The Bible course was an incredible experience, and I am so grateful that God worked everything out for it to happen this year. I'm thankful for the pastors who were willing to take so much time in preparation and time away from home to teach us. I'm thankful for everyone who attended, because everyone was a blessing to me and we were able to learn from each other, share struggles and pray for one another. I'm thankful for the church in Aylmer who was so hospitable and went to so much effort to prepare food for us, allow us to stay in their homes, and also especially for their prayers. I know other congregations were praying as well, and we are so thankful for such a supportive church family – God answered those prayers! Most of all thanks to God who gives us salvation through His Son, and that we can be free from sin and live with purpose!
We ended Pastor Klinger's session with practical witnessing. We come up with many excuses not to witness: the fear of being rejected, we don't know how, we fear that our friends will leave us, we think people won't want to talk about it, or that we don't know enough. The list goes on, but Jesus commands the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. In witnessing, either the listener accepts Christ, remains neutral, or rejects Christ. No matter the outcome, we have planted a seed of His Word and leave the rest up to God. There are so many ideas about what will happen when we die or ways to heaven, but we know that there is only one way – salvation through Jesus Christ. We talked about some questions we can ask to start coversations about spiritual matters, and then some students prepared and presented skits to give some ideas on how to witness and answer questions we are asked in different situations. If we think about the importance of every soul, we will have a burden for them and make it more of a priority to share the Gospel.
We ended the day with Humble Apologetics, led by Pastor Klinger. Apologetics is giving a rational defence for the truthfulness of the divine origin and the authority of Christianity. Moral decay is happening around us, and we looked at some new worldviews and the need for apologetics. It is our responsibility as Christians to show love to others and live in a way that other people would be drawn to Christ. God's desire is that the Gospel would reach everyone. We can lead people to the truth, but we can't make them accept it. That is up to God. People may question whether God exists. Whatever had a beginning had a cause, and since the universe had a beginning, it also had a cause, which is God. Similarly, every design has a designer and ever moral law had a moral lawgiver. The heavens declare the glory of God, and we can be reminded of Him in creation. An issue that we may run into as we witness is others questioning if the Bible is the Word of God. There are many “holy books”, so how do we know the Bible is really God's Word after so many years? God's Word is unchanging. In Deuteronomy 4:2 God says, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it”. It should never be altered. Hebrew scribes copied God's word letter by letter, verbalizing the letters as they went, counting the words and letters, making sure the right number of letters were in each column and line. They considered it an affront to the holiness of God to miss a tiny tittle on a letter. The Masoretes continued the tradition of the scribes and made sure each copy was the same. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, these carefully copied Hebrew texts have remained virtually unchanged. The Dead Sea Scrolls predate the arrival of Jesus by around 100 years! Hundreds of prophesies were fulfilled! The events of the Bible were not written immediately as they occurred, but the words of Jesus were in a poetic structure that was easy to memorize. Without inspiration from God, it would be impossible to remember the exact words of Jesus. In Matthew 5:18 it says “For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Moses was an eyewitness to the exodus from Egypt and accurately identifies Egyptian names, geography and customs. Luke is another eyewitness and writes his book with detail and accuracy that lines up with history. Some people argue that passages are contradictory. If the context is examined, as well as the style of writing of the authors, the Bible is consistent. The 66 books were written by 40 authors with various backgrounds, but it has synergistic harmony like no other book. The authors had no idea their messages would be assembled together, yet they fit perfectly. Archaeology supports the Bible. Christ's crucifixion and burial were questioned because the way Jesus was crucified and buried was different from most cases at that time, but analysis of remains have shown that their condition supports the Bible's description of the Roman method of execution. Artifacts have been found supporting biblical details surrounding Jesus' execution and confirm the existence of Caiaphas the high priest and Pontius Pilate. There is evidence for other biblical events as well, such as the pool of Bethesda, Babylon's destruction, and many others. The Dead Sea Scrolls, probably the greatest archaeological discovery of modern times, are the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible. The Isaiah Scroll predates that any other manuscript before it by around 1100 years! When the Isaiah scroll and others were compared, they were found to be almost identical. How amazing to know that God's Word has been preserved and that we are privileged enough to have the Bible as our guidebook.
Pastor Krebs wasn't with us in Aylmer, but he was able to teach us the next lessons via Skype. We were so thankful that everything worked out, because his lessons were a blessing! He taught us about the discerning heart we should have as Christians. Discernment is the ability to comprehend and evaluate clearly, or to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, good and better. We aren't born with discernment, but rather it is something that God helps us grow in. He equips us to discern accurately and with confidence. In the New Testament, false doctrine comes up a lot, and both then and now, discernment protects us from it. Discernment is important so we can keep in harmony with God's will, be an example to other believers and grow spiritually. It is a gift from God that needs to be exercised and developed. In groups, we looked at some examples in the Bible. David discerned well when he spared Saul's life, while Esau lacked discernment when he made the impulsive decision to sell his birthright for instant gratification. Knowing God is the key to discernment - when our thoughts of God's nature are wrong, our discernment will be too. Knowing truth is the best way to identify error. Some things we deal with today are not printed in black and white in the Bible, but God's laws are based on moral principles that we can apply to everything. Prayer for wisdom, a teachable heart, the Holy Spirit's leading, and protection are keys to discernment. Pastor Krebs shared steps that can help us discern. First, prepare by defining the issue and identifying its potential impact. Then research by searching Scriptures and studying the context. Interpret the issue by holding it up to God's Word and seeking the counsel of spiritually minded people to help guide us. The final step is to make a conclusion and act. The conclusion should not me made on impulse – we need to take time to decide. Acting is sometimes the hard part, but as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:22-23, “test all things, hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil”. To wrap up Pastor Krebs' lesson on discernment, we broke into groups and looked at case studies dealing with issues of discernment and practiced using the steps to come to a conclusion. Discernment is such an applicable topic and something we all want to pray for.
Lunch followed Pastor Roesler's session. It was prepared by some of the Aylmer congregation, and was always delicious. For the first two days of the Bible course, Pastor Friesen presented the topic of “Standing Fast in Faith”. We began by reading Colossians 1:21-23. Verse 23 says “...if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard...”. Standing fast in faith is our obligation as believers. The devil tries to shake us whenever possible, but we can resist because of God's strength. Hebrews 11 defines faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. We need to live convinced of God, as if there is tangible evidence – that is the substance. Pastor Friesen divided our lives as Christians into three parts: a beginning, an end, and an in between. The beginning is when we receive salvation. In Hebrews 12:2 it says that God is the Author of our faith, or the beginning. In between, we need to be obedient and have faith. We can't have repentance without faith, and we can't have faith and obedience independently – they go together. Hebrews 12:2 also says God is the Finisher of our faith. There is an end to our lives on earth, and there will come a day when God's church will be received holy and blameless by Him. It is our job to remain faithful until then. There are verses throughout the Bible that say if and then, like the verse from Colossians: “if indeed you continue in the faith..”. We have to choose faith every day, and God will provide so we can finish the race. He gives us His Word for self-examination and self-defence. We need to use it to see where to improve. It is hard to stand fast if we don't know the Bible. Jesus used scriptures as a defence when he was tempted, and so should we. Hebrews 2 also refers to Christ as our Brother. Jesus became man and can sympathize with us, and God can aid us when we are tempted. Christ is also our Priest who can intercede for us - we need to ask for grace to remain faithful. Prayer and time alone with God is so important in standing fast! Christ is our Rest and wants us to abide in Him. We need to consciously stay close to Him throughout the day, so our love for Him grows. It is safe with Him and there is no force great enough to snatch us from His hand. Rest in Christ can come from sanctification, since it is a rest from the struggle with our sinful nature. The Holy Spirit provides that rest. God makes us part of His family, and fellowship with other believers is very important. We need to encourage each other and be willing to do anything we can for God. Jesus humbled himself and came to earth, was obedient to the point to death, and came to do God's work on earth. Evidence of faith is true humility, obedience, service and good works, and victory. Our faith is the victory. These lessons from Pastor Friesen were both a challenge and encouragement – we need to remain faithful, but we don't have to do it alone. God is with us!
Pastor Roesler taught “Priorities for Christian Living”. He was very passionate and often used examples and illustrations to help us understand what he was saying. We began with a lesson on choosing priorities. Sometimes, we are not choosing between right and wrong but between good and better. The story of Martha and Mary illustrates this. It is good to be busy serving Jesus, but it is better to sit at his feet and spend time in his presence. In our life choices, we must seek the kingdom of God first. When we are obedient to His will, He can make our lives into the best He has in mind. Salvation is a priority that must come before all the others. It is something we have free will to choose, and can be compared to a pearl of great price. The merchant in the Bible already owned valuable goods, but he recognized that the pearl was worth selling all he had. What we value on earth doesn't really satisfy. The one thing we all seek is the precious pearl of salvation in Jesus. Another priority as a Christian is to maintain a clear conscience. God wants us to keep our hearts clean after we receive salvation, and He has given us the means to do so. We discussed having an over-sensitive conscience, where we are constantly doubting that we have done enough, or thinking we sinned by not doing something. It is important to get to know God better so we can recognize what God expects from us. Choosing to do the will of God is another priority for Christians. God has given our lives purpose, and we want Him to be pleased with us. Based on Romans 12:2, we must be transformed and have a new mindset and outlook so we can determine God's will. We can not conform to the world. In order to judge objectively we must distance ourselves from it. We need to know it and obey - there is no substitute for obedience. God usually reveals His will step by step: when we obey and take a step, He will reveal the next one, like a person walking in the light of a lantern whose way is revealed as they continue to walk forward. Prayer is vital. It is our lifeline to God, and great things happen through prayer. There are examples in the Bible of people who interceded for others, as well as many battles won through prayer, like Moses while they battled Amalek's army and Elijah on Mount Carmel. Pastor Roesler challenged us not to leave the house before spending time in prayer. Our relationship with God should also show in our service to others. Jesus was willing to call himself a servant, and we should be too. God wants us to use our talents and possessions to serve Him. He may require us to leave our comfort zone, but He will always help us. Contentment is another priority. Focusing on outward things can prevent us from being content, especially if we look at what others have. Contentment has its root in peace, and is also associated with joy in the Lord. Joy is lasting and doesn't depend on any outward influences. The last priority we looked at was a very important one: Living in the Light of Eternity. As it says in Hebrews 13: 14, “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come”. We shouldn't be tied down to things on earth. God wants to remind us of our eternal home so we live faithfully. Thinking about eternity was a good way to end the session on priorities.
Sanctify means to purify, make holy, set apart. Sanctification is a definite experience that comes after conversion. It is a dying to self and consecration to God's will and service. After conversion, we are freed of any sins we have committed, but our sinful nature still remains. Sanctification is a cleansing by God of our sinful nature and filling with the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes it very clear that God wants all His children to seek sanctification. There are many misconceptions about sanctification, including that it is a continual process. After sanctification, we do still grow in our relationship with God, but the growth follows a definite experience. We took a closer look at the plan of salvation. We were created in the image of God (who is Holy), but man fell into sin which led to spiritual death. Adam was created in God's image, but after the fall into sin, every person that followed came from man's image, not God's. In Genesis 3 God already promises a coming Saviour, and through him we can be justified. Justification is the cleansing of our heart from sin by the atoning blood of Jesus. It saves from all outward sins, and when we are justified, we are holy. After Jesus' blood cleanses us, the only uncleanness left in us is our sinful nature which we are not responsible for. Moral depravity manifests itself by perverting God-given desires, like elf-respect into the desire for glory and attention, or the desire to prepare for the future into covetousness. Sanctification is the cure for moral depravity and the key to a victorious life. Unsanctified Christians battle with temptation and sin, but must also constantly battle his sinful nature, making it difficult to have constant victory over a long period of time. Sanctification replaces our sinful nature with a pure one, making sustained victory not only possible, but probable. Sanctification is an experience we must be called to, and even when we are seeking, it can take time before we come to the point of really submitting everything to God and being able to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is not something we can do ourselves. We can never be “good enough” for sanctification. We must realize that only God can do the work. God wants sanctification for all of us, yet many Christians today don't know much about it. It was such an important topic to study and important to keep it as a core belief of our church. I think all of the students gained clarity and definitely a better understanding of sanctification.For the remainder of the first week, we studied holiness and holy living. Some churches believe we only become holy once we enter heaven, however this cannot be true since sin cannot enter into God's presence. God requires us to live holy lives on earth as well. He makes it possible for us to live free from sin! There are many misunderstandings involving holiness. One of these is mistaking temptation or human error for sin. Fleshly desires will arise in us, but they only become sins when we dwell on them or act on them. We are limited as humans, and may fall short of many requirements of God without even knowing it – that is not sin. By filling our minds and hearts with God's Word, we will be leaving less space for worldly things. God will strengthen us and help us to live holy lives for Him. Pastor Taron also mentioned something that stuck with me: time with God in prayer is where the battle for personal holiness will be won or lost. Prayer is vital to remaining holy. We looked at some ways to live holy lives and one of these ways is seeking the experience of sanctification, which was the topic we focused on in week two.
Devotion was followed by the first session: Systematic Theology, led by Pastor Taron. It went deeper into some foundational beliefs of the church of God and answered a lot of questions for me. To lead into the topic of holiness, we looked at God and sin. We know that sin separates us from God. Since God is a perfectly holy Being, sin cannot enter in God's presence. In Genesis 2:16 & 17 we read that the first sin led to spiritual death – this was the fall of man. People tend to be careless towards sin and say, “it's just a little sin”, but sin is sin and every time we willfully sin it is a personal affront to God. It was mentioned that sin can be compared to hammering another nail into Jesus' hands. Jesus died to save us from our sins, not save us in them, so we cannot sin and still go to heaven. Salvation restores us to a state of holiness.
Each day we had four main sessions, taught by pastors from different congregations. We began each day with a devotional. The first day it was led by Pastor Friesen, and the rest were led by students. We heard different thoughts and perspectives on topics to encourage us and challenge us, and then followed up those thoughts with prayer to let us reflect and get us focused for the day. We asked God to help us put away distractions and to be among us.
The Church of God Bible Course was held in Aylmer, Ontario this year. I had the privilege of attending the course for the second time, and once again was blessed way beyond my expectations. We spent two weeks immersed in God's word, formed new friendships, and most importantly grew in our relationships with God. The congregation in Aylmer was kind enough to host us. Families from the church opened up their homes for us and let us live with them for two weeks, the kitchen staff provided snacks and coffee during the breaks and then delicious meals for lunch every day, and did it all willingly. Their joyful service was a blessing to me.