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!

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.

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.

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.
“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.

You Have Heard That It Was Said

This week is another one of those times where our Sunday and Wednesday studies collide. During our summer series this year, our speakers have been talking about “one another” passages in scripture. We will only look at twelve to fifteen of them during the summer, but there are over fifty in the New Testament alone. God truly cares about our actions toward one another. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that the way we treat one another begins before any action takes place. Our thoughts and attitudes set those actions in motion.
In Matthew 5:21, Jesus begins a section of the sermon where He reminds everyone of rules of familiar rules that His audience knows and likely follows. The weakness of living that way is that breaking those rules is not a giant leap from a neutral place. It is a series of steps in thoughts and attitudes that leads to the action that breaks the rules. Jesus does not want His followers to live one step short of breaking the rules. He wants our hearts to change long before we would ever reach that point.
The way those listening to the Sermon on the Mount thought of these rules is likely similar to the rich young man in Matthew 20 who was confident in all the commandments that he had kept all his life. Then he asked Jesus what he still lacked and got an answer he was not expecting. Those listening to Jesus in Matthew 5 get a similar answer without even asking the question. Jesus has a way of cutting through the legalistic side of the law to get to the purpose God had in mind.
In his book, Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount, Randy Harris describes what Jesus does in this series of teachings. “Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is going to talk about these ever escalating cycles of violence and retribution. Over and over again he talks about how things roll and roll and roll and how you have to cut it off at the beginning. The way you prevent murder, the way you prevent war, the way you prevent violence is cutting it out at the root. Congratulations on not killing anybody. How you doing with your anger?”
God loves us as wants us to love one another in the same way He loves us. That love will obviously show itself in the one another actions we have been studying on Wednesdays, but it does not begin there. It begins with having the attitude of Jesus. Beginning with His attitude and the Spirit’s guidance, we can live these teachings.



“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:1-3

The Sermon on the Mount

“The Sermon on the Mount is not a statement to be treated in a cavalier fashion — by saying that this or that isn’t right or that here we find an inconsistency. Its validity depends on its being obeyed. This is not a statement that we can freely choose to take or leave. It is a compelling, lordly statement.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This week we will begin a sermon series about the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5-7 is probably the part of the teachings of Jesus that has been most referenced, both within the church and by non-Christians. The truths in the sermon range from practical to things that seem almost impossible to live out. In his commentary on the sermon, Scot McKnight describes it as being either “instruction or indictment” for people who follow Jesus. That is the way the sermon is generally interpreted. It is a guide for how to apply the ethics of Jesus. After all, the sermon ends with a short parable about the importance of not just hearing the words but also doing them.
In his book, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance, Glen Stassen acknowledges the ethical instruction in the sermon but sees some other things many might miss on their first reading. Matthew 5-7 comes in the greater context of God’s action in His world and through His Son. “The Sermon on the Mount is not first of all about what we should do. It is first of all about what God is already doing. It is about God’s presence, the breakthrough of God’s kingdom in Jesus. It is about God’s grace, God’s loving deliverance from various kinds of bondage in the vicious cycles that we get stuck in, and deliverance into community with God and others.” Throughout scripture we see God’s presence and His deliverance. Those themes begin again in the Gospel of Matthew as God is present through Jesus who is sent to deliver His people. It is in that context where we find Jesus “up on the mountain” as He begins to teach in Matthew 5. The sermon is not just about a better way to live. It is the way to be in the presence of God.
The life principles in the sermon and what they say about the nature and work of God cannot be disconnected. This year our family has been reading Mike Ireland’s daily devotional book, From Morning to Evening: Every Day with Jesus. As the Sermon on the Mount begins, Mike describes it like this. “From the Beatitudes that opened the sermon to the story that closed it, Jesus was telling us who God is. The blessedness promised by Jesus is nothing less than the life of God Himself! The only people who will experience the blessedness are those who partake of the divine. This is more than a collection of wise sayings or practical rules for living. This is the Lord’s portrait of life as it is meant to be lived. This is His word.”
Let’s learn more about God, living in His presence, experiencing His deliverance and what He desires for us as we study the greatest sermon together.

– Brian

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.” – Matthew 5:1-2

Membership Has Its Privileges

If you were around during the late 80’s and early 90’s the phrase, “Membership has its privileges” is probably familiar to you. It was a time when credit cards were really taking root in our society, and American Express was trying to set itself apart from the others. They did not want their customers to think of themselves as simply cardholders, but as members of a club. In each ad, that tagline about membership was mentioned. They showed how membership came with status and rewards, but they did not usually mention that it also came with a bill at the end of the month. It was a memorable ad campaign.
Too many Christians treat church membership the same way. Don’t get me wrong, church membership has privileges that go far beyond anything American Express could offer. Most of the good things in my life are directly connected to the church. The church has been there for me in good times and difficult times. The church helps me live as God desires. And best of all, the bill has already been paid. That being said, being a church member comes with responsibilities. It is more than showing up each week.
In his book, I Am a Church Member, Thom Rainer says that many treat church membership like membership in a country club. People pay the dues and expect the privileges that come with it. He does not believe that God intended it to work that way, and I agree with that. In the book, Rainer lists six things that a church member should do that are less about privilege and more about responsibility. There are more we could mention, but his six are a good start.
  1. I will be a functioning church member. There is work to be done and a world to be reached. It is up to all of us to do it.
  2. I will be a unifying church member. Jesus prayed for our unity. He knew the church would be at its best when we are one.
  3. I will not let church be about my desires and preferences. This may be the toughest one on the list, but it is every bit as important as the others. Paul spent a lot of time writing about this problem in the New Testament. We have to consider others above ourselves. We have to make things about God’s desires and preferences.
  4. I will pray for my church leaders. This book was written long before any of us heard about COVID-19 or all the adjustments congregations would have to make. Church leaders needed prayer then, and they definitely need it now.
  5. I will lead my family to be healthy church members. Be the example of all these things to those who are closest to you. The church today and tomorrow need that example.
  6. I will treasure church membership as a gift. I love the fact that God does not only care about how we interact with Him, but He also wants us to love one another. He provided the church so that we could live in that loving community. Jesus is an amazing gift. Eternal life with Him will be an amazing gift. The church is a gift too. We should always think of it that way.
Membership does have its privileges, but being a member of the church is so much more. Let’s always be the church members that God intended us to be. Let’s never take His church for granted.
– Brian

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:27

Let Freedom Ring

I have always enjoyed the 4th of July. Since I was a kid, I l have loved watching fireworks shows. As a trumpet player, I enjoy the patriotic songs and Sousa marches. Since moving to Ada, I appreciate turning onto Main Street and seeing all the flags out. I have always felt blessed to live in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” We celebrate that independence every year, but it is not the greatest freedom we can have as Christians.
We can learn a lot about how God views freedom in the New Testament. Freedom as He describes it has nothing to do with which earthly government is in charge, and its source is not a document from 1776. Even the Declaration of Independence acknowledges that our freedom (the right to liberty) is given by our Creator. So what does God teach us about freedom?
  • Jesus gives freedom. Jesus understands better than anyone what the lack of freedom does. He was there in the beginning and knew what happened when people took the freedom of others or lost their own. For the people of His time, He brought freedom from the old covenant and hope in the new one. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)
  • The presence of the Spirit gives freedom. When our lives show clear evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, we are freed from a myriad of problems. With His guidance, we can be freed from even more. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
  • Following Jesus gives freedom. People convince themselves that sin brings pleasure, fun and no limits. Instead it actually binds and enslaves. Living as disciples frees us. “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” (John 8:34-36)
  • Freedom is not free. We have seen that phrase on t-shirts and bumper stickers, but it is clearly taught in scripture. Jesus gives us freedom, but it is not without a price. It was paid for with His sacrifice. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:13-14)
  • The gospel still gives freedom. We must tell the story of Jesus, so that others can enjoy the same freedom we do. Ironically the book of Acts ends with Paul freely teaching others how to receive the liberty the gospel provides, while he was imprisoned. The Greek word that describes how he taught means to speak freely and boldly. “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:31)
As we celebrate our freedom this weekend, let’s give thanks to the One who gives us the greatest freedom. Let’s take that message of freedom to the world around us.
– Brian