Dare to Stand Alone – 10.30.2020

I was thinking of a song we used to sing when I was a boy. Some of you may remember “Dare to be a Daniel:”

Dare to be a Daniel

Dare to stand alone

Dare to have a purpose firm

Dare to make it known  

Standing by a purpose true

Heeding God’s command

Honor them, the faithful few

All hail to Daniel’s band

The song could also be about Daniel’s three friends who said to the ruler of the known world, “Nebuchadnezzar, we are not in need of an answer to give you concerning this matter.  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods nor worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

It could be about David who said to the giant, Goliath, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a saber, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of armies, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I will strike you and remove your head from you. Then I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that this entire assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will hand you over to us!”

Or it could be of Joshua, or of Gideon, or of Deborah, or of any of the men and women mentioned in the annals of faith.  Men and women of great courage who chose faith over fear.  And that’s the simple point of this blog.

It feels like the news wants to keep us afraid.  Or perhaps, better said, there are genuinely fearful things happening in our world today – riots, threats of violence, election turbulence, viruses, division – none of which surprise God at all.  Courage is choosing to believe God’s got this! 

“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

Context is Comforting

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you!”  Do you believe that?  It’s in the Bible, it must be true!  

It is in the Bible (James 4:7b).  And it is true.  However, the devil doesn’t have any reason to flee if you are resisting in your strength alone.  You’ve heard me and other teachers say that “context is king.”  Usually this is referring to interpretation, but in this case it refers to application.  YES, we must resist the devil’s temptations.  In order to do that, we must submit to God (v. 7a).  In order to submit to God, we must humble ourselves before Him (v. 6) and draw near to Him (v. 8).  After all, the devil is far more powerful than we are, but he’s no match for our God!  Peter’s similar exhortation is also in the context of humility and staying firm in faith and Paul instructs us to take up the full armor of God.  Satan is alive and well on this planet.  He’s not scared of much, but he is scared of our Abba!

You may have seen this clip before, but, in my humble opinion, it’s worth watching.

Pastor Scott 

Honesty is Still the Best Policy

Today, I was doing some pre-study in 1 John, where we will be on Sunday mornings for a few weeks.  One of the themes of the second paragraph, in chapter 1, is honesty.  This illustration is a bit nostalgic but also speaks to the kind of bone-deep integrity that ought to be in each of us, just as it is in our LORD!

Coming from a big city, my friend David wasn’t prepared for the approach rural Maine businessmen take toward their customers. Shortly after David moved there, he rented a rototiller. The store owner showed him how it worked and explained that the charge was not based on how many hours he had it out, but rather how long it was actually used. Looking over the tiller for some kind of meter, David asked, “How will you know how long I’ve used it?” With a puzzled look, the owner simply said, “You tell me.”

Loren Morse, Reader’s Digest, March 1991

Challenged with you,

Pastor Scott

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;  but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.  1 John 1:5-10 (NASB)

The Downside of Guarding Your Heart

by Guest Blogger, Tracie Miles, via crosscards.com

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

“Mom, you have lots of walls around your heart.”

Upon hearing my daughter’s comment and feeling somewhat offended, I immediately replied, “Ummm, no I don’t.” Yet she stood gentle but firm in her statement.

Her comment nagged at my mind. What does that even mean? Have I really put up walls around my heart? And if so, is it that obvious? The more I pondered, I slowly began to see what she was referring to as I stayed more aware of my thoughts and actions over those next few days. There were walls which had gradually erected as a result of my heart taking a beating over the past few years and enduring many painful experiences.

For example, I have a hard time trusting people and always worry someone is not being honest with me. I’m constantly thinking someone will let me down or betray me, so I secretly just wait for it to happen.

My mind is trained to assume that in any situation, the worst case scenario will probably come true. So I stay on guard at all times and often forget God is on my side, that I can rely on His peace in all situations and that He is the one person who can be trusted.

I’m hypersensitive to feeling rejected, betrayed, unaccepted, unloved or criticized, so I protect myself by hiding my emotions and putting on the “I’m fine” mask with a smile. If a conflict arises with another individual, I tend to retreat and ignore rather than face and deal.

My feelings get hurt easily. Then I let my emotions and self-critical thoughts tug at my self-confidence, fueling my deepest insecurities and pushing me back farther behind the walls where it feels safer, which often also leads to conflict in relationships.

Ouch. Reality check. Apparently, I do have a lot of walls that have formed over the years, one heartbreak, one hurt and one thrown stone at a time. Guarding my heart felt like protecting myself. But in actuality, I was only keeping other people from getting too close, keeping myself from trusting for the best in others. These reactions frequently steal my peace and joy and sometimes even stand in the way of feeling as close to God as I wanted to be.

But doesn’t Scripture instruct us to guard our hearts in Proverbs 4:23“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

This verse is where Solomon gives us one of the most important aspects of the Christian life, because the status of our hearts affects who we are, how we feel, what we do and how we live.

Yet Solomon’s description of guarding our hearts differs greatly from the way we often view guarding our hearts.

Guarding our hearts from a scriptural perspective means for us to be alert, through the power of Christ within us, to what enters and dwells in our hearts.

We need to be aware of what we say and do, because over time, our thoughts and actions shape the status of our hearts. Biblically guarding our hearts is founded on consistent communication with our Lord for direction, conviction and peace.

Putting up walls to protect my heart from being hurt again seemed like a normal self-defense mechanism, even though I often didn’t even realize I was doing it. But I’ve now realized those walls were actually doing more harm than good. All the invisible walls I’d worked so hard to erect were reaping zero benefits in my life.

Thanks to my daughter’s simple, honest comment spoken in love, I’ve learned the downside of putting up walls. There is a big difference between guarding our hearts and putting up walls. Guarding our hearts with Scripture helps keep our faith on track, but the walls we erect to keep people out or protect our emotions can become walls which keep us bound in insecurity, fear, unhappiness and loneliness.

Only God can protect our hearts from pain, and He did not create us to live in a prison of our own making. Instead, He created us for companionship and love. He wants us to live free, full of joy and with peace in our hearts. But it is our choice to climb out from behind walls we’ve built and remember all of those gifts are available through Him, no matter what we’ve been through or what lies ahead.

Life is simply too short to live behind walls, especially when freedom and peace are always accessible if only we ask.

Lord, please help me tear down the walls I’ve built and empower me to trust in Your protection of my heart. Help me release all my anger, bitterness, hurt, offense and unforgiveness to You and live in the freedom and joy You offer. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Everyday Integrity – September 25, 2020

Today, I was doing some pre-study in 1 John, where we will be on Sunday mornings in a few weeks.  One of the themes of the second paragraph, in chapter 1, is honesty.  This illustration is a bit nostalgic, but also speaks to the kind of bone-deep integrity that ought to be in each of us, just as it is in our LORD!

Coming from a big city, my friend David wasn’t prepared for the approach rural Maine businessmen take toward their customers. Shortly after David moved there, he rented a rototiller. The store owner showed him how it worked and explained that the charge was not based on how many hours he had it out, but rather how long it was actually used. Looking over the tiller for some kind of meter, David asked, “How will you know how long I’ve used it?” With a puzzled look, the owner simply said, “You tell me.”

Loren Morse, Reader’s Digest, March 1991.

Challenged with you,

Pastor Scott

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;  but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.  1 John 1:5-10 (NASB)

Adult Bible Classes 9.18.20

Adult Sunday Bible Studies

Growing Together in Grace

October 4th launch

1.             Young Adult Community – Sean and Sam Nunn meeting in the Conference Room (#120)

2.  Going Deeper -An elective group that continues in a dialog about Pastor’s sermon that morning meeting in the Class Room currently behind partitions  (Room #139)

3.  Going Theological – An elective group that digs into a different area of systematic theology each quarter – Studying “Theology Proper” in Fall 2020 meeting in the Grace Classroom (#133) 

4.  Going Practical – An elective group that studies a different aspect of our practical Christian walk each quarter – Studying “Jesus among other gods” by Ravi Zacharias meeting in the Worship Center

5.  Ambassador/Fidelis – A traditional Sunday morning class.  Studying Eschatology meeting in the Ambassador/Fidelis Classroom (#134)

Classes 2, 3 & 4 will shuffle every quarter Winter Quarter starts December 6, 2020. I trust you’ll pick a class and join us on Sundays; right after the service at 11am starting October 4th as we grow in grace together!

Pastor Scott

By-Law Query 9.11.20

Sunday (9/6/2020) I touched on our doctrinal statement, which led someone to do a little research that resulted in an email question that happens to be recurrent about our form of church government: here’s a copy of my “Pastor’s Pen” from February 2010 in answer to his question; also for the reader’s edification and or information! 🙂

Why are we a congregational church rather than an elder-led church?  My sister says there’s no scriptural support for that model.  What gives???

Too Nit-Picky?

Letter to the Pastor c. January 2010

Dear Nit-Picker,

That’s sort of like asking, “Pastor Scott, how can you say you’re Swedish when we can all see you are a Caucasian?” 🙂  We are legally or technically a congregational church and we are actually an Elder-led church.  Let me see if I can explain.

There are three generally (legally?) recognized forms of church polity.  They are (according to Theopikea):

EpiscopalChurches having Episcopal polity are governed by bishops. The title bishop comes from the Greek word episkopos, which literally translates into overseer. In regard to Catholicism, bishops have authority over the diocese, which is both sacramental and political; as well as performing ordinations, confirmations, and consecrations, the bishop supervises the clergy of the diocese and represents the diocese both secularly and in the hierarchy of church governance.  Bishops in this system may be subject to higher ranking bishops (variously called archbishops, metropolitans, and/or patriarchs, depending upon the tradition; They also meet in councils or synods. These synods, subject to presidency by higher ranking bishops, may govern the dioceses which are represented in the council, though the synod may also be purely advisory.

Presbyterian meaning “Elder-led.” Many Reformed churches, notably those in the Presbyterian and Continental Reformed traditions, are governed by a hierarchy of councils. The lowest level council governs a single local church and is called the session or consistory; its members are called elders. The minister of the church (sometimes referred to as a teaching elder) is a member of and presides over the session; lay representatives (ruling elders or, informally, just elders) are elected by the congregation. The session sends representatives to the next level higher council, called the presbytery or classis. In some Presbyterian churches there are higher level councils (synods and/or general assemblies). Each council has authority over its constituents, and the representatives at each level are expected to use their own judgment. Hence higher level councils act as courts of appeal for church trials and disputes, and it is not uncommon to see rulings and decisions overturned.

CongregationalCongregationalist polity dispenses with titled positions such as bishop as a requirement of church structure. The local congregation rules itself, though local leaders and councils may be appointed.  Members may be sent from the congregation to associations that are sometimes identified with the church bodies formed by Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and other non-congregational Protestants. The similarity is deceptive, however, because the Congregationalist associations do not exercise control over their members (other than ending their membership in the association). Many Congregationalist churches are completely independent in principle. One major exception is Ordination, where even congregationalist churches often invite members of the vicinage or association to ordain their called pastor.  It is a principle of congregationalism that ministers do not govern congregations by themselves. They may preside over the congregation, but it is the congregation which exerts its authority in the end.  Congregational polity is sometimes called “Baptist polity”, as it is the characteristic polity of Baptist churches.

I wasn’t even born when Blue Ridge incorporated, but as I understand it we (they) had three choices.  We (they) strongly believed that our church should be self-governed and therefore we are, by definition, a congregational church.  And I would bet my left lung, if I were a betting man, that your sister’s church is “congregational” too, at least according to the definitions above.

By now I trust the reader is wondering how it is that I can say we are a Congregational/Elder-led church.  Let’s start by looking at some definitions in scripture:

In Acts 6 we have the story of the Apostles (who were serving as the Elders/Overseers of the one and only church at that time) being bombarded by service requests.  Their response was to tell the congregation to go choose seven men, filled with the Holy Spirit, to serve the Apostles as deacons (ministers, servants).  In one passage you have the establishment of congregational polity and the office of deacon.

Later, as the church grew Elders were established.  We first see it in Acts 14:23 – “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”   The word isn’t really explained since there we always Elders in Israel.  But it’s interesting to note that the word “Elder” is plural and the word “Church” is singular.  Notice James 5:14 – “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”  or 1 Peter 5:1 “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,”  It seems pretty clear to me that every church has a plurality of Elders, but what about the Bishops?  Are they in Scripture as well?

As mentioned in the article above, the Greek word is Episkopos and it is translated “Overseer” and transliterated as “Bishop.”  It is only used in the Pastoral Epistles.  We see it in 1 Timothy 3:1-2 – “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.  An overseer, then, must be above reproach,….”  The office of overseer seems to come from out of the blue here, except that in chapter five he starts talking about “Elders who rule well” which gives us a hint that he might be using the word Elder and Bishop interchangeably.  This hint is confirmed in Titus when he gives Titus the same instruction:  “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.  For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain,”   Elders are Overseers (Bishops) and Overseers are Elders.  At least in the Bible, but not in “the church.”

The Church that became the RC saw Paul referring to the office, singular, of Overseer – Bishop they also saw (or some would argue, inherited) a system whereby individual men already had a lot of power.  For all that they claim Peter was the first pope, it was James (Acts 15) that headed the council at Jerusalem, to whom Paul, the overseer of all gentile churches, reported.  In the same way Paul then seems to oversee Timothy and Titus, heads of the churches in Ephesus and in Crete.   I truly see a plurality of Elders, but it’s not hard to see how the Bishoprics got started.

That brings us to the reformation.  Calvin and Knox agree with me about the plurality of Elders but they still thought in terms of church hierarchy.  So you have councils Elders reporting to Councils of Elders (Presbyterianism).  Still others in the reform movement determined to place the authority in the local church movement and thus Congregationalism was formed.

We are a Bible Church.  Our movement was born just 100 years ago when many of the mainline denominations started to slip away from Fundamental Doctrines of the Faith.  Many of our parent denominations were Hierarchical in nature and we wanted nothing to do with that so we (along with most evangelical/fundamental churches) chose to keep our churches autonomous and therefore congregational.  We believe in a plurality of Elders and our bylaws do affirm that the Elders oversee EVERYTHING.  However, in keeping with the fact that the church (the body) is autonomous  the congregation still votes on (ratifies) things like the hiring of a new senior pastor, the annual budget and our deacons and our elders.  It’s really a model of the republic and some have called our model the federated model.

And that’s probably waaay more than you wanted to know.

In Christ,

Pastor Scott

Hearing God – Sept 4, 2020

I received an email this week from a spiritual sib who has struggled for a long time with this question: “We know God hears prayer. But that is one-way conversation. How do believers receive answers from the Lord? It is too easy to say, ‘I felt the Lord’s leading,’ or something similar. This is very subjective. Is there an objective answer?”

This is a great question! “How do we sense the Lord’s leading?”  First, let me tackle NT prayer in case I’m missing the point.

I would suggest that the way Jesus taught us to pray, and modeled prayer, was to ask for specifics and allow God to answer through fulfillment. (Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debt…. Remove this cup from me.)  As I search my mind (so this isn’t an exhaustive list), I can only think of a couple of biblical instances where prayer was about choosing.  In Acts 1, the eleven remaining disciples prayed that God would reveal Judas’ replacement, then they drew lots between Barsabbas (who was also called Justus) and Matthias.  In Acts 15, Paul forced a choice on the council of Apostles when he used persuasion and the Holy Spirit reminded James of OT prophecy.  In Acts 16, God used a vision to send Paul toward Macedonia after the Holy Spirit had prohibited him from entering Asia and going to Bithynia.  These exceptions aside, most recorded prayers are for God to act more than for receiving answers. 

In Acts 16, Luke records pretty direct intervention by the Holy Spirit.  However, in much of Acts, and in Paul’s recounting of his life in his letters, you have a picture of a man walking in the Spirit and in wisdom.  Scripture gives us some objective parameters, and my belief and experience is that if we walk in them, in the same way we stay in our lanes as we drive, we are being led of the Lord!

  1. We are instructed to walk in the Spirit as opposed to fleshly lust. (Galatians 5:16)
  2. The Spirit is never going to lead us to violate the Word He wrote (1 Peter 1:21)
  3. Don’t violate your conscience. (Romans 14:23)
  4. Don’t avoid something you know to be right. (James 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:19)
  5. Align your life (your time) according to God’s priorities. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
    • The Gospel
    • Family
    • Job
    • Loving others
  6. Make God’s glory your #1 priority! (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Now, having a clean conscience, decide and trust the God of the universe to lead, through prompting (1 Thessalonians 4:19) or closed doors (Acts 16:7) or even your wisdom and experience.

Blessings,

Pastor Scott

P.S.  “Simple” is not the same as “easy,” especially given that our flesh, this world, and the adversary are all working against us.  So start each day in the Word and continue each day walking as closely to Him as possible!  For example, I like to pick a song or a verse I can rehearse. (Psalm 1:2)