3
Jan
2018
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Challenges to the Church

For when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.” – 2 Corinthians 7:5

There is no question that the Church in North America is facing severe challenges. The decline in church attendance which has been steadily going on for years has now reached epidemic proportions in some circles. Why is this? To put it simply, there are more going out (and up!) than there are coming in. I remember well the healthy attendance that marked our fellowship in years past – the overflow VBS and Sunday school programs, the well-attended annual picnic, the regular stream of neighborhood visitors on Sunday mornings and all without any advertising! That is certainly not the case these days, especially for many traditional meetings like ours. Instead, there are huge gaps in the pews that in the past were simply not there – and the statistics bear it out. According to a 2013 poll from Pew Research Center, 37% of all Americans attended church on a weekly basis. Gallup estimated that once-a-week church attendance for Americans was at 39%. That fact is bad enough but the Hartford Institute of Religion Research has an even more revealing statistic. According to their findings, 40 percent of Americans say they go to church weekly when in fact less than 20 percent are actually in a weekly church meeting. In the Institutes’ words, “more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends”. There you have it… “more fulfilling things to do on weekends”. It proves just how powerful the sway of the great god “Entertainment” is over the masses. The majority of the population is occupied with worldly pursuits while a number of those who profess to know the Lord are halting between two opinions, having erected competing altars to the Lord and to other gods (1 Kings 18:21). We wonder why the Church does not have more influence in the world!

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul indicated that he was simultaneously waging a war on two fronts. He elaborated on this in 2 Cor. 11 – shipwrecks, stonings, stripes and imprisonments – just a few of the “fightings” without, all in his quest to share the life-liberating message of the Cross. After listing these adversities (vv. 23-28), he concludes his list with a terse but telling comment – “the care of all the churches” (v. 28). These were the “fears within”, the ongoing conflicts that he experienced from the false teachers who had infiltrated many of the churches he established but whose simplicity in Christ was being threatened (2 Cor. 11:3).

These same pressures are with us today and likewise affect the life of the Church. Externally, there is the threat of government intrusion and interference. Ironically, after decades of decrying separation of church and state, government now demands that we bow to legislative decrees that are objectionable to Bible-believing Christians just as it was in the days of Daniel (Dan. 3). The intimidation that it evokes has been quite effective in muzzling the message decreed from a Higher Authority. Along with the influence of the entertainment world, the challenge to penetrate society with the Gospel message is even more difficult as it keeps the population pitched toward Vanity Fair, all the while portraying Christians as narrow, old-fashioned and behind the times. Adding to the dilemma is the preponderance of false prophets, whose main target is “the people” (2 Peter 2:1). They are tireless emissaries of the devil who appear as ministers of righteousness whose conflicting half-truths steer souls away from finding and following the One whom they so desperately need.

What are the fears within? It is that same line of false teachers who ignorantly are “brought in” (Gal. 2:4) or who have deceptively crept in the assemblies of God’s people (Jude 4). Together, these influences upset the rank and file, make merchandize of the Gospel, pressure leadership to adopt unscriptural practices (Ex. 32:4-5) and foster criticism of the leadership for unscriptural reasons (Num. 12; 16; Jude 11). What challenges we face!

So, what then is the Church to do amid such formidable opposition? It is to do precisely what Paul and others did in his day. Equipped with the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit, believers should fearlessly take the whole Gospel to the whole world. It is not for the world to come and hear but for us to “go and tell”. It is the responsibility of each one to do the work of an evangelist, 2 Tim. 4:5. “Each one, reach one” should be the cry. Buoyed by the promise that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail” (Matt. 16:18) and “the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19), we are to steadfastly hold forth the message of Life. We are to regard the words of Paul to the Philippians: “in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (Phil. 1:28) and to the Corinthians “a great effectual door is open to us and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:9). At the same time, we are to take heed to ourselves and to the doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16) and to be on guard against the devastating effects of false teaching and the subtle influences of the world.

Yes, there are far more fulfilling things to do on a weekend (and the rest of the week) but it is not in the passing pleasures of this world, but in Christ and in His Word! Our duty is to know Him and make Him known and as we do in the power and strength of the Spirit, perhaps we will see this trend turn around, with less gaps in the pews.

3
Jan
2018
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Thy Word is Truth: The Authority of God’s Word in an Anti-Authoritarian Age

By: Keith R. Keyser

“Question authority” was the self-defining cry of the baby boomer generation. A half century on from the adoption of that credo, their children and grandchildren see no need to question it, for they believe that authority resides in themselves. In an age where truth is relativized, it is back to the mindset of the Judges’ epoch: “…everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg. 21:23.) Personal opinions are considered sacrosanct and may not be questioned. Any unpopular viewpoint – such as biblical truth – is branded “intolerant” and is rejected outright without any consideration for truth. Truth is pliable and is no longer deemed absolute. Yet the early church shows us that real authority is only found in God’s word, which was delivered to the church through the apostles and prophets who wrote under the Spirit’s control (2 Pet. 1:21; Jn. 16:13-15).

What Is Truth?

In the mid twentieth century, British preacher D.M. Lloyd-Jones diagnosed the West’s relativistic malaise this way: “There is no authority; there is no sanction at all. One person’s opinion is as good as another’s. And not only that, these ideas are always changing. There was a time when everybody would agree in condemning sexual perversion, but not today – it is glorified. That is public opinion with respect to morality. You never know. A view that is right today may be wrong tomorrow. You are never certain of anything; everything is moving and shifting. Where are you? What are you to do? There is no standard. What is the use of condemning this proposed magazine? What authority have you got? Perhaps it will be all right tomorrow – perhaps the philosophers will all be on that side. You do not know; you have nothing on which you can rest. No, no, there is only one standard, and that is the standard of God’s law, which is eternal and unchangeable . . . No other beginning is of any value. You have to come here. This truth is eternal; it is absolute. Let philosophies come and go; let climates of opinion change; let winds of change blow in every sense—moral and ethical as well as political. Here is the only thing that abides.” 1

Three decades later, D.A. Carson similarly noted the postmodern attitude in modern America writing: “Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated. Correspondingly, proselytism is a dirty word. One cannot fail to observe a crushing irony: the gospel of relativistic tolerance is perhaps the most ‘evangelistic’ movement in Western culture at the moment, demanding assent and brooking no rivals.” 2

The past few years prove the accuracy of these analyses. Of late, the prestigious universities of America are struggling over the preservation of freedom of speech (even freedom of thought!) as the mob shouts down any dissenting voices. In May 2017, a respected Roman Catholic professor resigned from Duke University, after subjected to vociferous bullying when he dared question racial equity training suggested by the faculty. As he explained his reason for leaving, he singled out the pressure-filled climate of the school, where true thought and sincere conviction are pressured out of the public square. In his words: “Harsh and direct disagreement places thought under pressure. That is its point. Pressure can be intellectually productive: forced to look closely at arguments against a beloved position helps those who hold it to burnish and buttress it as often as it moves them to abandon it. But pressure also causes pain and fear; and when those under pressure find these things difficult to bear, they’ll sometimes use any means possible to make the pressure and the pain go away. They feel unsafe, threatened, put upon, and so they react by deploying the soft violence of the law or the harder violence of the aggressive and speech-denying protest. Both moves are common enough in our élite universities now, as is their support by the powers that be. Tolerance for intellectual pain is less than it was. So is tolerance for argument.”3 In such a climate, debate is suppressed and the loudest – often the most violent – opinion wins.

The Only Opinion That Matters is the Lord’s

Man’s relativism and intolerance of truth stems from rebellion against his creator. Like all of the other human “isms,” postmodernism is just another variation of the old lie: “…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Man becomes his own arbiter of truth and morality by rejecting the actual Lawgiver. But this revolt will fail, for the God who revealed Himself in the Scriptures will one day call mankind to account for rejecting His word. (Acts 17:31).

The early believers based their belief and practice on the teaching that the Spirit of God delivered to the apostles; as Acts 2:42 describes: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” They did not invent the proper order for their meetings, nor the proper subjects for their worship and praise; instead, they received God’s truth and steadfastly continued in it. Every generation of believers must go back to the source of all truth by prayerfully learning His word and practicing what they discover therein.

But why trust the apostles? How do we know that they did not just capriciously invent things according to their preferences? Paul counters this by declaring that his apostleship was not of human origin, nor was it of man’s ordination; instead it came directly from the Almighty: “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)” (Gal. 1:1, emphasis mine.) His commission as a divinely sent messenger and teacher of God’s revelation came directly from the Father and the Son (see also Gal. 1:10-17). The risen Christ gave this deposit to Paul and the other apostles (Jn. 14:26; 1 Cor. 15:3-11), and Christ’s credentials and the reality of His redemptive work are validated by the resurrection itself (Rom. 1:4). Through His sacrificial death and powerful resurrection, Christ defeated death, paid for sin, upheld the Father’s righteousness, triumphed over spiritual principalities and powers, and demonstrated God’s gracious incomparable love for sinners. This is truth vindicated by the empty tomb, bearing witness to the risen Savior!

The Church’s Manual

The modern church sometimes looks to the world for truth: business techniques are copied, psychological principles are imbibed, and compromise with scientific naturalism and worldly entertainment affects her teaching and practice. But we must shake off these foreign influences and cling to the One who is the truth (Jn. 14:6). His truth is declared in the Bible, and though men suppress it (Rom. 1:18), we must unashamedly proclaim and live it (Rom. 1:16).

Endnotes:
1. D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, Vol. 1. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 123.
2. D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 33.
3. Paul Griffiths, “To the University with Love: Why I Resigned from Duke,” in Commonwealth Magazine, 5/18/17.

About Keith R. Keyser

Keith Keyser has served the Lord full-time in Bible teaching & preaching throughout the USA, Canada, & other countries. Keith and his wife, Naomi were commended to the Lord’s work in 1999 and fellowship with the saints who meet in the Lord’s name at Grace Gospel Chapel, Gilbertsville, PA.

3
Jan
2018
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How To Deal With Criticism

One of the greatest tests in the Christian life is how to respond to criticism. If you are going to be a leader, then criticism is part of the job description. There is no such thing as going forward for God without opposition. Moses faced criticism, John the Baptist faced criticism, and our Lord Jesus Christ faced criticism. If you are going to lead—you are going to be criticized. There is a very real sense in which you cannot serve effectively until you know how to handle criticism. Nehemiah was a leader who was tested, criticized, attacked, and betrayed, yet he rose above it all to serve God effectively. Let us look at four principles found in the book of Nehemiah.

1. Do Not Be Overly Sensitive to Criticism

“Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1-2)

In the verses above, we discover the first principle: Don’t be overly sensitive to criticism. Expect it. It is guaranteed that no matter what decision you make and what actions you take, you will be criticized. It’s just a fact. There is not a person in the Bible that did anything for God who was not criticized. Why will you be criticized? For one thing, vision and zeal are very easy to criticize. It is easy to poke holes in good ideas, it is easy to criticize. It is easier to tear down than to build up. Nehemiah had a God-given vision and vision attracts criticism. To make it worse, vision is very difficult to defend against criticism. A cynic will always be able to poke holes in spiritual vision— even a God-given vision. Sadly, in many cases, criticism does impede many good efforts. This serves to emphasize an important fact in the Christian life: you can always count on at least 5-10% opposing you no matter what you do.

2. Do Not React Too Quickly to Criticism

It does not take long before a serious Christian meets those who oppose his efforts. Soon after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he encountered Sanballat and Tobiah, both of whom would be his most vocal critics. Who were Sanballat and Tobiah? They were enemies of Israel and enemies of God. Since they opposed God, it would be understandable that they would criticize Nehemiah. Do not respond too quickly to criticism. When you do act, act calmly and fairly, motivated by godly desires. Knowing the source of the criticism and the character of the critic is very important in handling criticism correctly. Learn to recognize that some people are naturally critical. However, we should watch that we don’t disregard criticism simply because it comes from a disagreeable person. Occasionally, the critic may be correct in what he says. Every church will have its critics. With every critic that moves on, there seems to be another that comes to replace him or her. Don’t allow criticism to derail the work of God. Remember that the source of criticism will often tell you more than the criticism itself.

3. When There Is Criticism— Try to Resolve It

“I prayed, ‘Hear us, O our God, for we are being mocked’” (Neh. 4:4).

The first step in resolving criticism is prayer. Twice in this wider passage, Nehemiah prays. Nehemiah, frankly was very upset. When he prayed, he didn’t hold back how he really felt. He was very transparent with the Lord. Notice also that no time elapsed between the criticism and the prayer. A good leader knows his weaknesses and his limitations. Why is it so important to pray when you are criticized? For one thing, it is usually better to tell God how you really feel than to tell your critic. God can provide the wisdom you need amid your frustrations, your hurts, your wounds. In prayer, God can strengthen you for the battle ahead.

The second step is to discern if the criticism has any validity. Ask God for His verdict. Allow God to make you sensitive to any truth that may be in the criticism, and help you to ignore the rest. It’s only when God makes the truth known that one’s own sense of pride is subdued. Ask God in prayer, “What can I learn from this criticism?”

The third step toward resolution is to make sure that your primary goal is to please God alone. If we are honest about it, most of us are “people pleasers.” We all love others to love us. Nehemiah wasn’t serving for the applause of people; he was serving for the applause of God and God alone. Your real goal in life and in ministry should not be to please other people. J. C. Ryle, the godly expositor of Scripture once wrote:

“We must give up the vain idea of trying to please everyone. The thing is impossible, and the attempt is a mere waste of time. We must be content to walk in Christ’s steps, and let the world say what it likes. Do what we will, we will never satisfy it or silence its ill-natured remarks.” 1

You should play to an audience of one. Your aim is to please God and God alone.

4. Forgive, Forget, and Keep on Working

Nehemiah had three choices when he was peppered with rumors, resistance, and ridicule. He could: 1) Give up; 2) Leave the wall and execute a preemptive strike; or 3) Keep on working. What did Nehemiah choose? In Nehemiah 4:6 we read, “At last the wall was completed to half its original height around the entire city, for the people had worked very hard.” He chose to forgive, forget, and continue to work. By responding this way, Nehemiah avoided a common mistake associated with criticism. He didn’t allow his enemies to become the focus of his attention. He defended himself, yes, but he remained steadfast in his vision.

When we are criticized, how do we normally respond? We are usually tempted to begin a dialogue with our critics, or even with those who are simply parroting their criticism. We waste time, energy, and thought trying to answer questions for people who really are not interested in answers. Without realizing it, we shift our attention away from the work God has given us and allow ourselves to become critic-centered. We should never leave the wall to fight the enemy. We could spend all our time putting out fires and never get the job done. We could spend all our time applying oil to the squeaking wheel (the critic, the complainer) and never succeed in what God has called you to do.

Conclusion

Don’t let criticism distract you. Learn to expect it. Learn to pray about it, to learn if it is valid, and most of all, to work through it. Persistence is the ultimate test of leadership; it is the acid test. How do you handle criticism when the going gets tough? The secret of success is to simply outlast your critics. There is nothing the devil would rather do than to stall you, stop you, and move you into neutral. Believer resist this temptation and keep on living for Him.

Endnotes

1. J. C. Ryle, Commentary of Luke, Vol. 1, (Banner of Truth: Carlisle, PA, 1986), p. 320

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Jan
2018
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The Miracle of Regeneration

By: Charles Fizer

What takes place the moment we believe in the Lord Jesus? We know that something life-changing occurred, but what really happened?

1. We were born again (Jn. 3:5-6; I Pet. 1:23)

At the moment of believing, God imparted to us divine life. In the Bible, this is called “regeneration” “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 – NASB). The seed of the gospel was planted in our mind (Lk. 8:11). The Holy Spirit used that Word to bring conviction and persuasion of the truth (Jn. 16:8-11). When we believed, the Holy Spirit activated the Word and the new birth took place (Jas. 1:18; I Pet. 1:23). Regeneration is described as God’s work of creation “that in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22-24). The Scriptures also teach:“Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who has created him” (Col. 3:9-10).

2. We became a new person in Christ

The “Old Man” refers to the person we were before we were born again. We were “slaves of sin” (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:20). We had a sin nature (Eph. 2:3). When Adam disobeyed God, he took to himself an evil disposition that was no longer favorable toward God. This evil nature is passed to all men in all generations. This explains why Paul wrote in Romans 8:7, “…the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God.” David wrote in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” At the moment of faith in Christ, we were born again or created a “New Man.” The new man is the saved or regenerated person. We are no longer slaves of sin (Rom. 6:17, 18, 20, 22) although the believer still has the old disposition. Romans 7:14-25 and Galatians 5:16-25 confirms this! We received a new nature. I John 3:9 tells us that this new disposition is called “His seed.” We still have the tendency to sin but we also have a favorable disposition toward God that motivates us to want to obey. This explains the struggle we have in the Christian life.

Having a new nature does not automatically ensure we will live a godly or fruitful life. For this reason, we are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). We will still be tempted to sin, but as we depend on the Holy Spirit, He enables us to resist the temptation (Gal. 5:16). Becoming a new person in Christ does not mean there were any physical changes in us. We still have the same body with all its physical members.

There are no metaphysical changes either. Our personality and our temperament is still the same. There are no DNA changes. We have the same mind and the same IQ.

Laying aside the “Old Man” and putting on the “New Man” are completed realities for the believer. Paul adds an important truth in the Ephesians passage. We are to be “renewed in the spirit of the mind.” The spirit of man seems to refer to the regenerated human spirit which uses man’s mind as its instrument. Our God-consciousness, being made alive in Christ, governs our mental life, which in turn controls our actions.

As a new man in Christ the believer is to put away the characteristics of the old man i.e. those sins which were true of us before our regeneration. So, what took place the moment we believed? God supernaturally imparted to us His Life and made us new men in Christ!

About Charles Fizer

Charles Fizer served as the Director of the Emmaus Correspondence School until 2001. He is now involved in an itinerant ministry among assemblies in North America.

3
Jan
2018
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Salvation Stories: Randall Hummer

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…!” – Psalm 107:2

I grew up on a small farm in east-central Pennsylvania in a blue-collar family with four boys and a girl. We were all members of a local Methodist church, which Mom took us to every Sunday. I paid particular interest to the stained-glass windows and tried to understand the meaning of the pictures they portrayed. All these windows were dedicated in memory of people I had never met.

Reverend Nottingham preached from the Bible, preaching repentance and salvation by faith alone. It was here that I came to believe that the Holy Bible was the only Book that we could rely upon for God’s message to man. Despite this, I never really saw myself as a lost sinner needing repentance and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

At the age of thirteen, Dad and Mom gave me my own Bible at Christmas with my name stamped on it. Even though I was in my middle teens, because Dad did not go to church I stopped going to services with Mom.

After graduating from Danville Senior High School in 1971, I attended Shippensburg State College from September 1971 to December 1972. In the summer of 1972, Hurricane Agnes flooded the Susquehanna Valley affecting all the river towns. That summer Dad got me a state job at the Sunbury Fabridam, cleaning up upstream debris left by the flood. It was there that I met Melvin “Buzz” Forry. He was 58 years old while I was in my 19th year. Buzz was different from the other men. He displayed his faith in Jesus Christ in his work and words. On several occasions, he spoke about God’s love and the judgment to come for anyone who did not have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He quoted verses and sang Christian hymns such as “How Great Thou Art”, “Amazing Grace”, and “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

By late August and because of the faithful testimony of Buzz, I could not think of anything else but God casting me into the Lake of Fire. I realized I was a lost sinner in need of a Savior. Buzz clearly communicated to me that only Jesus Christ could save my never-dying soul. Soon after returning to college on September 7, 1972, I fell on my knees at my bedside and repented of my sins, asking Jesus to come into my heart. I told God I did not understand everything but I knew I needed to be forgiven.

The next day I tried to find out where other Christians met. Up to my spiritual rebirth, I did not want to be around any Jesus fanatics. But on September 8th those were the people I wanted to be around. That’s one of the clues that convinced me that something really happened to me spiritually. It was not long after my inquiries that I discovered there were Christians meeting in the Union Building on Thursday evenings. The group sang songs with guitars and studied the Bible. I really enjoyed it.

In November of 1972, I became concerned with my student loans debt. That year the Selective Service had their last lottery. They selected my birth date first which meant I would be drafted first. I took this from the Lord, signing up for the draft to the chagrin of my friends. I finished the semester and went home for Christmas break.

During Christmas break I went to Harrisburg, Pa. for some pre-entry testing. While walking together with three recruits, I said something about the Lord and one of the other guys said “Amen brother.” I asked him if he knew the Lord as his Savior to which he promptly replied, “I sure do.” His name was Bob Gebhart.

From that moment onward, I befriended him and his family. Eventually I met each family member except for his sister LuAnn who was in Switzerland. He showed me her picture sitting on the family piano. In the coming months and years, I would meet and eventually marry her. We will celebrate our 41st Wedding Anniversary in December 2017. As I look back, going into the army was how the Lord led me to my life long companion and best friend.

I wanted God to be real in my life and decided to get into the Word. My future father-in-law Carl Gebhart told me not to accept what men taught in the Bible until I checked it out in the Scriptures. That piece of advice has always stayed with me.

In July of 1973, while stationed at Ft. Hood, TX, I signed up for a two-week leave. I bought a motorcycle on the base to ride home during that time. (When starting leave, a soldier has to sign out at 12 midnight on the day the leave begins.) Often the soldier gets his buddies to sign him or her out hours before midnight. But I didn’t want to do that. I got an ear full from my buddies on why I was nuts starting my leave at midnight on a motorcycle with about 1500 miles ahead of me to get to Pennsylvania. But I “stuck to my guns”.

Then a very unusual thing happened to me. A day or two before my leave started, I got a Western Union telegram from Pastor McQuillen who I met at college two years earlier. He and I had written each other once or twice and I made arrangements to visit him while on leave. I had never received a Western Union telegram before. The message read “Praying for your motorcycle ride to Pa. as your leave starts on July.” That confirmed to me that signing myself out at midnight was the right thing to do. This is an example of how I knew God was very concerned about my life. My motorcycle trip from central Texas to central Pennsylvania was safe and fun. I remember giving God the praise and glory for looking out for me.

Another time while Bob Gebhart and I were on a weekend pass, he took me to my first assembly meeting. Their building had no steeple, no stained-glass windows, and no clergyman. Bob told me there was a guest speaker that night named Grant Steidl. He and his family had lived in Sunbury, PA for several years. They called Grant a full-time laborer. That was all new terminology for me but I enjoyed his message. We eventually became friends as he and his wife Barbara were regular visitors in the Gebhart home. Grant and Barbara had a very good influence on my in-laws and on me too.

I entered college again after the army using money from the GI Bill. I enrolled at Messiah College and took classes at the Philadelphia Campus across the street from Temple University. While there, I attended a good solid Baptist Church, but I really wanted to meet with an assembly, remembering the Lord and studying the Word with them.

Eventually found an assembly in Broomall, Pa., which was about 45 minutes from my dormitory on N. Broad St., in Philly. There I met new Christian families and enjoyed fellowship with them for over a year. Then I got married to LuAnn and finished college. I now attend Front Street Christian Assembly in Sunbury, Pa. and enjoy meeting with a New Testament patterned group of believers who love each other.

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Jan
2018
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Issues & Answers

Question: How do you reconcile the passage in James 2:14-26 with the clear scriptural teaching that we are saved by grace through faith alone?

While at first glance it may appear otherwise, this passage is actually a perfect complement to Paul’s teaching in Romans.

Paul argued against those who thought the “works of the law” could save (Rom. 9:32) while James contended that a living faith should express itself through “works of faith.” Speaking of James and Paul, William Arnot said, “They do not stand face to face fighting against each other, but back to back fighting opposite foes.”

True faith in Christ is observable in both sound doctrine and in the actions stimulated by it (v. 18), such as how one responds to a needy Christian (vv. 15-16). Merely assenting to facts cannot save (v. 14) and is unproductive (v. 20). If one professes faith, but has never shown evidence of life, then one might wonder if spiritual life exists in much the same way we might declare a barren tree dead (vv. 17, Mt. 21:18-19).

A person may say they believe in God but how is that any different than the demons (v. 19). For example, some pay lip service to God, yet live as practical atheists, treating God as irrelevant to both their everyday lives and their eternal destiny.

Others may accept that Christ died for the world, but still refuse to acknowledge their own personal sin. They have no love for God, His Word, and gathering together with believers.

Still others are emotionally drawn to the gospel, even enjoying the company of believers on a regular basis. Yet they continue to resist Christ, unwilling to commit themselves to Him.

On the other hand, when someone trusts Christ alone for their salvation, God imparts new life to them. As a new creation in Christ, they now have a desire and power to please Him, and Christ will manifest Himself through them (v.18; Gal. 2:20).

Illustrating authentic faith, James uses the examples of Abraham and Rahab. Initially Abraham’s faith was immature (Gen. 15:8; 16:2), but in the following years his faith grew and was brought to full maturity when he obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son (vv.21-23, Gen. 22:16; Heb. 11:17-19). Doing so, he proved before others what God already knew when He justified him more than thirty years earlier – that his faith was real (v. 23; Gen. 15:6). By faith, he was justified before God (Rom. 4:3); by works he was justified before men (v. 21).

Rahab also, by entrusting her life to the spies, entrusted herself to their God, her assistance to them revealing a genuine faith in the God of Israel (v. 25; Josh. 2).

Paul showed this connection between the “root of faith” and the “fruit of faith”, writing that salvation is a free gift, and that we have been created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:8-10).

Though a genuine believer may backslide, resulting in discipline by our heavenly Father, one who has never shown evidence of life is merely a professor, possessing a counterfeit faith that has no value (vv. 20, 24).

Only the Lord Jesus knew that he had forgiven the paralytic’s sins but so that others could believe it, He told him to get up and walk (Mk. 2:9-12). Only God can see one’s heart. But it is the works of faith that reveals it to others.

If you have a question for this column, please submit it to gferrier@cornerstonemagazine.org.

3
Jan
2018
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Habakkuk: Part 1 Beware of Tunnel Vision

By: Warren Henderson

In this first of a three part series, Warren Henderson takes us through the personal struggles that the prophet Habakkuk experienced in the life of faith – valuable lessons for believers in any age as they work through the problem of evil.

A Burden to Be Lifted (1:1)

Habakkuk referred to his received message as a massa, or “burden.” This Hebrew noun is derived from a verb which means “to lift up” (v. 1). The perplexed prophet lifted up weighty questions for the Lord to answer. Believers in the Church Age are invited to also lift up their burdens to the Lord: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). Sincerely casting on to the Lord in prayer those things pressing down on our hearts is initially a laborious task, but ultimately results in abiding peace.

Prayer is work and believers must leave strength and time for effectual praying. The objective of prayer is not to shift our loads so that we can better shoulder them, that would be an exhausting waste of time, but rather to release our burdens to the Lord to deal with as only He can. But we must remember that groaning in prayer is not the same as grumbling or complaining to God about our difficulties (Rom. 8:22-27). The latter behavior reveals something lurking within us that inhibits praying in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18). The hindrance may be a rebellious spirit, doubt, or some level of distrust, or perhaps dissatisfaction with the Lord. We can escape these snares by candidly and genuinely lifting up our burdens to our caring Saviour.

“How Long” and “Why” Lord? (1:2-4)

The prophet lifted up to heaven what burdened his soul. His petition is framed by two sincere questions. The first question, “how long” in verse 1, refers to God’s apparent lack of response to his prayers. Why had God not brought relief to the righteous? How long was the Lord going to compel him to observe unchecked evil day after day?

The second question, “why” in verse 3, is used in connection to God’s apparent indifference to rampant plundering, violence, and strife in Judah. It is noteworthy that idolatry was not mentioned; no doubt a lasting benefit of the revival under Josiah. But overall, God’s covenant people were still carnal and prone to hostility and injustice. Why did the Lord tolerate such abuse and wrongdoing? Why did God seem disinterested in punishing His people for their evil doings? Habakkuk will repeat these same two questions during his second inquiry of the Lord (v. 13, 2:6). From the prophet’s perspective the Law had no sway on maintaining the morality of his countrymen and justice was completely sidelined by crooked rulers (v. 4).

Habakkuk probably felt as many Christians do today, it would be better to not see the deplorable state of the church, than to be constantly burdened by it and see no remedy for the worsening morality and lethargy. Some clearly see the unholy influences and the disdain of Christ’s name, but lack sincerity of heart to labor in prayer for what intimately concerns God. Others are unduly oppressed and disillusioned by the high tide of iniquity. Truly, nothing that man does can thwart the purposes of God so let us not be indifferent or disheartened by the surge of evil in our day. God is in control!

The Lord’s Answer (1:5-8)

Jehovah chose not to answer the prophet’s inquiries in the manner posed to Him. Indeed, a sovereign God need not explain His actions, but in this case God wanted to reveal what He was doing and about to do, so that later, His people would recognize His faithfulness to His word. The Lord’s response, a shocking message to the Southern Kingdom, was not the reply Habakkuk had expecting. The “you” in verse 5 is plural, meaning that Judah was to look, watch, and be utterly astounded: “Look among the nations and watch – be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you” (v. 5). The expression “in your days” indicates that what God was about to do would occur soon.

The Lord’s resolution to remedy the social injustice that Habakkuk had been complaining about would be so astounding, that it would seem unbelievable even after God told them in advance what He was about to do. Indeed, even godly Habakkuk was bewildered that God would chasten His people by such a wicked nation as Babylon (vv. 12, 17). Paul quotes verse 5 in Acts 13:41, but associates the baffling aspect of its meaning to what God had already accomplished through Christ at Calvary to resolve Israel’s sin and rebellion: “Look among the nations and watch – be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.” Although God’s plan of salvation in Christ was prophesied, God did not divulge the details of His redemption plan until after Christ’s resurrection, otherwise the enemy would have not crucified Christ (1 Cor. 2:8-9). But later, in the Epistles, the apostles explain the astonishing work of redemption God accomplished by judging His own innocent Son in the place of condemned sinners! Just as Habakkuk was baffled by God’s plan of refining and delivering Israel through pagan Babylon, centuries later, Israel, a nation ensnared by legalism, would be confounded by the message of the cross. The idea of complete salvation offered to them in grace through Christ was unimaginable.

The Lord planned to use the Chaldeans, a ruthless and quick-acting people to punish Judah’s evil doings (v. 6). God’s chastening rod would be a terrible and dreadful people, who having a law and honor to themselves were not obliged to abide by any recognized international authority or etiquette (v. 7). The Babylonians would be barbaric, high on themselves, and do whatever they pleased. With vivid imagery, the Lord then describes the fury of Babylonian army (v. 8). Their warhorses would be swifter than leopards and fiercer than wolves; their cavalry, like eagles would suddenly swoop down on unsuspecting Judah (v. 8).

Overcoming Tunnel Vision

We might be tempted to think that only the devil could inflict such venomous injury upon God’s covenant people; yet, Jehovah is the One who instigates or permits all that unfolds against Israel. Despite our short-sighted perception of determining the worth and benefit of things, God is always working in all things to accomplish a greater good that will honor His name (Rom. 8:28)! Habakkuk suffered from tunnel vision, but as God widened his spiritual perspective, he was able to see through faith that God really did have the whole situation under control. Beloved, Christ is building His church and has wonderful plans for her. Until then, may those who see sin clearly be burdened to pray for a reviving work that would invigorate the church with holiness, devotion, and power. Let us not be complacent or give up, nor think that God is not doing what we think He should. He will do all that He promises to do and all that will add honor and glory to His name.

About Warren Henderson

Warren Henderson is a full-time worker living in northeast Kansas. He is involved in writing, evangelism, and Bible teaching. Currently, he is pioneering a new assembly in Ottawa, Kansas.

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National Workers & Elders Conference 2017

By: Dr. Steve Price

We could all use some salt of encouragement to increase our spiritual thirst in our Christian journey. This was precisely the tenor of the 2017 Workers and Elders Conference, hosted October 10-12, by Northridge Bible Chapel in North Carolina.

We were treated with daily considerations of Peter, whose life was littered with impetuousness, overestimated resolve, and an ignorant understanding of the path of the cross. Yet, God transformed this man, the Lord Jesus patiently nourishing him so that by time he wrote his epistles, his courage, faith and insight were undeniable.

Mr. Bob Upton demonstrated how much resemblance we bear with Peter and just how tenderly the Lord handles us as he did Peter. A constant conference theme was the underscoring of how the lessons the Lord taught Peter repetitively re-emerge in his letters. For example, the profound tutorial on shepherding in John 10 surfaces in the exhortation to church leaders in 1 Peter 5. If this was all we had received at the conference, then our cups would have already been overflowing with encouragement to face mountain ranges of hardship.
However, this was not the end, but only the beginning of a smorgasbord of inspiring reassurance. We were exhorted in 1 Peter 1, that “holiness begins with a correct view of God” (George Farber). How apropos as we travelled 1 Peter over the next seven series of messages.

We visualized the regular activity of the Aaronic priest at the bronze laver where its brilliant sheen would show the serving priest the exact animal spillage on his body. Priests then and now not only need such illumination but also to surrender to the Holy Spirit’s expertise for the cleansing moment (John Gordon).

Our inspiration continued when we were introduced to the art of war as it pertains to what wars against our soul. Indeed, we were taught how righteous behavior in the midst of poor circumstances, muzzles the constant noise of murmuring complaints against Christ (Warren Henderson).

Godly marriage then became our focus of holy living with concentration upon the way we live with each other in the day to day events of married lives. Honoring our spouses is required not only for strong marriages but also for the all-important motif of answered prayer (Sam Thorpe).

As we approached chapter four, the sessions refocused upon the lessons we learn from suffering, such as the appropriate fear of the Lord and not man (Joe Pratt). We ended our vigorous stroll through First Peter, with a fitting and endearing meditation on shepherding, in light of the last words of our Lord to Peter in John 21 (Jack Fish).

The seminars had a practical note as well as a discussion format and included the important topics of: “Improving the Prayer Life in the local Assembly” (Jim Comte), and “How to Handle Criticism,” (Mark Kolchin), to name a few. Ladies were refreshed in their pondering of “Loving, Abiding, Obeying” (Wendy Phelan). Leaders were blessed with forums on training men (Rich Brown), prioritization issues in life (Scott Leach), and a stirring discussion on “Keeping Young People Involved in the Assembly” (Jeff Johnson). Who could resist any of these core concerns?

We also had the added benefit of hours of prayer, where we shared and bore the burdens within the body of Christ. Indeed, host Assemblies, such as Northridge Bible Chapel, create the most relaxing and soothing environment, which fosters a re-acquaintance with ourselves, with others, and with the Lord. There we find resolve to remain, maintain and advance in the good fight.

Recordings are available, but the quality of on-site attendance cannot be surpassed. So, if you have never attended the National Workers and Elders Conference, I would encourage you to attend this annual event. The next one will be held in Lawrence, Kansas, during Columbus Day week of October 9-11, 2018.

About Dr. Steve Price

Dr. Steve Price has served as an emergency room physician for many years. Steve ministers the Word in conferences around the country and in Canada. He and his wife Janet make their home in Kansas City, MO where they fellowship at Bible Chapel of Shawnee.

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Good News From A Far Country: Proverbs 25:25

By: Rich Brown

For centuries the Moi people of Papua, Indonesia1 remained almost entirely untouched by the outside world. These semi-nomadic hamlet dwellers eked out a living through slash and burn gardening, and frequent hunting excursions throughout the 300 square miles of mountainous jungles they call home. Approximately 1,000 strong, the Moi were sparsely scattered through their vast land. They were as close to nature as anyone could get.

But unlike a utopian society envisaged by the cold and distant – the ones who like to say, “Leave them alone, they’re happy the way they are”, the Moi lived in constant fear of death from the spirits and one another. With the infant mortality rate close to 80%2 and the average life-span to be no more than 40 years old, death was a frequent visitor. Compounding the fear of death was the fact that the Moi believed that every-single death had to do with spirits, all of whom had voracious appetites for humans. Hebrews 2:15 describes their darkness, “…who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

In order to remain alive as long as possible, the Moi would do all they could to remain hidden from the spirits. They believed the spirits lived underground coming up through holes in the ground to hunt for people. Avoiding taboo foods, carrying powerful objects, and skirting “dangerous areas” were ways to remain invisible. Some of the Moi took extra steps to learn chants and rituals that could be used to manipulate the spirits for both good and evil.

If that didn’t make life difficult enough, the Moi were also afraid of one another. Rampant infidelity and never-ending cycles of murder, retaliation, and compensation created a thick cloud of distrust. This greatly contributed to the vast separation between hamlets. One or two grass roofed huts were often separated by miles of jungle before reaching the next small cluster of houses.

This was the situation when the Moi were first discovered by missionary pilots who had been flying over “Point X-Ray.” It was there, where three rivers intersected, that a team of three families affiliated with Ethnos3603 would eventually make their homes. In June of 2000 the work began. Motivated by the love of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20) and a keen awareness that apart from hearing and believing the gospel the world has no hope (Rom. 10:13-15); these families left their respective homes in America, Canada, and Sulawesi, Indonesia to live among the Moi. In 2005, our family joined the work to replace the family from Canada who had to leave due to health reasons. Helimission provided the initial helicopter support to get set up and maintain a full-time presence with the Moi. In 2007 the airstrip carved into the mountainside was completed allowing fix wing flight support by MAF and JAARS4.

The team was warmly welcomed by the Moi people. The provision of basic medicine and healthcare helped to grow the relationships. Yet, despite the many lives saved by our team there was still an underlying mistrust. As happens with many of the Moi women, my wife Karen was even accused of manipulating the spirits to eat them. All the while enjoying the benefits of our presence, there was the prevailing thought that the only reason our team wanted to live there was because we wanted something from them. Why else would we leave our families and homelands?

Today, in 2017, it is estimated that there are 7,099 living languages. Of those, 3,233 like the Moi, do not have a writing system. Since our goal was not to just share the gospel with the Moi, but rather make disciples of Jesus who make more disciples, we needed more than just the ability to learn the culture and speak the language. We needed to provide the written Word of God for them. The ability to study the scriptures has been necessary for our growth and would likewise be necessary for the future Moi church. The Moi needed their own Bible translation. So applying cross-cultural missions training5 the team was able to develop a working alphabet and reduce the oral language into writing. In preparation for seeing a mature church established, another major hurdle to overcome was the fact that the Moi had no concept of God. All they knew about were evil spirits. Taking the Moi term for create “ane-gi-se,” and adding “mee” (person), the key term for God was developed, Anegisemee, the Creator God.

The years of language and culture study, followed by many months of Moi Bible translation, initial development of Moi foundational Bible teaching lessons, and a literacy program would eventually pay off. Finally, in November 2005, the team was ready to teach “The Creator’s Talk.” In order to give the best possible chance for the Moi to understand that Jesus is the Son of God, who paid for the sins of the world, we needed to start first with the basics of who God is. Following the counsel and experience of others, instead of commencing from somewhere in the middle of the Bible, we started “His Story” in the beginning with Genesis.

Eight of the Moi stayed for more than a month to listen to all the lessons that took them from creation to Christ. They carefully tracked the Old Testament stories, and like OT saints were looking forward to how God would fulfill His promise to send the Messiah. They had no idea it was going to be Jesus. When he was finally revealed as the fulfillment of the promise, they were ecstatic and soon fell in love with Him. God the Son, in the flesh, loving sinners, working miracles, rebuking the proud, resisting the Devil, and finally paying the penalty that we all deserved for our sins…death. We ended the teaching with a drama portraying Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Afterwards we reviewed all the pictures we used throughout the teaching, pointing to shadows of Christ’s future work, in stories like Noah’s ark and the one door, the ram that took Isaac’s place, the Passover Lamb and the Bronze Serpent. The once darkened hearts of those eight Moi were ignited by the truth of the gospel.

Today, the vast majority of those who lived near us are now believers. However, it all began with just eight. Eight was enough to send shockwaves through that once unchallenged domain of the enemy. It marked the beginning of what would change the Moi people forever.

Endnotes:

  1. Formerly known as Irian Jaya
  2. This not only had to do with babies dying from common sicknesses like pneumonia and dysentery, but also because Moi mothers would often kill the babies they did not believe they could care for. They would take them into the jungle and bury them alive or stomp on their chest.
  3. Formerly known as NTM (New Tribes Mission)
  4. MAF is Mission Aviation Fellowship and JAARS is the flight arm of Wycliffe Bible Translators
  5. Training received through the Ethnos360 Missionary Training Center in Camdenton, MO.

About Rich Brown

Rich and Karen Brown have worked among the Moi in Papua, Indonesia for 10 years. Now, having worked themselves out of a job, they are helping others do the same. Rich is part of an international leadership team in Ethnos360 (formerly known as New Tribes Mission). Based in Asia, they are helping to equip and mobilize the Church to reach the hundreds of people groups who have yet to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.