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

Being a Church Member

I hope you have been as encouraged by the last few weeks at Southwest as much as I have. We finished our study of the Gospel of Mark by looking at the resurrection two weeks ago and did something different last Sunday with a time focusing on the story of Jesus told through scriptures and songs. As much as I enjoy preaching, it is good to change gears from time to time to see Jesus again in a different way. Our in-person worship attendance has grown to the point that we will be fully opening the middle to sections on the floor this Sunday. In fact, our attendance last Sunday was higher than it was on March 8, 2020, the last Sunday before COVID-19 changed so much in our lives.
On Wednesday evenings we have been going back to basics as we talk about church doctrines and why we do what we do. It can be easy to forget why we do those things that are so familiar to us. On Sunday evenings we have been looking at the command and promise to be disciples who make disciples. Spreading the gospel is a task we all have. As Christians, our responsibility does not end there.
For the next six weeks on Sunday mornings, we will look at the church from one more angle: what does a church member do? Sharing the good news is part of who we are, and keeping with our doctrines and traditions is important; but there is more to it than that. Being a member of the church requires commitment, a good attitude, a willingness to work from all of us. As we have learned on Wednesdays about what the church and congregations do as a whole, we will see how we fit into that group and what we can do to help the church be more of what God designed it to be.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:15-16

The Beginning of the Gospel

That is how Mark describes his book in the first verse. As we finish our study of Mark this week, it is good to remember how it began. What follows over sixteen chapters is not just good news. It is the best news. In the life of Jesus we learn more about who God is and what matters to Him. We learn about who He created us to be. We learn about how we can treat each other in a way that honors Him. We see that He cares deeply for people.
Throughout His life, all kinds of different people meet Jesus: rich and poor, healthy and sick, good and bad, religious leaders and people those leaders would avoid, people who sought Him and people who were sought by Him, skeptical and desperate, men, women and children. In each case we saw that Jesus values people in a way very different than the world around Him, and we saw that people were changed because of their contact with Him.
Each spring as we look at the life of Jesus through the eyes of one of the gospel writers, I am reminded of the love of God in this plan He had to bring us to a relationship with Him by sending His only Son. I hope that you are blessed by seeing the life of Jesus again. I pray that like those people who meet in the stories we read, you are changed by Him. And most of all, I hope we are reminded how to follow Jesus as we grow closer to Him and to each other on the journey God has prepared for us.
– Brian
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Just As He Told You

Have you ever caught yourself watching an infomercial on TV? Whether it’s an ad for a product for something to get you organized, a product that will make your car look like new or the latest diet or exercise gadget, it makes some bold claims that seem too good to be true. Even though you’re skeptical, sometimes the sales pitch is so good that you decide to give it a try. Usually you end up feeling like you’ve wasted your money, and it does not work at all like it did on your TV screen. It ends up in a box with the other things that were not all you thought they would be.
The claim Jesus made during His life about His resurrection was beyond bold. It seemed impossible. It sounded too good to be true. In fact, Peter had rebuked Jesus when He mentioned it earlier in the Gospel of Mark. Those who were close to Jesus approached the first day of the week after His death as they would following the death of any other loved one. However when they reached the tomb they did not find what they expected. Instead of His body in the tomb, they found an angel. And that angel confirmed that He had risen.
In Mark 11, they found the donkey for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem just as He told them. In Mark 14, they found the upper room to prepare the Passover just as He told them. Later in that chapter, Peter denied Him three times just as He told him. And now He had risen just as He told them He would. His bold claim and the fulfillment of the resurrection changed the world…just as He told us.
– Brian
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly. (Mark 8:31-32a)

Thankful for Jesus

Mark 14 begins with an extravagant expression of love toward Jesus and ends with one of His closest friends denying Him. It mirrors His week in Jerusalem which begins with shouts of hosanna and ends in the tomb. Each time I read Mark 14, a different part of it stands out in my mind. There are many things we could see as the focus, but I just find myself being thankful for Jesus and what each part of the chapter tells me about Him.
I’m thankful that He is anointed and shown honor as the chapter opens and that even knowing what Judas will soon do, He deals with the objections of Judas patiently. I’m thankful that He gives us a way to remember His sacrifice that we still take part in each Sunday. The symbolism of the bread and juice each week help us to remember in a way that goes beyond words. I’m thankful that he is direct with Peter about the denial to come, but I’m more thankful to know that Peter’s story does not end there. I’m thankful He takes time out to pray in the midst of an incredibly difficult time. Even in His struggle, He provides an example for how we should handle struggles. I’m thankful that we get to see that He understands the difficulty of what is about to happen, but He puts the Father’s will above His own. Our priority should also be to follow the Father’s will. I’m thankful that in the midst of an unjust arrest, He shows compassion to heal the servant of the high priest. I’m thankful that He boldly said that He is the Messiah and that because that is true, we can be with Him forever.
There is so much to be thankful for in the life of Jesus. Be thankful this week. Whatever challenges we are dealing with are temporary. We serve an eternal God!

More Than the Others

When I was in high school, our youth group sat on the second and third rows in the auditorium during the worship service. (No one ever sits on the front row. I’m assuming we’re saving the best seats for our guests.) There were some Sundays that the group was more engaged than others, but I remember a particular Sunday when the sermon was about giving. The preacher said that sometimes he wished the guys passing the collection trays would just throw them like Frisbees from one end of the youth group row to the other, because it never stopped to have money added to it on those rows anyway. We all laughed at the thought of trays flying by, but it made us think. Most of us had bought into the idea that whatever we might have the ability to give was insignificant compared to the needs of the church budget. He taught us that day that we were wrong about that.
In Mark 12, a widow approaches the offering with what seems to be an irrelevant amount of money to the temple treasury, but Jesus calls attention to how important her gift was. He said she had actually given more than the others. We would think of her as one who might need help from the church, yet she was giving instead. God desires that we be giving people, and he does not quantify that the way our world does. There are not levels of donations honored on plaques. Instead God just asks that we give as we are prospered, whether that’s a lot or a little in the eyes of our society. If we are giving with the right heart, God will be honored and pleased.
And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:43-44

Do Whatever We Ask

In Mark 10:35, James and John have one request of Jesus: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” It’s probably not the request Jesus would hope to hear in the context of Mark 10. After all, he had just finished talking about how the kingdom would be populated by people who become like children and people who help the poor. Their request of trying to get Jesus to promise something without saying upfront exactly what they want Him to promise sounds like something a child might do. So what is it that James and John want: a better understanding of how to be like a child or maybe some practical strategies for how to best help the poor? No, that’s not even close. They want the best seats in heaven. They want glory. After everything Jesus has taught them, they are still looking out for their own interests. I don’t think selfishness is the child-like trait that Jesus had in mind for them to replicate.
As frustrated as we might be by the request of these two apostles, we often focus on our own desires instead of the needs of others. We have a hard time getting past our selfishness. We like things our way. In contrast, Jesus gives example after example of the importance of considering those around us. He shows us that other people are more important than our things or our status. He showed us by the way that he lived. He says that he “did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45) Jesus wants us to do the same, and He wants us to want to serve even more than we want things for ourselves.
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4:9-10) 

A Mountaintop Experience

We’ve all had memorable experiences. I may have shared this story already, but consider it in this context. A couple years ago a friend and I were at a conference and decided to take in a baseball game during a free night. We weren’t fans of either team but we like baseball and thought it might be fun to see a game in a stadium we had never visited. The first half of the game was alright. The concessions were overpriced, and there were some loud guys who had been over-served behind us; but it was still baseball. Around the 7th inning, I turned to my friend and asked if the visiting team had a hit yet. They hadn’t. For the next couple innings an average game between teams we didn’t follow became a lot more exciting, and we witnessed a pitcher’s first no-hitter. As the team celebrated with him, an older couple came on to the field. His parents were at the game. Out of close to 40 games he would start that season, they were at this one. What a great experience!
In Mark 9 Peter, James and John were eye witnesses to something far greater than any mountaintop experience we might imagine. Jesus was transfigured before them with Moses on one side and Elijah on the other. One of the greatest of the patriarchs and one of the greatest of the prophets appeared there and talked with the Messiah. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him,” a Voice from heaven said. And then just like their roles in life, Moses and Elijah faded away and only Jesus remained. Peter would later write about the experience in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” They had a mountaintop experience, and their lives were forever changed. Listen to Him, and yours will be too.

It’s Not Going to Be Easy

Will it be worth the effort? Have you ever asked yourself that question before starting on a task? At our house in Arkansas, my wife and I decided to update our kitchen. It was a lengthy, incremental project that included stripping and painting cabinets, replacing countertops, installing a new sink and faucet, tiling a backsplash, installing new appliances and painting. We did most of the work ourselves in an attempt to save money. The whole process took YEARS. It was not years of daily work but just projects here and there. Somewhere in the midst of it all, we decided that starting the project might not have been a good idea, and we would hire someone if we ever wanted to do something like that again. We got to enjoy the completed kitchen for less than a month when we started packing everything up to move to Oregon. If we had known all that at the beginning, we probably would have done things much differently.
Jesus is very upfront with his disciples and the crowd in Mark 8, when he tells them that following him will not be easy. The idea of a person taking up his cross would have been all too familiar in their culture, and it would not be something that anyone would seek out. He wants them to understand the cost. He wants their commitment. He asks the same thing of us today. If we are living the lives that Jesus calls us to live, there is a cost. It requires our time. It requires using our talents. It requires our giving. It requires our hearts. It requires that we become living sacrifices. And is it worth the effort? Absolutely.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:35-37)

Don’t Tell Anyone

Can you keep a secret? It is difficult sometimes, isn’t it? There is something exciting about knowing some piece of information that others do not know and being the one who shares that information. You get to see the their look of surprise. You are the one who knows. There are people who absolutely love moments like that. Usually they are the last people you want to confide in when you have a secret of your own.
What about when it is your experience that you want to share? When is the last time you could not wait to tell someone about the exciting thing that happened to you? You had a great first date. You received or gave an amazing gift. You found a great sale somewhere. You just returned from one of the best vacations ever. We love to share those experiences with others.
In Mark 7, Jesus encounters a man who is deaf and can barely talk. The man’s friends bring him to Jesus to be healed, and Jesus does not disappoint. When Jesus heals him, he is immediately able to hear and speak plainly. As the man and his friends left, Jesus made only one request of them: don’t tell anyone. But the text tells us, “The more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.” (Mark 7:36 NIV) They could not help themselves. It was the most incredible thing they had ever experienced. They had to tell others about it.
God loves us enough that He sent His Son here to the world to live a difficult life and die on our behalf, so that we could live with Him eternally. Don’t tell anyone? We cannot help ourselves. It’s the most incredible thing we have ever experienced. We have to tell others about it.