Grace Is Greater

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

-Judges 21:25

So the author of Judges concludes one of the most sobering sections of the Bible. When Judges began, the sky was the limit. If Israel would trust God and risk their lives going in to battle by faith they would complete possession of the land. Instead, we read about the increased “Canaanization” of Israelite leaders and Israelite culture. Trusting God by faith becomes a thing of the past. Everyone just does whatever they want, and that’s not a good thing.

The last few episodes in Judges are painfully tragic. Israel is morally wandering in the dark, fumbling faith, integrity, and justice. The nature of the degenerative state of Israel’s culture in Judges 17-21 is meant to be a shocking warning to all who read it. Refusal to worship God will lead people to rape, murder and genocide.

But we can’t leave Judges without asking what it does for the overall Biblical narrative. It begs the question- why didn’t God destroy Israel? Why didn’t he let the Canaanites devour them? Why keep saving them?

After reading Judges, we must conclude that if God will remain faithful to Israel even after chapters 17-21, then there’s nothing Israel can do to escape God’s love and covenant faithfulness. His grace is greater.

What if you substituted your own worst failures for Israel’s failures in Judges 17-21? Too often we are running so hard that we don’t stop to look seriously at our motivations, our decisions, and our sin. When we do, we will see our own failure to believe, our own struggle with Americanizing Christianity, our own false gods. With a crystal clear view of the darkness of our own sin, we need to know that there’s nothing we can do to escape God’s love and covenant faithfulness. After all, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

So what? So believe God! Destroy those idols! Insist on living by faith! Reject Satan’s lies! You belong to God, isn’t it time you started thinking like it? Talking like it? Acting like it? Faith motivates us to live in light of the amazing truth that God’s grace is greater than our sin. He is worthy of our worship in every way. He is trustworthy even in our most vulnerable moments. His grace is greater.

Being Christian in a World That Isn’t

There’s no undoing the secular; there’s just the task of learning how (not) to live—and perhaps even believe—in a secular age.

-James K.A. Smith

We live in a secular age—an age where belief in God is no longer the default setting. Our world isn’t Christian, and it hasn’t been for some time. It’s time for believers in Jesus to come face to face with that reality.

Not coincidentally, we find that in the Bible God has much to say to Christians who are the minority in their culture. Every Christian in the New Testament was a minority. When Jesus taught his followers, he taught them assuming their lives would need to be lived swimming upstream against society (read: friends, family, co-workers).

How does a Christian go about living for Christ in a world that rejects him? What does it look like? What hope do we have? What does it mean practically? The letter of 1 Peter directly addresses these very issues. Peter wrote to believers in Jesus scattered across Asia Minor who faced varying degrees of persecution- from dirty looks to prison time. His letter contains key truths about Jesus and salvation that serves as an anchor for Christians in the stormy waters of culture.

Join us at Green Pond Bible Chapel and Highlands Bible Church on Easter Sunday as we launch our new preaching series on 1 Peter: Being Christian in a World That Isn’t. We will learn together how to follow Jesus in even the most difficult of environments. God not only intends for our faith to survive as minorities, he intends for our faith to thrive.

We Are Go for Launch

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

-Acts 13:2-3

Since the first days of the church, the work of making and maturing disciples of Jesus has resulted in churches duplicating themselves in new communities. The church in Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas, now it’s our turn.

Go for Launch

On Easter Sunday, March 27th, we will launch Highlands Bible Church, our campus in Vernon, NJ. Our purpose hasn’t changed: the Highlands Campus exists to glorify God by making and maturing disciples of Jesus in the Vernon area.

Our Highlands Campus launch team is composed of a core group of families and key leaders who already live in Vernon. Led by Pastor Mike Ruel, this group is ready to open the doors and start a new phase of gospel ministry in Vernon.

Live Preaching

Our Highlands Campus will have worship services designed to make and mature disciples of Jesus in Vernon. On most Sundays, the same passages will be preached at both the Green Pond and Highlands campuses. As the Campus Pastor, Pastor Mike will bear the primary responsibility for preaching at and leading the Highlands Campus.

Local Shepherding

Our Highlands Campus will function as an extension of our ministry at the Green Pond campus. It will remain under the leadership of GPBC, with elders and under-shepherding from Vernon serving the Highlands Campus. This local shepherding is key as care for the church body is central to the making and maturing of disciples.

Beyond worship services, the Highlands Campus will offer Bible studies, Care Groups, and other ministries designed to meet the spiritual needs of the people in and around Vernon.

What’s the Big Deal?

All throughout church history, God has been pleased to use the faithful service of the saints to do his kingdom work. Sometimes we can see God’s hand clearly at work advancing the gospel, and we believe this is one of those times. God has put Green Pond Bible Chapel in a position to radically impact the community of Vernon with the message of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

We know God will change lives through the gospel. The only question is how many. We can’t wait to see what God will do for his glory through the Highlands Campus. Please pray with us for God to be glorified through Highlands Bible Church.

 

Problem People in Hebrews 11

There’s a problem with the “Hall of Faith” (Christians often refer to Hebrews 11 as the Hall of Faith, as opposed to a “Hall of Fame,” more on that below). The problem is in Hebrews 11:32-34,

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

The problem is Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. Is David a Hall of Faith guy? No doubt. One major failure, but God’s grace abounds, right? What about Samuel? This guy was a faith machine from a young age. You try rebuking the retired High Priest about his parenting skills when your voice hasn’t changed yet (1 Samuel 3:15-18). How about the prophets? Clearly Daniel is in view, as well as others, and they definitely pass muster.

But have you read Judges lately? Gideon had precisely 1.5 faith moments in Judges. He gets partial credit for tearing down the altar to Baal, but loses points for doing it at night (6:25-27). He was finally convinced to trust God by a divinely inspired albeit bizarre Midianite dream, and did so for the duration of the “battle.” In the aftermath, however, Gideon quickly lost sight of God, and ends up setting up another idol.

How about Barak? Barak scores a little better than Gideon, but he still hesitated to believe that God would use him to lead Israel to victory. He practically had to be pushed down Mt. Tabor to go fight, and a housewife took his privilege of killing the enemy general, Sisera.

What about Samson, the undisputed UFC champion of the OT? Samson expresses exactly zero faith in the Judges narrative. He’s too busy chasing girls. Even at the dramatic conclusion of his life, his prayer to God is motivated by a desire for personal revenge against the Philistines.

And then there’s Jephthah, who, despite what you may have been told, most certainly sacrificed his daughter in a Canaanite ritual as “payment” for God’s giving Israel victory.

The author of Hebrews commends these men to us, but why? They are not role models in the way they lived their lives. As far as the Biblical record goes, they only had fleeting moments of faith. So why commend them? Because Hebrews 11 isn’t about what they did; it’s about what God did.

How does Gideon’s “army” defeat an innumerable Midianite host? How does Barak’s infantry succeed against Jabin’s iron chariots? How does Jephthah the social outcast provide victory over the Ammonites? How does Samson, one man, provide victory for Israel over the Philistines?

They didn’t. God did. Even if just for a moment, these men followed God’s lead, believed his promises, and acted in faith. Reflecting on the awkwardness of their presence in Hebrews 11, John Calvin said,

Therefore, the apostle attributes their every praiseworthy deed to faith, even though there was not one of them whose faith was not lame!

The Hall of Faith isn’t at all like a Hall of Fame. Consider the Pro Football Hall of Fame: players are inducted by a selection committee that considers their accomplishments as a player. But in Hebrews 11, it’s not the individuals’ acts that are in view, but rather their faith in God who acts for them.

What should we take away from the presence of these questionable characters in Hebrews 11?

  1. Their presence does not endorse a sinful lifestyle. We shouldn’t think that Gideon’s anxiety or Samson’s lust somehow provides a justification for our own. It doesn’t.
  2. Their presence should remind us that faith is about God, not us. Perhaps today each person listed in Hebrews 11 would say, “It’s not about me, it’s about him.” Let’s not be naming ministries after ourselves.
  3. Their presence should motivate us to live by faith. This is what the author of Hebrews is after- casting off sinful entanglements and running the race God has for us by faith in him. Why should we attempt to serve God in remarkable ways? Because we believe he is who he says he is.
  4. Their presence reminds us that God is pleased to use common people for his glory. We can all relate to Gideon, Jephthah, Barak, and Samson on given days. God used them in spite of their significant limitations.

Again, Calvin has good insight here:

…the wrongs which burden us should neither dishearten us nor break us down, provided only that we follow our calling by faith.

In the same way, God calls us to great faith in him. There is hope for us, not because of who we are, but because of who God is. When we think about Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, and Samson, we might wonder what would have happened had they trusted God more. But this doesn’t go far enough. The better question is, what would happen if we trusted God more?

Gender Problems

We have gender problems. If you doubt that, I could tell you about the elementary school teacher who recently had a girl decide she was now a boy. She and her new girlfriend have presented a new legal minefield for their teacher, never mind the challenges for healthy social development and learning.

Or we could remember that last year ESPN gave transgender person Kaitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce, the Arthur Ashe Courage award. As a culture, we are celebrating the “bravery” of those who dare to reject their God-given gender.

Or we could look at the new law New York City recently passed relating to transgender use of bathrooms. According to the Associated Press, the law states “that transgender people can’t be denied access to the restroom or locker room where their gender identity belongs, at their discretion.” (Contrast that with the city of Houston, where sanity has prevailed for the moment).

Choosing one’s “gender identity” has been thrust upon American society as a civil right. Note carefully what this means. In the new humanity, gender is now negotiable. Born a man? Should’ve been a woman? No problem. Just change your gender.

This worldview makes perfect sense in a Creator-less universe. But those who believe God exists have a problem. We find it in Psalm 139.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

-Psalm 139:14

Our gender confusion disagrees with this moment of worship. When we believe we have been created with the wrong gender, we are saying, “I am not wonderfully made.” Implicitly, dissatisfaction with our gender is dissatisfaction with God as creator.

Everyone struggles with discontentment regarding how God has made us. But gender rebellion escalates discontentment to idolatry. If God exists, then he has creative rights over what he has created. To claim those rights for ourselves violates God’s right as creator (AKA idolatry). The gender issues we are facing are just another example of humanity trying to usurp God’s authority.

But our gender problems aren’t limited to transgender issues. Every time there’s tension between husband and wife, gender issues are in play. Every time a man abuses a woman, gender issues are involved. Every time a woman wants the role of a man, gender issues are involved. The truth is, gender problems go all the way back to Eden.

At Green Pond Bible Chapel, we have proposed an addition to our doctrinal statement that deals explicitly with Gender, Marriage, and Sexuality. We will be addressing key Biblical passages from the addition in the coming weeks on Sunday mornings, beginning January 3rd. We want to proclaim God’s truth with compassion and conviction. In a world that seems to be growing increasingly dark, we want to hold forward the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yes, we’ve made a mess of gender. But since Genesis 3 God has been cleaning up our mess. He is our only hope for redemption and sanity regarding gender. I invite you to come and consider Gender, Marriage, and Sexuality from a Biblical perspective with us.