People or Objects

If you missed the final lesson of our summer series Wednesday night, you really missed out. Wayne Roberts shared and excellent lesson from John 9 that was summed up with the idea that if we want people to see Jesus in us, then we need to see people the way Jesus sees people. It sounded so simple when Wayne said it, but it might be one of our greatest challenges as Christians.
 
In the book, Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, there is an illustration where a passenger boarded a plane with open seating (think Southwest Airlines) and three seats on either side of the aisle. He found a window seat in the middle of the plane, put his open briefcase on the middle seat and opened a newspaper to read. As people made their way down the aisle, he looked over the top of his paper while trying to make sure the seat next to him looked as unappealing as possible. He wanted the extra space. Another time he found himself on another flight where he and his wife were unable to sit together. A woman offered to trade seats with one of them, giving up having her own extra space with an open seat next to her, so they could sit together. Most people who have flown have been in both positions and very quickly forget what it is like to be on the other side of the equation. The book describes the principle this way:
 
“Whatever I might be ‘doing’ on the surface, I’m being one of two fundamental ways when I’m doing it. Either I’m seeing others straightforwardly as they are–as people like me who have needs and desires as legitimate as my own–or I’m not. One way, I experience myself as a person among people. The other way, I experience myself as the person among objects.”
 
Jesus sees people as people, not objects. The blind man in John 9 experienced that in a miraculous way. We can help people experience it in everyday ways if we will see them the way that Jesus does. We can be more like Him, and others can see Him too.
 
– Brian


To Tell the Truth

The television show, To Tell The Truth, began airing in the mid 1950s and has experienced several reinventions through the years. It features three people who each claim to be a specific person with a talent, career or unusual identity. Celebrity panelists take turns asking questions before deciding which is the real person. Those claiming to be the true person are usually able to answer every question that comes their way. Some might think it’s amazing how well they are able to lie, but for many of us it’s something we see all too frequently in real life. It’s hard to know who to believe.
 
The people that James wrote to lived in a similar world. In James 5:12 we have one of the most direct parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” Although some will focus on the part about oaths, at its core it is a command about being truthful. For Christians, truth should permeate our words.
In their book, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, Glen Stassen and David Gushee look at ethics through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount. They believe that two important themes are introduced in the section that James references from Matthew 5. First, “the truth is not simply something that is believed or spoken, but instead a way of being.” This is why an oath is not necessary. If it was, we would need one each time we begin to speak. Second, “one’s commitment to the truth is verified by deeds.” That sounds like what James wrote in chapter 2 or what Jesus taught about our fruit. Our thoughts, words and actions are connected.
 
We should always seek to live truthful and trustworthy lives in our words and actions as we follow the one who is Truth incarnate. It will help our world see Him more clearly.
 
Brian
 
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)


Back to School

We are in the midst of an exciting for many families here at Southwest. Teachers and school staff are preparing classrooms and lessons. 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. We have college students heading to Ada while others will say goodbye to kids who are heading off to college. In life we are continually growing. 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


Preacher Training Camp 2021

 
For two decades, the Lewisville Church of Christ has hosted a week-long preacher training camp for teens. This year, six students from Southwest went to spend the week learning about how to study, prepare and deliver thoughts from God’s word. I got to hear several lessons on the final day of camp, and it was a blessing to see how our guys and those attending from other congregations grew during the week. It is unlikely that everyone who attends the camp will go into full-time ministry, but what they have learned will help them to serve in the church for years to come. I am thankful for their willingness to be used by God in this way, and for Thorin and the other ministers that guided them through the week.
 

This Sunday they will share their lessons from camp with us. Come and be encouraged and challenged by their thoughts from God’s word.         

 
Brian


VBS 2021

As I write this, our Vacation Bible School is about to begin. At least the part the kids see is about to begin. There has already been a lot of work planning, decorating and preparing. Right now there are people in the kitchen getting a meal ready. VBS was another thing that we missed out on in 2020, and it is encouraging to see its return. If you are reading this on Sunday, VBS is finished and the building is probably back to normal. Although I’ll have to admit that I wouldn’t mind if there was a boat on the stage and a whale (or big fish) in the hallway for a little longer.

The story of Jonah is another of those Old Testament stories that seems like it’s for kids because there are sailors, a ship, adventure and a whale (big fish). There is actually a lot in the story for us adults too. There are ungodly sailors who turn toward God, there’s an evil city that turns around and a reluctant preacher that turns bitter. Through it all the constant is God and his love for all of them. It’s always good to be reminded of God’s love and mercy for the sailors, the city, the preacher and us.

So thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s VBS possible. God wants His message proclaimed in our city as well, and you were a part of doing that this week.

Brian

“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” – Jonah 3:10

 



Making the Invitation Inviting

I have been reading a chapter of Mike Ireland’s book, The Gift of Ministry, each morning in the office. Each chapter is about four pages and has some practical encouragement or ideas about life as a minister. Last week one of the topics dealt with our tradition of having an invitation near the end of our services.
 
“Does every sermon need to close with an invitation? There are certain traditions that accompany the action of ‘extending the invitation.’ For example, any reference to the ‘invitation song’ we are about to sing will immediately send an energy across the auditorium. People who before were sitting tranquilly in their pew suddenly begin moving as if they were gathering up their belongings to catch the last bus of the day. If nothing else, church folks are always ready to sing the song that signals an end to the sermon.”
 
He also wrote about how some churches no longer offer the invitation. The reason is simple: it is often an invitation that goes unanswered. Rather than the intended outcome of people coming to recommit their lives to Christ or ask for prayer, it is just a time for the preacher to stand there waiting awkwardly. That first step into the aisle is incredibly difficult for most people. Now that our services are live streamed, it is even more so. Still we keep inviting.
 
Beginning this Sunday, we will offer another way for anyone who would like to respond to the invitation. I will be in the front of the auditorium with one of our elders as usual, but another of our elders and his wife will also be in the classroom at the southwest corner of the building. Our hope is that this will provide another option for anyone who would like to respond in a more private setting. Both options will be available each time we offer the invitation. “Hear the invitation; come whosoever will.”
 
Brian


Give Me Liberty

Since it is the fourth of July weekend, you might have already finished the rest of that phrase in your mind: “or give me death.” Those defiant words of Patrick Henry helped shape a nation and its leaders. As much as we value liberty in our country, we are even more thankful for the liberty that God gives. In our study of the book of James both last week and this week, James mentions the “law of liberty.” God offers us freedom from sin and death, but that freedom was never intended to create an “anything goes” way of life. In the midst of that discussion of liberty, James emphasizes the importance of our actions matching our beliefs. He reminds us that our actions toward others are incredibly important in the eyes of the God who frees us.
 
 
In John 8:31-32, Jesus also talks about freedom when He says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” If we want to live lives that are truly free of sin and death, we will choose in our freedom to follow Jesus and to recognize His truth. In our independence, we actually become dependent on the God who loves us and set us free.
 
Happy Dependence Day does not quite have the same ring to it, but it is something that followers of Jesus can celebrate every day. We depend on God. Paul captures that concept very well in 2 Corinthians 3:4-5, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” We are not self-sufficient. We know that in His perfect love, God provides for us and also frees us. That is true freedom.
 
Brian
 
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23


Siblings

After growing up as an only child, I never understood what it was like to have siblings. There was no one to share a room with or battle for control of the TV. There were no comparisons to an older brother or sister by teachers at school. There was no sibling to bother my friends and no sibling’s friends to bother. Having two kids of our own has been an eye-opening experience. Sometimes one would defend the other. Sometimes one had to be separated from the other. There were agreements and disagreements, both of which could be intense. There is frustration and love, silence and laughter. Many of you have experienced the same things.
 
As we finish the first chapter of James this Sunday morning, it is a good time to remember who wrote this book: the brother of Jesus. We talked a little bit the first week about what it might have been like to grow up with a brother who clamed to be the Son of God only to figure out in adult life that He actually IS the Son of God. That is one thing that makes the writing of James so worthwhile to us. James himself took a journey of faith. He did not start out as a believer, but he definitely ended up there. He wants us to journey into a faith that acts.
 
I believe that one of the major themes in his book is one of the big reasons why he believed in his brother. Jesus did not just say. He did. Think of how many sibling disagreements Jesus must have reacted to by being a peacemaker. How many times did He go the second mile or turn the other cheek? Even though James was slow to grow into full faith, He knew that Jesus was a person who practiced what He preached. That must have been one of the many reasons that James came to believe what seemed to be impossible: his brother is his Messiah.
 
Brian
 
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. – James 1:22


Pentecost

We have talked before about the fact that historically churches of Christ have not emphasized religious holidays. Although in our homes we might put up trees at Christmas or hunt for eggs on Easter, our congregations may or may not mention those days at all. It would stand to reason then that you might not realize the significance of this Sunday: it is the day of Pentecost.
 
The day of Pentecost that occurred in Acts 2 is one of the most significant days in the history of the church. In fact, Acts 2:38 is one of our favorite verses and the reason we say what we do when someone is baptized. As we are in the midst of our study about the church, I would like to point out five things from that chapter.
 
  • The apostles are together (2:1). Maybe they’re just waiting for what comes next. Maybe it’s an intended time of fellowship. Or maybe that is just how they do life. Whatever the reason, community is important to them.
  • The Holy Spirit is there (2:2-4). As we get into discussions about spiritual gifts today, we miss the importance of the work of the Spirit today. He gives comfort, assists us in prayer, and His fruit is shown in our lives just to name a few.
  • God has a way of connecting people who will tell the story with people who need to hear it (2:5-14). We need to remember that did not stop on that day, and that we are those people who can tell the story.
  • The story of Jesus is powerful (2:14-41). Even though we are not apostles speaking in languages we do not know, the story of Jesus we tell changes lives.
  • The chapter begins and ends with being together (2:1, 2:42-47). Father, Son and Spirit are together. The apostles are together. His church did life together. The church still functions best when we do life together.
 
Brian


Reaching Out

In Colossians 4:2-5 Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” We want to be a church that is looking for those open doors. We want to seek out ways to connect with our community. We want to love and serve. We want to help spread the good news in Ada and around the world. There is a lot of truth in those four verses that can help us toward those goals.
 
Begin and continue with prayer. Prayer permeates Paul’s efforts. It should be in all that we do as well.
The prayer is in first person. Notice what Paul asks to be prayed for: “us, our message, that we may proclaim, that I may proclaim.” Paul is not just wanting lives to be changed because of an open door. He wants to be personally used by God in the process. In fact, his ending the sentence with “as I should” indicates he does not only desire to do it. He feels a responsibility.
 
How we act matters. This is a place where Paul encourages us to use wisdom. How we are perceived a major factor in the willingness of people to listen to our message. It is not enough to be right. We must also act wisely.
Look for and act on opportunities. Our time on earth is temporary. Our time with specific people is even less. We must use the time that God gives us well.
 
Let’s pray this week that God will open doors for us to show Him to others and that we will be ready to step through those doors. For that we can all be thankful.
 
– Brian