All posts by Stephen

Father Abraham

Tomb of Abraham in Hebron, Israel. Photo Credit: Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces.com

Someone recently asked me, “Who are the real children of Abraham? Are all the children of Abraham ‘Israel’? Do the promises contained in the covenants apply to those of the flesh or to those of faith?” Here’s how I responded to my friend…

I believe that throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, “Israel” refers consistently to the ethnic, physical descendants of Abraham. “Gentiles” is a broad term for all non-Jews. Sometimes, it speaks of the godless pagans. At other times, it simply refers to the non-Jewish people groups of the world and would be synonymous with “Greeks” and “the nations.” Context in each passage will easily determine if it carries a negative, spiritual connotation of godlessness (Eph. 2:11; 4:17; 1 Thess. 4:5; 1 Pet. 2:12; 4:3) or is a simple statement of non-Jewish ethnicity (Rom. 1:13; 9:24; 11:13).

In the Old Testament, people could only be in right relationship with God by believing in God as Savior, and participating in the Mosaic covenant. The law was never a means to salvation; it was God’s holy measuring stick to convict people of their sin, and then for those who believed, it became the outward expression of one’s faith in the one true God. Gentiles were required to proselytize or convert over to Judaism in order to become a full member of the covenant community. Remember, the church was a complete mystery at this point and had not been revealed, nor did it even exist (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 11:25; Eph. 1:9; 3:3-6; 6:19; Col. 1:26-27).

Contrary to the teaching of some, the New Testament continues to maintain a distinction between Jew and Gentiles. People will often look at a passage like Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek” and conclude that all distinction has been removed, and that the church is the new or true Israel. But this simply is not the case.

In the present era, the Jew/Gentile distinction is diminished, but it is never lost. In a similar way, male/female and slave/master distinctions may look different under the new covenant, but they are never abolished. We must not press Gal. 3:28 and Col. 3:9-11 so far as to eliminate all distinction. These passages speak of spiritual equality, not functional equality. In fulfillment of his covenant promise to Abraham, God still maintains a distinction and has a future plan for ethnic Israel. See for example:

Acts 13:45–46 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

Acts 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

Romans 9:24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 11:11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Romans 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

I believe this is the point of Jesus’ statement in John 10:16 also: And I have other sheep [Gentiles] that are not of this fold [Jews]. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

In what way, then, are Gentiles the children of Abraham? According to Romans 4, all who believe in Christ are children of Abraham according to faith. Paul as a Jew could call Abraham “a forefather according to the flesh” (Romans 4:1). But down in verse 11, he says Abraham becomes “the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.”

Using a classic Hebrew figure of speech, where a child resembles his father, Paul is saying that even non-Jews can call Abraham father when we imitate the same kind of faith that he exhibited by grace alone in Christ alone. So, it may be a silly Sunday School song, but there really is theological truth in the song, “Father Abraham, had many sons…I am one of them, and so are you…”

Sometimes, the terms “circumcised of heart” and “children of Abraham” speak of a spiritual reality and refer to both believing Jews and Gentiles in a figurative sense. But, and this is important: the Bible never uses the technical term “Israel” to refer to the church.

Nor do I believe these expressions remove or transfer God’s promises away from Israel (which he made in the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants). Through the New Covenant, his blessings spill over and now affect believing Gentiles too. But God would never revoke the promises he made to the Israelite nation.

Jeremiah 31:35–36 “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.’ ”

All glory be to God!

4 Sermons You Should Listen To

For the past ten years, I’ve been updating a podcast called “Feed My Sheep” with sermons preached at our church, sorted by date and book of the Bible.

There is no greater joy in ministry than studying and proclaiming the Word of God to the people of God for the glory of God. One of my life verses is Colossians 1:28–29:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

It’s hard to believe, but our podcast site now contains more than 500 sermons, including series on Ecclesiastes, the Gospel of Mark, Gospel of John, 1 Corinthians, Titus, 1 John, and every week we are adding new content on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. That’s a lot of material. But what if you wanted to catch just the “highlight” reel? Which sermons should you listen to first?

In our church’s membership class, we like to present discipleship as a four-phase gospel growth process: outreach, follow-up, growth, and training in ministry (see The Trellis & The Vine for more on this). For each of these four phases, we then refer prospective members to a few resources that could help them to identify where they are at in the process, and to facilitate further gospel growth.

With that in mind, here are four sermons from our podcast I think could help you on your spiritual journey…

For Outreach

Only Believe “(John 3:16) – A look at what is arguably the most important verse in the Bible. Answers the important question, “What must I do to be saved?” How you understand and respond to the gospel will determine where you spend eternity.

For Follow-Up

Spiritual Discipline: How to Improve Your Walk with God” – This was a Wednesday Night Bible Study I taught based on Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian LifeUse this link to access the whole audio series and handouts, or get a sample by listening to the episode below on prayer.

For Growth

Love: The Great Commandment” (1 John 4:19) – Our sermon series on 1 John dealt with the question, “How can I know for sure I’m saved?” This sermon summarizes the book and our aim in the Christian life.

For Training in Ministry

Rise Up, O Men of God” (Titus 1:5-9) – The first in a series I entitled, “Fit for Duty,” on the qualifications of an elder. These are characteristics every Christian should aspire to, as we accept the task of shepherding those under our care.

Question: Think of a sermon that had a direct impact on your life (whether at our church or some other church or radio ministry). What was it? How did it change you?

Photo: Alex Blăjan

What Bible Verses Should I Memorize?


A friend asked me the other day what would be the first ten verses he should memorize. I cheated and gave him more than ten, but I think this is an important starter list.

1. Start with John 3:16. It is an oldie, but a goodie. It is one of the most beautiful and succinct summaries of the gospel found anywhere in Scripture.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

2. This may seem odd, but next I recommend learning 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 on Sexual Purity. I don’t know any man (or woman) who doesn’t struggle with lust and impurity, whether in body or mind. It would be wise to commit these verses to memory as soon as possible as we fight the good fight for a clean conscience.

1 Thessalonians 4:3–4 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.

3. John 14:6 on the Exclusivity of Christ. I can’t think of a more important verse to explain that Jesus is the only way to salvation, and what makes him different from every other religion and worldview. In a day of so-called “tolerance” and postmodern confusion, we desperately need to fix our eyes on Christ alone.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

4. Ephesians 4:29 on Speech. If we could learn to live out this one verse, it will radically change our homes and our churches.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

5. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 on the Authority of Scripture. The Bible alone is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Many people seek existential experiences and supernatural revelation, yet overlook the fact God has already spoken, and he has spoken clearly.

2 Timothy 3:16–17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

6. The Romans Road. With the above verses under your belt, you are now ready to learn the Romans Road. I still remember memorizing this set of verses in junior high at my Christian school, and it changed my life to have a basic plan of salvation to meditate on and to share with others.

Romans 3:10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 10:9–10 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Romans 10:13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

After mastering these verses, I recommend buying John Barnett’s book Word-Filled Families. It has several chapters on marriage and parenting with scripture, plus an entire appendix listing “Verses Every Believer Should Know.”

Question: What verses would you add to a short list of essential verses to be memorized?

Photo: Cassidy Kelley

Deuteronomy Teaching Notes

Did you know Deuteronomy is quoted more often by Jesus than any other Old Testament book? It’s full of practical doctrine and joyful worship.

We have chosen to study this book for our 2017-2018 Friday Night Home Bible Study, and I will attach my teaching notes below as we go through the series.

If you live in the Yucca Valley area, we’d love to have you join us. Potluck dinner is served at 6pm. We have a mix of singles and marrieds, and kids are welcome too. Here are the lessons we’ve covered so far…

Deuteronomy Bible Study – Intro
Preamble (Deut. 1:1-5)
Looking Back (Deut. 1:6-3:29)

More to come, so check back regularly!

To see a full list of my sermons and teaching resources, please click here.

Photo credit: Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces.com

Ten Questions to Ask Your Spouse on a Date Night

One important sign of a healthy relationship is good communication. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each other.”

Salt not only adds flavor, but slows down the decaying process in food. What the Apostle Paul is saying is both our words and tone of voice should be pleasing to the ears and edifying to the soul. We should avoid harsh, critical, and dirty speech that tears others down and use our tongue instead to build up.

In the spirit of Donald Whitney’s excellent “Ten Questions” series of handouts, here is a list of ten questions I compiled to ask your spouse to promote good communication, such as on a date night…

1. What are a few of your favorite foods?
2. What are a few of your favorite hobbies?
3. What is one thing at home you wish you did better?
4. What is one thing at home you’d like me to do better?
5. Who is someone you deeply admire?
6. What is one of your favorite memories of our time together?
7. What is one thing I do that sometimes irritates you?
8. What character qualities do you most admire in me?
9. What is one lesson God has been teaching you?
10. Read 1 Corinthians 13. If I could better serve and show my love to you in one way, what would it be?

You can download a printable version of this discussion guide here.

Photo credit: Cody Black via Unsplash

Loaves, Fish, and Jesus’ Free Gift

Of all the miracles Jesus performed, my personal favorite is the feeding of the five thousand. Do you remember that story? After a long day of teaching in Galilee, Jesus noticed the people were getting hungry. Rather than send them into a seaside village to scrounge for food, he accepted a little boy’s sack lunch of five barley loaves and two small fish. He thanked God for the food, then began to break the bread and the fish, handing it out to the disciples, who distributed it among the crowd.

People were invited to eat “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11), and when it was all over, there was more food than when Jesus began. It was the first meal in history where the leftovers amounted to more than the original meal itself! “So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten” (John 6:13).

The response was electric. “When the people saw this miracle and tasted the food, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” (John 6:14). Some even tried to forcibly make him king right there. Jesus had no choice but to withdraw from the mob. His time had not yet come to publicly announce his kingship.

I’m not sure why this miracle is my favorite. Maybe it’s because it is the largest scale miracle recorded in the Gospels. More eye witnesses saw this event than probably any other in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Maybe it’s because I like to eat, and I think it’s cool that Jesus cared about the hunger of his listeners. Maybe it’s because of the underlying spiritual lesson that Jesus is the Bread of Life, and if you want to have your spiritual hunger satisfied, you must trust in him alone.

There’s one more reason I like this miracle so much, and it goes back to a childhood memory. When I was in second grade, the teacher at my little Christian school conducted an experiment to show us how big the number 5,000 is. She sent home a letter instructing us to collect as many aluminum soda can tabs as possible (“pop” can tabs for all of us in Michigan). By next Monday, kids were already pulling Ziploc-bags out of their backbacks that contained soda can tabs. We huddled close, counted them up, then listened to them clink into an empty metal desk at the front of the room. Week by week, the desk began to fill more and more, until it reached the brim, and the desk lid would barely close. Still more tabs were brought and placed on top of the desk, until finally, we reached our goal of 5,000 soda tabs. The class went wild. We had done it! And that staggering number of aluminum can tabs represented the same number of people Jesus fed with a little basket of five loaves and two fish.

The feeding of the five thousand is just one of the many amazing miracles or “signs” Jesus performed, proving he is the Son of God. These were not cheap magic tricks or legendary fables. They were real-life events that defied the laws of nature and became indisputable proofs that Jesus was sent from God. The people who ate that meal were right to acknowledge, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” What about you? What will you do with Jesus? Are you willing to check out his claims for yourself — or maybe even accept his free gift of eternal life?

This article first appeared in the Minister’s Message of our local newspaper, The Hi Desert Star.

A Glimpse at the Wrath of God

I wince every time I see images of Hurricane Irma barreling toward the Florida mainland. All of this while the Pacific Northwest fights massive forest fires, Mexico reels from an 8.2 earthquake, and Texas cleans up unprecedented flood damage. As I watch these disasters unfold and pray for my friends who are affected, I cannot help but think of Romans 1:18-19, which our church studied just a couple weeks ago.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

When I read these verses and preached on this passage back on August 27, I noted how natural disasters are a preview of the wrath of God that should point us to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here’s a transcript of my words Sunday morning two weeks ago. Little did I know just how dramatic God would put his wrath on display in the days ahead…

“Do you understand that when you see human suffering — when you see viruses, and influenza; when you see bacteria; when you see wars and natural disasters — you are seeing in a sense the wrath of God revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness?

Those things didn’t exist in the pre-fall era. When God looked at his creation after six days, he said, ‘It is very good’ (Genesis 1:31). There was no suffering. There were not wars, there was no sin, there were no diseases. Everything was perfect. But God gave a curse upon this world, and now we all groan under the weight of God’s punishment against sin.

The worst is yet to come for unbelievers. But all of these forms of suffering, and trials, and disasters, are but a foretaste of a future and eternal suffering that awaits the wicked. Oh yes, God’s wrath is already manifested and revealed from against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

But ultimately, the greatest demonstration we have seen thus far of the wrath of God took place at Golgotha 2,000 years ago. When God sent his one and only son into this world, and Jesus hung upon that cross, and the sky went pitch black, and God crushed his son and wounded him so we could be forgiven of our sins. People saw the wrath of God being poured out. Even the Roman centurion – a pagan up to that point – said ‘Truly, this was the Son of God.’ …

The wrath of God has been revealed many times throughout history. Why? Because there’s so much ungodliness and unrighteousness. And perhaps the greatest demonstration of that unrighteousness is the willful and deliberate suppression of the truth.”

Our world is hurting. The suffering is overwhelming. My question is this: What is it going to take for God to get our attention?

Oh that God would use these disasters to shake us out of our spiritual stupor, and bring us to repentance, before an infinitely greater wrath arrives.

Our Ministry Vision … Ten Years Later

In September 2007, I took a few deacons up to the mountains of Idyllwild on a Prayer and Strategic Planning Retreat. We had no elders at the time, so these men were essentially my partners as shepherds and overseers of the local church.

This was a difficult season for our church. Attendance had dwindled down to about 50 people, and we were running a $2,000 monthly deficit. Some were afraid the church would have to close its doors.

During our weekend sitting on those musty couches in the mountain air, we discussed ministry and prayed for the future of our church. We also used the SWOT method to do some strategic planning (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and laid out a long-term vision for the ministry. It was too early to share some of these ambitious goals with the whole congregation, so early on, they were just desires of our heart, expressed through prayer.

I was going through some old files the other day, and came across the notes from that meeting. Now, exactly ten years later, I’m overwhelmed to see God’s goodness and the fruit of those prayers. With nearly every item on our list, the Lord either met or exceeded our expectations.

Goal: Be using present facility at full potential or already in new building across the street.

Ten Years Later: Our auditorium has reached full capacity, and we are in the process of renovations and expansions.

Goal: Deeper exposition of God’s Word at all levels, in all classes and worship services.

Ten Years Later: God has given our church a hunger for God’s word, and continues to grow me as an expositor. We have studied together the Gospel of John, 1 Corinthians, Titus, Ecclesiastes, 1 John, the Gospel of Mark, and now Romans. In addition to our online podcast, the Lord recently opened a door for us to broadcast our sermons on the local radio station Z107.7 every Sunday morning at 8:30.

Goal: Possible classical school.

Ten Years Later: This is the one item on our list that received very little attention. But we are blessed to see many more families and children attending our services.

Goal: Possible Bible institute of some kind, equipping pastors and lay people.

Ten Years Later: The Lord has given us a strategic partnership with California Baptist University to train up young men going into pastoral ministry. We also have a growing list of members who moved on to pursue seminary and vocational ministry.

Goal: That we would radiate Christ, His Gospel, His love, and His book; that there would be an energy, vitality, joy, and excitement, that would be noticeable to others.

Ten Years Later: We continue to be a work in progress, but many people have visited the church and say it is one of the most loving, friendly churches they have ever attended.

Goal: A growing influence on our Inland Empire Association, on other local churches, and on pastors.

Ten Years Later: By God’s grace, I have served on several denominational boards and committees, and was given the opportunity to preside over the Pastor’s Conference several years ago.

Goal: A plurality of elders providing leadership while still retaining some level of congregational involvement; begin to move toward biblical pattern of church polity.

Ten Years Later: In 2015, our church voted unanimously to adopt a biblical polity that involved a plurality of elders. These men are both good friends and wise counselors, and I cannot begin to measure their love for the body of Christ, or the joy of doing ministry together.

What will our ministry look ten years from now? Only the Lord knows! But may we never forget the power of prayer, or the vital role of patience in gospel ministry.

Do You Ask Good or Bad Questions?

Last Sunday, we concluded a sermon series on evangelism. I do pray this will be a turning point in our church becoming more evangelistic, and seeing more people saved. May this not be the end, but rather the beginning of a new culture of evangelism in our lives and in the church.

When preaching on “The Conversation of an Evangelist” a few weeks ago, I shared several ways to have more fruitful, gospel-centered conversations, as Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch.

During that message, I shared several tips for asking good questions, and promised I would send it out to everyone. As you can see, one of the keys to evangelism is becoming a better listener. Here’s the list for any blog readers interested…

NINE TIPS FOR ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS

By Will Metzger, Tell the Truth

1. Take every possible chance to ask a searching question, then keep quiet.

2. One thoughtful question is worth a dozen interrogative ones. The prod-and-pry approach makes people clam up.

3. Questions that come close to people’s true interests get the best answers, provided we are interested.

4. Be prepared to wait. Sometimes a long silence can be more rewarding than another question.

5. In every case, the quality of an answer depends on the quality of attention given by the questioner.

6. Questions must spring from honest inquiry, not from attempts at flattery or efforts to manipulate people’s thinking.

7. Questions that deal with people’s feelings are more provocative than those that deal with facts. Listen for and encourage all expressions of feeling.

8. What is our motive in asking questions? Are we just leading people on in order to argue or to trap them, or do we really care for them?

9. Ask questions to help people tell their story, not just about what interests you or things you want clarified.

“Only a listening, loving heart can remove the mask we all wear”

Question: What kind of questions help you have gospel conversations with unbelievers?

Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net