Telling His Story

I have really enjoyed Leon’s Wednesday night class about the church of the first century. The churches that Paul wrote to were different in many ways, but they had something in common. As the story of Jesus made its way into their communities, people received it in different ways. Coming into contact with the gospel demands a reaction. It is not something that many can be neutral about. The people of Ephesus learn that through the uproar that happens in Acts 19.
 
There were some who were obstinate and refused to believe or change their ways. There were others whose lives were completely changed by the message. Some who had practiced sorcery destroyed their valuable scrolls, because they knew they would no longer need them. The people of the town gathered, and verse 32 describes the gathering this way: “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.” When one of the Jews tried to explain what was going on, the people shouted in unison so he could not be heard.
 
It all happened nearly 2000 years ago, but it sounds a lot like the culture we live in. There is so much noise around us, it can be difficult to get the message through. Too often we find ourselves discouraged and silent as a result. At those times, we need to remember the sorcerers destroying their scrolls. Through the noise, discouragement and stubbornness, the gospel still reaches the hearts of people who might not even realize why they are here.
 
As we near Christmas, the story of Jesus coming to earth cuts through some of that noise in our society. People who do not usually talk about Jesus see displays of His story in yards and on signs. They sing songs about Him. Maybe for a moment hearts are more receptive to learn of his love. They need to know that the manger and wise men is not where His story ends. Let’s continue to tell His story, so that more may come to know and follow Him.
 
– Brian
 
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14


Preaching to the Choir

I know what I’m about to say is what most, if not all, of those who read this already know. But sometimes I think the choir needs a little reassurance that the song they’re singing really is the most beautiful hymn ever sung. In I Thessalonians 2 Paul says:

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved…
 
There are two things I’d like to emphasize in this text.
 
1.  “You accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God….” (v 13) Paul clearly says that, though it was his voice speaking to Thessalonians, it wasn’t his message. What he spoke was the word of God! I need to be reminded of that. We live in a secular world that says we’re silly for believing there is a God, much less that he actually spoke to us. And what’s worse, we live in a religious world that waters down the idea of divine inspiration until it means little more than something like, God gave us a nice history of his people to read and use as a loose guide for how we live today as people of faith.
 
But that’s not what Paul said! He said, “Good job Thessalonians. You got this right. My words to you really were God’s divine message of salvation.” So, don’t listen to those who would discourage us from believing that this message  really is sacred because it originates from God and not from man.
 
2.  Those who “hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved are displeasing God and oppose all mankind.” (vs 15-16) That is pretty strong language. Paul equates doing something that hinders the spread of the Gospel to something that “displeases God and opposes all mankind.” There should be a warning in that for those who speak against the Gospel but there is also an awesome declaration of just how important this message we have is. It we flip the verbs in that sentence then what we have is a message that when spoken pleases God and promotes / benefits all mankind!

 

So, if that’s the case, let me leave you (and me) with this thought: Are the words I am speaking, and my actions, telling the world that God has indeed spoken and has a message that is intended to bless them, or is there something in the way I’m living that impedes that message? Do I say or do things that would suggest I don’t really believe that God has declared Good News for all mankind? Or maybe do I just fail to speak or act in a way that gets this message of hope and blessing out to a world that desperately needs it?
 

The world is seeking cures to all kinds of physical and social ills that plague us. Unfortunately, in the process it often overlooks, if not suppresses, the greatest cure of all – the Gospel. We know better. Let’s make sure we continue to sing out this message of hope to the world because in the end it’s the only cure for what ails mankind most. Sing on then choir and do so knowing that our song pleases God  and all mankind is benefited. And as you sing, smile and say to yourself,  “This is pretty awesome. I’m bringing joy to God and benefiting the whole world.”  Cool!

 
David


Thanksgiving

In our nation, we set aside time this week to consider the things we are thankful for. I hope we spend a lot more than these few days each year doing that. God has done so much in our lives that we should be thankful for Him daily.
 
In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul spends a lot of time emphasizing thankfulness. Each chapter of the book contains each one statement of thanks written by Paul while he was imprisoned. That should serve as a reminder to each of us that we have plenty to be thankful for even when it seems things are not going well for us. What did Paul say about being thankful?
 
He is thankful because the church was doing what it should be doing: showing faith and love. “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.” (Colossians 1:3-4)
 
He wants them to be thankful too, and his thankfulness is contagious. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)
 
Being thankful helps to make peace, and peace is something to be thankful for. It’s a wonderful cycle. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
 
If we are not thankful by nature, it is something we can improve through action and habit. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)
 
Let’s all be more thankful this week and all year long.
 
– Brian
 
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! – Psalm 100:4


Politics and Religion

That title got your attention, didn’t it? Whatever you may think about the results, I think most of us are glad that the election is finally behind us. Maybe we can enjoy at least a few months away from political ads and divisive conversations. Well, one out of two isn’t bad, I guess.
 
Our society often encourages the idea that people should talk about anything except politics and religion. It’s easy to see how both topics have become so divisive, but the definition of religion that James gives in James 1:27 doesn’t sound like something most people would object to. There James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Looking after orphans and widows is something that most people would think to be an honorable task.
 
If you are not aware of it, this Sunday is Orphan Sunday, a day that people are encouraged people to take a little time to focus on orphans around the world. There are many children without families who count on others for help. This is something we are very involved with at Southwest through our work with the Cap Haitien Children’s Home that David Dirrim reported on last week. Many widows in Haiti are also blessed by the efforts of this congregation as we seek to practice the kind of religion that James wrote about.
 
On a different topic, tomorrow our nation honors our military veterans. For our veterans at Southwest, we are thankful for your service and encouraged by your example. We know there is great commitment and sacrifice for you and your families. The freedoms we enjoy in our nation are secured by that service. Each week there is a list in the bulletin of current members of the military with connections to the church here. Please continue praying for them, and be sure to thank a veteran this week.
 
Brian
 
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”  – Matthew 25:45


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