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)

 



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