I Can Understand My Bible? // Rightnow Media Video Spotlight

We often talk about reading our Bible, and consider it to be the task of not simply pastors, but one for every person who is named as a disciple. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) It’s something we should all be doing daily.
 
Yet, the Bible is not an easy book to tackle, especially if you try to tackle it from front to back. Where do we start? How can I get over the hump of feeling like I’m reading but not understanding? We need some help and training, humility before this important book. Bible reading certainly isn’t beyond anyone’s educational curve, but we all need some help.
 
Thankfully, because our church has a Rightnow Media subscription, you have access to some fantastic training. I’d like to recommend Michael DeFazio’s series, How to Read the Bible. It’s a very accessible series that has 8 episodes, along with a study handout/guide. Michael is a professor at Ozark Christian College, and our students are familiar with his videos and teaching from Christ in Youth conferences. He will take you in at a beginner’s level and help you understand how you can personally read/study the text and be a better student of the Bible.
 
If you don’t have your free signin on Rightnow Media so you can view the video, click here to register as a user with our church today.


You Won’t Believe These Animals // Rightnow Media Video Spotlight

by Nate Powell
 
For some time, our church has held a subscription to an video service that is the “Netflix” of Christian video content. It’s called Rightnow Media, and if you’ve not signed up to use it with us. Click this link and do it for free. You can use their app to watch in a web browser on your computer, in the Rightnow Media app for iOS or Android, or using Rightnow Media apps on such devices as Roku or Apple TV. It is truly a fantastic service that we don’t use nearly enough. I want to change that. So occasionally on the Pastor Blog, I’m going to highlight a video or show that you or your family might want to check out.
 
First up is a show called Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution (and there are 3 episodes of this great series). I’m not sure if that title sounds exciting to you, but students were mesmerized a few years ago when we showed these videos at camp, and honestly, they are great videos for all ages, kid to adult. Not only will you learn some things about animals that you never heard of, but you will hear about the idea of irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity is an idea put forward by intelligent design proponents, and this is the gist of it: that there are biological systems that seem very basic, yet are so complex that you could not remove a part of it and have it function. In other words, there are certain animals that, simply by their design, prove that they could not have possibly evolved. I hope you’ll check out these Incredible Creatures, and let me know what you thought of the series after you do!
 
As a side note, if you’d like to read more about irreducible complexity, consider reading Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box.
 
Check out this preview of Incredible Creatures The Defy Evolution:
 
 

 



The Decline of Christianity in the U.S.: Bad News or Good News?

By Nate Powell

One of the largest research firms in the US (Pew Research) has released a new study regarding U.S. Trends in faith identification and worship attendance among the general population of our country (which currently numbers more than 327 million people). You can click here to view the full report, but here are a few highlights of said report:
  • In the last 10 years, the number of US adults who identify as Christian has gone from 77% to 65%.
  • In the last 10 years, those who call themselves religiously unaffiliated have increased from 17% to 26%.
  • In the last 10 years, those who identify as atheist have increased from 2% to 4%.
  • In the last 10 years, those who who attend church at least monthly have decreased from 52% to 45%.

There is much more that I could share from the report, but I think you get the picture. Those who claim a Christian faith are decreasing in number, and those who are known as “nones” when it comes to religion are increasing in number.

So, is this bad news? Certainly. Anytime we watch a retreat from Judeo-Christian values, we recognize this is a bad thing and will carry bad consequences. Anytime less people are going to church, we know that we as a people overall will stray farther from God’s will and ways. These are hard trends to watch.

Yet, I’d like us to consider that there is some good news in what is taking place here. When we as a country lay aside a “cultural Christianity”, this can be a good thing. For many decades of our existence, it has been an assumed truth: that to be American is to be Christian. Yet deep in our hearts, as we read our Bibles, we know this cannot be the case. To be Christian without repentance, confession, growth or love, is to not be Christian at all. Jesus noted that we know trees by their fruit (John 15:1-11), and it seems that the trees are doing a better job these days of self-identifying the fact that they don’t wear the name of Christ or bear fruit. This type of honesty is refreshing, and it should give us hope.

It should give us hope, because we have the ultimate good news in what Christ has done. Because Christianity is losing some of that favored status it has previously held, followers of Christ will have to truly WANT to bear the name of Jesus, along with the derision or mockery that it may bring us. And it will help us better identify our neighbors who don’t know Christ. They won’t simply tell us that they belong to a church to which they don’t actually belong or rarely/never attend, but that they honestly are not Christians. This will give us reason to once again speak of the good news that has been given to us, and pray for our neighbors to come to Jesus.

So, in the face of these reports and numbers, don’t lose hope. Numbers and polls are temporary. Christ and his word are eternal. Remember Paul’s words to encourage the church and fix their eyes on Christ and eternal things, found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”



Good Sports in Philippians

by Nate Powell
 
For the next four months, we are going to be preaching thru the book of Philippians. It’s a sermon series entitled: “No Matter What”. It could be that a bit of explanation is in order. Why all of the pictures of runners and sports references in the graphics and illustrations in this series?
 
One of Paul’s best allusions to sport (though not the only one he used) comes in Philippians 3:12-14: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
 
Here, he uses an example of runners training and pushing themselves to finish the race and compete to get the prize. This is the work of all who are in Christ. We have been saved and can know we are such, yet we press to be more like Jesus every day. This is the work of sanctification that God continues in us, guiding us into good works which he has prepared for us (Eph 2:10). Sports provides so many living examples of training for righteousness and growing in faith that I couldn’t help but bring that motif into the sermon series as a whole.
 
I currently serve as a coach for FCA, which has caused me to spend quite a bit of time around athletes in our local district. I love seeing their drive to compete, their toughness in training, and their will to win. It is truly inspiring to be around so many state-class athletes on a regular basis. And I can tell you this: if we as disciples do as Paul calls us to, pressing hard to win the race, just as hard as the athletes in our local county train, then God is going to do amazing things in this church and the disciples in our community; so much more than he has already done!
 
So how will we train? We will resolve to read, understand and apply God’s word. We will pray harder and more intentionally than we have before. And we will strengthen the fellowship of church and the support we provide for the church. When we strengthen and train, we will grow strong in the Lord and be bold for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So ask yourself, “How can I be training today to run this race of faith and finish strong?” I hope and pray that you will press to finish well and be faithful to Jesus NO MATTER WHAT.


Only Jesus? [Thoughts from the Cutting Floor]

In yesterday’s sermon, we spent a couple minutes chasing a rabbit with regard to Jesus’ parable of Two Houses, also known as the parable of the wise man and the foolish man. The rabbit we chased was with regard to the story, which was obviously about people who have heard Jesus’ words, and either chosen to obey or disregard his commands. The question that we asked was: “What about those who have never heard of Jesus or his teaching?”
 
Jesus has made it clear in the passage at hand that there are two roads, two gates, and two fates for trees who bear good fruit or bad fruit. Clearly, Jesus points toward the coming reality of eternity spent in heaven with the Lord or eternity spent in hell. So the real question is, “Would God send someone who had never heard of Jesus to heaven or to hell?”
 
There are two schools of thought on this. One is that of inclusivism. The idea here is that those who haven’t heard will be judged by their actions, good weighed against bad (something of a karma situation), or by some separate standard that God would use to judge righteous from unrighteous. The other school of that is that of exclusivism, wherein it is believed that none will be receive salvation outside of faith in Christ. I personally fall into that second school of thought, and I base those thoughts in the scripture. Let’s look at what the Bible says on this front.
 
Romans 1:18-20 // “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” This was the scripture we read yesterday, noting that God has created everyone and everything, and in his creation, he has made it apparent that he exists. How? By giving order, design, beauty, and majesty to us in his creation. So all should see that there is a God, and that they are not. The passage concludes by saying they are without excuse. Why? Because they are still accountable to the Lord for their sin. That is the point here. All know in some fashion there is a higher authority, a right and a wrong. And all can and should recognize they do wrong. This is what prepares the heart for Christ and repentance.
 
Romans 10:14-15 // “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of 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!’” Paul, later in Romans, makes and plea for the Gospel message to go out. It cannot be believed without being heard, heard without a preacher, a preacher without sending. Paul is presenting the case for the church and for sending people forth with the word of Jesus Christ. Paul is certainly burdened for the lost, and his life bears this out. He was of the belief that no one would be saved apart from the saving name of Christ.
 
John 14:6 & Acts 4:12 // “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” & “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” I list these two scriptures together, because they essentially say the same thing. But the claims come from two different sources: Jesus & Peter. Jesus makes an exclusive claim about himself and Peter confirms it. There is salvation found nowhere else but in Jesus and in his name. All are called to turn from sin, believe exclusively in Christ as the way of salvation, being baptized in his name. Neither Christ nor Peter name, or give room for, another way of salvation.
 
Acts 10 // A reading of the whole chapter in this case is quite necessary. In the chapter, Cornelius is found to be “a devout man who feared God with all his household”, yet he is a gentile and outside of a knowledge of Christ. It is thru the process of God giving visions and dreams to both Cornelius and Peter that Cornelius is brought to salvation in Jesus Christ. It is quite a story, but in demonstrates how even a God-fearing, moral man like Cornelius and his family were in danger of God’s judgement apart from Jesus Christ.
 
While it may be tempting to go for the idea of inclusivism, we must not fall for it when we look at the text of scripture. God is under no compulsion to save all; he is God and can do as he pleases. But it does please him to save some, and this is why Jesus came. Certainly, God is calling all people unto himself, and he is calling us to join him thru our own evangelism and thru our sending of missionaries to the ends of the earth. Let’s keep meeting together as believers and working so that every tribe, tongue and nation may hear the good news that Jesus Christ has died to save sinners.


Tracking with the Pastor

By Nate Powell
 
Well, I’ve been in my new role for 2 ½ months, and preached 8 sermons. It certainly has been a blast going through these core teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
 
Several of you have spoken to me to give encouragement or feedback on my sermons, which I greatly appreciate and will always welcome. Anytime you have a question, my email inbox will always be open to you. It does seem like I’ve had a few common questions regarding some of the logistics of my preaching, that I will seek to address in this post.
 
What version are you preaching from and why?
 
I answered this question in a previous post on the blog. Read up on where I’m at in terms of preaching translations. We are truly blessed that we have this wealth of translation material in the English language.
 
Why don’t you put the scriptures on the screen?
 
My plan each week is to preach expository sermons. That means we are going to open the Bible to a central text, and seek to explain the meaning of the text and its application to our lives. My preaching will typically assume a couple of things and ways that I hope the church regularly engages with the text.
 
First, I hope that you bring a print Bible. Bibles on phones or other mobile devices are great and all, but they are deficient on a few fronts. You are at the mercy of both power and data to ensure they are working. You have no ability to permanently underline and take notes around the text. Notifications on phones can provide tremendous distractions to reading and meditation. Printed scriptures truly become your own scriptures that you study, pour over and create visual memories with. And at the end of the day, as one pastor friend of mine (Mitch Coston) stated: “We spend and waste a lot of time on our phones looking at both trivial and/or unholy things.” The Bible is neither trivial nor unholy. We should treat it as the Holy, singular book that it is. It is God breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17).
 
Second, I hope that you will open that text. Underline, highlight, take notes. Look up other scripture references or write them down. This is how we can prolong our own personal study and application of a sermon throughout the week. I am seeking to push you toward these ends.
 
So, my encouragement to you is to bring your Bible, put away your phone for a few (we all need a break, don’t we?), grab a bulletin or notebook, take some notes, and become a student of the Word. One of the biggest things that Christians sometimes feel so deficient in is with regard to their knowledge and study of the Bible. I’m seeking to help you be a better student, reading and studying effectively, handling your sword properly and to great effect (Heb 4:12).
 
Why don’t you slow down the pace to help us keep up?
 
As a general rule, just note that I’m trying to be as efficient with my time in the pulpit as I can. I’m typically working with the goal of taking the content of a 45-60 minute sermon and boiling it down into 30-35 minutes. That will mean that sometimes, I will note several scripture references in short order that backup the meaning of a certain text or point. I did this last week, where I gave you about 8 different references in fairly short order under a couple of points. I don’t do this to lose or confuse you, but to simply say there is much the scripture has to say on the given topic.
 
To help in this as well, I am doing more blogging here on the church website, to ensure that some of the textual rabbits I could be chasing aren’t taking up too much time or causing most to lose interest when only a few may have questions or care to hear an explanation about a given point.
 
That being said, if you miss something, here are two things to help. First, we have posted recordings of all our sermons on the sermon audio page of the church website. This is also available in your podcasting app under “Auburn Christian Church”. Feel free to give a second listen, pausing to take notes as you need to. Second, if you ask, I will be happy to share my sermon notes with you. Just drop an email and I will share at a copy with you.
 
Why is the podium back, and where did the table go?
 
This podium on the stage gets a bit crowded on Sundays, as you sometimes see me shuffling my notes, my bible and my remote on my phone (for the slides) on the podium; but I am doing this for a specific reason. My view of preaching is that it is not so much a conversation between individuals, as it is a proclamation of what God has said and revealed to his people. It’s my desire that the equipment used on the stage would reflect that truth. I actually hope to build a bit bigger or more permanent podium/pulpit at a point, and it will help me manage the space up there better.
 
Also note that I preach manuscript, which means I write out most everything that I say. I hope that it helps me to speak clearer and more effectively. That is my goal as a communicator.
 

Thank you for checking in and reading this, and thank you for praying for me. Please continue to pray that I will manage my time wisely, study the Word effectively, and proclaim God’s truth to us clearly.



A Generous Heart

by Nate Powell

Last week, I had to tackle a bit of a difficult topic from the pulpit. No leader really likes to talk about giving, but the Matthew 6:19-24 text demanded it. Jesus preached directly to the correlation of treasure and heart location. Where we put our money is where our heart lies and what we delight in.
 

It was with that in mind that my daily reading landed in Exodus 35:4-29. It could be seemingly an insignificant text, describing the gifts of materials toward the construction of the Tabernacle, for the post-Sinai Israelites. Moses has received the commandments and the prescribed instructions on how Yahweh is to be worshiped. Moses states to the people what God has commanded for the provision of this tabernacle construction in Exodus 35:5 (CSB): “Take up an offering from among you for the LORD. Let everyone whose heart is willing bring this as the Lord’s offering…” In light of what I had just preached and studied, this passage took on a whole new light as I examined not simply what the people gave, but how they gave it. Look the passage up and note how the people gave:

  • Everyone whose heart was moved and whose spirit prompted him came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work …” (v 21)
  • “Both men and women came; all who had willing hearts brought …” (v 22)
  • All the women whose hearts were moved …” (v 26)
  • “So the Israelites brought a freewill offering to the Lord, all the men and women whose hearts prompted them to bring something for all the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done.” (v 29)
The passage speaks strongly of people whose hearts were moved. This offering was an offering to the worship of the Lord and his work. This giving was their act of worship, and was clearly the movement of God’s spirit upon people who’s hearts had been softened toward generosity.
 
In light of teaching about giving, it should be said: If you feel in any way coerced to give by a human being, please don’t give. If you are new here and don’t really understand why we give, please don’t give. If you give for other motives besides that of a softened heart toward God, please don’t give. Much of people’s misunderstandings and misgivings in the church today regarding giving come from the fact that giving has been used and abused for worldly gain. But this is not what we are called as a church to do, and we as leaders are accountable to our members for this.
 
Giving flows from grateful hearts. Let your giving be joyful and let it be given with secrecy and sincerity toward God. Disciples of Jesus should be mindful for opportunities to share with their God and the needs of their neighbor. Let’s be open and willing to do his will this week.


I’m Evil? [Thoughts from the Cutting Floor]

by Nate Powell
 
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt 7:11, NASB)
 
We were studying this passage this past Sunday, regarding the topic of prayer. But there were two little words in this verse that hung with me a bit, and when we pause to study the text, should probably hang with you too. Those words were: “being evil”. It’s easy to gloss over these two words, but then you come back to it. “Whoa, whoa, whoa … did Jesus just call us evil?”
 
There are a few issues in context that we want to look at. We should see that the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is spoken to his entire audience. There are a few spots where he refers to how the Pharisees give, pray, etc. But overall, the cast of Jesus’ message is very broad in its appeal. The “If you then” question of the passage should be interpreted as stated toward the whole audience, not simply people we would like to project the title of “evil” onto, such as the pharisees.
 
Jesus is of one mind when it comes to understanding the hearts of mankind: we are evil, and we find ways to do evil.
 
But you might counter with: “Hold on … aren’t all people basically good?” We should reconsider this philosophy based off a few other passages.
 
Case in Point #1: John 2:23-25 // In this passage, we see that Jesus was doing many great signs and wonders, but that he didn’t fully entrust himself to the people at this point of his ministry. Why not? “Because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” And what would happen at a point in his ministry in which he would fully entrust himself to men? They would murder him by nailing him to a cross. He understood the evil that was lurking in the hearts of men. Indeed, Jesus “knew all men” all too well.
 
Case in Point #2: Mark 10:17-18 // Jesus points out to the Rich Young Ruler that he knows men all too well. When asked a simple question by the man, who calls Jesus the “Good Teacher”, the man asks what must be done so that he may inherit eternal life. Jesus retorts with a pointed response: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus understands clearly that the title of “Good” is not man’s title. He knows us all too well and knows our capabilities when left to our own devices. The Title of good belongs in all truth to God.
 
Case in Point #3: Romans 3:10-18 // I could just hit the copy and paste button on my computer, but you really should go look this passage up. The point gets summed up when he gets to verse 23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Are there exceptions here? No. We all get to wear the label. Evil. Rebel. Sinner.
 
Pretty dark stuff, I know. So you’re probably stuck on this … wondering if there is any hope. If I’m an evil rebel sinner, what can I do?
 
Jesus said it: No one is good but God alone. And Jesus is the God-Man who lived perfectly and died sacrificially to make a way to heaven for anyone who believes. And those who believe get to wear and new name Christian and be clothed in the white robes of his righteousness. Turn from your sin and trust fully in Jesus Christ today. Be baptized into him.
 
Are we evil rebels? Yes. But Jesus came to bring life and hope to evil rebels. That’s what we preach … the Gospel: a message of hope for Rebels.  
 
**The Cutting Floor is a series of blogs where we chase rabbits that we didn’t have time to chase during the weekly sermon. Thanks for chasing a rabbit with us. The rabbits usually lead back to Jesus. 😉


P.R.A.Y.

By Nate Powell

We’ve spent a couple weeks sorting thru the how and the what of prayer in light of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teaching in Matthew 5-7. We spoke this past week about how we address God. But I do realize these sermons have been a bit thick … there’s been a lot to digest. It might be easier to ask: “How do I easily remember what to pray for?” Some of us really struggle to focus in prayer. Some of us struggle to vary our prayers much outside of mentioning the medical needs people have. It’s good to vary it up and learn to cover the bases. That is why I have taught a couple different acrostics to my students during my years of youth ministry to help them pray. Here is an easy one.

Praise

Repent

Ask

Yield

We start by praising God for who he is and what he has done. We repent by confessing our sin to God and asking for his forgiveness and aid in helping us turn from it. We ask by presenting any requests we have before God, either for ourselves or for others. We yield by giving ourselves and our day over to his will, that what he wants would be done in and through us. P.R.A.Y.

Pretty simple, huh? Write this down and use this as a pattern when you pray. It can help you take baby steps toward practicing a fuller, deeper prayer life.

**This Acrostic is not original to me. You can read a more full article about it here.



Lord, Teach Us To Pray

By Nate Powell

In yesterday’s sermon we ended with a note regarding reasons that we don’t pray. These reasons were highlighted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I relate to several of them, and I’m sure you will too.  It is good for us to reflect on this list and how many of these currently apply to us.

  • We have a lack of discipline. We are not disciplined people and struggle to do anything out of habit.
  • We doubt anything will happen. We’ve felt let down by prayer before, and become cynical.
  • We don’t sense God’s nearness. We have not read our Bible, been to church, with other Christians. He doesn’t seem present daily with us.
  • We lack awareness of real need. We don’t see a real pressing need to pray.
  • We have a small awareness of God’s greatness and greatness of the Gospel. We’ve lost sight of the holiness of God and how large he is in power, presence and majesty.

We could feel down about reading this list. We struggle in so many ways. Yet I think that we should take hope in this list. Prayer is not easy. Many of us struggle with prayer. And prayer is a skill that is learned through a lifetime of discipleship … being with other Christians … seeking to grow in the art of prayer.

When Luke records the Lord’s prayer, it begins with the disciples asking Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) When we hear Jesus’ prayers, we get to sit at the feet of the master. May we reflect upon the good prayers of Jesus, and may we has our savior to teach us to pray.

**If you are looking for an excellent book on prayer, Whitney’s book is great. I’d encourage you to read it.