DP-Day Plus One

Yesterday, David Platt preached his last sermon as the Senior Pastor at The Church at Brook Hills. We commissioned him and his family to serve with the International Mission Board, and now, it’s the morning after. It’s “DP-Day Plus One.”

As news of Pastor David’s transition has spread, folks within and outside of Brook Hills photo-2have asked a plethora of questions: Who will be the next senior pastor? What will happen to the church? Do you think people will stop coming? Who will be preaching on Sundays at the church? Will David continue to do Secret Church, preach sermons, and write books? Who are we and what are we as Brook Hills about on the morning (and the days to come) after David Platt is no longer out pastor?

In the midst of all of this, our staff had its annual staff retreat last week, and as you can imagine, the theme was “Navigating a Season of Change.” And on this morning after, there are a few highlights and truths that I want to relay to our faith family.

  • God is sovereign and good. He is in charge of this transition. He knows what is best for the IMB, for the Platt family, for The Church at Brook Hills, and for His glory, and He has the power to accomplish His plan. When Pastor David relayed the news of his possible transition to our Elders, one of them expressed to him that “You’ve been best for Brook Hills these past eight years, but if He’s leading you away, then clearly it’s because you’re not best for Brook Hills in the years to come.” God has led us all – the Platts, the IMB, Brook Hills – to this point, and He will continue to lead us. He has been faithful to us all in the past, and He will continue to be faithful in the future. This is God’s church, and He will accomplish His purpose in and through it.
  • Transitions have their challenges, but they provide an opportunity for greater growth. At staff retreat, we looked at Moses passing the mantle of leadership to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1 and at Jesus preparing the disciples for His departure in John 14-16 and Acts 1. What happened after these leadership transitions in Scripture? Promises were fulfilled. Blessings were realized. People were pointed to God. And in the New Testament, a countless number of people trusted in Christ for salvation. Most of us may not enjoy change because of the ambiguity and uncertainty associated with it, but it opens up an opportunity to change and grow in ways that we would not have sought or imagined otherwise. One of our pastors pointed out that when the Israelites were led by Joshua in crossing the Jordan River (Josh. 4), they had no idea what God was working in the hearts of the Canaanites (see Josh. 5:1). God was already at work in ways that they weren’t even aware of, and He’s already at work in the IMB and at Brook Hills in ways that we cannot see or imagine. We are anticipating God to work, and we urge our faith family to continue walking forward in faith and obedience.
  • We remain committed to spreading the gospel and making disciples. The Great Commission hasn’t changed, and it doesn’t change during times of transition. People throughout the world remain unreached and are still being born, living, and dying without ever hearing of Christ and the good news of salvation. Not only do we as Christ-followers need to go to the nations, the nations have come to us. 40,000 internationals live in the Birmingham area alone demonstrating that we have an unprecedented opportunity to reach unreached peoples in our own communities. Making disciples is not optional for the Christ-follower, and while we are not a perfect church, we strive to love, serve, and come alongside each other as we join God in His work. Our obedience to God’s commands were never based on the preaching of one man. While God has used Pastor David tremendously to challenge and encourage us as a church, David proclaimed God’s Word to us. It is God’s Spirit and God’s Word that stirred us as a church to “glorify God by making disciples among all nations,” and it is God’s Spirit and God’s Word that will continue to anchor and guide us in holding fast to the gospel with radical faith.
  • The church consists of “ordinary people with extraordinary power preaching, praying, giving, and suffering for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.” As Pastor David led us in staff worship at our retreat, this served as his thesis as we looked at the book of Acts. Yes, God has gifted Pastor David for service, but the Holy Spirit gives gifts to all of God’s people, gifts that we should all cultivate and use. In John 14:12, Jesus informed His followers that, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.” These “greater works” occur because of the Holy Spirit indwelling in all of God’s children. If you are a Christ-follower, He who spoke the universe into being, who raised people from the dead, and who has power over all things resides in you, and He empowers you to do all that He has called you to do. What would happen if everyone at The Church at Brook Hills realized the power that was in them? How are you using your God-given gifts for His service and for the spread of His name? Are you proclaiming the gospel to the lost? Is prayer supplemental or fundamental in your life? Do you regularly inquire of the Lord, or do you rely on your own wisdom? Acts repeatedly depicts great acts of power and people’s conversions occurring after God’s people devoted themselves to prayer. May we as a church proclaim, pray, give, and suffer well for God’s renown.

We thank God for the leadership of David these past eight years and for how He has used him in indescribable ways to faithfully challenge, grow, and care for The Church at Brook Hills. And we enthusiastically support Pastor David in his new role and are excited about how God will use him to mobilize the 44,000+ Southern Baptist churches to reach the nations and to shepherd the 5,000+ missionaries who are on the field. But on “DP Day Plus One,” we look forward abiding and resting in Christ, blank checks on the table. We look forward in faith to how God will accomplish His purpose in and through The Church at Brook Hills. And, Church, we ultimately look forward to the day when the enemies of God will finally be defeated and the glory of God will forever be exalted.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” -1 Corinthians 15:58

Women Should Be Silent? Is that Really What Paul is Saying?

Yesterday in our Bible Reading Plan, we came to 1 Corinthians 14 in which Paul states that “women should be kept silent in the churches” (v. 34). What are we to do with this? 1 Cor. 14Are we really not allowed to speak in congregational settings? Must we really stay mute and hold our questions until we get home and can ask our husband or father?

To answer these questions, we must first analyze the text itself, and to do this, we must discern the context. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addresses the misuse of tongues and prophecy in the Corinthian church and emphasizes that they are meant to build up the church. Essentially, they are beneficial gifts when used as intended by God, and they are even to be desired (see 1 Cor. 14:1). For corporate worship, Paul advocates that interpretation be given if someone speaks in tongues, and more than anything, he urges the believers to “strive to excel in building up the church” (v. 12). With regard to prophesy, Paul instructs the Corinthians to have others in the body weigh what is said by the prophet, which creates accountability by measuring the prophet’s words against Scripture.

The phrase in 1 Corinthians 14:34 that states “the women should keep silent in the churches” creates confusion and controversy among modern readers. When approaching difficult portions of Scripture, a good rule of thumb is to learn about the original audience, to learn about the situation being addressed in the passage and surrounding context, and to question how this passage fits with the rest of Scripture. Reading this statement in the context of 1 Corinthians 14 and the discussion of tongues and prophecy, it is unlikely that the statement means that women can never speak in church, especially since there are other passages in Scripture that mention female prophets as well as women praying in church (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5). 1 Corinthians 14:34 most likely is instructing the women not to question, correct, or challenge a prophecy in the church assembly, especially since the preceding context has to do with the evaluation of prophecy in corporate worship.

The chaos of people speaking over one another (vv. 30-33) also provides insight into Paul’s statement. Much as a classroom teacher will tell students not to waste the time of the entire class by asking a question that is better suited in a one-on-one conversation with the teacher, Paul instructs the women not to speak or ask questions in front of the entire congregation but to discuss these with their male family members at home. This gives the impression that women had begun asking questions or challenging what had been said in a prophecy during corporate worship gatherings. David Garland explains the situation by stating, “The key phrase is ‘if they want to learn…something,’ which implies a situation in which they are reacting to prophesy…It also implies that they do not understand and have no positive contributions to make on the topic at hand” (1 Corinthians). Throughout his letters, Paul supports the learning and growth of all believers – men and women, so we should not take Paul’s words to either belittle women or to discourage them from asking questions about the faith. The overarching concern in 1 Corinthians 14 has to do with order in the church and everyone acting in a manner that promotes unity and edification among the body; therefore, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 should be read with this understanding.

Self or Surrender?

Today’s post was written by Brook Hills member, April Allen.

The story of Abraham and Isaac has always intrigued me. Or maybe “bewildered” is a better way to put it. How in the world could God ask a man to sacrifice his only son, the promised one he’d waited decades for? A beloved, innocent child! How gruesome. How cruel. How unjust. I can’t imagine Abraham’s agony. How did he find the strength to obey? Would I have been able to obey?

Through years of reflecting on such questions ( and I still don’t claim a complete understanding of all God was doing), He has revealed powerful truths and uncovered hidden sins in my life. Image, appearance, reputation – these were the primary objects of my affection growing up, my idols. Things I could control. Good grades, achievements – my eyes were fixed on self and others’ perception of me and not on God and how He sees me.

April Allen 1

This statue represents Jesus with a mother and her aborted child and is in the Patterson Grove Cemetery in Pleasant Grove.

I did grow up in church. I memorized Scripture weekly in my private school Bible class. But I had not allowed the Word to penetrate my heart and change my beliefs, my thoughts, or my actions. After college, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant but not married. Panic and fear were like a vice grip. My family would be horrified. This was a major problem that I had to fix immediately. I was a good, smart girl. I knew better. Reputation must be preserved. Self first, self second, and God…being stiff-armed at this point. I knew what He thought about abortion, and I hardened my heart. I bought the lie that the shame of having a child out of wedlock would become my hell on earth, and that was unthinkable. So, as usual, I took control. I secretly had an abortion. I told only a couple of friends. I buried the secret and kept it hidden for 15 years.

Looking back, God was there with me (as He is always). He allowed the consequences of my sin to put me to another test. A test to trust Him. Do I obey…do I put “self” (my reputation) on the altar and trust in His faithfulness to work all things together for good? Or do I take control and sacrifice my unborn child to spare self? I deeply regret failing that test. I sometimes wonder what my child would have been like. What did God have in mind for him? How many other lives could he have impacted? Sadly, there are millions of other women wondering the exact same thing.

But God! Don’t you love that phrase? (Thank you, David Platt.) But God is faithful. He was, is, and always will be with me. Even after blowing it in such a gigantic way! He IS using my unborn child’s existence for my good and His glory. Several years ago, He initiated my healing journey through a post-abortion Bible study called Surrendering the Secret. Through that small group study, God took my hidden, ugly sin of abortion (ashes) and exchanged it for beauty. Isaiah 61:1-4 poetically describes how God can transform what is broken and shameful into something whole and praiseworthy. He did it for me. He wants to do it for you. Maybe your secret sin is not abortion. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, He wants to heal and transform. And He will, if we lay down self and choose obedience. (Note: confidential Surrendering the Secret classes are offered through Brook Hills each semester. Fall classes begin soon. For more information, email sts@brookhills.org)

So Abraham passed his test with flying colors. Unshakable faith! I can’t wait to ask him about that one day. I’m fully convinced God’s Spirit empowered his obedience. But he still had to cooperate with the Spirit. And I stand amazed by that. But what I really stand amazed by is my Father God, who being in the shoes of Abraham, willingly sacrificed His own beloved Son so that even though I aborted mine, I could be washed of ALL my sin, one day see Him face to face, and hug my first child for the first time.

I’m looking forward to an opportunity to honor my son’s memory as well as the memory of over 50 million aborted American April Allen 2children on Saturday, September 13. On this day, the second annual National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children will be held nationwide. The local service will take place at Patterson Forest Grove Cemetery in Pleasant Grove at 1:00 pm. For details, see www.abortionmemorials.com. We will pray, sing, hear male and female testimonies, and honor the unborn. Raising awareness of the humanity of the unborn is one of my callings. Helping other post-abortive women seek forgiveness and healing is another.

Seeking to put self on the altar daily,

Your surrendered sister,

April

Pastor David’s Blank Check

In case you haven’t heard about Pastor David’s news, below is his letter to our faith family. Join us in praying for the Platt family, the International Mission Board, and The Church at Brook Hills and for what God has for all of us in the days ahead.

Dear Church at Brook Hills,

Language is nowhere near sufficient to express all that is on my heart and mind as I write these words, and I look forward to sharing more with you in person on Sunday, but I wanted to let you know as soon as I could about a decision I have made. As of today, I have accepted a position as president of the International Mission Board (IMB), and about a month from now, I will no longer be the Senior Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills.

We talk all the time about laying down a blank check with our lives before God, with no strings attached, willing to go wherever He leads, give whatever He asks, and do whatever He commands in order to make His glory known among the nations of the earth, particularly among people who have never heard the gospel. Over these past months, God has made it abundantly clear to both Heather and me that He is filling in that blank check in our lives and family with a different assignment. Along the way, God has used the elders of our church to affirm His call, and today He used the leadership of the IMB to confirm it.

Even as I write this, I wish I could share this with you in person instead of through a letter. But the nature of this process led to a decision today, and in light of the fact that we will not gather together before Sunday, and in light of the possibility that this decision might spread through a variety of media, I wanted to be the first to let you know of this news however possible. With that said, I am eagerly looking forward to Sunday, when we will come together around God’s Word in God’s worship, and I will share with you all that He has done to bring me, the church, and the IMB to this point. Please make it a priority to be present Sunday for one of our gatherings.

I realize that you may have many questions regarding this decision in my life and what it means for Brook Hills in the days ahead, and in due time, I and our pastors want to answer those questions as clearly and as thoroughly as we can. In the meantime, however, I would simply ask you to pray. I would ask you to pray for our church, including your life. I know that God loves the Church at Brook Hills deeply, I trust the elders of the Church at Brook Hills completely, and I am confident that He is working all of this together for the good of our church and the glory of His name in the blank checks that we all put on the table before Him. Pray also for the International Mission Board—that God might give grace to me and others there in the days ahead to be used of Him for the spread of the gospel to unreached peoples in greater ways than ever before. And please pray for Heather and our kids—Caleb, Joshua, Mara Ruth, and Isaiah—as they process all of this, and for me as I work to love, lead, serve, and shepherd them well. Finally, please know that I am praying continually for you, especially today and over the next few days.

I have attached a video to this letter (click here for the video) that basically says what I have written above, but it is my attempt to, at least in some measure, speak face-to-face with you as a faith family about this decision. I can’t wait to see you Sunday.

I love you, church.

In Christ,

David

 

Help! I’m Reading Romans 9!

Today, we reach that passage in our Bible reading plan. The passage that pastors do not like to preach. The one where we have to wrestle with a doctrine that is difficult to understand – election. If you want to better understand Romans 9, this post attempts to give some clarity, and I also recommend listening to Pastor David’s sermon on Romans 9 (“The Marvel of God’s Mercy”) for a more robust explanation on God’s love, will, and human choice.

Background of Romans: Paul’s wrote the letter to the church in Rome, which was a church he had not visited prior to writing the letter, to prepare them for his arrival before attempting to take the gospel to Spain. However, Paul did not make it to Rome until he was under house arrest while he appealed to Caesar (Acts 28), and as far as we know, he never made it further west than Rome. The church in Rome contained both Jewish and Gentile Christians, and this mixed community provided opportunity for conflict as seen in Romans 14-15. Romans 1:16-17 marks the thesis of Romans, for it explains the gospel as “the righteousness of God” that is available to all who believe. Romans 1-11 gives an overview of God’s plan to redeem humanity, and Romans 12-16 describes how we should live in light of what God has accomplished.

Structure of Romans:

  • Romans 1:1-15 contains Paul’s greetings to the church at Rome and his tentative travel plans.
  • Romans 1:16-4:25 unpacks God’s wrath towards sinners and His grace towards those who trust in Christ.
  • Romans 5-8 describes the hope and obedience of Christ-followers, despite a continued struggle against sin.
  • Romans 9-11 surveys God’s plan to save both Jews and Gentiles.
  • Romans 12:1-15:13 explains how Christians are to live in light of the gospel.
  • Romans 15:14-16:27 includes Paul’s concluding remarks to the Roman believers, his upcoming travel plans, and his personal greetings.

Today in Romans 

The topics of predestination and election can be controversial topics when one studies Romans. Romans 9-11 addresses the issue of Israel’s unbelief. God specifically made the Old Covenant with Israel, but what would happen to “God’s chosen people” who did not trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior? How was their unbelief part of God’s plan? Were the Gentiles replacing them under the New Covenant? With Paul being an apostle to the Gentiles, the contents of Romans 9-11 were no doubt topics that he had to address in his ministry, especially if Jews and Gentiles were to be a unified body of believers.

Paul states his thesis for Romans 9-11 in 9:6: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed…” He denies the belief that any particular group of people has a birthright for salvation, for one’s ethnicity or religious heritage does not grant them salvation. Instead, all who trust in Christ for salvation are descendants of Abraham (9:6-13), and salvation is a work of God and a gift that He offers both to Jews and to Gentiles (9:14-29). Paul uses the examples of Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau to exemplify this these truths. If birthright made one saved, then Ishmael’s descendants and Esau’s descendants would have been included as part of God’s people. God did not base His decisions on Ishmael or Esau’s conduct because He chose Isaac and Jacob before they were even born (see Gen. 25:23). As these verses demonstrate, He can call whomever He wants to be part of His people, despite their social status, conduct, or ethnicity.

In understanding the quotation from Malachi 1:2-3 in Romans 9:13 about God loving Jacob and hating Esau, we must learn the Greek meaning of the word “hate” to fully grasp what this verse is expressing. When we think of hating someone, despising and loathing are the connotations we have in mind, but the context and the word used both point towards the idea of rejection. God rejected Esau in the sense that He did not choose Esau to inherit the blessings promised to Abraham. So hate is not used as an emotion in verse thirteen but as an action that God carries out in how He chose one son of Isaac and rejected the other, for logically, only one son could be chosen to carry out the task of continuing the line of descendants.

Paul uses a question and answer format to address issues that would likely come up because of his argument in Romans 9:1-13:

  • “What then shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” (9:14)
  • “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” (9:19)
  • “What shall we say, then?” (9:30)

These questions and Paul’s responses cover issues about God’s character and man’s responsibility, and in order to further understand Romans 9 and the doctrine of election, listen to Pastor David’s sermon “The Marvel of God’s Mercy” from December 2010 on Romans 9.

Romans 9:30-10:21 provides an explanation for why Israel has rejected the gospel, and in Theology of the New Testament, Frank Thielman summarizes the reason for their rejection:

“Both the law and the gospel…pointed in the same direction – toward a right relationship between God and his people, but God has provided Christ, not the law, as the means by which this relationship will be realized. By their rejection of the gospel and their insistence of living in an era dominated by the Mosaic law, many within Israel have implied that their own works (9:32) and their own righteousness (10:3) were preferable to the righteous status that comes from God through belief in the gospel (10:3).”

Romans 11:1-32 explains how the Gentiles came to be grafted into God’s chosen people, and after eleven chapters describing God’s incredibly detailed plan of redemption, Paul breaks out into praise of God’s knowledge and wisdom in Romans 11:33-36. In Romans 12, the book transitions into how the gospel affects the daily life of the believer. Whereas Romans 1-11 describes what God has done, Romans 12-16 instructs believers in how to live. Romans 12 begins with instructions to the community of faith then expands to imperatives regarding their interaction in wider society then continues into chapter thirteen with how Christians are to live in relation to the government.

Coffee & Connection for Women at Brook Hills

Debbie and Tammy Home Group

Do you walk into Brook Hills on Sunday without seeing a familiar face? Do you long to know and be known by people in this church? Are you wanting to connect to a small group (like what you see in the picture above)? Would you like to meet several of our Small Group Leaders face-to-face?

If so, we invite you to attend one of BH Women’s upcoming Coffee & Connections! Coffee & Connection is a time and place for Brook Hills women of all ages and life stages to connect to a small group community. This August, we have three opportunities for connection:

  •  Wednesday, August 13, from 6:30-8:00pm in Room 130 at the church. 
    • All women are welcome to bring a brown bag dinner. Drinks will be provided, and the room will be open at5:30pm for those who are coming directly from work.
  • Sunday, August 17, from 9:00-10:30am in Room 130 at the church (continental breakfast provided)
  • Wednesday, August 20, 9:30am-noon at the Student Building at the church (brunch)
    • All women are asked to bring a brunch item (fruit, breakfast casserole, bread/muffins, etc.). Drinks will be provided.

CoffeeConnection2c_fall14_updatec-1At each of these connection times, you will enjoy fellowship with new friends and have the opportunity to connect to female small group leaders who lead women, couples, and co-ed small groups. 

Around the tables, small group leaders will lead guided discussions to allow you to get to know a little more about small groups at Brook Hills and to help you meet the new friends at your table. Pertinent explanations of how to connect at Brook Hills will also be shared at each of these connection opportunities.

If you would like to serve at any of these connection times by helping with refreshments, greeting, or cleaning up, please contact Dawn Stephens at dstephens@brookhills.org. For additional questions regarding these connections, contact Ashley Chesnut at achesnut@brookhills.org or at (205) 313-7790.

Childcare
Childcare is available for each of these three connection opportunities. 

  • If you come to the Wednesday, August 13, or the Sunday, August 17, Coffee & Connections, then your child(ren) will participate in our regular on-campus activities with preschoolers (birth through five years) being on the preschool hall on the first floor, children’s ministry (1st-5th grade) being on the 3rd floor of the main building, and students (6th-12th grade) being in the Student Building.
  • If you come to the Wednesday, August 20, Coffee & Connection, please make a reservation for your child (birth through five years) with Mary Cannon at mcannon@brookhills.org or at (205) 313-7709 by Wednesday, August 13. Last minute requests will be considered on a “case by case” basis.

Heaven Is For Real, But What About Hell?

Today’s post was written by Brook Hills member, Jan Rowland.

It never occurred to me that I should evaluate the existence of my Great Grandfather by whether or not I had seen or experienced him. I “see” him in my Grandfather, my Dad, and my son. No pictures were ever taken of him; however, I have heard about him. My mind readily accepts his existence because of obvious reasons which validate that truth.

When the call came that my Dad passed into eternity back in 2007, it set in motion a flurry of emotions, additional phone calls to family members, travel plans, and a flood of anxious questions. My Dad was not a man of faith. He rejected the existence of God until his last year on earth. Even then, all he could muster up was the idea that God may indeed exist, but he certainly had no compulsion that there should be any personal response on his part to an elusive, unseen Being. That lame acknowledgement was the closest thing to comfort I was to hang my hope on after thirty years of fervently praying for his salvation, thirty years practicing gracious segues in conversation toward his spiritual need followed by an equal number of angry responses. “Shoving religion” or “emotional crutch” were his usual angry retorts to every conversation of that nature. I took hope by praying silently in order to keep peace and the relationship with him alive. The Word assured me that God would hear and answer. Random phone calls came throughout those 30 years from friends telling me of their burden to pray for my Dad. My assurance grew, though no evidence of any answer ever surfaced.

Sitting through his memorial service was disheartening. Accolades of his contributions to the military and space industry were recited. Hobbies, skills, and talents were duly listed. But nowhere during the eulogy was the one thing stated that I had so desperately longed for in his life. The sting of death is beyond description when you’re pretty certain that the claims of the Bible concerning the realm and penalty of death are now true for one you love. I sat there heart broken. All those years of praying had not produced a single shred of evidence they had been answered.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” -Proverbs 13:12

My desire had not come, and over the next six months, my heart indeed was sick. False hopes and strange scenarios all played out in my mind. Reasoning away the stated terms of the gospel momentarily eased the raw pain of Hell’s certainty. Imagining my Dad there was more than I could wrap my mind around. Utter disappointment in God choked and soured my relationship with Him. I knew I was becoming cynical and cried out, asking Him to settle my thoughts with His indisputable truth. But the truth only reminded me of the inevitable consequences of sin and rejecting God’s merciful Savior. Those were the very reasons I had been motivated to escape the wrath of God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation. After believing for so long, I was slipping deeper and deeper into….not UNbelief, but DISbelief.

“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” -Romans 10:17

For decades, I had delighted in God’s Word as my daily guidance and a place of sweet fellowship where I joyfully bowed before Him. Growing disbelief was making those times more like bowing my face over blown out matches, and the scent was repulsive. Thinking about my Dad at all was like approaching a terrifying, deep black hole that was rapidly growing in size. As the hole grew, my faith shrank and recoiled. It genuinely troubled me that I could accept all of God’s truths that blessed and pleased me, while secretly denying the reality of Hell.

It has always amazed me that God hears thoughts we cannot or choose not to articulate. Realizing the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of my deeply felt and unformed thoughts was always very comforting to me. I knew He presented my thoughts and prayers to God in perfect form and expression. However, that same realization turned on me and left me feeling guilty. The Holy Spirit does not allow us to hide our motives from God. He will comfort us and give us peace of mind, yet He will not leave us to our own secret devices. As the six month wrestling match went on in my mind, I slowly came to terms with the selectivity of our minds to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we favor and how, those we don’t like, we either ignore or deny. My faith has a huge hole in it. Though I still have not resolved the leanings of doubt in my mind concerning the reality of Hell, I have found comfort in agreeing with Romans 3:3-4:

For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: indeed, let God be true, but every man a liar….

Yes, my mind willingly embraces truth when it suits me, then becomes the liar when it does not. I cannot wrestle my finite mind into submission. Human reasoning is what put us out of fellowship with God from the beginning of time, so it is understandable it will continue to lead us astray if we trust it.  However, I can bow my faulty intellect and will to the Word of God, trusting the God of all truth to help me through things I cannot understand or that are too painful to accept. It is Him that I trust, and I choose not to lean on my own understanding.

“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”  -I John 3:20

If you have questions regarding what the Bible says about Hell, below are some helpful resource recommendations on the subject:

Am I the Older Woman?

Today’s post was written by our women’s minister, Dawn Stephens.

As I reached a milestone birthday on February 3 of this  year (1964 was a very good year!), I have felt compelled to speak to my generation of Christian women.

As a women’s ministry leader since 1992, I have not experienced the overwhelming desire of young women (ages 22-40) to be discipled and mentored by an older woman, as I have the past 2-3 years.

If we are going to effectively mentor and disciple this generation of women, we must embrace our age and see our life experiences as fuel for a mentoring lifestyle.

This lifestyle is then more easily infused into the next generation of wives, mothers, business owners, government influencers, and future matriarchs of the faith.

I am afraid our culture with all of its trappings has enabled my generation to “stay young” longer than God’s design for our days. Therefore, we can infer that age is bad and to be avoided at all costs.

Instead, let’s focus on what God’s Word says about our age:

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. ” – Proverbs 16:31

If we color or hide our “crown of glory” because we don’t see our age as something to be valued, we miss out on the blessing of investing, teaching, and multiplying ourselves into younger women.  Are we trying to stay too young for too long and never step into our role as the “older woman” that Scripture describes?

I’m not saying don’t cover those roots or care for your skin – I certainly do! But I am encouraging you to see the external evidence of age as an affirming expression of God given wisdom and experience in your life.

Sisters in Christ, talk with God about what you believe about your age, and ask Him to show you if you are running from it or embracing it for your good (and the good of others) and His glory.

“Older women (Is that me?) likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” -Titus 2:3-5

Where We Are In The Story – Week 29

To download the Bible reading plan that our faith family started on January 1st, visit this site. There is also a guide to personal worship that you can download from that site. If you haven’t been reading along thus far, no worries! Jump on in with the current day’s reading.

Readings for This Week
Joshua 20-24, Judges 1-3, and Acts 1-7

Where We Are In The Story (Joshua)

Background of Joshua: While authorship of this book is unknown, the book’s name derives from the name of its main character, Joshua, who was Moses’ successor in leading the people of Israel. His name means “Yahweh delivers” or “Yahweh saves,” which is an apt title of the book since it describes God’s work in defeating the nations of the Promised Land and giving the land to His people. Joshua presents the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give their descendants the land of Canaan, and it describes the military conquests that brought this to pass. Written as a historical book for Israel, Joshua also emphasizes God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and faithfulness to His word, and Joshua 21:43-45 provides a fitting summary of God’s character as One who keeps all of His promises.

Structure of Joshua:

  • Joshua 1-5 describes Israel’s preparations before taking the Promised Land.
  • Joshua 6-12 depicts the military conquests of the nation.
  • Joshua 13-21 explains the distribution of the land among the tribes, highlighting the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people.
  • Joshua 22-24 records Joshua’s final instructions and exhortations to the nation before his death.

This Week in Joshua: Joshua 20-21 describes how Israel kept the Lord’s instructions regarding the cities of refuge and the cities and pasturelands allotted to the Levites (see Ex. 21:12-14; Num. 35:1-29; Deut. 4:41-43; 19:1-10). Forty-eight cities were set aside for the Levites, and six of these were also cities of refuge. Teaching the people about God was one function of a priest, and this could more easily be accomplished by living among the Israelites throughout the land. Levi also lacked its own tribal allotment of land because of the judgment on Levi in Genesis 49:6-7 for his violence against the Hivites in Genesis 24.

Joshua 21 mentions three groups among the Levites: the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites, and while each of these groups were still Levites, they were also the descendants of Levi’s sons, Kohath, Gershon, and Merari. At the time that God spoke these words to Joshua, Israel did not yet possess all forty-eight of these cities, but as they conquered, they knew God’s prescription for how to divvy out the land. Joshua 21:43-45 presents the fulfillment of God’s promises to Joshua in chapter one and His covenant with Israel to give them the Promised Land, and it stands as a testament to God’s faithfulness and His power. It rightly credits God for the accomplishment of taking the land and defeating Israel’s enemies.

In Joshua 22, Joshua releases the people of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh, so they could return to their allotted land since they had faithfully helped the other tribes possess their inheritance. When these tribes arrived in their land, they built an altar to the Lord. When the rest of the nation heard this news, they sent Phinehas and ten tribal chiefs to address the rebellion, for they feared another reprisal of what happened at Baal-peor (Num. 25:1-18) or with Achan after Jericho (Josh. 7:1-26) because God had instructed them to only have one altar for sacrifice (Deut. 12:13-32). However, it was a miscommunication, for the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassehites built the altar as a memorial that they had fulfilled their commitment to help the other tribes conquer the Promised Land. They did not build it as a place to worship or sacrifice offerings in replacement of doing so in the Lord’s sanctuary. Therefore, the Reubenites and the Gadites called the altar “Witness,” for it represented their unity with the other tribes. Because the Jordan River formed a natural boundary line between the eastern tribes (Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassehites) and the rest of the nation, they worried that future generations would either cease to worship the Lord in His sanctuary or that the western tribes would reject the eastern tribes as heirs of the promises to Israel.

Joshua 23-24 fast-forwards an indefinite amount of time (possibly 25 years) when Joshua makes his farewell and gives a charge to Israel’s leaders and to the nation. As God had urged him to heed His Law in Joshua 1, Joshua urges Israel’s leaders to do the same (Josh. 23:6-8). He reminded the people of God’s promises, of God’s faithfulness to give them the Promised Land, and of the blessings and curses associated with the covenant. The book concludes with a covenant renewal ceremony in which the Israelites affirm their fidelity to their covenant with God, and it describes the death of Joshua and Eleazar the priest (Aaron’s son) as well as the burial of Joseph’s bones per his instructions (Gen. 50:25).

Where We Are In The Story (Judges)

Background of Judges: While authorship of Judges is traditionally assigned to Samuel, we do not know who wrote this book. Judges presents Israel’s cycle of idolatry, judgment, repentance, and deliverance that occurred between the death of Joshua and the establishment of Israel’s monarchy (Josh. 2:11-19). Throughout this book, God remains faithfulness to His covenant, but Israel receives judgment that comes as a result of God’s promises to punish His people for their disobedience. However, Israel’s depravity emphasizes the scandal and the greatness of God’s mercy and forgiveness. While God raises up twelve men and women during this time period to lead His people, He remains the ultimate Judge and Savior of Israel.

Structure of Judges:

  • Judges 1:1-3:6 introduces the reader to the circumstances after Joshua’s death and gives an overview of the cycle Israel would follow as God raised up judges to deliver and to lead His people.
  • Judges 3:7-16:31 provides accounts of twelve judges in Israel’s history.
  • Judges 17-21 describes the moral descent of Israel and how the nation demonstrated little difference from their pagan neighbors.

This Week in Judges: Unlike after the death of Moses, when Joshua died there was no named successor set in place to lead the people of Israel. The people began with an encouraging start, for they “inquired of the LORD” as to who should lead them to fight against the Canaanites (1:1). But their fidelity to the Lord quickly dissipated .At the time of Joshua’s death, several other nations still inhabited the Promised Land, and Joshua 1 describes the tribes of Judah and Simeon assisting each other in defeating some of these inhabitants, including the king of Jerusalem. At the same time, the tribe of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites from the city (1:21), and Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali also “did not drive out the inhabitants” of the land (1:27-33). Their inability to conquer these nations would later lead to them being influenced by their pagan neighbors and drawn into idolatry.

Judges 1:19 mentions Israel’s inability to drive out the inhabitants of the plain because of their chariots of iron, but Judges 2:1-5 clarifies that the real reason for their failure was the Israelites’ idolatry (Judg. 2:1-5). Because of their sin, God judged the nation of Israel by making the Canaanite inhabitants a proverbial thorn in their side who would entice them to sin (2:3).

Joshua 2:6-10 reiterates the death of Joshua, the distribution of land to the tribes of Israel, and the birth of a generation who had not experienced God’s provision in the wilderness or faithfulness in battle. As you read Judges 2:6-15, observe the contrast between the descriptions of the different generations of Israelites.

While they had not experienced God’s miraculous guidance firsthand as their parents and grandparents had, this younger generation was not ignorant of His acts; however, they lived as though they were unaware of His greatness and power. As Pastor Timothy Keller states in Judges for You, “when a whole generation turns away, we have to expect that the parents have failed to model real faith and disciple their children” (33).

The term “judge” implies a judicial role, and while Deborah seems to have acted in this role, the judges in this book act more as military leaders and as individuals who instruct the people in the way of the Lord. Judges 2:16-23 describes the sin cycle of Israel (idolatry, judgment, repentance, deliverance), and the book as a whole describes the “Canaanization” of Israel. Instead of being a kingdom of priests who witness to the surrounding nations, Israel acts just like them. Because of Israel’s habitual idolatry, God determined to test Israel by leaving the remaining Canaanite nations in the land (2:20-3:6). Would Israel choose to follow God even when tempted by their neighbors to worship other gods? Anytime God tests His people, it is for their benefit, not His. He knows their hearts and the future. But when He tests us, we learn more about our own strengths and weaknesses, and we come face-to-face with the status of our functional faith in God.

Judges 3 lists three judges in Israel’s history: Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. God would use the judges to conquer remaining nations in the land while He also allowed these nations to bring His judgment on His people for their idolatry. Othniel, a nephew of Caleb (3:9), prevailed over the king of Mesopotamia (3:7-12), and Ehud defeated the king of Moab and subdued the nation (3:12-20), which inhabited the region on the southeastern border of the Dead Sea. Shamgar led the nation against the Philistines (3:31), and while he freed Israel from them, he did not completely eradicate this nation.

Where We Are In The Story (Acts)

Background of Acts: As with the Luke’s Gospel, Luke wrote Acts to a man named Theophilus to describe the events that occurred after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and Luke 1:1-4 states the purpose of both Luke and Acts: to provide a narrative of the truth from eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word. Acts details the thirty years following the resurrection of Christ and describes the spread of the gospel throughout Asia and Europe.

Structure of Acts:

  • Acts 1-5 describes the advent of the church.
  • Acts 6:1-9:31 portrays the persecution and the growth of the church.
  • Acts 9:32-12:24 details the inclusion of the Gentiles into the faith.
  • Acts 13:1-19:20 follows the missionary journeys of Paul.
  • Acts 19:21-28:31 chronicles Paul’s journey to Jerusalem where he is arrested, tried, and sent to Rome for an audience with Caesar.

This Week in Acts: In the forty days after His resurrection, Jesus taught His followers about the Kingdom of God and instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Spirit (1:1-8). The disciples still thought in terms of an earthly king who would free Israel from the Romans, and Jesus directs them to focus on the task given to them by God – to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of all the earth” (1:8). Acts 1-7 depicts how they fulfilled this call in Jerusalem, Acts 8-11 describes the expansion into Judea and Samaria, and the rest of the book shows how God’s people spread the gospel to the nations.

After Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, the disciples returned to the Upper Room in Jerusalem (this may or may not be the same room in which they celebrated the Passover with Jesus). The apostles viewed the replacement of Judas Iscariot as a matter of Old Testament prophecy, hence the quotations from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 in Acts 1. In relation to the selection of a twelfth disciple, F.F. Bruce states in his commentary on Acts, “The total of twelve was significant: it corresponded to the number of the tribes of Israel, and may have marked the apostles out as leaders of the new Israel” (44).

Pentecost occurred fifty days after the Passover and was the feast where the firstfruits of the wheat harvest were brought to God, and it was on this day that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell in His followers. Acts presents a turning point in salvation history. No longer is God’s presence among His people as with the tabernacle or among His people as when Christ walked upon the earth. Now, the presence of God would dwell in the believer. Just as the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus during His earthly ministry, this same Spirit would indwell and empower God’s people as they ministered in Jesus’ name.

Wind and fire accompany the filling of the Spirit, which alludes to Ezekiel 37:9-14 and Luke 3:16-17, and the Spirit led these believers to prophesy and worked through them to where everyone heard them speak in their native language. The speaking of tongues that occurred on Pentecost differs from the type of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14, for the tongues mentioned in Corinthians involves speech where someone with the gift of interpretation has to translate what the speaker uttered.

Peter preaches the first sermon in Acts 2. He begins by refuting the charge of drunkenness (2:12-13), explains that the people were witnessing the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that God would unleash His Spirit on His people, then delivers the reason for this demonstration of power – the proclamation of Jesus’ identity as Messiah and Lord. Peter called the people to repent of their sins and to be baptized (2:37-41), and 3,000 people trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior on that day. Acts 2:42-47 describes the actions of this new community of believers. Based on the teaching of the apostles, they fellowshipped, worshipped, and served together.

Acts 2:43 mentions that “many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles,” and Acts 3 describes one of these miracles – the healing of a lame beggar. This demonstration of power pointed to the authority of the One whose name they invoked – Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and Peter used this miracle to transition into telling the crowd about Christ. Their sermon in the temple did not go unnoticed by the religious leaders (keep in mind that these were the same religious leaders who had crucified Jesus only weeks before), but Peter and John used this opportunity to share the gospel with the people who had crucified the Messiah.

In contrast to Barnabas who willingly sold his belongings and gave the money to the apostles (4:32-37), Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and pretended to give all of the proceeds when they had kept a portion for themselves. As a result of their attempt to deceive the apostles and, ultimately, God, they died. They were free to give however much they desired, so it was their lie that warranted such judgment. This incident demonstrates that even the idyllic early church of Acts 2:42-47 contained imperfect people. Especially because this was a new era of salvation history, it was important to impress upon the believers the importance of honesty and obedience and to give warning as to attempts to deceive the Spirit and the church.

Acts 5-7 depicts the persecution of these early believers by the Jewish religious leaders, and they seized Stephen, who was chosen to assist the apostles and who was performing many miracles among the people. As they had done with Jesus, the religious leaders had invoked the charge of blasphemy against Stephen, utilizing false witnesses to make these claims (6:11-14). Stephen’s defense consisted of explaining God’s plan of salvation from Abraham to Solomon and how His presence is not confined to a building (specifically the temple), and Stephen pointed out how the Israelites had historically persecuted the prophets and even the Messiah Himself. As a result of His assertion of Christ as the Messiah (which they deemed blasphemy), they stoned and killed Stephen. But despite the persecution of Stephen and other believers, God’s church continued to grow.

Testimony Tuesday: From Skepticism to Salvation

Today’s post was written by Brook Hills member, Whitney Frasier.

I definitely fit the old “I grew up in church” cliché’. I did. My parents divorced when I was a baby, but both of them on their respective Sundays took me to church. I always attended Vacation Bible Schools in the summer as a child and church camps in the summer as a teenager. Needless to say, I thought I was OK. For me, that is what it was always about. Am I okay? Am I going to go to Heaven when I die? The alternative that I had heard about my whole life did not seem nearly as appealing to me.

Under this cloud of fear of going to Hell, I walked an aisle as a 10 year old and “asked Jesus to come into my heart.” I had no clue what I was doing. I can remember sitting in the preacher’s office with my mother and answering his questions. I knew how to respond to him because of all of the church-going I had done those 10 years. I knew then that this was not real, and at that point I was only doing this for my family and out of fear of ending up in a place of torment forever and ever.

I continued going to church, singing in choir, going to Bible schools, etc. But I rarely, if ever, actually thought about having a real relationship with Christ. I was completely okay with Him being my Savior, but I really did not ever go beyond that. When I was a teenager, during a revival (yes, another cliché’) I “rededicated my life” to God. At the time, I 100% thought it was the right thing to do. Over the months prior to this decision I had begun to feel a lot of shame and guilt related to my sinful lifestyle. I thought this was God telling me that I needed to feel bad. But now looking back, I know it was Satan who was putting all of this guilt on me. Satan wanted me to walk that aisle again, be baptized again, and keep on thinking that I was “okay” in my sin. That’s pretty much his idea of a perfect situation! I fell straight into it too.

When I entered college, I was under the assumption that I was “in good standing” with God. I was still going to church. I even got involved with Campus Crusades. But what I did not assume was that I would be faced with so many new ideas that made me question every belief I had ever held. I quickly learned that I was just going through the motions; there was NOTHING real about my Christian life. I did not have a personal relationship with Christ. I merely had a belief in God and a fear of eternal damnation. Through my classes and hearing other opinions I had never heard before, I became curious about God in a way I had never been before. My whole life I had taken everyone’s word but never dug deep myself. So I started doing that. I was a religion major; I have studied all of the major religions in the world, including Christianity. By doing this, I began to put all religions on an equal footing. It seemed wrong and egotistical of me to say that one was right and all the others were wrong. I even began studying atheism and agnosticism. I was reading lots of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. Through all of my searching, I never doubted the existence of God, but I came to care very little for Christ or being a Christian. By the time I graduated university, I was basically an agnostic. I just did not know what was true and was sure that I never would.

God knew better. My senior year of college, I was looking for another roommate. I was having lunch with my current roommate when we ran into a friend we had not seen in years. She asked us how things were going. We told her things were not going so well since we just had one roommate move out. She said that she knew a girl looking for a place to live. I told her that as long as she was relatively normal, we would take her! About a month later, Maggie moved in. Meeting Maggie was a total “God thing!” She is such a great example of a Christian woman. I had never really seen Christ in anyone so fully. Maggie and I spent many nights up talking about my doubts; she was the first person in my life to have REAL biblical answers to anything! I had never seen anyone who lived out his or her faith like Maggie. I came to really desire to believe in the divinity of Christ, but I still wanted proof. Even Maggie couldn’t do that for me.

Whitney and her family

Whitney and her family

Maggie and I both moved to Birmingham, she for divinity school/internship at Brook Hills and me for law school. She tried her hardest to get me to come to Brook Hills with her, but I would not hear it! After Brett (my husband) and I got engaged, we decided that we should probably start going to church, you know, since we grew up in church and all. So we tried several places and nothing felt right to us. But I was still very anti-Brook Hills. I do not know why other than Satan was clearly trying to keep me away. A month before my wedding, I went to the beach with a friend who knew nothing about my struggles with God. She brought up church, something I would not have done. She asked if I had gone to Brook Hills. I thought, “OK, what is it with this place?” She followed up my “nope” with telling me that she and her fiancé had gone and hated it but that she thought I would like it. Odd right? Who says that? So I asked her why she thought that. Her response will forever be etched into my memory: “Because their preacher tells it like it is. He’s right up your ally!” I thought that was possibly the oddest thing I had ever heard. It peaked my interest enough that Brett and I attended Brook Hills the next Sunday.

I had never been a believer in the idea that God takes an active part in our lives until that Sunday. I know now that it WAS Satan trying to keep me out of Brook Hills. God had a plan for me. God brings all of us to Himself in different ways. He wanted, for some reason, to use our pastor and The Church at Brook Hills to bring me to Him. God knows my personality. He knows that I hate things being “sugar-coated” and that I appreciate honesty above all things, so He sent me to hear David Platt. That first Sunday sitting there listening to God’s Word so clearly delivered to me, I started to hear Him. I always thought people were crazy when they said that they could hear God, and maybe a few are. But I could hear Him say to me, “Let it go! What are you doing? You know I am here. Not because that is what you learned as a child, but because you can hear me and feel Me. Stop doubting Me; it’s making you miserable! I know you want proof. But who do you think you are that you can demand that from Me? Just LET IT GO!” And right there in that seat, I did. I knew then that He let me go through the doubts and the sufferings in my faith so that I would never doubt Him again, so that my love for Him would grow to a place I could not even imagine.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” -2 Corinthians 5:17