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: https://www.swcocada.com/sermons/?series=Encountering+Jesus


Walking Daily With Jesus

Our summer series got off to a great start Wednesday as we were reminded of the significance of the birth of Jesus. As we spend our summer seeing how lives were changed by encountering Him, we should acknowledge our walk with Jesus is not a once-a-week activity. It is a changed life. For many Christians, it is a struggle to translate the truths we talk about while we are together to the rest of our weeks living everyday life.
In his book, Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life, Robert Banks writes about how our walk with Jesus should affect “the regular situations we find ourselves in throughout the day or week, the ongoing responsibilities we have or activities we engage in, the issues that regularly claim our attention, the most insistent pressures that we feel, the things that we commonly think and talk about, the desires, values and beliefs that most shape our lives.” Banks describes six external pressures that surround and affect us; these pressures frequently lead to Christians not living Monday through Saturday the truths they know on Sunday. We should all be aware of them and not let them keep us from being salt and light.
  • Busyness: Our schedules can get in the way of our study and prayer and other good things God has equipped us to do. Prioritize.
  • Mobility: The ease of getting from place to place has made it more and more difficult for us to be still. Slow down and unplug sometimes.
  • Debt: The desire to have can take away our ability to do good for others and replace that with worry. Money really won’t buy happiness.
  • Conformity: Our culture will tell you there is a better way to live than what God asks of us. Remember who designed you.
  • Security: We want so badly to be in control. God wants us to submit to Him.
  • Regulation: There are rules about everything now. Regardless of those rules, we can continue following the greatest commands: love God and love people.
 
Even with pressures all around us God is with us, and He is enough.
 
– Brian
 
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-9)


Don’t Ever Forget

I enjoyed this recent article by Jacob Hawk, the Preaching Minister at Faith Village Church of Christ in Wichita Falls, and I want to share it with you. Jacob will be speaking in July for our Wednesday night summer series.   – Brian

 
This past week I was blessed to see the new movie, Paul: Apostle of Christ. Though there was theatrical longitude in writing the script, it was fairly accurate to the biblical account of Acts, and remarkably accurate to the historical account of Christian life in Rome some 30-35 years following the death of Jesus. In those days, professing the name of Christ as a “Christian”, a “follower of the Way”, wasn’t casually done for acceptance or social benefit. It was literally a statement of life or death.
 
The actor playing the role of Paul made some wonderful statements throughout the movie, many coming directly from Scripture, but one statement really stuck with me—“We can’t ever forget what it was like to be lost, and we can’t ever forget what it was like to be found.” Such beautiful, convicting, God-honoring words. However, the statement also troubled me, because at times in my life, I’ve forgotten what it was like. Or maybe better said–I didn’t know how to remember it. Let me explain.
 

 



Prayer

As I write this on Thursday morning, it is the National Day of Prayer. Our nation had a long history of prayer before Harry Truman signed a law in 1952 setting aside the first Thursday in May for this purpose. I know that a setting aside a specific day annually for prayer is not a mandate from scripture, but I enjoy days like this where an increasingly secular culture takes a moment to remember God. It is also a good time to think about what scripture does say about prayer and the important role it plays in our relationship with Him. Jesus teaches us quite a bit about prayer in Matthew 6:5-13.

 

 

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 

“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

 

What can we learn from the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6 about how we should pray?

  • Don’t pray to be seen. That kind of prayer put the focus in the wrong place and brings result that we do not want.
  • Remember that God knows what you need. Prayer is not dependent on profound words or an impressive vocabulary. It is heartfelt communication with our Creator.
  • Give glory to God for who He is and what He does.
  • Invite God to reign in your life and in the world.
  • Acknowledge that God’s will is greater than our own. We do not have all the answers or the perfect plan. He does.
  • Ask God about regular, physical needs and acknowledge that the things we have are a blessing from Him. This prayer can also help us overcome worry. (Matthew 6:26)
  • Ask forgiveness, and be prepared to forgive others. We should give the same level of forgiveness that we want to receive. (Matthew 18:21-22)
  • Temptation is all around us. Pray that we might avoid it entirely or overcome it when we encounter it. (Matthew 26:40-41)

 

Now that we see a little more about how we should pray, what do we know about why we should pray?

  • The kingdom, power and glory are His. He is the only one who has the power to answer and do.
  • Prayer works! The answer may not always be what we expect, but God hears and does. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)

 

Let’s make sure that every day is a day of prayer in our lives.

 

– Brian

 

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”   – Romans 12:12



Proverbs Part 2

If you are not here regularly on Wednesday nights or you are part of another class, you might not know that our adult auditorium class just finished discussing themes in the book of Proverbs from a study called “Practical Proverbs” by Scott Franks.  The book is filled with short sayings that are long on wisdom. Wisdom is described in the Bible Knowledge Commentary as “having the ability to cope with life in a God-honoring way.” That is something we should all be striving to do. I wrote about the first half of that study several weeks ago. You can read that post by clicking here. As for the second half of the study, these are some of the big ideas that we talked about during our time together on Wednesdays.

 

Anger

There are good and bad kinds of anger. Good anger is often a reaction to injustice and motivates us to improving the situation and righting the wrong. Usually bad anger is selfish and leads to bad decisions. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11)

 

Quarreling

Some of us enjoy a good debate, but we can also be prone to pointless quarrels. The key to avoiding them is understanding their source and not fanning the flame once quarrels have started. “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Proverbs 26:20)

 

Marriage

It may seem humorous that the discussion of marriage came on the heels of lessons about anger and quarreling, but we realize the negative impact those things can have on a relationship. Our relationships should instead be filled with respect, honor and praise. “Houses and wealth are inherited from the parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:14)

 

Parents & Kids

Steven Covey talks about the “law of the farm.” Farmers understand that they should only expect a harvest of what they have planted and cultivated. If we have a desired outcome for our children’s lives, we must plant those seeds and nurture them through prayer, love and discipline. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8-9).

 

Work

From the time man was placed in the garden, he was given a job to do. We have a need to do work, but how and why we do that work matters. We should not find our meaning in work, but it can be fulfilling. “He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.” (Proverbs 12:11)

 

Balance and Contentment

For many in our culture, these are two of the biggest struggles. People tend to go to extremes and want bigger and better things. True contentment does not come with having everything we desire; it comes with acknowledging our need for God and being aware of His presence in our lives. “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.” (Proverbs 15:16)
 

– Brian



Parables in Life

When I came to visit Southwest last October, someone showed me a copy of Reese Scott’s book, Parables in My Life. After he passed away last week at age 96, I learned a lot about Reese through stories told by others. Then I found a copy of his book to read some of it in his own words. I’d like to share with you some of what he wrote in the closing pages of the book.
 

I cannot restrain a few thoughts, and maybe just a dash of advice, on living each day to the fullest. If I could turn back time, I would try to be a better husband by telling my beloved every day how much I adored her and by spending more time with her and our children and less time on my business. I would go to more school activities, more PTA meetings, more ball games… I would spend more time reading my Bible, more time in prayer, and more time walking closer with God, realizing that life without God has no meaning. I will tell everyone to spend less time or worry about what to eat or what clothes to wear. If you are an American, you already have too much food and too many clothes.

For a young person, seeking advice from someone who’s been there and done that, I can tell them a few things I have learned during my ninety years on Earth. Continue your education all your life, whether it be in the classroom or from your life’s experiences. Read the Bible… it will convert your life to Christian principles and give you peace. Pray often to your God, and He will lead you to your life’s service. Search until you find the right person to marry…this is the second most important decision in your life. When you get a job, do it with all your might. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1)

At the end of your life, you will find that the most important advice is to fear and to love God and keep His commandments as Solomon in his wisdom tells us. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Fearing God is to realize that God is the Creator of man, the universe and all. That by your faith and His amazing grace, your life is in His hands. Fearing God will light the path of your life as long as you live. As I continue on life’s road to my end, not knowing where I will be or when it will end, my belief sustains me. I am persuaded that God will keep me until that day He calls me to Heaven for a life change with a new body that will not wear out. I will enter His kingdom with the certainty of my faith.

I offer a prayer of benediction: I wish for you the best for your life on this Earth, may God bless you, and may you have everlasting life. “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

 

Thank you, Reese, for living out a parable to encourage all of us.

 

– Brian



The Power of Story

There has always been incredible power in a good story. Stories can teach and inspire. They can cause us to think. Good stories can illustrate ideas that are otherwise difficult to understand. They connect with people in ways beyond just the sharing of facts. Jesus was well aware of the power of story, and He used them frequently to explain deeply spiritual truths. He often did this using parables. Even His use of parables brought a question from His disciples that Jesus addressed in Matthew 13:10-13.

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
 

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’”

The first definition of parable that many of us heard is this: an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus encountered many people, including His own apostles, who did not understand how God feels about the lost, what Christ followers should do for those in need, what to expect when sharing the gospel and countless other theological ideas. However, they did understand the basics of shepherding, farming and the dangers of travel. Jesus helped them connect those truths and illustrations through the use of parables.

For the next few months we will look at several of the parables of Jesus on Sunday mornings. These amazing stories still teach us today about the truths God wants us to understand. As we better understand His story and become better followers of His, He continues writing our story.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. – Hebrews 12:1b-2a (NASB)

 

– Brian