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)

 



Back to School

These few weeks are big weeks for many families here at Southwest. For some parents, you will be sending a child to school for that first day of kindergarten. For lots of our families, it’s another year of the annual cycle between summer vacations and the return to routine. Some will be taking that first day of school picture for the last time as kids enter their senior year. Others will say goodbye to kids who are heading off to college, even though that first day of kindergarten may seem like it was yesterday. In life we are continually growing. As Wendell Ingram reminded us last Wednesday night, Jesus grew and we are growing both physically and spiritually. The story of a young Jesus amazing people at the temple ends with this statement in Luke 2:52. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

Throughout scripture we see stories of people who grow in their faith, and we are given instruction and examples along the way to learn how to grow ourselves. There is a good foundation for our growth and learning in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Said another way, integrate God and His word into daily life. As He becomes more a part of our regular experiences and conversations, we will continue to grow in Him. As we begin another school year, let’s see it as another opportunity to grow.

Whether you are at one of these stages or if those stages are memories to you, our church family walks alongside you as we all grow in life together.

 

– Brian



New Beginnings

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel spent about 70 years in exile. Last Sunday night, we looked at the familiar story of Daniel and how he still lived by faith while not in his homeland. When the time came for them to return to Jerusalem, the priorities for rebuilding were obvious. They needed to rebuild the city wall for defense and rebuild the temple for worship.

After the foundation for the new temple was laid, the reactions of the people were very different. In Ezra 3:11-12 we read, “With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.”

As our teachers and students are about to begin a new school year, many look at it as a time for renewal in our own lives. It’s time to fix the mistakes from last year. It’s time to build some positive new habits. It’s time for a fresh start. Whether it’s a new school year or just a time that we make a decision to change, the people in our lives will react in different ways. Some will embrace the changes while others will be more cynical. Still we know that with God’s help and the encouragement of our church family, we can continue to grow and become the salt and light He calls us to be.

Like those we read about in Ezra, let’s just keep building what God has set before us.

– Brian

 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

    his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

    great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

    “therefore I will hope in him.”  – Lamentations 3:22-24

 



The Story of Esther

Not long ago on a Sunday evening we looked together at the story of Esther. Although God is not mentioned, we see Him at work throughout the events that occurred. To follow up with a few more ideas, I’d like to share three important themes in the story that Wes McAdams from the church of Christ on McDermott Road in Plano wrote about recently.    – Brian

 
The book of Esther is an amazing story. There is a Jewish holiday that has been celebrated for over 2,500 years, which commemorates the events of this story. But, unfortunately, many of us have a tendency to reduce this story to a moral parable, focusing on just one phrase, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” There is so much more to this story than that. Consider these thoughts. (Click here to continue reading.)


The Freedom of Forgiveness

On Sundays, we have been studying the parables of Jesus. The parable we will talk about this Sunday illustrates the importance of forgiveness. Last year Dan Winkler released a book entitled, Forgiving, Forgiven and Free: The Peace of Living Without a Past. In the book’s preface, Michael Whitworth considers some of the reasons we have a cultural pressure not to forgive.

“Forgiveness seems thoroughly unnatural or inhuman. Americans believe in ‘justice for all’ and value law and order. Whenever I have taught and counseled on forgiveness, many people have confessed to the seeming injustice of it all. When we forgive those who have wronged us, it feels like we are letting them off the hook—that justice isn’t being done. Is forgiveness fair? Forgiveness can also feel cowardly. Isn’t it something only weak people do? It takes courage, we tell ourselves, to stand our grand and bear the standard of injustice. Letting others off the hook for their sins is giving in; it’s surrender. I’ve discovered that these twin ideas—the ‘injustice’ and ‘cowardice’ of forgiveness—are more deep-seated than we imagine. Why else would be choose to live without forgiveness? Why would we decide to live without forgiving others, without forgiving ourselves, and without God’s forgiveness so graciously offered up to us in Christ?”

I believe that part of the answer to Michael’s last question is that we do not always consider those three things to be connected. Jesus states clearly in Matthew 6:14-15 that how we forgive others is connected to how God forgives us. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. “

Forgiveness may be one of the most difficult commands of God for some of us to follow. When we buy into the cultural lie that is cowardly or unjust, it becomes even more difficult for us to do. There’s a reason that Peter’s suggestion of forgiving seven times seemed over-the-top to him. Still it is a command of God, and it is something we desire to receive from others and from Him. Let’s be people who forgive out of love for one another and because of the way He forgives us.

– Brian

 



Just Keep Growing

It has been a great week here at Southwest. We’re thankful for everyone who worked on VBS in decorating, cooking, teaching, acting, games, clean up and countless other ways. It’s always a fun, tiring week, and it is encouraging each night to hear kids talk about the lessons they have learned about God and His word. Those kids will grow into adults who we pray will live out the lessons they learned this week.

On Wednesday, we had an excellent lesson in our summer series from my friend, Nathan Mellor. If you were working with VBS or were just unable to be here, I would encourage you to listen to the audio of his lesson on the church website. It is a great reminder of the importance of service and humility, and it fits very well with the parables we talked about on Sunday.

As we were getting ready to leave the building Wednesday, Nathan (the guest speaker) noticed that Nathan (my son) might be taller than I am. I attribute it his thicker hair, but he may actually be. David already passed me about a year ago. I’m glad they are growing, but it really took me by surprise. There are people who are even more surprised though. Friends who haven’t seen them in a while can’t believe it, because they remember the younger, smaller version of our boys. The whole thing made me think about our spiritual growth. Would people around us or those who have not seen us for a while be amazed by our growth in our walk with God? We talked about that kind of growth recently in the parables from Matthew 13.

We read in Luke 2:52 that “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Even Jesus grew, and that growth was in ways much more important than height. Paul also considers maturing and growing in 1 Corinthians 13:11 where he writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” In Hebrews 5:12-14 we find an even more forceful message about growing: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Spiritual growth is even more important than our physical growth. Let’s just keep growing!   
 
– Brian

 



Why I “Go” to Church

You may cringe at the title because you know that we ARE the church, but consider this article from Timothy Gunnells, a former minister and current member of the church in East Tennessee, about why the church is important for every Christian.
 
– Brian
 
For the majority of my life (until the last few years), I was expected to be in “church” for every bible class, worship assembly, and most special events because I was either the son of the preacher or I was the preacher. My involvement in church activities, from an outsider’s perspective, was tied to financial remuneration and the obligation to keep up a good image. While those two things are not entirely untrue in every instance, they have only on rare occasion been my motivation for “going” to church…
 
Continue reading at Timothy’s blog, Desert Spiritual, at Start2Finish.org 
 


Summer So Far

Although summer is supposed to be a time when things slow down a little, it seems like things get pretty busy some weeks. As I write this on Wednesday, our Yellow House crew is getting the pantry restocked for the monthly food giveaway day on Monday. John and a big group of our teens are midway through a great week at Pettijohn Springs Christian Camp. David and Sarah have returned from a trip visiting with churches that support our mission efforts in Haiti. Kyle is gearing up to begin his work with the Tigers for Christ College Ministry next month. Vacation Bible School registrations are coming in through the church website. (Register today at www.swcocada.com/vbs-2018.) There are so many more things I could mention, but I would like you to remember one specifically. Our Summer Series of guest speakers is underway, and the speakers are doing a tremendous job reminding us of how encountering Jesus changes lives.
 
Mike Ireland kicked off our series by taking us back to the moment Jesus came to live among us. That incarnation is proof of God’s love and of His confidence that we are able to be the people He designed us to be. Then Floyd Kaiser reminded us that encountering Jesus demands a response. In John 5 Jesus asked the question, “Do you want to get well?” We could ask that question of ourselves today. Are we willing to take action to get the changes we desire in our lives? This week Dan Mayfield shared with us about how Jesus related to a group in Matthew 19 that many would overlook: children. Jesus loved them and made time for them. He wants us to do the same.
 
If you have missed these first few speakers of the summer, we’re just getting started. Plan now to be with us each Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. You will be blessed as we come to know Jesus better together. – Brian
 
Audio recordings of our Summer Series are available to download at this link: http://www.swcocada.com/sermons/?series=Encountering+Jesus