All posts by Nic Gibson

Senior Pastor at HPC

5 Difficulties Believing and Their Treatments

When I was in college, I came to talk to one of the pastors at my church about how we could reach more college students. We talked about moving our only service from 9am to a later time. We talked about including applications and questions relevant to college students, as well as some other possibilities. He listened politely and expressed his concern for the college students I was working with. However, when I finished, he had a fairly brief answer for me. He said something like, “Nic, I know that you want to reach students and give them answers to their questions. But you need to understand that at bottom, their rejection of the gospel isn’t about philosophy, apologetics or better preaching; it’s about unbelief. They don’t want to believe. And when people don’t want to believe there is no reason good enough and no information complete enough. And the university is septic with that kind of unbelief.”

I knew there was something wrong with that answer, but I had a hard time teasing it out. On the one hand, I knew he was partly right. Unbelief is the most recurring sin in the Bible and the most predictable attitude of the human heart. God talks about it constantly, and the narratives of the Bible show us everywhere what it looks like. The prophets explain its fruit and Jesus attacks it regularly. Unbelief is the great sin.

Yet I also knew he was partly wrong. Not every difficulty believing in the Bible is unbelief. Jude says to be “merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). Even where the word “unbelief” (apistis) is used, there are situations where is it not considered a sin. Like the father that said, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Yet, even for Christians, unbelief is still the greatest enemy in the mind and heart. It says it this way in Hebrews 3:12-15:

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.  As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

The author calls the unbelieving heart the “sinful” heart and says that it is the result of our hearts being hardened by “sin’s deceitfulness.” That is, unbelief is a kind of dishonesty and unreality. It is a rebellion against God’s truth: a “turning away from the living God.”

Five biblical categories for difficulty believing in God

  1. Ignorance: A lack of education. Not knowing about God’s truth.
  2. Doubt: A weakness of heart. When knowledge fails to strengthen the heart with the courage of faith.
  3. Non-belief: Having information, we remain unpersuaded. Lack of persuasive reasons to believe.
  4. Disbelief: A lack of conceivability. The gospel seems too good to be true, or too bad to be considered.
  5. Unbelief: A moral failure to believe what should be believed. A refusal to believe and a subversive attitude. A turning away from God.

Continue reading 5 Difficulties Believing and Their Treatments

Orientations and the Body of Christ (resources)

Any Christian of any orientation who is seeking to be faithful to the Gospel is going to find stiff resistance from the world generally and possibly even from self-identifying as Christians. Living this out faithfully requires more than the solution to a question. There is a deep tension here that must be managed. It is a brokenness that must be carried, a burden that we must bear together. The point where truth and gracious love meet always seems to land within this tension, and that’s how it will remain until that final day.

I have compiled below some of the best and most usable resources I know of that can help you learn about the issues related to faithful Christian belief and practice and alternate sexual orientations. Hopefully this page will grow and be refined over time. Feel free to make suggestions if you know of something helpful I have overlooked or am not aware of.

As a blog of High Point Church, the perspective here is confessional, Biblical Gospel-centered, historically orthodox Christianity. Continue reading Orientations and the Body of Christ (resources)

Dispatches about India

I returned from India a few weeks ago now and am finally fully back on Midwestern time…and diet.

For those that don’t know, my oldest daughter Abigail and I were in India for about ten days at the end of October through the beginning of November. One of the nonprofit boards that I serve on is a ministry called Serving Alongside. Serving Alongside is a supporting nonprofit for emerging Asian leaders engaging in church leadership development, especially in India. Manohar James, who is on the High Point staff team, is the executive director of Serving Alongside and a ministry in India called Redeem India. I serve as the president of Serving Alongside.

Part of my responsibilities as president is to go to our ministries in India to see them firsthand, to oversee their administrative and financial workings, and to do training with Indian pastors. This last trip we went to four locations and had more than 1,100 participants. Tom Flaherty, the pastor at City Church, also came as part of the teaching team. It’s not a glamorous trip: switching hotels most nights, eating food unfamiliar to your digestive system, sweating your way through pretty hot days, and trying to remain relatively unseen to a political climate in which we are unwelcome. But the effect of the work is profound. All pastors are in need of encouragement and further training. However, the pastors that we reach usually have no biblical training, and are basically making up pastoral ministry as they go along. They may have had some kind of mentor, but that mentor often had received no training themselves. The result, as I have heard from Indian Christians, is real weakness in the spiritual leadership of the church, especially in any area requiring training.

Pastors in IN

What we deliver is eight modular seminary courses that we believe are a basic training for pastoral ministry. These are each delivered in two day seminars. The goal is to have the seminars in each state of India, which has 25 states. This is mainly because most Indian states each have a different main state language. This means that the resources that we use and the teaching that we offer has to be translated into many languages, since we move among multiple regional locations.

Yet with all these difficulties and more, the hunger we find in pastors for encouragement and training draws them from everywhere. The content we offer them can be demanding and sometimes difficult for them to accept, because it is outside of what is normal (according to what is familiar to them) in the church. This is why we keep our teaching rooted directly in the Bible. When we are able to show that our teaching is the proper understanding of numerous Bible passages and is in keeping with the gospel, pastors overwhelmingly embrace the education we offer.

Although we are still sorting through the many evaluation forms, the trend seems to say that people were very encouraged by our most recent meetings. In most locations, we are seeing a groundswell of serious pastors who want to grow and meet the present moment emerging in India. It is a moment of great economic and educational transformation. It is a time in which government is increasingly condoning persecution, but this is also a time of profound opportunity.

I want to especially thank the church for making it possible for me to bring my daughter Abigail. Although Abby had to raise her support like anyone else, the church donated to her fundraising through the Global Missions Team. Additionally, many people worked hard to make it possible for me to go on this trip without any more added stress than was necessary. I imagine most people hardly knew that I was gone, and yet I am hoping that this experience was transformative to Abby in many ways. She says it was, and I trust the work of God in her. It’s easy to forget how hard it is to learn to trust God and walk with him in your teenage years. It’s hard to find your security in God at the very moment you feel most insecure in the world. But I think this trip helped: travel tends to help teenagers, and trips like this all the more. She also got to spend time with Tom, who was like a spiritual grandfather to her. Abby doesn’t have any believing grandfathers, and so spending time with Tom, Manohar, and myself on this trip was like hanging out with your dad, your little-bit-crazy grandfather, and your cool Indian uncle all at once.

Abby baking in Nagpur.jpg
Abby baking Chapati in Nagpur

In all, this trip was another great experience in India. We delivered vital ministry to pastors who greatly appreciated it. I believe that this work will effect fruit in hundreds of churches throughout the country. I spent time investing in an important relationship with Tom. We do a lot of work together between our churches and the Christian schools, and getting to know him on a deeper level is critical and strategic to God’s work in Madison. I had the privilege to observe Manohar’s diligence in his work in India. He works very hard to provide great training and also to be a careful steward over the funds given for this ministry. And lastly, I was able to spend precious time with my daughter. For all these things, I thank God. He truly gives back more and abundantly all of the things that we have given up in his service. We only need eyes to see.

Our Changing Church

Every church is changing. Even though the gospel is unchanging, every church is an expression of the gospel through their language, culture and time. But as the culture, language and time outside of the church continues to change, and each church’s cultural expression will fall behind if it does not change. No church that prevails in this culture can measure itself by other normal, or even “successful,” churches. Even growing churches tend to grow because they are “better” when compared with other churches, which means that often these churches grow because people transfer from other churches. There is some growth by conversion, but very little even in most growing churches. Continue reading Our Changing Church

Staff or no staff: the worst Bible “contradiction”

For 2000 years Christians have believed in the authority of the Bible as an inspired document. Christians have believed that God’s inspiration of the Scriptures has left us with a written word that is both infallible and inerrant. That is, that the original manuscripts of the original authors are inspired by God while simultaneously being the product of the intellect and personality of the human biblical author. This means that the Scripture is both the product of the writing of men and the inspiration of God. Yet, because Scriptures are inspired by God, they are fully trustworthy and without error in the original manuscripts.

To confirm or deny this belief, we can look and see if there is anything in Scripture that can be proven false or that is self-contradictory. Because of this, those who have resisted believing in the authority of the Bible have often pointed out passages that they believe are in contradiction to each other—what we might call “apparent contradictions.”

I have been considering dozens of these apparent contradictions for more than 20 years. In general, I find that they are very easily resolved and are not contradictions at all. However, the solutions to some are easier than others. The most difficult I have ever come across is the apparent contradiction of Mark 6:8 compared to Luke 9:3 and Matthew 10:10.

Mark 6:8-9 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.

Matthew 10:10 Take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

Luke 9:3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.

The apparent contradiction is that in Mark the disciples are instructed to take a staff, and in Matthew and Luke they are instructed not to take a staff. This appears to be as obvious and direct a contradiction as could be possible. Perhaps the best analysis of solutions to this problem is still the article “Staff or No Staff?” in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly by Barnabas Ahern from July 1943. Continue reading Staff or no staff: the worst Bible “contradiction”

What Does “Son of God” Really Mean?

All of the Gospel writers explain Jesus as the “Son of God.” Mark 1:1 says, “the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” John was written partially to a large Greek audience, whose Greek gods were often fornicating and siring illegitimate children. So using “Son of God” as the first and primary explanation of the identity of Jesus may have seemed problematic. So John says, “in the beginning was the word.” In Greek the logos, which we translate “word,” was something that was co-eternal with absolute reality, was built into the logic of creation, and was the absolute mind of all true divinity. So that may have seemed like a better idea as an introduction for John than “Son of God.” But John still uses this title as early as John 1:34, and ties it to the idea of him being the “Lamb of God” in John 1:36.

In Matthew, the disciples call Jesus the Son of God when he calms the storm, but he doesn’t say it explicitly about himself until his trial (as a dramatic climax) in Matthew 26:63-64. Then the title is repeated three times in Matthew 27.

Luke’s gospel starts with the miraculous origins of Jesus, and then he is called the Son of God in Luke 3:22 by the voice of God. Immediately following that, Luke includes the genealogy that shows that Jesus is the son of Adam, the son of Abraham, the son of David, and the son of Zerubbabel, and is in the proper line of the Son of Man, who is the Son of God and the Messiah King. This factthat he is the Son Godis then the first thing challenged by Satan in the temptations of chapter 4. Jesus isn’t called the Son of God again until Luke 22:70.

So, although all of the Gospel writers claim that Jesus is the son of God, all of them take great pains to fill out the concept to avoid misunderstanding. And this was rightly done. Continue reading What Does “Son of God” Really Mean?