The Rabble

On Sunday evenings, we have been studying Moses and the Exodus. Last week we looked at Exodus 16, where God provided manna for the Israelites to eat. He gave them exactly what they needed, and He provided it in a miraculous way. That provision would lead to an interesting word in scripture: rabble. “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!” (Numbers 11:4) At the time the Israelites were blessed by food from God that literally rained down from the sky. The rabble put forward the idea that the same food day after day was getting tiresome. Their complaints took root in the people around them. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary describes the rabble as “a recurring source of complaints and trouble.” If we don’t make the effort to be positive, thankful and encouraging; can we sometimes be the rabble?
 
It can be easy for us to lose sight of the blessings of God and instead complain about the difficulties, inconveniences and frustrations of life. When it comes to the church, it’s easy for us to make things about our own wants instead of considering other church members or a world around us that needs the gospel. Even though God proves His love and His faithfulness time after time, we forget His provision or want more. Being the rabble takes us a step beyond that. We take those feelings of dissatisfaction or selfishness, and we plant those feelings in others. Then the dissatisfaction and negativity begins to spread like wildfire. Let’s all do our best not to be the rabble. Then let’s honor God by taking the next step and being people who spread hope and encouragement instead. – Brian
 
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15


Get Motivated

Have you ever had one of those days where you knew there were things you should be accomplishing, but you would rather just curl up with a good book, watch some TV, head to the golf course or pour yourself into your favorite way to relax? Sometimes even when the task or need is clear, it can be difficult for us to get motivated. How do we get motivated? We may think in terms of rewards or consequences. We may consider the satisfaction of a job well done. Maybe others push us toward the goal. Motivation helps move us where we need to go.
 
In our effort to follow Christ rather than the desires of the world, there are motivators that come straight from scripture. In his book, Conformed to His Image, Kenneth Boa considers motivation. “What motivates people to behave the way they do? Why do we sometimes avoid evil and at other times choose it? Or from another perspective, why do we do the right thing on some occasions and fail to do it on others? People are motivated to satisfy their needs for security, significance and fulfillment, but they turn to the wrong places to have their needs met.” Boa finds seven motivators, some positive and some negative, in scripture that we use in our walk with Christ.
 
  1. No other options – Following Christ is the only path for a Christian to take. Any other option is inadequate. (John 6)
  2. Fear – We learn that it is important to fear God, and we also recognize that we should fear the entanglements and results of sin. (2 Corinthians 5:10-11)
  3. Love and gratitude – The love we received from God and people encourages us to reciprocate that same love towards them. (1 John 4:19, John 15:9-10)
  4. Rewards – Faithful living enhances this life, and we know there is an even better life to come. (Romans 8:1)
  5. Our identity in Christ – As being a Christ-follower becomes who we are, it becomes second nature to be more like Him. (Romans 6:1-4)
  6. Purpose and hope – As Russell talked about in his devotional Wednesday night, we have a hope that is not simply wishing for the best. Our hope trusts that God has plans for us and that He is faithful. (Ephesians 1:18)
  7. Longing for God – God is the most important thing in our lives. That fact motivates us to please Him and live for Him. (Psalm 42:1-2)

 

I have a friend in ministry who ended his bulletin article for years with the admonition, “Now let’s get to work.” When he sends birthday greetings, he ends those with “Remember WHOSE you are.” Remembering whose we are is a great motivator for us to get to the work He has planned for us to do.

 

Brian


The Mission Before Us

During Leon’s Wednesday night class (which you’re missing out on if you haven’t been here), I was struck by the change in the word used to describe the growth of the church from “added” in Acts 2 to “multiplied” in Acts 6. I believe the difference is who is telling the story. In Acts 2, people respond to Peter’s sermon. By Acts 6, the apostles share the message with others who continue sharing the message. Multiplication. This article from Keith Harris, Preaching Minister at the WindSong Church of Christ in Little Rock, reminds us of our role in that mission.
 
Brian
 
 
There are some statements that seem to come to mind in certain situations; phrases that were fueled by extraordinary moments. I think of the words of Neil Armstrong as he floated gracefully to the surface of the moon from the ladder of the lunar module, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Or Richard Nixon’s, “I’m not a criminal!” Or what about those great moments in sports? There’s the famous Verne Lundquist commentary as Jack Nicklaus holed putt after putt in the 1986 Masters at Augusta, “Yes sir!” Or Verne’s dramatic commentary as Tiger holed a chip shot on the 16th at Augusta National, “Oh wow! In your life have seen anything like that?!” And there’s always Mohammad Ali, “I’m the greatest!” Or, “I’m pretty! I’m a bad man!” Without a doubt, statements that are made can become household phrases…depending on the peculiarity of the situation.
 
Jesus offered many words that would challenge those who heard them. We know this full well. They challenge us today.
 


Have Patience

As Jesus enters the synagogue in Mark 3, we learn that some “were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.” This is one of the many times that I appreciate the patience of Jesus. Patience is one fruit of the Spirit that I consider to be a work in progress in my life. Jesus exemplifies it daily in the gospels. He walks into a situation where people are watching His every move and waiting for His first misstep. Still He continues to teach the lesson He wants them to learn through His actions. It’s a little more difficult for us to do things without being changed by being under the microscope.
 
One of my favorite teachers in high school was Alvin Simmons. He was in his 70’s and not much more than five feet tall. He was a World War II veteran and taught chemistry and physics for decades after returning home from the Pacific. As we sat at our lab tables working through problems, Mr. Simmons would pace around the room. Occasionally, he would look over one of the student’s shoulders and start to laugh. Then he would say something like, “That’s a good answer, but I hope no one agrees with you.” It was either unnerving or hilarious, depending on whose shoulder he was looking over. The thing that made it O.K. was that we knew he wanted us to do well. His patience with us encouraged our patience with him. We knew he wanted us to learn to think. He was looking for us to succeed. That was not what Jesus experienced. The religious leaders wanted to see Him fail or misspeak, so they could catch Him in that failure or those wrong words.
 
What are we looking for this week? Are we assuming the best about each other or looking through the lens of cynicism? Are we looking for opportunities to glorify God? Are we looking for situations to show His love to those around us? Through it all, are we displaying the patience that Jesus displayed. That patience for us that comes as a fruit of the Spirit.
 
Brian
 
With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone. – Proverbs 25:15


Becoming a Disciple

Discipleship was not a new concept started in the ministry of Jesus. Rabbis and even other cultures had disciples long before Jesus chose the twelve. Still, there was something different about the way Jesus approached discipleship. In his book, The Complete Book of Discipleship, Bill Hull writes about four ways that Jesus’ way of doing discipleship was unique.
 
• It was unique in who He chose. He chose observant Jews who were tradesmen. Jesus did not seek out the most educated or the religious leadership to be disciples. He chose average people in normal jobs who had a love for God and keeping His commands.
 
• It was uniquely based on friendship and common respect. As the disciples of Jesus took on the next generation of disciples, it was not to take on a role of importance for themselves. The focus is always on Jesus.
 
• It was unique because it redefined disciple. A disciple of Jesus is not just a student or a follower. A disciple of Jesus is someone who commits to follow Jesus and learn as part of a community of disciples. Being His disciples means being accountable to another disciple and encouraging one another as we follow Him together.
 
• It was unique in how we should apply it now. The pattern we see in the discipleship that Jesus taught is one that we should be following today. Jesus calls us to be disciples who work along other disciples to make more disciples. It’s the way the church was always intended to grow and mature.
 
Jesus chose regular people just like us to spread His story across the entire world. And it worked! It can continue happening today as we point more people toward Him and help each other to follow His example.
 
Brian
 
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20


To Love and Obey

As is sometimes the case, our Sunday morning series and Wednesday night auditorium class crossed paths recently with a topic that is found throughout scripture: love. We talked about love as a fruit of the spirit two weeks ago on Sunday morning, and 1 John has come back to the topic multiple times in our Wednesday night study. This week love for God and obedience to Him are connected in 1 John 5.
 
We know that the greatest commands are to love God and love people, but we often forget a third kind of love that is taught in scripture. In his book, Conformed to His Image, Kenneth Boa writes about what the spiritual life of a Christian should look like. He talks about love in terms of relational spirituality, and he breaks it down into three basic categories we find in the Bible.
 
1. Loving God Completely. A big part of this is obedience, as we discussed in class Wednesday night. Boa explains why it makes sense that this obedience is directly connected to our love for God and His love for us. “As we grow to know and love God, we learn that we can trust His character, promises and precepts. Whenever He asks us to avoid something, it is because He knows that it is not in our best interests. And whenever He asks us to do something, it is always because it will lead to greater good. If we are committed to following hard after God, we must do the things he tells us to do. But the risk of obedience is that it will often make no sense to us at the time.”
 
2. Loving Ourselves Correctly. We often miss this step when Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:39 to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We focus on the loving our neighbor part, but we have to remember that we should also love ourselves. In his book, Boa describes what the Bible teaches about self-love in this way: “Loving ourselves correctly means seeing ourselves as God sees us.” God sees us realistically, but He also sees us as children He loves who have been set free because of His Son.
 
3. Loving Others Compassionately. We should not only see ourselves as God sees us, we need to see others as He sees them. 1 John 5 reminds us that the way we show this love is part of our testimony about God. Boa echoes the words of John. “Our faith in the work Christ accomplished for us in the past and our hope of the future completion of this work when we see Him are demonstrated in the present through the choices and works of love. The more we love God, the more we will express His transcendent love in others-centered deeds of kindness and goodness.”
 
Let’s all take every opportunity to love and obey God this week.
 
– Brian
 
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. – 1 John 4:7
 


Lemons

We’ve probably all heard the cliché before, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s a reminder to make the best of a bad situation. Some of us are skilled at it, but it still remains elusive to a lot of us. Instead we are dragged down by the bad, or we just sit and wait for it to get worse.
 
Last week we began a sermon series about the Fruit of the Spirit. When the Spirit lives in us, these things should be evident in our lives. This week we will talk about joy as part of that fruit. It’s easy to be joyful when things are going well, but the book of James tells us to even find joy in trials. Paul gives us a great example of how good and joy can come from difficulty.
 
In Acts 28, Paul finds himself shipwrecked on the island of Malta. It would be easy and even expected for him to be upset about his imprisonment, the legitimacy of his trials and the difficulty of the journey. With all of those things already heading in the wrong direction, he is shipwrecked and now snake-bit. Literally. The people on the island are amazed that he seems unaffected by the bite. Shortly after that incident, he heals a man. Once it is clear Paul has some kind of power, those who are sick on the island begin to come to him for healing. At a time where many of us would want to focus inwardly and think about poor, pitiful me, Paul is healing people. This is one of the ways God works through the shipwreck. How is God working through our difficult experiences today? Are we trying to play a part in that work?
 
– Brian


Fellowship: Parts 3 and 4

A few weeks ago, I shared the first in a series of four articles devoted to unpacking the scriptural example of small groups (like our fellowship groups). This is the combined third and fourth article in that series by Dr. Dan Williams, a long time minister and expert on small group ministries in the churches of Christ.  – Brian
 
To quickly recap the first two weeks of this series, we learned first that in the very beginning of the church in Acts 2, that their “togetherness” was in part attributed to their regular meetings together and that often those meetings were in homes.  In his second point, Dan reminded us that we have several examples throughout the New Testament of churches meeting in homes, including one we have been studying on Wednesday nights about the house church that met at Philemon’s home. In fact, there is no evidence for buildings dedicated to Christian worship for the first 300 years of the church. That led to an opportunity for hospitality at church meetings in homes. That brings us to this week.
 
Third, the purpose of the command in Hebrews 10:25 to “meet together” is to “encourage one another” – that’s why Verse 24 says “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”  The church for which I preached for over 28 years has had some sort of small group system in place since 1977, and I can testify from long experience that the level of fellowship, closeness, and unity in a church is greatly enhanced by participating in well-designed home groups.
 
Finally, there are those who might be concerned that meeting in small groups will cause division within the church. Our experience with small groups is that, far from “dividing” the church, they created much stronger bonds of fellowship, bonding, and unity by allowing for a much more personal level of fellowship than would ever be experienced simply by sitting in pews looking at the back of your fellow Christians’ head every Lord’s Day. By contrast, I can show you dozens of congregations that are deeply divided despite the fact that they share the same physical space every Sunday morning!
 
In short, small groups are described in scripture; the concept is amply demonstrated in the New Testament; when done right, their study format deepens the participants’ knowledge of the Bible; and their more personal, interactive format provides an excellent method for fulfilling the command in Hebrews 10:25 to “encourage one another.”
 
I hope these thoughts have provided a helpful perspective for our family members as we prepare for the launch of our fellowship groups this fall. If you have not already, please consider signing up for a fellowship group today.


Fellowship: Part 2

Two weeks ago, I shared the first in a series of four articles devoted to unpacking the scriptural example of small groups (like our fellowship groups). This is the second article in that series by Dr. Dan Williams, a long time minister and expert on small group ministries in the churches of Christ.  – Brian Small groups were a practice that was a part of the church from the very beginning of New Testament Christianity.  When small groups are done right there is nothing more scriptural, for four reasons. This week we will look at the second reason: Second, the New Testament contains frequent references to home-based church gatherings:

  • Romans 16:4 “the church that meets at their house”
  • 1 Corinthians 16:19 “The church that meets at their house”
  • Colossians 4:15 “The church in her house”
  • Philemon 2 “the church that meets in your home”

In fact, historians tell us there is no evidence that there were ANY buildings dedicated exclusively to Christian worship in the first 300 years of Christianity – that is, there were no structures that corresponded to what we know as “church buildings” today.  How, then, did they “do church”?  The New Testament tells us – they met in homes! This practice of home-based church meetings explains the frequent references to the importance of “hospitality” in the New Testament (1 Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:1-2; 3 John 5-8; Romans 12:13). This means that when we read the exhortation in Hebrews 10:25 to “meet together” we will be making a mistake if we picture a large worship assembly sitting in pews in a church building with a pulpit at the front.   To do so would be to take the practices WE are most familiar with in 21st Century America and mistakenly impose them on First Century Judea. (continued next week)



Fellowship

It’s a great time of year here at Southwest. This week, we are excited for the return of our ECU students and the beginning of a new year in our college ministry. Kyle will have many opportunities for you to help, and you will be a blessing when you do.

Next month, our fellowship groups will begin. As that time gets closer, it might be good to remember why these groups are valuable and why you might like to be a part of one this year. We believe this will be a great opportunity to better connect with each other, to grow deeper in our relationships and to invite friends to learn more about Christ as we continue growing in Christ. There is something about being in a home that allows us to share more with each other about our lives and our walk with Christ. It’s also a great setting to invite a friend to learn more about us and why God is important to us. For the next few weeks, this bulletin space will be devoted to unpacking the scriptural example of small groups. This is the first of a series by Dr. Dan Williams, a long time minister and expert on small group ministries in the churches of Christ.  – Brian

Small groups were a practice that was a scriptural part of the church from the very beginning of New Testament Christianity.  When small groups are done right there is nothing more scriptural, for four reasons:

First, in the description of the very first church of Christ, the great Jerusalem church, we read:

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” – Acts 2:46

Note that the Biblical passage describes two levels of the church’s “togetherness.”  The first was in the “temple courts” – which would have likely been the only public space large enough for a congregation of more than 3000 members (Acts 2:41; 2:47: 4:4).

The second level was in their “homes.” There is simply NO way for that second level to be logistically possible without some sort of small group system, because NO scholar or commentary I have ever read has suggested that all 3000+ members were crammed together in one living room!  The only possible conclusion is that the Jerusalem Christians came up with some method of providing members with access to smaller, home-based gatherings – which is the very definition of a small group ministry!   (continued next week)