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

 



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.