Camp Reflection: Remember

As a teenager, I went to church camp once. While I have some good memories from my time there, the most profound experience at church camp did not come until last week. My roles at junior camp this year included teacher, chapel speaker, and, yes, a cabin dad. In other words, I was in charge of six boys, ranging from 8-14 years of age. It was a fun time, both teaching the Bible and hanging out with the kids. Yet, the greatest impact camp had upon me did not come until after it was over.Camp_Cabin

After all the activities were played and after all the chapel messages were taught, I was left with a burden on my heart. How many of these children and teenagers come to camp for this one week and that is that? How many leave camp the same way they came? Camp cannot be a one week retreat with no lasting impact. I praise the Lord three of the boys at camp attend the church where I serve as associate pastor, so I have the opportunity to disciple them and to see them grow in the Lord. But that still leaves me unsure of a good number of other campers. Therefore, my prayer for these kids is that God may use the teaching of His Word to prod their hearts and to cause them to turn to Him, changing their lives forever. The words of Ecclesiastes 12:1 especially come to mind, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them'”. May God do a work in these children’s lives that they see the wisdom in following Christ now. May these kids repent and trust in Christ now so that they will find rejoicing in the time to come, not regret. May they remember their Creator and live according to His Word!

Inspiration and the Bible

Note: This article was originally posted on Northside Baptist Church’s blog.

Is systematic theology really that important? Well, everyone has a theology whether they think about it or not (even atheists!). And the alternative to systematic theology is disorganized theology, chaotic theology. So in an attempt to be consistent and cogent in our thinking I hope you will take in what I am about to say.

In thinking about the study of systematic theology, let’s look specifically at the doctrine of “inspiration.” This is what I want to drill down on right now: the work of the Holy Spirit to “inspire” the prophets and apostles to write the Scriptures.

Here is what we don’t mean when we talk about “inspiration”. Occasionally someone will say they were inspired to do this or that. They might say, “That sunset was so beautiful that I was inspired to write this poem.” Or, “What you said inspired me to try harder.” Something like that. They mean that something happened or they saw/heard something and they were so moved in their soul that a reaction just came out of them. The event they experienced drew the artistic expression or newfound effort out of them. It was always there, but the event tapped that reservoir.

It’s quite alright if you use the word “inspired” to talk like that. But when it comes to describing the origins of the Scriptures, that is not what we mean. In this theological discourse we use the word “inspired” to mean something far more precise. When we say that the Bible has been inspired we actually mean it has been expired. Or better, exhaled. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “all scripture is breathed out by God…”, and in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “no prophecy ever came by human will, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Do you see that? Scripture did not come “by human will”; it did not well up inside the authors’ own minds and come out in response to the great things they saw God do. Rather the origin of the Scriptures is with God himself. He in fact breathed them out. Specifically, the Holy Spirit led the authors along so that the final product that they wrote—what we today call the Bible—is what the Holy Spirit wanted written. He used men and women to do that. But he never left them to themselves. He sovereignly superintended their writing. And this is what we mean when we say that the “scriptures are inspired.”

The upshot is that we can have such great confidence that the Bible is the word of God. The Holy Spirit is God, and the Spirit inspired the Bible you have in your hand. There are a lot of holy books in the world. How do we know the Bible is the true word of God? Well, because the Spirit is God and the Spirit was sent by the resurrected Jesus, we can say, in a sense, that Jesus wrote the Bible!  The second person of the eternal Trinity (Jesus) sent the third person of the eternal Trinity (Holy Spirit), in fulfillment of the promises of the first person of the eternal Trinity (Father), to give you this book. Thus, without such a Trinitarian dynamic, confidence in the scriptures erodes. For how can you know it is the word of God, unless God wrote it? And he did; and this is how we understand that! So when you read the Bible, dearly beloved, you are reading the very voice of God still breathing into your life. Read it! Read it with confidence! Read it with fear and trembling. For when the living God speaks the dead come to life.

I have to conclude with this question: Do you see the value of systematic theology? In this article we tied together several things: the Trinity, the doctrine of revelation, and inspiration (and even nodded toward the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension). And bringing them together like this has resulted in an apologetic for how we know the Bible is the true word of God, and therefore also have confidence in its content. Without such a system of interconnected doctrines, what is left? I fear some people believe the Bible simply because they choose to, not because they are convinced by any reflection like this. Well, in that case, how do you know your Bible is truer than the Quran, or the Book of Mormon, or the Vedas, or the Upanishads, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or The Origin of Species? We need systematic theology because we need to think clearly.  And we need to think clearly because so much is on the line. We dare not tell ourselves and the world, “We believe the Bible, well, because we just like it more than the rest.” We need to tell ourselves and the world that we believe the Bible because it is the word of God. And we know this because the only resurrected man, Jesus Christ, has guaranteed its divine origins and trustworthiness by sending his Holy Spirit (see John 16:13–15). And because Jesus is God and the Spirit is God we know the Bible is the word of God.

This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Associate Dean of Academics and Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Associate Pastor of Theological Development with Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Partnering to Reach the Unreached

Matthew 28:18-20 shares the words of Jesus, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is our authority. He calls us to make disciples of all nations. Jesus did not die for merely one ethnic group, even though He was called King of the Jews. Jesus’ Lordship extends around the whole world. To make disciples of all nations is to make disciples of Jesus in all people groups and ethnicities. Listen to this truth from Revelation 5:9-10,

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.

If God calls us to make disciples of all peoples and He promises He will be with us, then there should be no question that Christians should be about reaching the unreached with the gospel. This does not mean every Christian should move overseas but it does mean every Christian should be praying for those who have not heard and believed in the truth of God’s Word. Therefore, I would like to share with you a video about the Somali people, an unreached people group (of approx. 17 million). By watching this 9-minute video, you can help get the gospel to these people. The video is in the Somali language so while you will not be able to understand, still watch it. From the images you can see the story of salvation being shared.

See, by simply watching this video, you have increased the likelihood that Somali speakers will see it as they are strategically targeted with a Facebook ad.

Yes, by simply watching this 9-minute video in Somali you will increase the likelihood that Somali speakers will see it as they are strategically targeted with a Facebook ad. In addition to watching this, would you please share it with other people? Grace and peace be with you!

This post was inspired by a blog post at Radical, the Bible-teaching ministry of David Platt, president of the International Mission Board. To find out more how you can specifically pray for the Somali people, click here.

The Command of the Mission (Matthew 28:18-20)

ww28Last week we looked at Jesus’ claim of His supreme authority over all. We saw that it is His claim for the mission which should actually move us to our calling in the mission. Therefore, this week we will be looking at the command of the mission. Once Jesus had made His claim, He commanded the disciples,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (or obey) all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20a)

So much could be said about what is taking place here but a few points will have to suffice. It is clear from the text God expects His followers to be disciple-makers. Following Jesus not merely mean going to church on Sundays and giving some of your finances. Following Jesus means pursuing and living a holy life in the context of community. Discipleship is doing life-on-life with the body of Christ. God has not saved us so that we could sit back and not do anything but He has saved us for His glory and that includes making disciples. To be indifferent or unconcerned with being and making disciples is to not take seriously the Word of God. To take God seriously is to obey His command to make disciples. But, what does making disciples involve? It involves going, baptizing, and teaching. Going means we do not passively sit by and wait to reach others with the gospel, hoping they come to our church one Sunday. We need to be going to them. Baptizing means to be publicly identified with the body of Christ through the practice of baptism. Teaching means training these disciples to be Christ-like. Notice, in this teaching aspect, it is not simply information to be transferred. It is to be observed and obeyed, leading to life and heart change. That is what the Word of God does. It is about knowing and showing the Word. That is our calling in the command of the mission.

Reflection Time:

  • Are you indifferent or unconcerned with making disciples and investing your life into others and not just focusing on yourself? Pray that God would change your heart and actively seek someone to disciple and someone who can disciple you.
  • How can you, as a disciple-maker, teach others the Word of God in your specific context?

IPhones and Idols

iphone-newsThroughout my middle school and high school years, I can remember carrying around a pocket-sized Bible with me nearly everywhere I went. While other guys and gals my age would be carrying around cell phones in their pockets, I was carrying my Bible. And I took pride in that. Now, fast forward a few years, and there has been a great change. I no longer know where my pocket-sized Bible is placed. I do, however, carry around a cell phone in my pocket. To be more specific, I carry around an iphone.

I tell you this story because I have a struggle. I don’t think I am the only one, though. I fear we subtly allow technology to distract us from the Word of God. I am well aware technology, whether it be iphones, ipads, social networking, or any other device, can be used for good purposes such as sharing the gospel or even reading the Bible. Yet, too often I don’t think this is what we use technology for. Reflecting on this week’s Word as we wrapped up 1 John, John closes with these words, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). For many, I believe some device, such as an iphone, can become an idol in their life.

Think about it: how much time do we spend scrolling on our iphones, ipads, and laptops when we could be using that time to study God’s Word? This question is one which convicts me. I know I have wasted too much time looking at a screen. I have used my time unwisely and have missed out on feasting upon the Word of God. For me, my iphone has become an idol. What needs to change, then, is my heart and what it longs for. Christ needs to reign supreme in my life if I hope to focus my attention and devotion on Him. Therefore, my hope is to minimize my time spent on electronic devices and maximize time spent in God’s Word. I have had a taste of that thus far this week and it has been refreshing to my spiritual life. Please keep me in prayer that I may continue to look to and long for Christ and I ask you to evaluate your own life to see if you need to remove this idol (or another one) in order to more fully grow in your walk with Christ. When you do, Christ and His Word will prove to be worth it!

Photo Source: http://phys.org/news/2013-08-apple-iphone.html

The Ministry Mind-Shift

During this summer internship at Castleview Baptist Church, I have been required to read books pertaining to the ministry and then discuss with the pastoral staff the practical implications for the local church. One of the most edifying books throughout this process has been The Trellis and the Vine. I do not like to quote books often at length, but I think the following is worth doing so:

Imagine a reasonably solid Christian said to you after church one Sunday morning, “Look, I’d like to get more involved here and make a contribution, but I just feel like there’s nothing for me to do. I’m not on the ‘inside’; I don’t get asked to be on committees or lead Bible studies. What can I do?”

What would you immediately think or say? Would you start thinking of some event or program about to start that they could help with? Some job that needed doing? Some ministry that they could join or support?

This is how we are used to thinking about the involvement of church members in congregational life—in terms of jobs and roles: usher, Bible study leader, Sunday School teacher, treasurer, elder, musician, song leader, money counter, and so on. The implication of this way of thinking for congregation members is clear: if all the jobs and roles are taken, then there’s really nothing for me to do in this church. I’m reduced to being a passenger. I’ll just wait until I’m asked to ‘do something’. The implication for the pastoral staff is similar: getting people involved and active means finding a job for them to do. In fact, the church growth gurus say that giving someone a job to do within the firtrellis3st six months of their joining your church is vital for them to feel like they belong.

However, if the real work of God is people work—the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another—then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless.

So you could pause, and reply to your friend, “See that guy sitting over there on his own? That’s Julie’s husband. He’s on the fringe of things here; in fact, I’m not really sure whether he’s crossed the line yet and become a Christian. How about I introduce you to him, and you arrange to have breakfast with him once a fortnight and read the Bible together?” (pages 26-27)

The authors go on to lay out a couple more of examples of what this could look like. Nevertheless, the point is the default mindset we have in ministry can tend to focus on programs, not people. Now, while programs can be helpful and can facilitate ministry, the primary work is people work. I promise you I do not have all this figured out. Yet, I do believe this is a ministry mindset and mind-shift we need to take a hold of and implement in our lives. This means being intentional in our relationships and discipleship. That is where we must start!

Relational Bible Reading

What if Bible reading is not just something for Sunday? What if the Word of God is meant to be read daily and in community with other believers? This is just one of the mind-shifts authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne have set out to think over in their book The Trellis and the Vine. While there are a number of edifying points they make in theLayout 1 book in the context of ministry, this idea of relational Bible reading is one of the most intriguing. This is best represented when Marshall and Payne imagine what it would be like “if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a web of regular Bible reading, not only digging into the word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, and with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement” (Marshall and Payne pg. 57). Case in point, this quite possibly could create a culture of disciple-making by the means of Bible reading, study, meditation, and prayer.

With this concept of relational Bible reading in mind, I am excited to share with you a resource Matthias Media has published. It is a book called One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm. Coming from the same company which produced Trellis and the Vine, it comes alongside the follower of Christ, showing them the why, who, and how of one-to-one Bible reading. Therefore, it is my commendation for you to buy this book. I challenge you to take what it says to heart and begin reading the Word of God with others as to enjoy fellowship and discipleship. Whether at home, work, school, and/or with church family, my prayer is we will grow in our passion for God’s Word and make a habit of reading the Word for evangelizing, equipping, and establishing. May it all be done for our good and God’s glory!

 

Follow Him in Love (Mark 12:28-34)

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[This is the fifth and final devotional in the series entitled “The Gospel in Action”.]

In following Christ, we have learned we need to deny ourselves and trust in Him with our lives. When we trust in Him, we will have faith in His kingdom that it will grow. Part of this growth involves serving one another, remembering all the work that Christ has done for us on the cross. In the midst of all this, we must not forget the central part of the equation: love. Love is the foundation. This love starts with loving the one true God (12:29-30). This is, indeed, the greatest commandment. Once we have taken hold and applied this commandment to our lives, it will permeate into love for others (12:31). We will love our neighbors. We will realize and follow through on the calling that we are to live like Christ by having a passion for God and compassion for others. That is prayerfully what we will be doing through this week and beyond. Loving God and drawing closer in relationship to Him, while at the same time caring for the people, showing them the love of Christ through relational intentionality, are pointing to the great spiritual needs that they need a Savior. Simply put, the gospel in action means to love. Hopefully this will be our hearts as God’s people. May we be reminded that it is all about Christ and His love for us. We can only do what we are doing because of His work in our lives. Praise be to God for this opportunity to grow deeper in relationship with Him and to serve others for the advancement of the gospel. May we be changed by the gospel and live with fervency and urgency in sharing the gospel!

Reflection Questions:

  • Why is love so central in the work of the gospel? How should that affect the way we go out spreading the gospel?
  • In understanding the two greatest commandments, how have you done in loving other people? What does this say about your love for God?

Preaching the Gospel (Romans 10:9-15)

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[This devotion is the second  in a 5-part series entitled “Gospel in Action”.]

There is a popular saying, “Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words.” It is used often in talking about evangelism. The point is living your faith out is a witness to non-believers. However, while I certainly would commend one to live out their faith, this quote is mistaken and fails to grasp the truth of Romans 10.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (vv. 14-15)

The gospel in action includes preaching the gospel. To preach the gospel, words must be spoken. If words are not spoken, then people will not hear the message. Without hearing the message, people will not know how to be saved. Yes, backing up your words with your life is important but speaking the gospel with words is essential. It is necessary to tell people the truth of the gospel. We may sometimes try to back out of trying to evangelize to others by using the excuse our lives our a witness themselves. The reality is we have to tell others about the gospel, explain to them the core of the gospel, and show them there is a response that is demanded. Without doing that, we are not faithfully preaching the gospel nor are we faithfully sharing it. Preach the gospel; and it is necessary to use words.

Reflection Questions:

  • Before reading this, what were your thoughts on “Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words.”? How do you view it now?
  • How are ways you can begin to weave gospel conversations among your friends, coworkers, etc.?

Following Christ (Mark 1:14-20)

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[This devotion is the first  in a 5-part series entitled “Gospel in Action”.]

For the last three years, I have went on short-term mission trips to Haiti. It is while on these trips, I began to consider “Why?” What is the fundamental purpose of going on such trips? Is it just have “that experience”? Is it to simply help with physical needs? No, although helping physical needs is important, it cannot be the fundamental purpose for going. The primary purpose for going to Haiti, other countries, or even serving where we currently are is to help with a greater need, a spiritual one. We need to understand that our focus is the gospel. We need to share the gospel. We need to proclaim the gospel of God as revealed in Jesus Christ (1:14). Thus, we must get this good news, the gospel, right. It begins with a holy and perfect God. We have to show that we are people who have sinned against this God. Because of that, we deserve hell and eternal separation from Him. We cannot save ourselves because we will always fall short. However, God has provided a way. Jesus Christ, being fully God and fully man, came to this earth, lived a sinless life and succeeded where we failed, died on the cross as a substitute for our sins, and rose again so that we could enjoy eternal life with Him in relationship. And what this gospel does is that it demands a response. You can either accept or reject. Our response needs to be “repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15). We need to trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior. In turn, we will live the gospel out in our life. We will follow Christ. This following includes being “fishers of men” just as the first disciples were. The point here is in following Christ, there is a response. Once we have responded, we are called to share and teach the gospel, being disciples who make disciples who make disciples. That is what it means. Let us follow Christ!

Reflection Questions

  • In your own words, how would you go about sharing the gospel with someone? What would you say?
  • As disciples of Christ, we are to be “fishers of men”. This includes going out and spreading the good news. How will you go about doing where you currently are (work, neighborhood, etc.)?