Tag Archives: Bible Study

Four Marks of a Living Church

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2.42-47)

At the conclusion of Acts 2, Luke gives four identifying characteristics of a “living church” – evidence the first Christians were drawn together in relationships.

First, they were related to the apostles. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They sat at their feet and submitted to their authority. A living church is an apostolic church, committed to believing and obeying the teaching of the apostles.

Second, they were related to each other. They devoted themselves to fellowship. They loved each other. They looked after each other, providing for one another’s needs. A living church is a caring church.

Third, they were related to God. They worshipped God in the breaking of bread and prayers, formally and informally, with joy and reverence.

Fourth, they were related to the world. They saturated the community around them with the message of the Gospel and as a result “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” A living church is an evangelizing church.

John Stott relates an experience he had in Latin America. He was introduced to a group of Christian students who had dropped out of church. They called themselves Cristianos Descolgados, “unhooked Christians.” They visited every church in their city and had been unable to find what they were seeking. And what was that? Without knowing Luke’s “four marks,” they were looking for a church in which

  1. the Bible was taught
  2. there was a loving, caring fellowship
  3. there was sincere, humble, and reverent worship
  4. there was a compassionate outreach to the world outside.

Simple characteristics identifying the church of Christ that was established on the Day of Pentecost when the Gospel of Christ was preached for the first time. Let that be our sole model – and pray those four marks of a living church reflect our fellowship at Westside.

 – grace and peace to you all, Bill

[John Stott, Through the Bible – Through the Year, 312]

 

Recommended Online Bible Resources

Your computer, laptop, Iphone or other favorite mobile device plus the internet, worldwide web, and Google make this the best time ever for learning stuff, accessing information, and building a resource base for great Bible study and personal spiritual growth.

Here are seven sites I frequently use plus four great online Bibles – and it’s all FREE!

Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan 

John Mark Hicks Ministries

Radically Christian. Written by Wes McAdams. His article from March 15, 2015 was printed in this week’s bulletin:  Why Good People Don’t Go to Heaven

Life in the Kingdom 

N T Wright Page 

Training for Something Greater

Kingdom Living 

ESV Bible Online 

NET Bible 

Bible Gateway 

Bible Study Tools 

–Bill

 

News & Notes 6/7/2015

In Our Prayers

Bob Bartlett in the Manor.….Bill Lewis and his ministry at Sterling Correctional Facility.

On the Calendar

June 14 – Potluck, followed by Men’s Business Meeting

July 17-19, Westside – God’s Blueprint for the Home Seminar

World Bible School Correspondence Course

Bill distributed the first WBS lesson last Wednesday night, to be read and completed for the Wednesday night Bible study. As soon as we complete the lessons, we’ll offer the course to our community and beyond.

Even if you’re not part of the Wednesday night class, we encourage you to go through the courses at home. You’ll find them a good source of basic Bible teaching about the simple gospel of Christ. Just ask Bill for the first lesson. He has plenty of copies.

 

The Faulkner Lectures

Faulkner LecturesI appreciate the time off you gave me last week to attend the Faulkner University Lectureship. It’s the first time I’ve attended those lectures, but now that one of our daughters works for the university, I’m sure it won’t be the last.

If you’ve never been to a college lectureship you can’t appreciate what you’re missing. It’s usually three to four days of intense Bible study and discussion covering a wide range of challenging topics with a central theme. Faulkner’s theme this year was iCulture: Pursuing Holiness in a Self-Saturated World. The lectures themselves, for the most part, were excellent, among the best I’ve ever attended. I’m already looking forward to next year when the theme will be Christ Alone: Salvation in no one else (Acts 4.12).

Freed-Hardeman’s lectureship in Henderson, Tennessee, is held the first week in February; Faulkner’s, in Montgomery, Alabama, the first week in March; and Harding’s, in Searcy, Arkansas, the last week in September. As you can see, they’re all a long way away and it’s hard to arrange personal schedules to go, but I assure you, it’s well worth the effort and sacrifice.

To my knowledge York College doesn’t host an annual lectureship, though they do conduct workshops and seminars throughout the year – speaking of which, York and the Sojourners are conducting a workshop May 15-16 entitled Doors of Opportunity. Speakers from six central states “will open our eyes to unique and innovative ways that small congregations and individuals can reach their communities.” Friday evening from 7:30 to 9:00 is a period of fellowship. The workshop begins at 7:45 Saturday morning with breakfast in the cafeteria. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a bunch of people from Westside to go?! We’re going – come, go with us.

–Bill

 

New Year’s Message from Paul

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,

“Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Ephesians 5.6-17

This text calls our attention to a number of vital points –

  • Christians can be deceived.
  • There are Christian leaders and teachers who are deceivers.
  • There is sound biblical teaching and there is false teaching and false teachers.
  • We are responsible for discerning between truth and error.
  • We are responsible for exposing deceptive teaching and teachers.
  • We are to be careful how we “walk” – that is, how we live, who we listen to, what we believe, who we listen to as teachers.
  • We are not to waste our time listening to false teachers no matter how believable or sincere or convincing they may sound.
  • We are to give our full attention to understanding what the will of the Lord is – and how do we do that? By being “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2.15). Study the Word of God for yourselves – know what the will of the Lord is.

– Bill

 

Results of Our Recent Bible Study Topics Poll

openbibleFirst I want to thank all of you who participated in this poll and returned the surveys back to me. Here is the raw data of how you ranked the topics:

  1. Sermon on the Mount;
  2. The Church;
  3. Basic Biblical Beliefs;
  4. Go Make Disciples;
  5. Unchristian;
  6. Spiritual Formation;
  7. The Most Excellent Way;
  8. A Survey of World Religions;
  9. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction;
  10. Great Moments with Ezekiel; and
  11. Bible History and Geography.

You ranked The Sermon on the Mount as #1 because I told you I wanted to begin the year with a coordinated series of Bible class lessons and sermons based on that text (Matthew 5-7). Thank you. I wanted to get your “feel” or interest level for the remainder of the topics. I’ll do my best to construct a curriculum that reflects your expressed interest.

We’ll begin the year with the “Sermon on the Mount” both as the subject of the adult Bible class and the subject of Sunday morning’s sermon. Wednesday we’ll begin with a study and discussion of “Go Make Disciples” that will lead into the study and discussion of “Unchristian.”

For the second quarter of the year we are looking at combining the Sunday morning teen and adult classes for that one quarter to study “The Most Excellent Way.” The Wednesday evening adult class would then study “A Survey of World Religions.” That’s the plan for the first half of 2015. Thanks again for helping me with this.

– Bill

 

 

On Reading the Bible

openbibleNo Bible book should be treated like an ancient artifact; examined for its grammar, syntax; examined historically, culturally and with tools of form, linguistic and literary criticism – end of story, and then put up on the shelf before we move on to another textual artifact.

The biblical books are covenant literature, and the People of God have lived on them for millennia. God meant this literature to so function. As a single narrative (with all that that involves), it is alive and generates life because it is the voice of God’s Holy Spirit.

As a whole it cannot be embraced as covenant literature and climax in anyone but the one true God who has come to us in and through and as Jesus Christ.

Many Books; One Story

Each book in the Bible is part of a single narrative and while each book has its own contribution to make to the entire Story – something we mustn’t ever forget – it has no sense by itself. That is, we could isolate the massive Exodus events from everything else and we could tell them in a story form easily enough as though it stood by itself, but it would no longer be what it is in the biblical witness. It only makes biblical sense if it’s part of a single story connected with the past and looking to the future.

This is the claim of Jesus in passages like Luke 24.24, 44-47. Also see Acts 3.17-18, 22-24; 26.22-23. Pay special attention also to Stephen’s Acts 7 speech before his critics, which shows the forward movement from Abraham to the crucifixion and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth (7.2, 52, 55). Then he further shows the climax in Jesus by praying for their forgiveness and commending himself into the Lord’s keeping as Jesus did on the cross (Luke 23.34, 46).

The Old Testament book of Obadiah doesn’t have to have a verse talking about Jesus in order to be part of a grand narrative that speaks of God’s dealings in and with Israel. It’s part of a single Story and each prophet contributes what he has to contribute concerning his own time in the single narrative of salvation history.

Zechariah speaks in his own time and circumstances about the ways of God; we need to allow him to speak his own message. But having by God’s enlightening grace done that to the best of our ability we need to see it with that forward look that even the prophets didn’t grasp (1 Peter 1.12). Jesus, as mediated to us through the New Testament, is to be our final and authoritative interpreter.

Jesus: the Meaning of All Things

But what does that mean – Jesus must be our final interpreter of the entire biblical witness? Whatever else it means it means He is the ALPHA and OMEGA. He’s to be the beginning and end of our study, our reflection, our preaching, our praise, our esteemed and cherished thoughts and our behavior in all our relationships. We are to look at Him and see in Him what God thinks of the wayward human family; we’re to see Him as more than (not less than) the one who forgives our sins – He’s the meaning of all things; in Him all things hold together and have ultimate meaning (Colossians 1.17).

To see the Bible as a single overarching narrative that climaxes in Jesus – the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, glorification as Lord and the coming One – will affect how we hear Scripture. But to seek to hear Scripture better must mean that we seek to hear it for what it is: God’s self revelation that is seen in the history of the human family with particular emphasis on Israel as the chosen People – a history that climaxes in Jesus.

We want to know more than the Story and how it fits into a single narrative and Story. We want to know the God who reveals Himself in that Story. So it isn’t enough to explain what the verses mean and how the sections and books work together as if that were the goal. The goal is to know GOD as He is revealed in Jesus.

We’re not after religious ideas or principles or moral advice or an explanation of this verse or that – we want to encounter and admire and serve the living God. This and nothing less is (should be) the purpose of all biblical study and reflection. We must have the prophetic text, and we’re glad to have it, but it’s not an end in itself. If our study, teaching, and preaching make it an end in itself we’ve built an image and are calling people to serve it.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me; not even a Bible.”

Jim McGuiggan JimMcGuiggan

 

The Value of the Bible

BibleWhere did we come from? The question consumes us. Are we merely the result of some cosmic accident, or are we the creation of an infinite intelligence?

Though shrugged aside as nothing more than a collection of ancient myths by secular scholars, the Bible presents the most rational explanation for our existence. It is interesting that the Bible doesn’t begin with a defense of God’s existence; rather it begins with the revelation of His creative power. It is God who created the universe out of nothing. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth”(Psalm 33.6).

The Creator Speaks

It is the Creator, God, who speaks to us through the Bible. He is not a floating fog, not an “it.”He is not an aimless, blind force. He is not mere cosmic energy; rather He is an almighty, self-existing, self-determining Being with mind and will. Neither is the Bible just another book. It is a voice from outside of us and above us intruding into our lives to give us a better perspective on the issues that confront us daily. It offers wisdom from above. “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10.23).

The Purpose of the Bible

The study of the Bible is valuable because of why it was written. The Bible reveals that God is more than Creator; He is also righteous. He is the Holy One who is supremely concerned about right and wrong. Morality is a top priority with God. Every culture of every age has observed certain universal laws of morality: human codes of conduct, an awareness of right and wrong, an innate sense of ought. How did that come about? Neither evolutionary hypotheses nor cultural anthropologists can account for it. Again, the Bible offers the most rational explanation for the existence of moral order. It emanates from God.

The Bible has been called the book of God’s righteousness. It is God who declares what is good and what is evil, not arbitrarily, but immutably. When we sin, though it may be with or against another person, it is first and foremost an affront to God. Propositioned by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph refused her advances, saying, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39.9).

The message of the Bible concerns people gone awry. When we sinned against God, He could have given up on us and blotted us out, but He didn’t. Instead, He pursued us. The Bible is the story of God’s rescue mission. It alone reveals that the only hope of eternal salvation and the highest expression of moral ideals are combined in one historic person – Jesus of Nazareth; therein lies the unique power of the Christian gospel.

A Living Word

Finally, the Bible is only of value to us if we obey it. Without obedience, its ethics are irrelevant and its promises worthless. It reveals God’s love and extends His terms for pardon and forgiveness. The response He has left to us. So, you see, the Bible is far more than an ancient collection of books telling an old, old story. It is God’s constant and clarion call for us to surrender the will of our hearts to His gracious care. The Bible is the foundation of an entire set of alternative values, different from those of the world around us, designed to transform our lives to be a reflection of the One who created us in His image.

– Bill

 

It Takes Time to Be a Christian

Did you hear about the guy with severe appendicitis? He ran to the hospital, grabbed the first doctor he saw and demanded an immediate operation. He also said he was in a terrible rush and could only allow the surgeon ten minutes of his time. The doctor just shook his head, chuckled, and told him if he were in that big of a hurry he might as well go on and die because if his appendix didn’t get him, something else would, and soon!

Impatience is deadly. But it’s a chronic way of life for a lot of people in our country. We’ve all become accustomed to instant stuff – all that’s easy, convenient, and quick. But it has its price. Things easily acquired are just as easily discarded. They lose their value quickly and probably aren’t very durable, either.

The same principle applies to the spiritual realm. Most people want their religion in quick, short spurts – when they need it. A little Bible verse here, a little talk with Jesus there, and everything will be alright. Religion is reduced to a lucky charm – a medallion worn around the neck, a bracelet on the wrist, a figurine glued to a dashboard, a little family shrine in the corner bookcase, and the God stuff is in place, ready when needed.

How vastly different the Bible portrays Christianity – it’s a “slow” religion! It makes no provision for impatience. People cannot become instantly spiritual. It takes time to study and to learn the Bible. It takes time to enable the Scriptures to change lives and renew minds. It takes time to become like Jesus. It takes time to worship acceptably. It takes time to help others come to know, love, and obey the Lord. It takes time to build a family on God’s foundation. It takes time to raise up godly men to be spiritual leaders. It takes time to go to heaven.

God has given us all the time we need. But it’s up to us to spend the time wisely. Remember: It takes time to be a Christian. Please don’t try to cut it short!

– Bill

 

Pictures of Salvation

For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words. (1 Corinthians 2.11-13)

There is a problem understanding spiritual things with a mind orientated to thinking in physical terms. After all, we live in a world of matter, time, and decay. How do we describe the beauty of heaven, the horror of hell, or the wonder of salvation in physical terms? It seems an almost insurmountable task. Yet God, who fully understands our limitations, draws on human experiences and physical reality to describe spiritual things.

The Bible is filled with “spiritual pictures” drawn in language and terms we can understand. By looking at these pictures our spiritual awareness is quickened and our spiritual nature is aroused. In this way our faith grows and matures: So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10.17).

Think about the picture of the prodigal son, the pearl of great price, the tree of life and the golden city of God. Each picture reveals another facet of great spiritual truth. No single picture reveals it all, but each contributes to the whole revelation until we eventually stand awed by the complete painting.

Word Pictures in the New Testament

Some words and concepts in the New Testament are word pictures themselves – words like atonement, forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation, regeneration, and sanctification. Each word draws on either an example from the Old Testament or human experience to shed more light on the wonder of salvation.

The Book of Revelation is a classic example. In Revelation numbers, symbols, colors, and even grotesque images are used to represent various pictures or scenes in God’s relationship with humankind. Each scene sheds more light, more facts, more depth to the panoramic canvas of human understanding until we eventually see the whole picture clearly.

The Ultimate Revelation

Jesus Himself is the ultimate revelation of God: No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (John 1.18). God exists fully in spirit. To reveal Himself to us He entered the physical realm through Jesus Christ. He did so visibly, powerfully, and dramatically. In Jesus, God says, “I’ll draw a picture for you so you can see what I’m like.”

Our duty is to search out and examine the many beautiful and descriptive pictures God has drawn. Beginning in Genesis, the “book of beginnings,” in the Garden of Eden and ending in Revelation with the description of the city containing the tree of life, the Bible paints a wondrous mosaic of the rich and rewarding experience to be found in faith. Each portrait in itself is captivating, but only when pieced together and viewed as a whole are we able to see and appreciate its complete beauty.

The picture of salvation, as drawn in the Word of God, is mixed in the paint of human understanding, experience, and feeling. It’s painted on the canvas of time and it reveals the glory of God’s grace and love to a human race in search of its meaning and purpose.

…but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.    (Ephesians 2.4-10)