October 1

Clarifying the Filling of the Holy Spirit

Perhaps no area of teaching is in more need of clarification than the filling of the Holy Spirit as taught in Ephesians 5:18.  It is not uncommon for me to have questions, particularly from young people, who have run into teachings about the Holy Spirit they have never heard before.  They have been encouraged by a teacher or church to have an experience with the Spirit that will make them more complete Christians with a more powerful work of the Spirit in their lives.  Not only are they confused thinking they need something more to be complete, but they are encouraged to seek an emotional experience that ignores what a true relationship with the Holy Spirit involves.  I am always concerned with people who promote exciting experiences rather than practical Christianity.  It’s the latter we need more because it is excellent and profitable for everyone, see Titus 3:1-8.

 

The first thing we need to understand is that the command be filled with the Holy Spirit is the only command given to Christians in their relationship with the Spirit.  All other ministries of the Spirit such as indwelling, baptizing and sealing were accomplished at salvation and are complete.  Because we have an old nature and can act in the flesh apart from the Spirit, it is the filling (or controlling) of the Spirit we constantly need to seek.  That’s why the present tense is so important which means be being filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is the constant control of the Holy Spirit that is needed so that we can counteract the deeds of the flesh and live pleasing to God.

 

The Bible teaches that there are three conditions we must meet to live daily with the Spirit’s control.  It is these conditions that should absorb us in relation to the Holy Spirit.  The first is dedication.  Halfhearted Christianity can never be pleasing to the Holy Spirit and so can never be powerful Christianity.  1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, Do not quench the Spirit.  Quench means to subdue or resist and the opposite is yielding or being dedicated.  This really is nothing less than settling the Lordship issue.  We decide that we are no longer ours but instead offer our bodies as living sacrifices, Romans 12:1-2.  We live with the attitude not my will, but thine be done, Mark 14:36.

 

The second is obedience.  We are to keep in step with the Spirit which means obeying His guidance and leading, Galatians 5:25.  This is dedication put to practical experience by obeying the direction of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God.  Jesus said we are to obey everything He has commanded us, Matthew 28:20.  His commands are in the Scriptures so being doers of the Word is essential to be filled with the Spirit, James 1:22.

 

The third is cleansing.  Ephesians 4:30 counsels us do not grieve the Spirit.  Sin is what grieves the Holy Spirit, vv. 31-32.  So when we disobey we are resisting the Lordship of Christ thru disobedience.  A grieved Spirit is a Spirit that is hindered and sorrowed over our behavior.  Experiencing His conviction we must admit our sin; confess it; and forsake it, 1 John 1:8-10.  When we do our dedication and obedience are renewed adjusting us properly to the Holy Spirit so He can control us once again.  It’s really about relationship isn’t it?  It’s about living in proper relationship to the Spirit rather than somehow getting more of Him or having an instantaneous experience with Him outside of conversion.  It’s not us getting more of Him; it’s Him getting more of us.

 

Your friend, needing His control, Pastor Brian (:-}).

 

September 1

Blessings Received & Lessons Learned from Karen Harju

The Bible tells us that every believer has an important role in the body of Christ to play.  Read these words from 1 Corinthians 12:18, 22-24.

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. . . . those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. . . . But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.

 

Our dear, departed sister Karen Harju reminds me of these words.  Karen was a simple believer who fits the description that Paul is giving here of the weaker parts of the body.  She didn’t get special honor or recognition.  When she was elected to serve on the Worship Board several years ago she often expressed surprise because she didn’t feel she had much to offer.  She was the kind of person who would say, “What can I do?”

 

Today we bestow special honor on Karen.  I am particularly indebted to her for a number of things.  One is that she was a faithful part of my prayer group on Wednesdays from Noon to 1:00pm.  Karen prayed with such sincerity and honesty that it was like listening to a child speak to her Father.  There was no pretense or fancy words, just direct, honest, heartfelt communication with God.

 

I enjoyed listening to Karen pray so much that I would almost always ask her to begin our prayer time because she set such a nice tone.  Sometimes visiting her in the hospital I would ask her to pray for me just so I could hear her pray again.  The last time at Mather Nursing Home when she finished praying for Ellen and me I told Karen how much her prayer meant to me.  She thanked me but then said, “It really wasn’t for you.”  We laughed; Karen could be direct, and I said I knew it wasn’t for me but that hearing her pray blessed my soul.

 

Karen also was so grateful despite all she had been through.  After Mary Treml died Karen lost her best friend and closest advocate.  Mary was like a mother to her.   The transition that Karen went through to foster care and then a nursing home was a difficult journey.  It was in our prayer meeting one day as Karen was struggling with her new circumstances that we gathered around her and prayed that she might have a change of attitude to accept new people in her life.  I have never seen such a dramatic answer to prayer.  Right then a light went on; Karen saw that her attitude was wrong, and that she needed to show Christ’s love to others.  A wonderful peace came over her that changed her entire outlook.  From then on out, in spite of her many hospitalizations, when we would visit her she would express thanks to how good the Lord had been to her.

 

The last time Ellen and I visited Karen I was in somewhat of a down mood in the late afternoon.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I called Ellen and suggested we visit Karen at Marquette General Hospital.  I learned she was in Ishpeming at Mather.  Did we want to go that far near dinner time?  We went.  Sure enough, Karen spoke of how much she loved the people of Bethel and how good the Lord had been to her.  She blessed our souls as we listened to her pray.  I left feeling that we went to minister to Karen but she has ministered to us.  That gloom I had felt lifted as I saw how Karen “was thankful in all circumstances.”  Karen is with the Lord now.  Farewell & well done.

 

Your friend, blessed by Karen, Pastor Brian (:-}).

August 1

Healthy Relationships for Effective Ministry

One of the most important principles of ministry for the Lord that we can grasp is the absolute necessity of healthy relationships as the basis for effective ministry.  In other words, we can have everything else right in terms of skill, giftedness, and knowledge, but if our relationships with each other are wrong then our ministry will be wrong.  And we will undercut the very message we are trying to convey.  Let me share some quotes I have heard that emphasize this.

God will not bless a divided church, said by a well-known pastor.

Your family is not a part of your ministry; your family is your ministry, said by Howard Hendricks to young men preparing to be pastors, including yours truly.

 

The first one about a divided church that is racked by dissension and unforgiveness is that it undercuts the very message we proclaim.  Paul writes in Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  Clearly here, the gospel of Christ is not only what we believe but also how we behave.  Paul is saying that we can conduct ourselves in ways that deny the gospel we claim to believe.  One principle of the gospel is that we are reconciled by Christ in one body unto God, Ephesians 2:14-18.  If that is what we proclaim but then live unreconciled to one another we are teaching a different gospel – one that does not reconcile believers to each other nor heals relational breakdown any better than the unsaved world.

 

Consider a church I know in Lower Michigan that at one time was the largest church in our Baptist conference in all of Michigan.  Over a period of many years that church was so racked by various squabbles that they split three times with three new churches splintering off of them.  An interim pastor said right from the pulpit in a sermon that they had better change the way they operated because they were getting a reputation.  Can you imagine driving by that church with its glorious past only now to think, “That’s the church that split three times?  I wonder what’s wrong with them.”  Doing the hard of working through disagreements, respecting one another, and “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” could’ve spared that church and its testimony, Ephesians 4:1-3.  We must do the hard relational work if we are to adorn the gospel.

 

Consider the next quote by Dr. Hendricks.  It’s easy to separate what happens at home with what we do in our ministry.  It is easy to think we can be at odds in our marriage but still do “our thing” effectively at church.  But my old professor was right.  In fact, Peter says to husbands that the way they treat their wives will determine whether God answers their prayers or not, 1 Peter 3:7.  That’s how seriously God takes this.  Again, if the gospel reconciles us to each other as well as to God but we live in perpetual unresolved tension at home we are living a gospel opposite of the one we are proclaiming.  It will not only catch up to us but repel the world we are trying to reach.

 

Because of quotes like the two above I became aware of this for which I thank God.  At times in my ministry because of my wrong reactions before church I have had to apologize to Ellen right during worship before I preached.  I knew that not to do so would render my sermon offensive to God.  I thank God for those humbling experiences.  I thank Him for helping us do the sometimes very hard work of being reconciled.  Remember, effective ministry is always based on right relationships.

 

Thanking God for you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

July 1

Condemnation – No; Discipline – Yes

Two of the truths Christians must hold in tension with each other are that we are no longer under condemnation from a Holy God yet at the same time do experience discipline from a Heavenly Father.  Because of the cross of Jesus Christ judgment has been removed and we have passed out of death and into eternal life.  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:1.  Because of this we need never fear that God is waiting to get back at us.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, 1 John 2:1.

 

At the same time Peter tells us Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear, 1 Peter 1:17.  God is our Heavenly Father as believers, but He is not a pushover who indulges His children’s misbehavior and spoils them.  God’s purpose for us from the day of our salvation to the day we are like Him in glory is always the same – to share His holiness.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, 1 Peter 1:15.  One of the chief means that God employs to makes us holy is His discipline.  God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness, Hebrews 12:10.  But we must always remember that God’s discipline is not in wrath, but in love.  The Lord disciplines those He loves, Hebrews 12:6.  What are the methods of discipline God uses for everyone He accepts as a son, Hebrews 12:6?

 

Suffering, Job 1 and 2.  Clearly not all suffering is a result of sin because Job was a righteous man whom God called His servant.  After all that He went through Job said Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know, Job 42:3.  He also said when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold, Job 23:10.  As great as Job was he still needed refining and growth in his knowledge of God.  God used suffering to bring that about.  In my own life and in the lives of people I have pastored, sometimes the most accelerated growth came during times of personal pain.  God seems to get our attention and impress character issues on us the greatest when we suffer.

 

Illness, 2 Corinthians 12:7.  Most Bible students conclude that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a physical malady of some sort that kept him humble and dependent upon God.  Far from being God’s will to heal Paul, God’s will was to use the illness for Paul’s growth.  Spiritual wholeness is often brought about through physical unwholeness.  Our duty is to accept it as Paul did.

 

Obstacles, Jonah.  Sometimes God blocks our plans allowing things to fall apart to deter us from disobedience.  Being determined to go our own way, like the father of the prodigal son, God permits it until things fall apart so bad we return to Him and listen.

 

Consequences, 1 Samuel 12.  God forgave David but permitted the consequences of his sin to remain affecting his family for years to come.  Moses was forgiven but still could not enter the Promised Land.  Sometimes to keep us humble and obedient God allows the consequences of sin to discipline us.

 

Death, 1 Corinthians 11:30-32.  God disciplined some of the Corinthians with death because of their persistent ill treatment of the Lord and other believers.  This is likely very rare but shows the lengths God will go to in correcting His children.  Whatever our current situation, thank God that He cares enough to make something of us and let us humble ourselves under His mighty, but loving hand.

 

Your friend, disciplined by the Lord, Pastor Brian (:-}).

June 1

Lessons from Peter’s Restoration

One of the most tender, touching portions of Scripture is John 21:15-25 where Jesus restores Peter following the resurrection.  For fallible people like us prone to sin and failure it is so uplifting and encouraging.  Many lessons stand out like these:  Jesus is the God of second chances.  Failure doesn’t have to be final or fatal.  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves but still loves us and works with us when we fail.

 

This passage is very critical to the history of the church for without this restoration there would be no Apostle Peter.  Had Jesus not restored him as He did Peter would have gone down in history like Judas the betrayer.  Peter would not be a name we gladly give to our sons.  What a powerful thing restoration is!

 

Jesus’ opening question “do you truly love me more than these?” is probably referring to the other disciples, v. 15.  Peter had professed greater devotion than all the rest, see John 13:37.  He had learned the hard way that boundless self-confidence is a sure path to failure.  His boasting caused him to not take the precautions he should have and heed the warnings Jesus gave him.  What a lesson for us that when we know we are weak is when we are truly strong.

 

Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him paralleling the three denials Peter had made, vv. 15-17.  How helpful this was for Peter’s future credibility and ministry.  He really did love Jesus and Jesus Himself acknowledged that His three affirmations erased the three denials.  Despite our failures Jesus knows that we truly do love Him.  When we’ve betrayed our Master we feel like hypocrites who cannot say we really love Him.  Not so.  Our failure does not mean we do not have a commitment to the Savior that is precious to Him.  He forgives us so we should forgive ourselves and reaffirm our love which is a balm for our healing.

 

After the third question “Do you love Me?” Peter was hurt, v. 17.  Why was it necessary for him to be hurt?  Without sorrow over sin there is no true reformation.  Many people are sorry about the consequences of sin but not sorry over the wrong they have done to their Lord.  Such “worldly sorrow” never leads to true repentance and heartfelt change.  Truly being convicted over the wrong we have done to God and others and being broken over it creates the proper foundation for real restoration and future usefulness.  Without an attitude change there can never be the humility that is essential for growth in Christian character and God-likeness.

 

After Peter’s three affirmations of love Jesus repeated His original call “Follow Me,” v. 18 (see John 1:43).  This is always God’s will for every believer and is always available to us no matter how far we have fallen.  No believer ever falls so far that they cannot follow Jesus again.  Consequences may limit some of the things we could have done for the Savior and that is to be regretted.  Moses could not go into the Promised Land following his sins of anger and impatience with God’s people.  But following Jesus and pursuing Christ-likeness is our glorious quest once again.  Thomas Aquinas said “Our falls make us more humble and more cautious.”  Since that is surely a part of being Christ-like, even our failures, if learned from, can contribute to us being better followers of Jesus than we were before.  How marvelous is His grace.

 

Your friend, renewed many times, Pastor Brian (:-}).

May 1

Understanding True Christian Unity vs. False Unity

Many years ago a young couple came to me after service one Sunday and asked what I thought about Ecumenism.  The Ecumenical Movement, from the Greek for “inhabited world,” refers to the effort to bring unity to the worldwide professing churches of Christendom.  It is based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  Ecumenism teaches that the divisions in the professing Church negate Jesus’ prayer and harm His effectiveness in the world.  If we could come back together as one world Church we could accomplish great good for Christ.

 

Recently at Men’s Bible Study we examined Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  I found it striking that the Ecumenical Movement has wrenched Jesus’ call for unity in v. 23 out of its context ignoring the kind of unity Jesus prayed for us to have.  Just as “peace at any price” is a false peace, so “unity at any price” is a false unity.  As with “false peace,” “false unity” promises much but actually does more harm than good to the cause of Christ because it dishonors all that He stands for.  True unity is wonderful and brings about great good in the local church and among local churches.  What is the true unity that Christ prayed for us to have?

 

It is unity in the truth.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth, v. 17.  Several times in Jesus’ prayer He mentions that He has given us His Word, v. 8.  The Word of God contains the truth that we are to proclaim to the world for its salvation.  It is unity in the proclamation of this truth that is true unity.  Since Satan is the father of all lies and falsehood it is clear that he loves to minimize the truth to lead people into error and away from God.  Note that the “evil one” was a cause of concern in Jesus’ prayer, v. 15.  Healthy unity will always prioritizes the Word.

 

It is unity in holiness.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified, v. 19.  The word sanctify means “to be made holy.”  Earlier Jesus calls God “Holy Father,” v. 11 (an expression by the way that should be used of no human being because it belongs to God alone.).  Since God is holy His purpose in salvation is for us to be holy.  Since Satan promotes unholiness he loves unity that downplays separation from sin and ignores purity.  Wherever that occurs lives are destroyed and the testimony of Christ is diminished.  True unity then calls people to a high and holy standard for their good and the good of their witness.

 

It is unity in the Godhead of Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  Jesus clearly places Himself on equal par with the Father when He speaks of “the glory I had with you before the world began,” v. 5.  Elsewhere Jesus puts the Holy Spirit on the same equal footing, John 16:13.  True unity then is a Trinitarian unity for only when all three members of the triune God are given their due is God truly glorified.  One note of caution.  The Holy Spirit, Jesus declared, will bring glory to Me, John 16:14.  True unity is always Christ-centered making His Person and work central.

 

It is unity in love.  Jesus prays that the love you have for me may be in them, v. 26.  Note that only after Jesus has mentioned unity in truth, holiness and the Godhead, does He mention unity in love.  How do we love as Jesus loved?  In truth, holiness and submission to the Three in One.  That’s true unity and the closest thing to heaven on earth.  May God grant that to us.

 

Your friend, in unity, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 1

Staying on Mission

Recently I had a conversation with newcomers to Bethel who told me that upon visiting our website a happy discovery was made that our mission statement was very similar to the one at their former church.  That made an encouraging impression upon them to see that Bethel was focused on the same goals as the church they had belonged to in another county in Michigan.

 

This reminded me how important it is to have a clear mission and stay focused on that mission.  God has certain priorities for His church that are clearly spelled out in Scripture.  Following those priorities is what brings health to a church.  A healthy church will not attract everyone, but it will attract people who are looking for the right things instead of the feel-good things we all can easily elevate above what is needed to be healthy.

 

As I thought about this conversation over our mission statement I was grateful that the Elders of Bethel took the necessary time to do several things right.  The process was delayed because of a number of things none of us could have foreseen, but the end result was a mission that focuses on the right things that will stand the test of time.  What are these things?

 

A mission has to be biblical so it must be rooted in Scripture.  Our mission focus says Bethel…becoming Christ-followers.  That is nothing other than the Great Commission of “making disciples,” Matthew 28:19.  This is what everything in the church should be geared toward.  Jesus defines disciples in verse 20 as those “who obey all that I have commanded you.”

We could say that disciples are believers who are in the process of learning all that their Master has commanded and then obeying it.  That’s why we call it “becoming” because no one has fully arrived and the only healthy direction for Christians is pursuing constant steady growth.  Stagnation is the enemy of every believer.

 

A biblical mission must also include God’s means to achieve becoming Christ-followers.  Here again Scripture is very clear as to what to do.  First is a focus on spiritual growth through instruction and learning.  Peter brought both together in the last thing he wrote to the church when he commanded “But grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” 2 Peter 3:18.  Our mission says Bethel…becoming Christ-followers who grow first of all.  When that comes first each believer is pursuing spiritual health.  That is critical because it elevates the entire congregation becoming contagious.  It also leads to the next three means of becoming Christ-followers.  When Christians are growing certain things more naturally follow.

 

Our mission says Bethel…becoming Christ-followers who grow, connect, serve & tell.  Instruction and learning occur best in relationship with other believers where the more mature can mentor the less mature.  As we grow we want to use our gifts and talents to serve those in the body we are learning to love.  We also develop hearts like God’s heart for lost people so we want to tell them the good news.  Connecting, serving and telling make for a well-rounded, healthy church body which is what people need to be healthy individuals and families.

 

We can see why it is so important to stay on mission.  God help us to do that very thing.

Your friend, on mission together, Pastor Brian (:-}).

March 1

St. Augustine and John Calvin’s “Chief Rule” of Christianity

I once read the following quote by St. Augustine, one of the most respected Christian thinkers of
all time:
“When a certain orator was asked what was the chief rule of eloquence he replied, ‘Delivery.’
What was the second rule? ‘Delivery.’ What was the third rule? ‘Delivery.’ So if you ask me
concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would
answer, ‘Humility.’ ” (Augustine, quoted by John Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11).
In reading a book celebrating John Calvin’s 500 th birthday, I discovered that Calvin had reported
this quote in his famous book Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin, who was also one of
the greatest Christian thinkers who ever lived, said of Augustine’s quote, “I am exceedingly
delighted in these words.” So they were penned by Augustine and affirmed by Calvin as being
the “chief rule” of Christian practice.
This caused me to think a lot about the subject of spiritual pride in relation to humility. 1
Corinthians 8:1-3 gives us the following challenge: 1) We know that we all possess knowledge.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2) The man who thinks he knows something does not yet
know as he ought to know. 3) But the man who loves God is known by God. Notice what Paul is
teaching us.
Knowledge by itself produces arrogance, v. 1. My old professor Dr. Toussaint once preached
on this text in chapel and he said the line “knowledge puffs up,” reminded him of a great big bull
frog. Doc was raised on a farm. Bull frogs puff out their chests and croak loudly to attract a
mate. Listen to me they croak! So, if we are spiritually proud we are like bull frogs with inflated
chests calling attention to ourselves and our knowledge. This is a special warning to those of us
who are teachers and are constantly studying, learning and gaining knowledge. We have to be
the most on guard that we don’t act in spiritual pride. We will be prone because of our learning
to treat our families and God’s flock without the care or respect they should receive.
Spiritual knowledge should make us more teachable, not less, v. 2. When v. 2 says, “The man
who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know,” the meaning is obvious.
The more we learn the more we realize we don’t know it all. Dr. Toussaint said that every time
he earned another degree (all the way up to a ThD); it caused him to feel like there was so much
yet to learn. How true that is? There is always more information, another fact, or an additional
application of spiritual truth that we missed. I am often pleased in teaching when class members
will bring out an application I didn’t even consider. I come away thinking, “I missed that!” We
need the insight of others to see more fully.
Spiritual pride is chiefly demonstrated by a lack of love, vv. 1, 3. Love builds up . . . the man
who loves God is known by God, vv. 1, 3. Here we see that the purpose of spiritual knowledge
is to cause us to love God more. That love causes us to act like God in building up the people He
loves. Love is always about others and their growth, not about us and showing how right we are.
If our knowledge causes us to act with impatience, lack of courtesy or contempt toward others
we have lost the “chief rule” of Christian practice which is humility. We may be right, but did
we also love? That’s the test.
Sincerely, trying to learn it,
Pastor Brian (:-})

February 1

Listening to God Today

One of the important questions we all wrestle with is How do I discern the voice of God speaking to me?  Over the years people have shared dreams with me that they interpreted as messages from God.  I have received emails from another person who regularly claims to hear from God messages that explain certain phenomena and what believers need to know based on them.  Others are big into visions they believe God gives them to interpret their circumstances.

 

Over Christmas break I had an interesting conversation with my sister about a devotional book for women entitled Jesus Calling.  The author writing the daily entries in the book has written them in the first person because she believes they are personal messages from Jesus speaking directly to her heart from heaven though not in an audible voice.  My sister and I discussed how this is quite a bit different than normal daily devotionals.  Our Daily Bread, for example, is filled with inspirational messages but none of the authors would claim Jesus is communicating messages directly from heaven to their hearts.  My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers is likely the best-selling devotional of all time, but neither would Chambers have claimed his entries were current communications from Jesus directly from heaven.

 

What are we to make of all this?  One thing seems certain.  If Jesus is communicating new messages in addition to the Bible then revelation is ongoing and we are to look not just to the Bible to discern God’s voice, but to these additional communications as well.  In fact, if Jesus is giving additional messages for the church or other believers, as some claim, then it is imperative that we listen to these revelations for they are authoritative coming from Jesus Himself.  We should all be reading Jesus Calling rather than Our Daily Bread which are just the devotional thoughts of humans.  Of course, I am not suggesting that at all.  In fact, let me offer two thoughts from the Book of Hebrews that I think put us on more solid ground.

 

The first is that there is no ongoing, new revelation from Jesus that we ought to be listening for.  Hebrews 1:1-2 says that “God…in these last days has spoken to us by his Son.”  Notice the past tense “has spoken.”  It does not say that God’s Son is speaking, but that He has spoken.  God’s revelation thru His Son has finished.  Jesus Christ has said everything that He needs to say.  Jude adds that our faith “was once for all entrusted to the saints,” v. 4.  With the completion of the New Testament we have a sufficient Word from Jesus given “once for all” for our guidance.

 

The second thing to note is that the Bible IS the ongoing communication of the voice of God.  In Hebrews 3:7 the Apostle writes, “So, as the Holy Spirit says.”  Then follows an exact quotation from Psalm 95:7-11.  Again the grammar is significant.  Psalm 95 was written 1000 years before Hebrews 3:7-11.  It should be “as the Holy Spirit SAID.”  Why SAYS?”  Because the Holy Spirit, who gave His Word to the Psalmist, was still speaking in that Word 1000 years later.  And, I might add, is still speaking thru that Word to us 3000 years later.  In other words, the Bible is right NOW the ongoing voice of God to us.  We listen to the God who speaks thru His Word, and then as we apply and obey the wisdom taught there the Holy Spirit leads us to know and do God’s will in the daily choices of life.  This is the more solid ground to hear God today.

 

Your friend, listening in the Word, Pastor Brian (:-}).

January 1

Mostly Well in a Broken World

We arrived in West Michigan in quite a snow storm two nights before Christmas.  The route we took went right through the middle of the hardest hit area.  Hesperia and Holton got 18-inches of snow.  Driving down M-120 was like driving on a two-track with bumpy ruts plus a snow bank in the middle of the two-lane highway.  We drove through Twin Lake where I spent many happy days swimming as a child, and the next day saw on the news that it was the most snow in December on record for that little town.  We felt right at home coming from the U. P.

 

Christmas Eve we went to church with Ellen’s family and heard the pastor who married us 23-yrs-ago give the Christmas message.  He is one of my favorite preachers to listen to because of his insight and eloquence.  He’s had a very effective and high-profile ministry in West Michigan, but in recent years has experienced some very trying times in his ministry that have been equally high-profile.  The publicity associated with what his church has gone through has been very unfortunate and very unfair.

 

After the service Ellen asked the pastor how he was doing.  He responded, “Mostly well in a broken world.”  We didn’t have to ask him what he meant by that.  In the latter years of his ministry when a pastor of his giftedness usually savors the success of many years, he is enduring some of the saddest trials one could go through in the ministry.

 

But I can’t get away from how he responded.  First, he didn’t sugarcoat things.  We do live in a broken world.  People disappoint us, sin against us, and fail us often in ways we can do nothing about.  Charles Spurgeon once said, “Be not surprised when people fail you; it’s a failing world.”  This is a consistent theme in Scripture.  In his final chapter in 2 Timothy 4 Paul wrote, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.”  That was unexpected of one of Paul’s close companions and it was very painful in the final months of his life and ministry.  We can never insulate ourselves from being hurt in this broken world.  In fact, the more we are involved with the people of this world the more vulnerable we are.

 

Second, the pastor said despite this he was still “mostly well.”  In fact, he led with these words in his response to Ellen’s question.  How could he not say this after preaching the good news of the gospel?  His message was from John 3:16 and he had just spoken of God’s love, the gift of His Son as a sin offering, the opportunity for all to believe, the confidence that believers will not perish, “but have eternal life.”  Anyone who has experienced these realities is still “mostly well” in spite of the trials of a broken world.  The things that are permanent and will endure from time into eternity cannot be disturbed or taken from us.  With our focus on them we can remain encouraged and moving forward for the Lord.

 

To a group of suffering believers experiencing the pain and rejection of a broken world the author to the Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear,” Hebrews 12:28.  With that promise we can move into a new year with courage and hope.

 

Your friend, mostly well, Pastor Brian (:-}).

 

Dear Bethel Family,

Thank you again so much for the generous Christmas gift to us.  We can’t thank you enough for your generosity to our family.  We feel so blessed to be among such a giving congregation.  Thank you for touching us with such love time and time again.  Your friends, Pastor Brian, Ellen, Joy, Jay