Relationships

Last week we learned in the second chapter of Mark that Jesus has become well known. The crowds are great. There is a paralytic seeking healing, and his friends are determined enough to lower him through the roof of the house where Jesus is. Jesus takes note of their faith, tells the man his sins are forgiven then heals him. There are several things we can learn from this story, but I would like you draw your attention to two things specifically.
 
First, isn’t it a wonderful thing to have good friends? So many people would have seen the crowd surrounding the house where Jesus was and thought that it just would not be possible to reach Him. Many would have given up and gone back home. These friends were not content with that option. They wanted to get their friend to Jesus no matter what length (or height) they had to go to. I hope that we all have friends like that, and I hope even more that we can all BE friends like that.
 
Second, even though we tend to focus on our physical needs and wants, Jesus has a way of refocusing us on our spiritual needs. As we talked about last Sunday, this man was likely not thinking much about his sins as he was being carried to the roof and lowered down. He wanted to walk. Jesus was willing to fix that problem, but He also knew that the man had a greater need and gave him so much more. Jesus knew that sin was a greater barrier in the man’s life than the crowd, the roof or his paralysis. That same Jesus understands what we really need too. He knows we have a hard time seeing past medical, financial or relationship issues to spiritual ones, and he wants us to bring them all to Him.
 
On the surface this story is about healing, but it also has a lot to do with relationships. It is about this man’s relationship with his friends and about his relationship with God. We should see the importance of those same relationships in our own lives.
 
Brian


Together

My friend, Kent Jobe, is a minister in El Dorado, Arkansas. Last week he shared his thoughts on Facebook about New Year’s resolutions. Kent writes, “I gave up resolutions several years ago. I had the same resolutions each year and never lasted more than a couple of weeks with any of them. Something that has worked better for me is to identify a word I want to direct me in the New Year. I do not pick this word lightly but spend a lot of time in thought and prayer to see where I am and where I want/need to be.” Choosing a word to serve as a theme or point of focus is something that my wife has done in recent years as well. This can be a helpful process for individuals, but it can also be a good way for us to remember and stay focused as a church family. Throughout the Bible, people and places are named to help followers of God remember what He has done and promised. Why not give 2021 a name?

This year we will focus on the word, “together.” Through the pandemic we have learned more than ever just how important being together can be. God designed the church, our families and friendships to give us ways to be together. In fact, the first thing in creation that God declared not to be good was that man was alone, so he created Eve to be together with Adam. (Genesis 1:18-22)

Although it is important for us to be together with each other, it is exponentially more important for us to be together with God. He wants us together with Him so much, that He sent Jesus to make it possible. What an amazing thought!

Brian

 

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  – Ephesians 2:19-22

 



Prayers of Trust

If you have been with us in person or online for the past five weeks, you know that we have asked a repeating question about the prayers of Jesus. Why did Jesus pray? My hope is that as we have answered that question by looking at His prayers in scripture, you might have considered a second question. Why do we pray? Like Jesus, our prayers need to be more than a list of needs, and they need to happen at times that are not only the last resort.
 
In his book, Dangerous Prayers: Because Following Jesus Was Never Supposed to Be Safe, Craig Groeschel details what he believes are the three most difficult-to-pray prayers and how those prayers are essential to grow in our walk with Christ.
 
 
  • Search me. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24) We understand that God knows everything about us, but are we willing to lay our secrets and shortcomings before Him?
  • Break me. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3) James teaches that brokenness leads to greater faith. Peter’s is broken eye to eye with Jesus after denying Him and rebuilt after the resurrection. We are quick to pray for protection, but would we invite God to break and rebuild us?
  • Send me. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) Christians are called to be light in darkness and to be witnesses of the story of Jesus. Are we willing to ask God to give each of us regular opportunities to do those things?
Obviously, there is a common thread through these dangerous prayers: ME. Are each of us willing to pray for God to use us as He sees fit? To do this, we will have to fully trust God in our prayers. That’s exactly what we see in the prayers of Jesus.
 
– Brian


Parables on Prayer

As we have considered the prayers of Jesus over the past few weeks, I hope you have been reminded about how important prayer was in His earthly life. The things He prayed about can be lessons to us on how to pray and about the God we pray to. In Luke 18, Jesus tells two parable about prayer. In these stories we see two things that should characterize our own prayers: persistence and humility.

The parable of the persistent widow teaches that we should be determined and committed in our prayers to God. He has made it clear that He wants us to communicate with Him. We must not be so discouraged when we do not receive the answers we want that we stop asking for His work in our lives and the lives of those we love.
 

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector teaches us to keep our worth in perspective. God values people in a very different way than the world does. He does not show favoritism based on wealth or status. When we come before Him, we must realize His desire to hear our prayer and the prayers of others, His power to take action and His will to decide justly.

The prayers of Jesus have been an example of these things. He prays persistently throughout the gospels, and He humbled Himself to be a sacrifice for us in obedience to His Father. Because of His sacrifice, we should be even more persistent in our prayers of thanksgiving.

 

Brian

 



Can We Really Know Jesus?

We have finally begun the final month of 2020. Even though we have faced challenges that we never imagined back in January, I have enjoyed focusing on the life of Jesus with you this year. Although we may take for granted that we can
learn from scripture about who Jesus is, there are many people who are skeptical. How long after these events happened were they recorded? Were the stories embellished?
 
Lee Strobel was that kind of skeptic. As a newspaper writer covering criminal trials, his life revolved around facts and evidence. He assumed the evidence for Jesus would not hold up to scrutiny. In his book, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, he details what many would assume to be a process of interviews and research that would prove skeptics right and Christianity wrong. By the end of his investigation he understood what we do: Jesus is exactly who He says He is. One of the early steps in this journey was the realization that the gospel accounts gave an accurate account of Jesus.
 
Strobel thought the gospels were unreliable because of the decades that passed between the events and their writing. In his investigation he learned that it is likely less than 30 years had passed between the events and the writing of the gospel of Mark. By comparison, the first biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than 400 years after his death, and their accuracy is not questioned because of that passage of time. In contrast in the gospels, we learn about Jesus from His contemporaries guided by the Holy Spirit. Because of that, we have been able to spend 2020 getting to know Jesus better. That has been a blessing!
 
Brian


The Prayers of Jesus

Last Sunday we began a series about the prayers of Jesus. When we consider how little of the life of Jesus is recorded in the gospels, it is striking how frequently it is mentioned that He spends time in prayer. Luke alone shares nine instances where Jesus prays. Seven of those are unique to Luke’s gospel account.
 
  1.  Jesus prays at His baptism. (Luke 3:21)
  2.  Jesus prays after healing a leper. (Luke 5:16)
  3.  Jesus prays before calling His apostles. (Luke 6:12)
  4.  Jesus prays with His disciples. (Luke 9:18)
  5.  Jesus prays at His transfiguration. (Luke 9:28)
  6.  Jesus prays when teaching His disciples to pray. (Luke 11:1)
  7.  Jesus prays for Peter. (Luke 22:32)
  8.  Jesus prays for those crucifying Him. (Luke 23:34)
  9.  Jesus prays before His death on the cross. (Luke 23:46)
 
In fact, prayer is part of Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus from before His birth (Luke 1:10,13) to His presentation as a baby at the temple (Luke 2:38) to His final words on the cross (Luke 23:46). Through his emphasis on the prayers of Jesus, Luke is illustrating the close relationship that Jesus has with the Father. That kind of relationship required frequent prayer. In the book of Acts, Luke makes it clear that the disciples and the early church got the message. They are constantly spending time in prayer.
 
If we want to improve our relationship with God, regular prayer is a good place to begin. It is something Jesus taught His followers and put into practice Himself. We should do the same.
 
Brian


Still All to Us

In January I introduced you to the theme for our Sunday morning lessons this year, “All to Us.” The lyrics by Chris Tomlin connect with many themes from scripture (Colossians 2:9-10, Colossians 3:11, Acts 4:11-12 and much of the book of Hebrews). My hope was to emphasize that Jesus is sufficient for us. The plan for 2020 began by looking at His life in the gospel of John. COVID came along in March, I learned to preach to my phone on a tripod, and the schedule changed some. However, the fact that Jesus is sufficient remains true. Given the instability of things in our nation and world since March, His sufficiency is a comforting thought. And now as I type these words, it is two days after the election with no definitive winner. Although things seem uncertain, we know that God is on the throne.
 
Now that we have finished the Sermon on the Mount series, the change in schedule has brought us to a topic that fits our current situation well. Through the rest of November we will talk about Jesus and prayer. Each week we will look at a theme from one of the prayers of Jesus and why it is important in our walk with Him. It will be a time to understand Him better, to recommit to our own prayer habits and to refocus on praying about the things Jesus did.
 
Learning from the prayers of Jesus is another way to remind ourselves that He is still all to us.
 
Brian
 



Life Renovation

Back on July 19, we began a journey together through the Sermon on the Mount. We will complete that series this week. I pray that it has been both a blessing and a challenge to you. The teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 may seem simple on the surface, but putting them into practice has been a challenge for generations of His followers. Even though it can be difficult to live up to these ideals, we must take on the challenge daily to live like Jesus in an upside-down world.
 
As we work on our life renovation, let me encourage you in a few ways with the sermon itself and ways we can grow from it.
 
 
  • Study the sermon. Read Matthew 5-7 periodically. Our lives would benefit from reading the Sermon on the Mount monthly or even weekly. It’s a small time commitment to be regularly reminded of these important teachings.
  • Be an example. When Jesus compares His followers to a “city on a hill” in Matthew 5:14. When we live out the teachings of Jesus, we are the kind of light He wants us to be.
  • Do these things. In Matthew 7:24, Jesus says that wisdom comes from hearing and doing. Don’t let the Sermon on the Mount be an interesting, familiar set of teachings that do not change you. Put them into action.
 
– Brian
 
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. – Matthew 7:28-29
 
You can watch the entire “Life Renovation: The Sermon on the Mount” series playlist here:
 



How Do You Read the Bible?

For the past several Sunday mornings, we have repeated an idea from the Story of God Bible Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. That commentary calls Matthew 5:17-20, “the most significant passage in the entire Bible on how to read the Bible.” Each week we have looked at that statement and asked the question, “How do we read the Bible?” We have expanded the question to ask, “How do we read the Bible about…?” As we consider each of those topics and how the Bible applies to them, it is clear that the questions we ask make an assumption. The Bible is readily available to us, and naturally we should want to read it. Around the world, the first part of that assumption is not always true.
Ben Mereness from EEM was with us Wednesday night to talk about the work they are doing to take the Bible into Europe and Asia. They have been involved in some exciting work getting Bibles into public schools. As he showed videos and pictures I was struck by the fact that even in 2020, they were providing the first Bibles that many people have ever owned. I was also struck by the excitement that comes with that moment of receiving God’s word for the first time. It is something that we can easily take for granted.
The inspired word of God still changes lives. By partnering with EEM in the distributing Bibles, we can be part of that process. Next Sunday, October 4, we will have the opportunity to contribute to EEM on their Million Dollar Sunday. I hope you will prayerfully consider giving to help take the gospel into all the world.
Brian
 
“And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:15-17


What Have We Learned?

When our children were younger, they used to watch Veggie Tales regularly. For those that might be unfamiliar, Veggie Tales are animated shows hosted by Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. They tell stories about morals and character that parallel Bible stories. Each character in the story is portrayed by a different animated vegetable. I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but it is actually quite effective in teaching Bible stories to kids. Near the end of each episode, they ask the question, “What have we learned today?”
 
As we reach the end of another Wednesday night summer series, I would like you to consider the same question. The one another passages in scripture teach us a lot about God, what is important to Him and how He designed us to interact. So what have we learned this summer?
 
  • Do not pass judgment on one another. (Romans 14:13) This statement of Paul is a reminder that although God sees motives and the heart, we are limited in that ability.
  • Live in harmony with one another. (Romans 12:16) I like the song, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” but I especially like it when it is sung starting with only sopranos and adding another voice part on each verse. By the fourth verse, the full harmony completes the song. When we live in harmony, it is just as beautiful as good music.
  • Encourage one another; do good toward one another. (1 Thessalonians 5:11,15) In a section labeled “final instructions” in modern Bible translations, Paul integrates our attitudes and actions toward God and others. All of these are characteristics of the Christian life.
  • Have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:25) Here God’s care for every Christian is given as an example of how we should care for one another.
  • Great one another with a holy kiss. (Romans 16:16) The holy kiss was the early church’s way of expressing something that we express in other ways today: brothers and sisters in Christ are of great value to us.
  • Serve one another; don’t bite and devour one another. (Galatians 5:13-16) Before Paul writes about the fruit of the Spirit later in the chapter, he reaffirms the counter cultural teachings of Jesus to serve rather than use people.
  • Wait for one another. (1 Corinthians 11:33) In a hurried, impatient world, followers of Jesus should notice those who may be falling behind.
  • Love one another. (Romans 12:10) If Christians are to be known for our love, there is no place that is more noticeable than how we love fellow Christians.
  • Wash one another’s feet. (John 13) In a world where washing the feet of others is not a regular practice, there are still many opportunities to humble ourselves and put the needs of others about our own.
  • Bear with one another. (Ephesians 4) This may be the most obvious area where the treatment we desire from others is something we struggle to give back. Let’s give each other the same benefit of the doubt that we hope to receive.
  • Do not speak evil against one another. (James 4:11) Like so many commands of scripture, the command against gossip should begin with other followers of Christ.
  • Address and admonish one another. (Ephesians 5:19) We need to be willing to warn brothers and sisters who are not living as Christians should, just as we should be willing to graciously receive the same warning.
 
Brian