work ethic—all have been uplifting for society—and each of these grounded on the Bible.

Our world has never been the same because of the Word and its marvelous power!

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

CAN I TRUST THE BIBLE? The Experiential Testimony: The Miraculous Power of Scripture Promised, Part 2


The Word of God is alive.  It is not just inspiring—it is inspired.  The term means, “God breathed”—that is, just as He breathed life into Adam in creation, He has breathed into the Bible eternal life.  It has the latent power of God within its pages, waiting to be tapped.  David, in Psalm 19:7-11, extols the miraculous nature of Scripture.  In our previous study, we noted five dimensions of this dynamic force.  Today, we will observe five more promises.

The Word ENGRAVES THE TRUTH.  It is truth and when engraved on our hearts into conviction will produce righteousness in us.  The Holy Bible generates holiness as we digest its content and incarnate its commands.

Scripture ENRICHES THE LIFE.  When you are on your deathbed, will you call, “Bring me my checkbook” or “Read me my stock portfolio”?  No, you will say, “Bring me the Word of God.  Read me the Bible!”  It’s better than money.  It’s also sweeter than honey.

The Bible SWEETENS THE JOURNEY.  What’s your favorite dessert? Pecan pie, banana pudding, strawberry ice cream?  In David’s day, it would be honey.  I still like to saturate a waffle with it, making sure each square is full of nature’s sweetness.  Yet, David declares that there’s nothing sweeter than the Word of God!

This Book WARNS THE PILGRIM.  Paul reminds us that this is one of the great purposes for the documenting of the Old Testament stories.  

“Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”  (I Corinthians‬ ‭10:6-11‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

Our pilgrimage in this wicked world is full of peril, yet God has erected warnings in His Word to remind us to exercise caution.  We are smart when we learn from our mistakes, but smarter to learn from the mistakes of others!

Then, the Bible REWARDS THE OBEDIENT. 

The promise of blessing from those who meditate on its message is oft repeated. 

“Blessed is the man 
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, 
Nor stands in the path of sinners, 
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, 
And in His law he meditates day and night. 
He shall be like a tree 
Planted by the rivers of water, 
That brings forth its fruit in its season, 
Whose leaf also shall not wither; 
And whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalms‬ ‭1:1-3)‬

“Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”  (Joshua‬ ‭1:7-8‬)

This is the key to being successful in all that we do.  Now, this is not a get rich quick scheme.  There is no promise you will always be healthy and wealthy.  But, it is assurance of having all you need to do all God wants—and that is true success.  

This is the miraculous power of Scripture promised!

Monday, May 07, 2018

CAN I TRUST THE BIBLE? The Experiential Testimony, Part 1


The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the evidence of lives transformed by truth adds weight to the Bible’s claims.  When we add this to our previous lessons concerning the logical rationale for believing the Bible and the internal and external evidence to back it up, there is every reason to answer, “Can I trust the Bible?” with a resounding, “Yes!” 

Consider first THE MIRACULOUS POWER OF SCRIPTURE PROMISED.   Psalm 19:7-11 presents ten promises of the power of the Word of God.  We will look at the first five today.

1.  IT CONVERTS THE SOUL.  The Bible is perfect—complete—nothing needing to be added or amended, subtracted or retracted.  Though it doesn’t tell us all there is to know, or want to know, it tells us all we need to know.  Its power is to convert—to change us—from sinners to saints.  That is an ongoing process which the Scriptures accomplish in us.

2.  IT TEACHES THE SIMPLE.  It is sure—infallible—and will impart the very wisdom of God!  The word “simple” in the original language is rooted in a term for a door.  A simple person has the door of the ears open to everything so that whatever deception or delusion is given access.  The Word of God enters and closes the door.  Then it only opens to the sweet friend of truth and is locked to the knock of the evil foe of error.
  
3.  IT REJOICES THE SPIRIT.  The Word is right, and it is our joy to hear and heed it.  Sorrow comes when we get life wrong.  Wrong decisions lead to wrong directions and ultimately to wrong destinations.  Hell is the ultimate end of those who get life wrong—a place of unimaginable sorrow.  On the other hand to get life right is to experience joy here and hereafter!  That will bring unending rejoicing.  The Bible marks the right path.

4.  IT ENLIGHTENS THE EYES.  The Scriptures are pure, giving clarity—light to navigate this dark world.  Part of my morning ritual is to clean my glasses before I head out to face the day.  I want to be able to see clearly.  You would not want to see me coming down the road without my glasses.  Everything would be a fog.  A wreck would surely ensue.  When we put on our Bible glasses, God’s Word gives us an always clean lens by which we see things without blurred vision.  Our eyes are enlightened by it.  They even make the invisible things of the spirit world visible!

5.  IT ENDURES THE CHALLENGES.  It is clean—a Holy Bible—and despite all the challenges of the wicked it endures.  Satan’s persistent attack has always been against the Word—doubt and denial.  Recall when the serpent beguiled Eve in the garden, he approached her first with a question to cause doubt, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat...’ ” Then, when she continued the debate, he uttered a denial, “You will not surely die!”  The devil has not changed his modus operandi.  He does not need to; it has been so effective.  Yet, despite all the critics and their assaults, the Word endures!  People may falter, but Scripture will not fail.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

TRUST AND OBEY



“Practice what you preach!”  Jeremiah would have his faith tested, as God would command him to buy a piece of property in his hometown.  He is “in jail,” so to speak, and his town has been taken by the Babylonians, who are currently besieging Jerusalem.  The prophet had been told by God that Judah would fall, with the survivors taken into captivity—not to return for seventy years.  Jeremiah would not live to see that day, and so it made no sense to buy land where you will never set foot, build on, or farm.

He was told by the Lord to purchase the field in Anathoth from his cousin, Hanamel for seventeen shekels of silver.  Hanamel must have walked out, with his bag of silver jingling, whistling, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” hardly containing his delight that he had made such a shrewd business deal!
It made no sense.  People must have scratched their heads in bewilderment.  Jeremiah was the talk of the town at supper that night.  “He’s nuts!” That must have been a repeated phrase.

What Jeremiah did was not folly, but faith.  He obeyed the Word of the Lord.  It cost him.  Living by faith can be very costly.  God told him to trust Him.  Jeremiah acknowledged that there was nothing too hard for the Lord!  God affirmed this to His man, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh.  Is there anything too hard for Me?” (v.27)

He needed that reassurance.  Jeremiah was getting old, and would never live to walk upon that ground he bought.  Or would he?

God went on to speak of a time that is yet to come—a time when Israel will be restored to the land, when they will do more than return to the land, they will return to God in repentance.  God will reign over them and restore them.  The promises made here exceed those experienced by the exiles when they returned in seventy years.  These blessings await the return of Christ and the redemption of Israel—a day that is coming, and maybe soon!

When that happens, there is a man who will have been raised from the dead, and in a glorified body, Jeremiah will walk into Anathoth, display his deed, and claim his land!  Can you imagine the smile on his face.  He had lost nothing.  He gained everything!  It was an investment in time which would pay dividends in eternity.

For us, let us be reminded of the truth proclaimed in the old hymn, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”