Preaching

Fear Leaves Scars (How to Fight Fear)

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The song I played earlier is called “The Voice of Truth” and it’s by a Christian band called “Casting Crowns”. It’s a song that has meant a lot to me over the years – especially in my first years of being a pastor.

You see, when I was in high school I never thought in a million years that I would be a preacher. I grew up loving computers and Star Trek. I was a nerd before nerds were cool. From the moment my dad bought the family that Tandy 1000 and I got that first MS-DOS manual, I was hooked. Put it this way, when I was in high school and the library computer wasn’t working properly, I was the one who got called out of class to come and take a look at it – and only sometimes because I was the one who had broken it in the first place.

So, when God called me to ministry it was as much of a surprise to me as it was to everyone else. My call came during my first year of Bible College. I had just flunked out of computer school and needed to be registered somewhere in order to be a Summer Student at the Pulp Mill in my home town, so I registered at the Bible College my pastor went to. I only signed up for one year because I definitely wasn’t going to need a Bible degree, but within the first 3 months, once I had given my life back to Jesus and He had done some work in my heart, He told me one thing: “Stay here”.

So, I signed up for the 4 year Bachelor’s Degree program, still having no idea what I was supposed to do with my life – only knowing one thing: I won’t be a preacher. I took courses to work for a missionary organization, or be a counsellor, but nothing for preaching or teaching.

Then, after 4 years, with a Certificate, a Diploma, and a bunch of ministry experience, under my belt, I still didn’t know what to do. I asked my denominational leader, and he told me to go back to school. So I signed up for a 3 Year Master’s of Divinity Degree – still having no idea what I’d be when I grew up.

Fast forward to the last semester of my third year. I had picked my own classes, found my own mentors, volunteered and worked for the churches I wanted to, even created a new job at a big church called “media minister” where I organized the sound, video, and print ministries of the church. I’d done everything in my power to avoid preaching. Everything I did was behind the scenes. I took lots of courses for everything other than preaching… sure that my future was in ministry, but not in the pulpit. But by the last semester, I still didn’t know what God wanted me to do.

Until one day when I just gave up trying to control my future. I gave up on guiding my own way and guessing what my future would look like. Instead, I prayed a very dangerous prayer: “Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m educated beyond my intelligence and abilities, and have no idea what you want. So, from this moment on, I’m just going to say ‘yes’ to everything everyone asks me to do. You’d better put some people in my way because I’m just going to say ‘yes’.”

Now, I don’t necessarily recommend that prayer, but I’ll tell you what happened. Three days later the Academic Vice President of the school called me out of the blue and said, “Al, I want you to preach at a little church that just lost their pastor.” If I hadn’t told God that I would say ‘yes’ to everything, I would have laughed him off the phone, said “No thank you, sir.” and hung up. But I committed to saying ‘yes’.

So I took the one and only sermon I had ever had to write, for the one and only class I was forced to take to pass my degree, and I preached it at that little church. I was petrified. But, they asked me back. I’m guessing they were desperate because the sermon was not good.

Then, another church called and wanted me to preach there. And I said “yes” and went. Then a little church in the middle of nowhere, a full hour away from where my family was living in Edmonton, in a little town named Gwynne Alberta, called me to be their weekly preacher. And, scared as I was… I still said “yes”.

Then I graduated, and another little church – this time in Cleveland, Ohio called me to be their full-time pastor. I didn’t want to go to the US. I didn’t want to be a solo pastor. I didn’t want to be a preacher. I wanted to serve behind the scenes, help other pastors and preachers be good at what they do – but no, God said, “No. I’m taking you out of your comfort zone, Al. I’m taking you from your churches of 1000 people and I’m putting you in a church of 25. I’m taking you out of Canada. I’m taking you from being surrounded by technology to a place where they still use an overhead projector, slides and a hymnal. And most of all, I’m taking you away from the comfort of hiding in the back, and I’m going to make you stand up and preach my word.”

And, I said yes. And here’s something a lot of people don’t know – and why that song “Voice of Truth” is so meaningful to me. I was terrified every week for over 10 years. Every week for over a decade, 50 weeks out of the year, right before service, I would be in the bathroom sick, on my knees in front of a toilet, begging God to help me. I’ve been preaching for about 16 years now, and for well over half of it – and still sometimes to this day – I’m often still so scared that I end up on my knees in the bathroom before service.

There were a lot of times I wanted to run away, quit, do something to disqualify myself so I wouldn’t be allowed to preach anymore. There were a lot of times well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) people said something that devastated me for days after the sermon. There have been times I would sit before my computer, blank cursor blinking away, fighting back tears because I didn’t know where I was going to get the strength to write one more message.

The voices in my head would say the very same things that the lyrics to the song said. The first verse is about when Peter was standing in the boat, looking out at Jesus walking on the water, wanting to walk out to Him, and then taking that step off the boat… It says, “Oh what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I’m in, onto the crashing waves. To step out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is and He’s holding out His hand. But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed. The waves they keep on telling me, time and time again. ‘Boy, you’ll never win! You’ll never win!’”

I’ve heard that voice many times. I’m sure you have too.

Negative Voices

These are trying times we are living in right now. So much fear, confusion, anguish, and uncertainty. The enemy the world is trying to fight right now isn’t some rogue nation, or terrorist organization, its invisible – a virus. It’s not happening somewhere over there in a foreign land – it’s happening right here, in our towns and cities, to people we know.

There’s literally panic in the streets as people hoard food and essentials, not knowing what will happen next. People are being told to stay in their homes, to be wary of one another, to fear strangers, to always be on guard, to change their whole lives. People are being sent home from work and are afraid of what that means for their finances because most people in Canada simply don’t have anything in their savings. Others are being forced to work in places where they can become infected – but the protective equipment is becoming scarce, their hands are dry and painfully cracking from constantly using hand-sanitizer, and the customers they serve are getting more upset, more impatient, and won’t abide by the rules.

The politicians and media and bloggers and podcasters are all in a frenzy right now, spitting out new information, ideas, numbers, explanations, guesses, and theories. The helpful ideas and statistics we hear one day end up being completely altered the next. Information and misinformation are passed along with equal authority by news agencies and well-meaning citizens, and it’s hard to know what the truth is, and how we’re really supposed to be responding.

And I’m not talking about “social distancing”, “washing your hands”, and not buying all the toilet paper at the store. I’m talking about how to respond in our hearts, our minds, our souls. We’re so worried about our bodies these days that it’s easy to forget that humans are far more than just flesh. The damage that can be done to us during this time is not merely physical. Yes, it would be bad to get COVID19, and we should take precautions – but that’s not the only thing that will cause us harm.

We are also intelligent creatures, emotional creatures, and spiritual creatures. It’s entirely possible for us to get through this pandemic without ever getting the Coronavirus, and yet still have permanent scars.

Fear Scars

Fear can cause spiritual sickness and leave permanent scars too. Anyone who has ever experienced trauma, abuse, or has a phobia knows this. The scars aren’t external, but internal. It is easy to be afraid these days – and to let that fear dictate our lives – and for that fear to make permanent changes inside of us. It’s easy to look at the crashing waves before us, to see the upheaval in the land, have our hearts melt within us, and to form beliefs that will cripple us for a long time.

The frustration and anger we have against those who were first diagnosed, with those who spread it, with those who refused to self-isolate, who hoard and steal supplies, who are mismanaging the crisis and causing us to lose work and money, or putting people we love in danger – that anger – can start to fester, to spread to the people around you, and that bitterness can infect the people around you causing them to get bitter too. That anger can start to manifest in more permanent scars like divorce, abuse, broken friendships, racism, sexism, ageism – that don’t go away, but stick with us.

Another scar that fear creates is paranoia. You start to believe the world is out of control. The invisible virus is everywhere, and there’s no way to know who has it. The government starts cracking down with harsher controls and penalties, and it starts to feel more and more oligarchical, more oppressive. The media hypes to the max, blogs and websites start to write more conspiracies and talk more about superstition than actual healthcare. The stores shut down, work shuts down, construction shuts down, and you start to be afraid for your financial future too. Your neighbour or family member doesn’t believe it’s serious and tries to leave the house or come over for a visit… and you get scared for them, for you, for everyone.

That fear isn’t something that will go away when the pandemic subsides. That fear will stay with you, because it was there before and it’s deep-seated, firmly established inside you. All the things you were secretly thinking before starting to become reality – and you convince yourself that this pandemic isn’t the problem – it’s just the surface of all the other terrible things that need to be worried about. And it’s crippling.

Then you end up being the one on your knees in the bathroom, sick to your stomach, with a thousand voices telling you how terrible it will be, how no one can be trusted, how everything is against you, how the systems will fail, how no one is watching, no one understands, and no one cares…

Have you felt that fear? Have you felt racism and prejudice rise up in you? Anger and bitterness? Paranoia, desperation, and superstition? I’m sure you have. What can be done? How do we combat that level of fear?

The song gives us a clue. I want to read the chorus to you, “But the voice of truth tells me a different story. The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”. The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”. Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.”

The greatest weapons we have against fear are Truth and Faith. When the voices come barreling into our head, log-jamming our mind with fear, what are we to do? Seek Truth and hold fast to Faith.

I think of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 – turn with me there. It says,

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”

The whole world is trying to find and use tools to fix this pandemic. Scientists and doctors are pulling out all the stops to try to end the devastating effects of COVID19. But how do we destroy the effects of fear, the stronghold that fear can take in our lives? What weapons do we have at our disposal? They are not “fleshly” weapons. Washing our hands, social distancing, cleaning the house, having a good schedule, working out, eating well, is not going to demolish the stronghold of fear in our hearts. There is not enough money, power, and political might out there to solve the problem of fear. We keep trying to put our faith in these things, but it never works. There’s always something they miss, something they didn’t see coming.

So many people sat in their homes and jobs thinking our modern society is way beyond ever having a “plague” again. Our scientists are too smart for that. Our medicine to amazing to allow for it. Our laws too well thought out. Our economy too strong to fall apart, our political leaders too experienced to ever let the whole world shut down like it did a century ago. And yet, here we are.

I’m all for science and technology. I love living in a world of medicine and antibiotics and MRI machines. I’m glad we have economists and police officers and politicians. But we have to remember that our greatest weapons against fear are not these people, their money, their systems, or their clever ideas. Our greatest weapons are Truth and Faith.

When we face all the “arguments” and “lofty opinions” out there that tell the dozens of reasons to be afraid – what can we do? We do as verse 5 says, we “take every thought captive to obey Christ”. What does that mean?

It means that when we are faced with something to be afraid of, with a news article, blog post, podcast, family member or friend, or even a thought in our head – that causes us to be afraid, to worry, to want to panic, to hide, to lash out, to take control, to get bitter – to do whatever it is you do when you’re angry. You stop, you take that thought captive, and you hold it up to the truth of Christ, and you say, “Lord Jesus, is this thought true? Does it line up with reality and logic and your Word? Does it obey you?” As Jesus said, “the Truth will set you free…” (John 8:21-32)

Psalm 46

Turn with me to Psalm 46.

Literally, when I was writing this script, I got an emergency message on my phone. You know the one complete with lights and horns and scary noises and yellow exclamation marks that freak you out in the middle of the night? I got one of those that read, “You are at high risk of spreading COVID 19. You are required by law to self-isolate. DO NOT visit stores, family or friends.” I thought, “Dang! How does my phone know if I got it!?! What app did I download? What government spy software is on there?!” Turns out it was for “Travellers Returning to Ontario”, but I missed that part. It kind of freaked me out for a second.

What do we do when our mind says the world is out of control, no one knows what to do, terrible things are on the horizon, it’s too much for me, but no one else can do anything about it either? What do we do? Look at Psalm 46:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”

God is not weak, God is not distant. This Psalm says, “Remember who God really is, what God really wants, and remember His strength. Nothing is out of His control. He is All-Knowing, Ever-Present, and All-Powerful. He sees everything and everything works within his constraints and abides by His plans. Be Still, my heart, know that God – the God of hosts, the God of angel armies, is with us. He is the fortress we run to because He is strong.”

But our mind says, “But how can any of this be for the good? Maybe God is all powerful, but maybe He doesn’t care.”

Then we read the words of Romans 5:1–8. Turn there.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We read this and remind ourselves: “I know I am loved because God actually traded His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for me on the cross. While I was His enemy, dead in my sins, unable to do anything of value, a child of hell, God sent His Son to save me – to die for me – to take the cross for me. I don’t need to ever doubt His love.”

Plus, God promises that all the current suffering will work out for God’s glory and our good. All this suffering is building endurance and character. It’s a trial to go through, a refining fire, where, if we are wise, obedient, and faithful, we will come out the other side more hopeful, more loving, more godly than before. What is happening in the world is bad – but it’s not all bad – there is much opportunity for good! I think of the words of Mr. Rogers who reminded us that when bad things happen and we’re scared when watching the news, to “look for the helpers.”

Jesus suffered for the sins of the world, and asks believers to follow in His footsteps. So, as His followers, we don’t fear suffering, we face it knowing God is good, God is with us, and God can do amazing things with faithful people who are willing to be obedient to Him.

What got me off the floor of the bathroom each and every Sunday was not the strength of my own character or will. It wasn’t any strength I had inside me. It was because God had brought me to a place where I was utterly dependant on Him – and so I had to trust that He would allow me to do what He wanted done. If you’re a Christian today, I’m sure you can relate to God doing something similar with you. This pandemic is a way to show us how weak we are, how finite we are, and should cause us to become more dependant on Him. The only weapons we have when fear starts to take over are Truth and Faith. What’s true? And is God still God?

“God called me to preach. God’s Word has Power. It will not return void. God has given me something to say. He will give me the strength to say it. He won’t abandon me. He will be with me every step of the way. Now, all I have to do is get up and do what He has already told me to, and trust the I can because He will do it.”

Conclusion

Let me close with two more verses to keep in mind.

The first is 1 John 1:18,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

One reason you might feel fear is because you think God is punishing you – or the world – and you’re worried that the only way you can fix it is to live perfectly. That’s impossible – and it’s a trap.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ says that you are an imperfect sinner, born into sin, who loves their sin, and cannot escape it because it is woven into your DNA like a curse. Even all the good deeds you do to try to impress God end up working against you because they’re not even good deeds for their own sake – but driven by fear and selfishness. But, you are right to fear punishment, because God is wrathful against sinners and anyone who has broken His law. If you’ve ever violated any part of the Bible or any part of your conscience, you are a sinner doomed to face the wrath of God. And just like if you broke the laws of Canada, you can’t just tell the judge what a great person you are most of the time and ask him to let you go. There’s no amount of good you can do to cancel out your sin.

The only way to be saved, to be free from the fear of judgement, is to believe that you are a desperate sinner in need of a great saviour. That you are utterly unable to save yourself, and that you need Jesus to take all the punishment for you. To trust in the love of God, the “perfect love” of God, that accepts you as you are, and if you ask, will place all your guilt, shame, and sin onto Jesus, so He can take the punishment for you.

Then, the moment you believe, you are saved and utterly clean and totally free. As Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Then, when the thought comes that God is punishing you or your family for doing something bad, you can say, “Nope. God placed all my punishment on Jesus, who took it gladly for my sake, and there is no condemnation for me anymore. This bad thing that is happening not because God is mad at me, or because I’m supposed to be punished – it’s a bad thing because there is sin in the world, and the effects of sin are evil. I’m not in heaven yet. But, I trust that God will do something good through this, so I will remain faithful to Him.”

Truth and Faith.

And the final verse I want to leave you with is one that I’ve had in mind for a couple weeks now. It’s Isaiah 26:3–4, which says,

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

Do you want peace at this time? Stand steadfastly in Faith on the Word of God and the Person of Jesus. Let God’s Word and the presence of Jesus Christ, be the everlasting rock beneath your feet. Turn to those spiritual weapons – prayer, reading the Bible, sharing your fears with other believers, listening to testimonies of God’s faith from biographies and online videos. Fill your mind with Truth and practice Faith – and you will break those strongholds and come out of this time stronger and more hopeful than when you went in.

The Simple Truth: Is The Gospel Enough?

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8 - The Simple Truth

Spectacle over Substance

Our North American society, including the Christian church, tends to overvalue style, spectacle, and cleverness in not only our educators but also our teachers, preachers and authority figures. What a person may lack in knowledge, character, understanding, wisdom and kindness, they can more than make up for in how they look, their showmanship, and their ability to turn a phrase. A person’s abilities, intelligence, and giftedness don’t seem to matter nearly as much as their appearance, willingness to adapt, and overall marketability.

It’s a strange thing that hundreds of experts who have devoted their life to studying a certain subject, can agree on something and no one will listen – but if a famous actor or athlete talks about it, then suddenly their opinion is not only registered as valid, but important and worthy of being repeated in news outlets all over the world.

It happens all the time when news programs bring actors, comedians, and athletes on to talk about everything from nutrition to politics to religion. When Justin Bieber does an interview about his music, for some reason they also ask him his opinion on geopolitics and social issues. Gwyneth Paltrow once introduced the President of the United States by commenting on how handsome he is and wishing that he could have the unilateral power to do whatever he wants. And social media makes it even worse. Lindsay Lohan tweets her solution to the Middle East crisis, and it’s retweeted by hundreds. Chris Brown told 16 million people that he thinks the “Ebola epidemic is a form of population control” and it’s retweeted by tens of thousands.

And the line gets even fuzzier as many so-called scientists and experts get corrupted as they try to become celebrities. Maybe they feel like they aren’t listened to, so they alter their message or pursue popular and obscure topics that will get them the attention they so crave. Think of Dr. Oz who used to be a real doctor, but is now a television personality that hocks products and spouts wrong information. Or the countless experts and teachers who were corrupted into lying by the promise of big-business money and political power. Or the psychologists and counsellors who have allowed truly mentally ill people to think they are healthy because they have bent to political pressure, want to be on the “right side of history”, or want their name to be first on a unique paper.

Yes, I understand that one of the joys of the internet is that everyone can register their opinion on anything at any time. We can post pictures of our breakfast with as much ease and impunity as we can tell everyone our solution to climate change and what we think about Justin Trudeau’s political strategies. I’m not saying that’s terrible. It’s great to have a forum where the whole world can talk to one another.

The problem is that our celebrity-obsessed culture is making these the voices that shape our worldview. These people, who are dripping with charisma, style, and pseudo-intelligence, have a greater voice than any of the wise, knowledgeable, humble and thoughtful people who actually should be listened to.

More and more people, especially people younger than me, live in a world of tweets, sound bites, cartoons and memes that seem to have the magical ability to boil an incredibly complex issue like climate change, zoology, parenting, religion, terrorism, relationships, sex, politics or a thousand other things into one picture and an easy to digest sentence. And if it seems right to us, we’ll grab onto it, believe it and repeat it to others. These voices are steering what a generation of people believe about incredibly important and complex issues, and it is dangerous spiritually, emotionally, relationally, politically, and every other way, to gain your information from sources that value celebrity and style over truth and substance.

Nothing New

Not that this is anything new. Choosing the wrong voice to listen to because they sound convincing and telling us what we want to hear has been an issue for humans since the Garden of Eden! And if you remember back to when we talked about the context of 1st Corinthians, you’ll remember that this was an issue for Paul’s ministry too.

He was a man that was not only educated as a great Jewish scholar but was also trained in the Greek educational system too. He was a talented guy who was not only a skilled tradesman, but had memorized the whole Bible, had studied it for years, and was also well versed Greek philosophy. When he came into Greece as a missionary, he had an amazing amount of information, and the skill to share it, with those who were looking for new knowledge and divine wisdom.

And yet, over and over he was mocked and dismissed as a fool. Why? Because instead of playing to what the crowds wanted to hear with long, clever speeches full of fancy quotes and floury language, Paul stuck to the simple truths of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He had the ability, but he staunchly refused to stylize his teaching. He refused to dilute the message by becoming a spectacle. He refused to cloud the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ with a bunch of clever showmanship.

Why? Wouldn’t that have helped? Wouldn’t he have gotten more listeners if he would have been a bit more marketable? Maybe, but he didn’t want anyone walking away from his preaching and remember him. He only wanted his listeners to remember what he had said about Jesus. He knew that the Greek people struggled with the same thing we do today: celebrity worship. When they went home they would be talking just as much about how interesting, exciting, and passionate their favourite speaker was as they would about the substance of what they learned – maybe more. “I have no idea what he said, but wow, was he an entertaining speaker!” was not a review that Paul wanted to get.

Too many Bible teachers get this confused, and too many Christians do this with their favourite preachers today. They find a person that looks good, sounds interesting, has lots of charisma, and says things that they agree with, and then decide to follow them. The truthfulness of the message comes second to the personality behind the microphone.

Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthian church. Open to 1 Corinthians 1:10:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

You see, they had forgotten the message they had heard and believed, and had slipped into celebrity worship. It wasn’t Paul’s or Apollos’ or Cephas’ (which is Peter’s) fault that this happened. It was the natural state of the Corinthians to elevate the teacher over the message. “Paul was the one who planted our church and spent time with us, so he’s my favourite we should all follow him.”, some would say. “Well, Peter is the leader of all the Apostles, plus he’s the one who gave the first sermon in Jerusalem at Pentecost, so we should listen to him.”, others would argue. “Well, Apollos is one of the greatest preachers of all time! His eloquence and speaking ability is unmatched by anyone! Everyone loves him and the crowds come running whenever he’s in town. We should all follow him!”, others would say.

Meanwhile, Paul, Peter, and Apollos are each getting more and more frustrated with this church because none of them want this kind of attention! They are trying to put the spotlight on Jesus, and the crowd keeps trying to put the spotlight on them.

Sounds like what happens in the church today, doesn’t it? I’m a John MacArthur guy! I like Rick Warren! I’m all about John Piper! TD Jakes! Franklin Graham! John Hagee! Francis Chan! Joyce Meyer!

But in the church it gets even crazier because we don’t just idolize people that are alive, but those who have died a long time ago – and then we stick their names on our churches! Of course, you have churches dedicated to St. Peter, St. Luke, St. Mark, St. Paul… but also Calvinist churches named after John Calvin, Lutheran churches named after Martin Luther, Arminian churches named after Jacobus Arminius… and the list goes on. We seem to love finding a favourite Christian, glomming onto them, and then arguing with other believers on their behalf. Paul is better than Peter! Luther is better than Calvin!

All this celebrity worship divided the Corinthian church into sects that not only argued with one another but ended up working against each other. It got to the point that they wouldn’t even eat together anymore. We’re not even talking about differences in theology, we’re merely talking about preferring one teacher over another! And it divides churches today too.

Look at verse 14 and see what Paul says next. He says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and

“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Paul is actually thankful that he spent so much time preaching and teaching that there were not many people in the church who can claim to be in his “official fan club” because they were baptized by him. That kind of thinking is a sign of a sick soul and a sick church, and he wanted no part of it. Why? Because when the focus is on the teacher, or the religious act, the focus is no longer on the worship of God, salvation through Jesus Christ, and obedience to His Word. Instead, people start talking about the person who is leading the worship, preaching the sermon, and teaching the Bible. And that, in short, is idol worship.

Now, there are lots of places we could go from here. I could go on a rant against the health and wealth preachers who put on a great show, attract thousands of followers, but are actually preaching a false gospel. I could talk about how some Christian pastors have been corrupted by their pursuit of fame and deny the fundamental tenets of the faith so they gain a bigger audience. I could get into how many churches have split because of their dedication to secondary and tertiary issues, forgetting about their unity in Christ. I could explain a bunch of ways that famous theologians have differed with one another and how the church dealt with those issues. I could even take a tour of how the Roman Catholic Church has corrupted the gospel and fallen into the trap of elevating human teaching to the level of scripture.

And I would enjoy talking about all of those topics. But, here’s where I think God wants me to go today, because I think all of us need to hear it – me included:

Emptying the Cross of its Power

There’s an important phrase that Paul uses at the end of this section that explains the problem with creating a cult of personality, worshipping celebrities, or simply getting our eyes off of God and onto the one who is delivering the message – and it’s found in verse 17.

Paul says, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Paul is clearly not against baptism. He knows how important baptism is, that it was commanded by the Lord Jesus, and actually takes time in many of his letters, including First Corinthians, to explain how it connects us to the gospel of Jesus and to one another.

And Paul is not against “eloquent wisdom”. Proverbs 3:13 says, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.” Whole books of the Bible are dedicated to wisdom! Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are often called “wisdom literature”. So there’s no way Paul is against speaking and pursuing wisdom.

So what is Paul saying here? He is saying that this church had gotten their priorities out of whack and were placing too much emphasis on the means and modes of their religion, and all the good things that come as a result, and had forgotten the core of what their faith was supposed to be all about.

They argued about baptism but forgot about what it meant, the story it told, the obedience it showed, and the community it made them a part of. They would argue about which preacher was best, but not discuss the truth they were sharing. They would perform and celebrate the rituals and rights of the church, like taking the Lord’s Supper, but had forgotten their meaning. They would come to church seeking more knowledge, but weren’t using that knowledge to better their relationship with Jesus. They would have grand discussions about theological things, but their hearts were growing cold towards God. And in all of their religious passion for wisdom, they had forgotten the message of the gospel, the power of the cross, and their desperate need for the presence of God in their lives.

In their very short Christian lives, they had gone from overwhelmed by how God had  called them to be followers of Jesus who were freed from the consequence of their sins to religious people who came to church, but didn’t think much about Jesus. They were happy as long as the speaker was interesting enough, the spectacle was exciting enough, and they could go about their week knowing they were better than all those around them because they were Christians.

Everything about Paul’s ministry and preaching spoke against that. Wisdom and learning were incredibly important to both the Jews and the Greeks, so it was easy for them to slide into thinking that it was most interesting preachers that were best to listen to. And yet Paul didn’t play that game.

Remember how exhausted he was when he first came to town? He didn’t have anything left other than the core of the gospel and whatever power the Holy Spirit would give him. He was utterly dependent on God for whatever he was going to say, and whatever God wanted to do. Even if he had wanted to use them, he had no strength left to come up with clever illustrations and fancy, philosophical arguments.

Turn the page and look at the beginning of chapter 2 where he says, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

You see, that’s the difference. When the message of the gospel “rests on the wisdom of men”, or is framed so it sounds like “plausible words”, or is filled with “lofty speech”, it is drained of its power.

For me, as a preacher, the more I want you to see me, the less you will see Jesus. The more interested I am in you hearing my words, the less you will hear His Word. I could stand up here, talk about the Bible for an hour, and it could be utterly useless to you spiritually.

For you, as you share your faith with your family and friends, the more they hear of your wisdom, your plausibility, and your arguments, as you fancy up your presentation, trim off the parts you think they’ll be offended by, embellish the parts that sound more interesting, and cram in worldly wisdom because they don’t want to hear what the Bible has to say – the less they will hear from Jesus. Your human, “eloquent wisdom”, will show that you believe that the message of the cross of Christ is empty of its power.

Does that mean we don’t have to study the Bible, or theology, or history, or learn how to make reasoned arguments for why we have the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15)? Of course not! We learn those things so we can know more about God. It increases our faith and builds our relationship with Jesus. It helps us gain confidence during times of doubt that there are good answers to our hardest questions and helps us know what we’re talking about when people ask us those hard questions.

What this means is that when we preach, or teach Sunday school, or lead the service, or organize a small group, or share our faith with a friend, we need to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, our knowledge or wisdom cannot change anyone’s heart or mind!

When a preacher, teacher, missionary, or evangelist (and all Christians are at least one of those in some capacity) either pursues fame and celebrity or tries to use their charm, intelligence or winsomeness to convey the gospel, they not only risk the temptation to change the message, but also risk losing the power of God that is meant to do the work in changing the listener’s heart.

You may, in fact, do more harm than good as you seek to try to convert someone to your own personal understanding of God than if you are seeking to introduce them to God Himself. You could do more harm by trying to use imperfect human explanations of mysterious things, and causing them to be more confused than they were when you first started speaking. You could also do more harm than good because if they did believe you, and change their mind, they may be converted to your own personal religion, a version of the faith that you’ve come up with yourself, or to whatever version they think they heard. You will have gained a follower of yourself, but you have not made them a follower of God (Matthew 23:15).

When we are sharing our faith, we aren’t trying to argue or convince anyone into a new or better relationship with God. All we are meant to do is to present what God has said in the Bible, the simple meaning of the Gospel, and what it has meant to us. We allow the Holy Spirit to do the convincing, the Word of God to be the tool we use, and the testimony that God has been writing in our lives to be our evidence. There is no need for lofty speech or human wisdom. We must come “weak”, and in the power of the Spirit.

Application

So here’s a couple of applications for us today, based on what we’ve been talking about:

First, and most importantly, before you teach or share anything with anyone about God, the Bible, the Gospel, or your testimony, you must pray for God to be the one who speaks through you. Pray that whatever words you say will be truthful, helpful and honouring to God. Ask God to remove your pride and your fear. You don’t want to walk in there full of pride, thinking that you are going to argue this person into becoming a Christian – and you don’t want to walk in their full of fear as though you are all alone in trying to save this person’s soul. This is God’s work, and so you need to be absolutely dependent on Him to go before you and be with you as you share God’s story.

Second, when listening to a preacher or teacher, or reading a Christian book, or blog, or podcast, or some form of social media, ask yourself if you are interested in finding the truth, or are you more interested in witnessing the spectacle? Do you follow them because you know they love God and are presenting His Word unchanged, or because they are media savvy, have interesting illustrations, speak passionately, and agree with what you think. Be careful who you listen to, what voices you allow to inform you, and be aware of your motives when you choose those voices. Scripture tells us to test the spirits, test the prophets, and make sure that they agree with reality and the truth of scripture. I think that includes us testing ourselves for why we are listening to those people in the first place.

Third, when you are given the opportunity to teach or share the gospel with someone, don’t fall for the temptation to try to think that the message needs to be changed so it will be more interesting, popular, or well received. The words of scripture and the message of the cross have inherent power on their own.

I’m not saying you don’t use illustrations to help people understand – Jesus did that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t figure out ways to engage auditory or tactile or visual learners – Jesus did that too. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t speak with passion or use measured words – Jesus did that too.

What I am saying is that as you present the gospel to people, or teach the Bible, there are going to be parts that you are going to want to downplay because they are controversial, or difficult to explain, or just plain offensive – like that people are sinners from birth, or that God has standards for how people live their lives, or that Jesus defies labels (he’s not a liberal, or conservative, or democrat, or communist, or feminist, or chauvinist, or modernist, or socialist…), or that God presents Himself as male, or the violence Jesus endured, or that there really is a Hell for all who do not believe in Jesus as their only Saviour, or that someone has to be willing to publically declare their faith. There are lots of things we are going to be tempted to downplay or skip over when we talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we shouldn’t.

Every time we do, that’s us trying to use human wisdom instead of God’s to try to get people to come to Him. It’s impossible. Human wisdom cannot lead us to God. An edited gospel, or an edited Bible, cannot save anyone. Trying to be clever, safe, and inoffensive, but still present the whole gospel, is impossible. It’s designed to offend. It’s designed to require knowledge we can’t give. It’s designed to require the Holy Spirit to change the heart – and not us.

Don’t fall into the trap of changing the message or skipping parts in your personal study, when you talk to your kids, when you teach in church, or when you share your faith. Give the whole story in a simple way, and trust that the “wisdom or Christ” and the “power of the cross” will lead the person to have their faith “rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18-2:5)

We Place Ourselves Under The Bible

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Big Words

From the genetic to the apocalyptic, whether allegorical or apologetic, poetic or prosaic, decalogical or doxological, hyperbolical or historical, evangelical or epistological, from the exodus to the exile, the consistent view of theologians which drives our piety, expository hermeneutics, and doctrinal declarations (from justification to sanctification to redemption to regeneration to sacramental to soteriological and more) has been the belief in the transcendent inerrancy and verbal plenary inspiration of the original autographs in the canon of scriptures.

Did you get all that? Put more simply says “God wrote the Bible”. It took me almost half an hour to craft that sentence – and would probably take me three hours to even start to explain it. I didn’t write that to impress you, nor to somehow elevate myself above you with all my jargon. I wrote that for fun and to make a point: Christianity has a lot of big words associated with it – and that we don’t need to be afraid of them.

Last week we I said I wanted to incorporate some of the older hymns into our music, and it had a mixed effect. Some folks really liked, while others were merely confused. I was on both sides of the fence myself. I enjoy singing some of the songs from my youth but got a little whiplash as I tried to sing the words while figuring out what a “royal diadem”, the “chosen seed of Israel’s race”, the “sacred throng” and the “terrestrial ball” was.

It started an interesting conversation in Overtime about whether we should push through and try to learn these songs and the meanings behind them, or whether we should simply realize that our society has changed and those songs don’t have the same meaning or weight as they used to. I think both points have some validity.

Personally (keeping in mind that I like big, complicated, theological words and scriptural allusions in the songs) I would much rather we keep singing these hymns and educate ourselves to the meaning, rather than relegate them to the past and opt to only use simpler music. I’d rather take the time to study the lyrics, plumb the depths of the language, and incorporate the concepts into my understanding of God, than give them up in favour of simpler songs.

Not that there’s anything wrong with simple songs! Don’t get me wrong! I’ve been brought to tears singing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” What I’m advocating for our church is a mix – which will hopefully mean the best of both worlds.

But back to my complicated, little sentence full of big, Christian words. Here’s my take on it: I know that if I wrote a whole sermon using only that kind of language, never explaining what I meant, I’m not sure how much longer any of you would keep coming.

However, I’m also a big believer in making sure we know what we’re saying and use the right words when we’re talking about God. People have been studying the Bible and writing about God for thousands of years and if there’s one thing that the Christian church wants to make sure of, it’s that we are accurately representing God, His Son, His Spirit, His Will, His Plan, and His Word. We don’t want to leave room for errors or misunderstandings because that’s how people get themselves in trouble. Making up things about God, or simply being inaccurate or uncareful with our language is where blasphemers, heretics, and apostates and come from.

(A blasphemer is someone who says or does something that disrespects or shows lack of reverence for God. A heretic is someone who holds to different beliefs than have been established by the church. An apostate is someone who totally renounces and abandons their religion.)

God warns us over and over in the Bible that people are going to come up with all kinds of crazy, and yet right sounding things about Him, the Bible, and Salvation – and that those things are dangerous. He says flat out that false prophets and false teachers will rise up in the church and try to steer the faithful away from Him and the truth and toward sin and error (2 Peter 2:1).

When Jude writes his letter to the church he says in verses 3-4,

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

He’s talking about sneaky and deceptive false teachers that come into a church and spread wrong things about God. See how it says they “crept in unnoticed”. 2 Peter 2:1 says something similar when it warns, “…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…”. It’s going to happen, and God wants us to be ready for it.

And we also know that there are demons out there that are constantly at work trying to tempt us to sin and get us to believe lies, and therefore we are told in 1 John 4:1,

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

One Reason Why Christianity Is Not A Cult

This is one reason that we are not a cult. Have you ever heard that word used to describe the church? Some people start going to a Christian church and their family and friends start throwing around the word “cult”. That’s confused thinking. One of the signs of being a cult is that they tell you not to question what is being taught, that you have to stop studying outside sources, and that the only friends you’re allowed to have are within the group.

Christians don’t do that. We certainly believe that the Bible is the highest source of authority in this world, but we don’t teach that you can’t ask questions! God says, “test the spirits” and what all the teachers are saying. In Acts 17:11 it commends one group of people because they were doing that very thing. It says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Paul would preach and they wouldn’t just take whatever he said as the truth because he said he was an apostle. No, they went back and studied to make sure that what he said lined up with what God had already said in the Bible. That’s what we encourage here too.

A cult will tell you to trust them for all truth, isolate you from other voices, and give you trouble for questioning authority. The Christian church tells you to study the Bible for yourself, talk to God yourself and have the Holy Spirit confirm what is said, seek good counsellors and teachers, read lots of books, and even challenge the local authority if they stray from what the Bible says!

If I start teaching things that aren’t in the Bible, or start doing things that don’t fit what a preacher is supposed to be doing, this church has a responsibility to hold me accountable, correct me, or even dismiss me. The one, most important thing here, is that the bible is taught fully and faithfully. Because once error and heresy starts to creep in, we lose God’s blessing and set ourselves up for trouble.

Jesus said it this way in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We want to “abide”, or accept and remain in the words of Jesus, because they bring freedom. Other words that don’t agree with Jesus’, no matter now nicely they are said or how helpful they are meant to be, bring bondage.

This is why men and women of God have spent their entire lives studying the Bible and making sure we get it right. They dedicate their lives to prayer, study and teaching so that the people of God will know the truth and remain free.

The Danger of Dumbing It Down

Lies and false teachers are sneaky and deceptive and secretive, and worm their way into the church in surprising ways – and one way they do that is through language.

As our temptation to simplify and abridge biblical preaching and teaching in the church grows, so grows the opportunity for error. The more we dumb it down, the more chance there is for people to misunderstand. It used to be that a preacher had an hour or more on Sunday morning, another hour on Sunday Evening, Sunday school and a mid-week study to teach his church about the faith. They would work through catechisms together – which is a series of fixed questions and answers about what Christians believe – and would cover the basics of what they needed to know.

Today it’s different. Today preachers are told that their congregations can’t be expected to hold their attention for more than 22 minutes and that most of that needs to be entertaining stories and life-application. Sunday evening and mid-week bible studies are all but gone – and the ones that remain spend most of their time on “felt needs” like “building friendships”, “marriage class”, “singles ministry”, “youth group”, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things – but if the only biblical teaching that a church gets is the 10 minutes on Sunday morning served between funny stories and application, then the church can’t help but breed heretics. People won’t know any better and they’ll fill in their knowledge gaps with whatever sounds good to them.

And this oversimplification, lack of personal study, and concentration of “felt needs” ministries, creates a group of Christians who don’t know or care about their Bibles. Sure, they’ll say that they believe the Bible is God’s Word, but most don’t know what’s in it. They’ll grab a couple of verses they like and live off of those. The souls of these Christians will be starving to death even if they come to church every week.

Not only will they be starving, but they are left wide open to believe those “false teachers… who will secretly bring in destructive heresies”. When someone does get curious about something about God, the church or the Bible, today they can simply go to Google and punch it in the search bar. The problem with that is that most folks don’t know the Bible well enough to discern if what they are reading is right or wrong, so they do what Jude says and “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”.

Can you see how dangerous that is? Instead of reading and studying the book that God wrote to explain everything we need to know, they get their knowledge from someone else – which means they are forming their beliefs about God not from God, but from man. In other words, they are no longer even worshipping the same God, but a human creation that is named God. They are no longer following the Jesus of the Bible, but a Jesus they have created in their own mind. They open themselves to becoming heretics who don’t believe what God says, blasphemers who disrespect what God has revealed about Himself, and apostates who are no longer part of the Christian church. That’s a big deal, isn’t it?

Ignorance in the Church

And I’m not talking about diverse opinions about the things that God hasn’t given us clarity on, or silly things like how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. I’m talking about the basics! In 2014 Lifeway Research did a study of Christians and it showed that there is a lot of theological confusion out there.

A significant number of people in Christian churches said they believed that Jesus isn’t equal with God, but was the first created being. Over half believed that the Holy Spirit is like the Force from Star Wars, and not a person you can talk to. A huge percentage thought they save themselves by seeking God, and too many believe they can lose their salvation.

Where do they come up with that stuff? Not from the Bible. They either heard it from a false teacher or made it up themselves based on what they thought sounded good to them.

I don’t want that for any of you. I don’t want you to go home full of platitudes and funny stories, but left wide open to believe lies that wreak havoc on your soul. I don’t want you to spend your life wondering if you are even saved, or if you can lose your salvation. I don’t want you to go home thinking that God doesn’t care about your day to day life and that the only connection you can have to Him is by singing and sitting in rows on Sunday. Above all I don’t want you to go home ignorant of the amazing grace and love that can be found in Jesus Christ, how to discover the mission He has for your life, and the peace that comes when you are in a right relationship with Him.

And the way I do that is by preaching the Bible. And when I preach the Bible, I think it’s important that I use the right words and then explain them – and then later, maybe even sing them together!

The Corinthians

“But what does this have to do with 1st Corinthians, Pastor Al?”, some of you may be thinking. Everything. As I said before, life in Corinth was a lot like life today. Religious opinions and teachers everywhere, rampant sexual temptation, and a church full of people who didn’t know their Bibles very well who were being led astray by false teachers. Same deal.

These people had some huge issues in their life and their church, were falling into theological traps and sinful temptations and Paul needed to steer them back to God. After he left, some people started coming up with different ways to worship God, different ways of understanding salvation, different ways of doing the Lord’s Supper, different beliefs about who the apostles are, and different beliefs about what God expects from them. And Paul needed to correct them.

Let’s open up and read the first three verses together and see how Paul introduces this book, because he uses some very specific language:

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)

By The Will of God

Now at first glance that seems like a very flowery way to kick off a letter – like he’s buttering them up so he can make them feel good about themselves. But that’s not what he’s doing. Remember, every single word of this letter isn’t just something written by the Apostle Paul, but are also the words of God, written to give the Christian church something to guide them until He comes back again. This isn’t some ancient letter to a bygone church, but the Word of God that stands forever – and every single word is important.

Notice that he uses the term “of God” a couple times. The letter starts with who it’s from, Paul and Sosthenes. Sosthenes is likely the same person we met in Acts 18, the former ruler of the synagogue who was beaten by his own people in front of Gallio. It’s thought that he became a Christian and then was sent along with the delegation from Corinth to find Paul in Ephesus, tell him what’s going on, and give him the list of questions that sparked the writing of this letter.

But look how Paul addresses himself, “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ…” and then look how he addresses the church: “To the church of God that is in Corinth…” What’s he doing? He’s setting aside his own authority and picking up one that is higher than his own. He’s saying, “Listen, you know who I am. I’m not just some guy. I’m someone who was hand-picked by God to tell you about Jesus and explain the Bible to you.”

You remember Paul’s story, right? He wasn’t on the path to apostleship; he hated Jesus! But Jesus had saved him anyway and showed him so much love and grace that Paul couldn’t help but sharing about him! And more than that, Jesus didn’t just save him, but made him His premier missionary to spread the gospel throughout the Roman world.

Paul was reminding them about what we’ve been talking about. He’s saying, “Guys, you’re getting some things wrong and you need to come back to the right. I’m about to write a whole bunch of things, and they’re not opinions. You need to read them, study them, pray about them and obey them. I’m an apostle by ‘the will of God’ and you are ‘the church of God that is in Corinth’. You are saved because God willed to save you! You’re not yours anymore. [Later, in chapter 6 Paul will say, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (6:19-20)] Neither one of us gets a choice about this. I’m obligated to tell you, you’re obligated to listen. I’m not allowed to make stuff up. I just get to write down what God wants me to say. And you don’t get to make stuff up either. You can’t just import new ideas from the temple down the street. You can’t just cut out parts you don’t like. You can’t do whatever you want.  You can’t just decide to believe whatever is easiest. I’m an Apostle of God, you’re the Church of God, we are all accountable to Jesus, so let’s get back on track here.”

We Are Under God’s Word

That’s what we’re doing here too, and this must be the heart behind this entire study of Corinthians. As Hebrews 4:12-13 says,

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Our study of 1st Corinthians isn’t just meant to be interesting, but life-changing. We, as we embark on our study of this book, are setting ourselves beneath the Bible. We are asking ourselves what God wants to say to us, teach us, encourage us, convict us with.

That’s why a lot of people don’t want to read the Bible – because it cuts them deeply, and they feel naked and exposed when they read it, and that’s uncomfortable. But I challenge you as we study 1st Corinthians to stand naked and exposed before God and allow Him to wield His sword in whatever way He deems fit.

God says through Paul in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 says,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

That means that when we come before God’s word – whether on Sunday or in our private study – we come humbly, ready to gain something from reading and studying it. When we open this book, we are asking God’s Holy Spirit to teach us, admitting we lack knowledge. We are asking Him to reproof us (meaning show us where we’ve gone wrong) because we believe we are sinners. We are asking Him to correct us and tell us the way to live. And we are asking Him to train us in the right way to live life, because we believe that when we take control of our own life, we just mess it up. When we open up God’s Word, we are asking His Holy Spirit to speak to us through it because our thoughts are not enough. We are incomplete and He must complete us. We admit that we do not have everything we need to live in this world and require that He equip us for whatever good work He has planned in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).

When we come to God’s Word, whether it’s here or at home, we place ourselves under that Word. We are saying, “God, speak to me, tell me what I need to know, inform me of what I am ignorant, show me where I’m wrong, tell me how to do right, guide me and teach me. Use your Word, that double-edged sword, to split me in half and expose the darkness within me, and then put me back together so I can have your light inside me. I’m reading the words of your prophets and apostles, and I am your follower. Speak to me and I’ll do what you say.” Doing that requires humility, obedience and perseverance. My question today is, will you do that?

There are going to be some hard teachings in this book, and we need to prepare ourselves for them. We need to commit to ourselves that we are going to accept what God says here, and not dismiss it because we don’t like it. We need to commit that we are going to obey it even when it is difficult, and make the changes we need to make because God has said to do so. Are you prepared to do that? I am, and I hope you are too.

Divisions and Disorder

Next week I want to get into some of those important words in the address; words like “called, sanctified, saints, grace and peace”, but this week I want to simply show you an outline of the book so that when you read it again this week you can see the kinds of topics Paul is going to cover and prepare your heart for it.

This book is broken into two parts and they could easily be titled: Divisions and Disorder. The whole first part of the book is Paul telling the church they need to start working together because God desires unity among them. They figured out a bunch of ways to fight with one another because they had forgot the most important thing – the love of God found in Jesus Christ that they are supposed to be sharing together! Paul takes four chapters to try to explain how they need to come back together under the authority of the word of God and because of the love of Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes from Divisions to Disorder and gets into some of the ways that this church has gone sideways. He confronts their acceptance of sexual immorality in the church and the fact that a bunch of Christians were suing one another. He then talks about marriage, singleness, lust, divorce and how to live with an unbelieving spouse. He makes a call for people to be content with their place in life and to keep God’s mission at the forefront of their plans. He then talks about how Christians can have differences of opinion but still honour one another, and how to enjoy living in God’s world without becoming attached to it.

Then he covers some key teachings about how we are to conduct ourselves during our worship gatherings including how we should dress, pray, preach, talk, eat, participate in communion, serve, and get along even when we are so diverse in our outlook and abilities. Then, in one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, Paul explains love itself. He covers prophesying, speaking in tongues. And then, at the very end, he wraps it all up in a reminder about what our faith rests on: the destruction of death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our future hope of being with Him forever!

As I said, we are going to cover a lot of ground as we study 1st Corinthians, but my hope, as I said before, is that as we study God’s Word together we will fulfill what God said in Ephesians 4:12-16: That His word will

“equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Airplanes & Indestructible Radios (with GALCOM’s Tim Whitehead) (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 53)

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We talk with Tim Whitehead, the Executive Director of Galcom International (YouTube Link), a ministry that uses radio technology to communicate the Gospel message to people all around the world. They’ve installed over 120 Christian radio stations and distributed almost a million solar radios in 126 countries, helping local pastors spread the message of Jesus Christ to people all around there area. He has some amazing stories to share!

Podcast Audio:

Behind the Scenes Video:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Ask us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

2. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

3. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

4. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

What is a “Good Church”? (Carnivore Theology: Ep 52)

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A Good Church

Every Christian wants to attend a “good church”, but we all seem to have different ideas of what a “good church” looks like. The guys take on this question and give a biblical perspective.

Podcast Audio:

Behind the Scenes Video:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Ask us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

2. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

3. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

4. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

How Important are Bible Schools, Seminaries and Other Forms of Formal Theological Education? (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 23)

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Formal Theological Education

The 23rd episode of “Carnivore Theology”.

Formal Theological Education

We live in the world where Google is a verb, student loans are reaching epic proportions and Ted Talks, how-to videos and info-graphics are everywhere. At the same time, people are giving up on institutionalized religion and theological schools are struggling. So, is formal, theological education important and, if it is, who should pursue it?

Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode MP3.

Here’s the link to the behind-the-scenes YouTube video.

Here’s the Resources We Promised

The Graeme Goldsworthy Trilogy

Concise Theology by JI Packer

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Local Church by Michael Lawrence

Everyone’s a Theologian by RC Sproul

Al’s Intentional Discipleship Series (Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5)

Al’s Four Core Christian Disciplines Series (Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8)

As Always, We Want Your Feedback

Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!