New Hope UMC

1: Conversion

August 2, 2019

We begin a new study, Foundations, from www.biblicaltraining.org. This site contains numerous studies and we are starting at the beginning. Foundations consists of 12 lessons. Each contains a lecture and, if you like, a plan for home study. The course is free and signup is easy enough. The home study is available via purchase or free download and can be printed.

Foundations is led by Dr. Bill Mounce. The lessons are:

  1. Conversion
  2. Change
  3. When You Stumble
  4. Listening to God
  5. Speaking with God
  6. Learning More About God
  7. Who Is Jesus?
  8. What Jesus Did
  9. Holy Spirit
  10. Walking With God
  11. Walking Together
  12. Inviting Others to Walk With You

The lecture for Week 1 was based on John 3:16, maybe the most famous verse in the Bible. Bill placed great emphasis on this as a beginning point for new Christians, either contemplating or reviewing conversion. The concept of Jesus giving his life as ransom for our sins is difficult to grasp for non believers and for some of us believers. Bill pointed to the phrase "whosoever believeth in him" as key to understanding it. God has made forgiveness available to all, but there is a condition in that we must believe. Not that Jesus existed and was a good guy, but that we put our faith and trust in him - completely. Lessons that follow will explain why this is necessary for followers of Jesus and why it leads to an abundant life. But for now, the first step is to accept this proclamation from scripture and contemplate its meaning.

At this conversion point, it is perhaps important to note that this is about you. Christianity is about loving and serving others as Jesus did, but conversion is a personal experience. You must walk with Jesus before you can share him with others. So first you must believe in him. Dr. Mounce took some time to explain why forgiveness is necessary for a right relationship with God. He took us back to the creation and original sin that separated us from God forever. Or at least until the slate is wiped clean. The nature of original sin is covered, but more importantly it is to be understood that we are all sinners. Only Jesus, who is God, did not sin.

This idea of sacrifice and forgiveness is hard to grasp and will be developed as we proceed in the study. At this point, it might suffice to review who God is. He is our Creator, the Origin, Infinite, Sovereign. He is from Alpha to Omega. Timeless. It is His World and we are created by him for his pleasure and hopefully for ours. He is just and merciful and wants us to be with Him forever. We experience eternal life and we begin it here on earth. If he wants to forgive us our sins to remove the separation that it causes, fine. If he wants to do it with the only condition being that we believe in Jesus, that's okay, too.

 

2: Change

August 9, 2019

This was the second lesson in this series. A really good one. Most of us experienced conversion years ago so it's hard to remember that much about it. But we undergo change every day. The lecture notes are presented below in reviewing what our new life looks like. One of our discussion points centered around church goers who do not seem to have experienced the change and the joy it brings. This course is aimed at new believers, but it is certainly appropriate for us old believers who need a jump start. We see this in every congregation and in our daily lives. People who profess to be Christians but continue to live without the joy of the Lord.

This lesson and the first one are certainly about the individual coming to God. One at a time. It is not a group thing. That would come later in your Christian journey, if at all. But first things first. Dr. Mounce does an excellent job of letting us know what the changed life is like and how we get there.

What does this new life look like?

  1. Life of discipleship — follower; learned
    • Not a spiritual spasm or a one-time event
      • Conversion is the crucial first step in a new life
    • Mark 8:34 — “deny yourself”: relinquishment your will
      • Hurt, anger, “not my will but yours” forgive
      • Unfair — get even — “not my will …” — kindness, humility
  2. “Fruits of the Spirit”
    • God’s Spirit (Holy Spirit/Ghost)
      • “Monotheism” — Shema — “Trinity” — God is one and yet three (Father/Son/HS) — mystery
      • Holy Spirit: drew you; enabled to respond to gospel; regenerated; guides and empowers you, gives you the ability, to bear fruit
    • “Bear fruit”
      • A healthy fruit tree produces fruit, so also a healthy Christian’s life will change — changes are the “fruit”
      • May already have started to see some of these changes — process; slow; stumbles

Is this change automatic? What is my role, if any?

  1. Not automatic — you can fight against it and win
    • Mastery and tyranny of sin over you has been broken — don’t have to sin
    • Sin is still present, and it is not passive but active force seeks to destroy
    • You’ve made a new enemy — Satan did not like losing you from his kingdom
  2. Can’t change on your own
    • “Now that you are believer, you must show love, joy …”
  3. The desire and ability to live the Christian life is all of God —co-operate (yield)
    • (Not salvation)
    • We constantly need to be reminded to live by God’s power

We are called to be the “Salt of the Earth” — life is different

  • If we understand what happens in conversion
  • Life of discipleship
  • Begin to bear fruit for God — God does his part, and we do our ours
  • Process - come to agree: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11).

 

3: When You Stumble

August 16, 2019

Lesson 1 was Conversion that leads to the Changed life described in Lesson 2. Everything's good, right? Not so fast, my friend. We will inevitably stumble or sin and in this lesson we learn from Dr. Mounce what that looks like and what we do about it. Perhaps there is no better example of sin in the Bible that David and Bathsheba. Psalm 51 is an eloquent confession of this sin and a blueprint for us in how to receive forgiveness. But first, Mounce explains sin and temptation. Sin is simply put, "missing the mark" that was set by God and given to us in the scriptures. Despite what modernists believe about relative truth, there is only on version and that is found in God's word. Knowing what God expects is however only part of the equation. Temptation abounds and is always there, even after we have given our lives over to God. Maybe even more present as Satan is reluctant to give up on us. Temptation, however, is not sin. Giving into temptation is. Mounce discusses ways to resist temptation, particularly by relying on God and the Holy Spirit.

A good part of the lecture is taken up with Psalm 51. We went through it verse by verse and here are some observations.

  • David acknowledges his sin. He is intimately aware of what he did and "owns" it.
  • He has sinned against God, which is what happens when we sin. Other persons might be involved but it is God's law that we have broken.
  • Sinning against God causes us to be removed from his presence. We are separated from him and will remain so until that situation is corrected. It doesn't help that we have been baptized and saved.
  • David knows that God is merciful and forgiving. If we confess our sin to him, he will wipe the slate clean and remove our iniquities and in a word, forget all about it. In so doing, he gives us a clean heart and renews our spirit.
  • "restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit". v 12. This is what happens after confession. Our relationship with God is restored, with a joyful heart.
  • in v 13, David says that he will approach others to seek forgiveness and renewal. This is worth an underscore. David knows he cannot witness to others as long as he is in an uncorrected sin condition. He does not get the cart before the horse. "Open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise". v 15.

Foundations is about Christianity, but this lesson is almost exclusively from the Old Testament, again showing us that the two testaments are bound together. When NT scriptures are quoted here, they are often referring to the truths of the Law as contained in the OT. The Bible story is about God's law, breaking it, receiving forgiveness and living in the joyful presence of God. This is true in the old and new testaments. Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom, which included eternal life, which begins here on earth. He took away our sins upon our repentance, and gave us a new life in him. A joyful, abundant life. But sustaining that life depends on us. Lesson 3 can get us back on track.

 

4: Listening to God

August 23, 2019

How does God reveal himself to Christians? To everyone? Leader Bill Mounce talks us through an interesting and provocative discussion on how this takes place. First, God has revealed himself to everyone through his creation. This general revelation is instantly available to all regardless of their belief. All are aware of his power, his infiniteness and his existence. He has set himself apart from that creation, however, as divine. We need always to be aware of his creation. Psalms 19 can help.

God reveals himself in a second way, known as "specific revelation". This is through his Word. This is only available to some of the people some of the time. Four important terms about the Bible:

  1. Inspirational. No, this doesn't mean in inspires us, which of course it does. It is the inspired word of God. He inspired the authors to write what they did.
  2. Authoritative. the Bible does not compete with any other work. It stands alone as the authority. It is "breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting and training..". When we teach, we are using God's words, not our own. It is the final word, the whole truth. Nothing else is needed.
  3. Canonicity. It is complete, the 66 books we have. These books were determined to be scripture way back in 325 AD. Other books exist but we do not believe they represent the inspired word of God. Hence, they have not been included.
  4. Trustworthy. They got it right. Contrary to the opinions of some, it does not contradict itself.

Now then what do we do with it? The ball's in our court. Bill gives us four suggestions:

  1. Read it. Sounds simple enough, but this means the scripture itself. Reading about it, how it was written, what other's say, etc., may be interesting and helpful, but it is not the same as reading the scripture. If you have trouble getting started, use the references in this study as a guide.
  2. Meditate on it. Meditating on God's word is not to be confused with other forms of meditation. Bill cites Eastern influences, where the idea is to open the mind to possibilities. Wrong. Meditating on scripture is closing the mind to everything but God's word. Read it, think about it, mull it over, discuss it with others. "his delight is on the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night..".
  3. Memorize it. Verses, passages, whatever you can absorb. "I have hidden your Word in my heart so that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119:11. Commit verses to memory so that they are available to you for following the path of righteousness.
  4. Obey it. Don't be a "professional student" when it comes to the Bible. The Word is our guidebook for living. There are times when the wisdom of the world and the Bible are in conflict and we must choose between the two. The Bible is the truth. Paul says be ye not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your mind. You can't have it both ways.

This is a 30 minute presentation by Dr. Bill Mounce and can be heard at https://www.biblicaltraining.org/listen. Time well spent.

5: Speaking With God

August 30, 2019

Speaking with God is praying. Dr. Mounce takes us through how we are to pray, i.e., the Lord's Prayer. We have just completed a 7 week study on the Lord's Prayer, so this was a review of sorts. But Bill added some thoughts that are good for us to consider. First, Jesus tells us to pray "like" this. Therefore, the prayer is a template, or a structure, in which we are free to expand on. The prayer is divided into two parts. The first four lines focus on God. We acknowledge him as Creator and Holy. He is to be glorified in all the Earth. We ask that his Kingdom may come and that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, which is perfectly.

The second part is to acknowledge our dependence on God. Give us this daily our daily bread is more than food. It is security and the fulfillment of our needs. Forgive us our debts. Even though Jesus has wiped our slate clean, we continue to sin. We must have these sins forgiven by God to enjoy a relationship with him. In order to do that, we cannot have the sins of others that we have not forgiven on our conscience. If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.

God does not lead us into temptation. In fact, we cannot resist evil without God's help. We acknowledge our dependence on him for this fight against the evil forces of the world.

Discussion included the suggestion that acting on our own without God is a sin. Attempting to do things without God is wrong. Nowhere in the Bible does it say "be self-sufficient" or "you can do it on your own". So the idea that not our will but thine be done might take some work on our part. The concept that we are here on earth to do God's will isn't always front and center with us. At the same time, God does not want us to sit on our hands for fear that we are acting out of his will. We are instead implored to seek his will in everything we do. Through prayer, study, meditation and counsel with other Christians.

6: Learning More About God

September 6, 2019

Maybe the lesson should entitled "Everything You Need to Know About God". For as lecturer Bill Mounce says, it is impossible to know everything about God, using the term "incomprehensibly" appropriately. But the Bible does reveal certain attributes that we believers must understand. We won't fully understand but we can grasp the concepts and day by day reach for more. There are three attributes, starting with "omni", which means "all".

  • Omniscience denotes "all knowing". God's knowledge is infinite. He knows everything. Not only about the past, but the present and future. He is from everlasting to everlasting, alpha to omega. Mounce uses Psalm 139 to discuss this and the other attributes. He knows everything about everything and that includes us. "before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether." Psalm 139:4.
  • Omnipresence. We sometimes pray that we feel the presence of the Lord in his church, a holy place. But God is everywhere, all the time. He is in the wind, the trees and yes the church. We exist in God. In him we live and move and have our being. There is no where you can run, nowhere you can hide. "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?" Psalm 139:7.
  • Omnipotence. He is all powerful. He can do anything he wants to do. "Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases." Psalm 115:3. Or we could say all that pleases him. God can do anything he wants, or nothing if that be the case. He has given us freedom, a free will, to follow him or not.

What is our response or what should it be? Worship. Mounce uses Isaiah 6:1-8 to dramatically illustrate this point. This is the famous temple vision, where Isaiah receives his calling. He sees the Lord being worshipped by angelic beings. Seraphims are proclaiming continuoulsy "Holy, Holy, Holy", while covering their faces and feet. Isaiah is overwhelmed declaring himself lost and unclean, whereupon a seraphim touches his lips with a hot coal and pronounces him cleansed. Then he heard the Lord say "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" He said "Here am I. Send me."

Sometimes we think of God as one of us, a friend who will listen. Or sometimes we don't think of him at all. God is apart from us, in his heavens. But he is everywhere, Spirit, if you will. God's purpose is to glorify himself to all the world. Or purpose is worship him, seek his will for us. and follow.

7: Learning More About Who Jesus Is

September 12, 2019

From our last lesson, we know that God is omnipotent, i.e., all powerful. We also know that God knows us well, including all our thoughts and actions. He knows that we are sinful and rebellious, even without intending to be so. God wants us to enjoy a relationship with him and to be with him in eternity. God is in his heaven and we are not, at least not yet. God and sin do not mix. If we are with sin, we cannot enjoy a proper relationship with God. But God cannot be seen by us, only through mediators.

Now we have Jesus. The people of his day could certainly relate to him as human, as can we since we are afforded the Gospels to tell his story. What is not so obvious is the claim that Jesus is God. This is made clear to us from the event of his virgin birth to the resurrection and then the ascension into heaven. But it is sometimes beyond our understanding. Jesus is the "incarnation", God on earth. We worship an 3 part God, i.e., a Trinity: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This makes our religion unique among all others as we have seen God in the flesh. This is fundamental to being a Christian, so what Dr. Mounce is telling us here is that we must believe that Jesus was God for our faith to make any sense.

Jesus was fully human, yet without sin. A priest, appointed by God, not by Levitical tradition. But Jesus had a purpose in his brief time with us. He would serve as atonement for our sins, once and for all time. We will learn much more about this in the next lesson, but atonement in the Jewish faith involved a blood sacrifice. In the tradition of Judaism, beginning with instructions in Leviticus, God required a blood sacrifice for atonement (forgiveness) of our sins. God did not wish us to remain in sin, so a Day of Atonement was set aside, where a representative of God, the High Priest, would deliver to God blood from a sacrificial animal. Jesus became the ultimate blood sacrifice, the first human whose blood could free us from sin.

This lesson serves to firmly establish in our minds, without doubt, that Jesus was fully human and fully God. He came to us as a mediator in the Jewish tradition and fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah. But we must understand that he was God on earth and was here to offer atonement for our sins and to usher in the New Covenant.

8: Learning More About What Jesus Did

September 19, 2019

What Jesus did was to take away the sins of the world. "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." John 1:29. These are the words of John the Baptist as he announces the arrival of his cousin. Dr. Mounce takes us through the story of atonement as offered by the life of Jesus. It begins with the idea of sacrifice as depicted in the Old Testament. God wanted to bless his people through fellowship with Him. But sin kept getting in the way, as it is not possible to have a proper relationship with God while in a state of sin. God prescribed a process of atonement involving animal sacrifice so that the sins of the people would be forgiven and they would be restored to a right relationship with God. Jesus, who was there from the beginning with God, ultimately became the atonement for our sins.

Mounce brings out some important points about Christian beliefs as set forth in scripture:

  • sin against God is serious business, punishable by death.
  • only God (or Jesus) can forgive sins.
  • God is merciful and will accept the sacrifice of a sinless substitute in place of our own death, i.e., "substitutionary appointment.".

God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21.

  • Jesus is the only one who can take away our sin, the only acceptable sacrifice.
  • nothing you do can remove sin.
  • there is no one else and no other way.
  • only one road leads to heaven.

Jesus is all we need. This is the doctrine of the sufficiency of the cross.

  • "It is finished" John 19:30. The last words of Jesus. The work of Jesus on earth was done. All who believe on him are forgiven.
  • the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. This was the last act of Jesus.

The barrier between God and the people, represented by the physical presence of the curtain in the Holy of Holies was torn down. This marks the beginning of the New Covenant, where God would write his laws on the hearts of the people. The old covenant is no more. There is no more sacrifice, no more temple after AD 70 and no more priesthood.

Jesus as atonement for our sins is a difficult concept to grasp even for Christians. But this is part of the mystery that is our religion. it may not be logical and may defy understanding. But this has been revealed to us in his Word - that Jesus died for our sins and his death is sufficient. We only need to repent and believe. Our sins are forgiven so we are repenting of our unbelief. That is our faith, our belief. Hallelujah.

9: Learning More About The Holy Spirit

September 26, 2019

Jesus came to take away the sins of the world. He then returned to sit at the right hand of the Father. He left his disciples with the Great Commission and he left all of us the Holy Spirit. This is the third part of the Trinity, our helper, comforter and advocate. We worship the one true God, who has revealed himself to us in three parts. This is impossible for non believers to understand and is difficult for Christians. But it is straight from scripture and is essential to our walk with God as Christians. So what is this Holy Spirit? Dr. Mounce in his lecture gives us some specifics. The Spirit's first activity is the agent of "regeneration", another word for being born again. "Truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." John 6:44. The Spirit protects us, seals us and guarantees our inheritance.

The second activity is indwelling. He is "another helper, who will be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive." John 14:15. He helps us, serves as a daily guide. He assures us that we are children of God. That voice in our head is the Spirit, guiding and directing us. Be careful here as it is possible to hear other voices. Know that the Spirit will never lead you to do something contrary to scripture.

Then there is the matter of empowerment. Through the spirit we are given spiritual gifts. These are listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and Romans. The purpose of the Spirit's guidance is to change us. This change occurs through a process called sanctification. The Spirit does not provide our salvation. That was done by Jesus on the cross. Rather it draws us to change every day to become more and more like Jesus. The fruits of the spirit are familiar to us and are enumerated in Galatians.

What does it feel like to be "empowered". You will know. "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." John 7:37. It is a river, not a trickle.

10: Walking With God 

October 3, 2019

We are cautioned early in Dr. Mounce' lecture that what he is about to say could be troubling for some. Remember that this is a course for new believers. We have come from receiving salvation from Jesus' death to being guided in our daily lives by the Holy Spirit in a process called sanctification. Our salvation was through no effort of our own. Scripture is clear that we it is a gift from God, lest no man should boast. The Spirit is there for us and it is up to us to accept it and try to understand this next step in the process of becoming a true follower of Jesus. Now we are being told that Scripture says that "we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God.." Romans 12:1 What's more, God is going to throw a lot of unpleasant stuff our way as a test of our  faith. 

Presented below are quotes from some readings. "We were created for relationship with God. We were created to house the very Spirit of God inside us, which Jesus promised to give us when He left this earth. As the Holy Spirit guides us into all Truth—not informational truth but the person called Truth, Jesus—we will then know God more and find our identity in Him." and "He desires a people who will walk closely with Him. He wants devoted disciples, not people who, as in many cases throughout history, use His name merely as a social status. Today the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves Christians live out a nominal faith far from what the Bible describes as following Jesus." Schneider, Rabbi Kirt A.. The Lion of Judah  And another from theologian C. S. Lewis. “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”

Mounce does not mince words here. He uses the analogy in the letter to the lukewarm Christians in Laodicea, as appears in Revelations. Jesus says he would prefer them to be one way or the other so at least he could work with them Fence straddlers have no place as followers of Jesus. We don't have to follow Him, but if we do, we need to give it our all. 

Now there is an upside. You will walk in fellowship with God during your journey here on earth. You will experience joy that is not possible anywhere else. You will be assured that your faith will stand you well through every challenge. Jesus said "I am the way the Truth and the life.."  There is joy in the life, to be sure. But this lecture is more about what it takes to be a Christian and experience that joy.