As you’ve read the Bible, how often have you thought, “If I were God, I’d have chosen a different person for that job.” Or, “I’d not have allowed righteous people to suffer.” Or, “I’d have planned things differently.” We’d have done many things very differently, or not done them at all !!! We do “second-guessing”, or “Coach criticizing”, in all kinds of settings.
We tend to evaluate people, situations and ideas as they appear to us at the moment; and we’re surprised (and confused) when who or what we thought was wrong actually succeed. It’s a reminder of our human limitations; and that despite our greatest wisdom, we are not God.
We’d not have chosen an old couple without any likelihood of having children to be recipients of promises for the future of humanity. We’d not have allowed faithful people to suffer with unfaithful people. We’d have rewarded Job for his faithfulness, instead of allowing Satan to nearly destroy him. We’d have sent Jesus much sooner to save humanity. We’d have chosen better men than those Jesus chose to be His apostles. We’d have found a better way for God to save us from sin, than sacrificing His Son.
But we are not God. He knows what He is doing, despite what we think is best. Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20).
Micah spoke of God’s power to accomplish His will when he said to Israel, “But now many nations are gathered against you. They say, ‘Let her be defiled, let our eyes gloat over Zion!’ But they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand His plan, He who gathers them like sheaves to the threshing floor.” (Micha 4:11-12) Those nation’s plans for destruction of Israel served God’s plans for their destruction!
So God reminds us, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Praise God for that – Amen?
When you cannot understand God’s reasoning, remember His superiority (Isaiah 40:12-14), and be thankful that He loves you sacrificially.
Why do you believe in God? Who is this Jesus that you regard so highly? Why does any of this matter? Some of us are getting anxious just from thinking about all the questions someone might ask us about our faith. What do we say? How do we start? What if I have doubts and concern about the very things they are asking about.
Since childhood I have been taught that we must know enough to evangelize others. We couldn’t go out and proclaim the good news of Jesus if we weren’t prepared for every eventuality, every permutation of every possible question and outcome. How dare we be such bad stewards of the entrusted word of God. Soon I realized that I was depending on my knowledge and my ability to know enough. Eventually I found out that people were not impressed with my knowledge, and worse, they weren’t impressed with my ability either. All in all, I was found to be not that much of an impressive person.
So, what do we do when we realize it’s not about us? It’s a humbling experience to be brought so low when we have placed ourselves on such a high pedestal. I am reminded of so many Biblical stories of people that overestimated their importance and found themselves face to face with the dirt. Do you remember Moses, when told to go and speak to a rock that water might come from it; instead, hit the rock believing that he was the one in charge. Do you remember Saul, when told to wait for the prophet Samuel to offer a sacrifice before God; instead, offered his own sacrifice believing that he was the one true king. Do you remember Peter rebuking Jesus,believing that he knew better than the Messiah as to what should happen.
The truth about evangelism is… it’s not about you! It’s about Jesus Christ. Through Him we are capable of anything, including answering some difficult questions. We don’t have to have all the “right” answers or the best sound bites to bring people to Jesus. When we remove ourselves from our high pedestals and place Jesus in His rightful place, He can move and work through us. We have faith that Jesus has been working in the lives of people around us and when someone does approach you about your faith remember who is at work. Know that Jesus is at work to bring about His salvation in the lives of others.
“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” Proverbs 3:1-2a & 4)
It’s easy and natural to welcome new births, but it’s difficult to accept the deaths of people we care about. We’re blessed to live in an era when it’s possible to live long lives. The longer we love someone, the deeper the loss we feel at their death.
When we become a Christian, we begin a new life, of eternal hopes and love. It’s a profound change of our worldview, in our thinking and goals. We seek God’s kingdom, instead of building our own here. We thank God for His blessings here, as we eagerly anticipate His eternal blessings.
Yet some Christians either fear death, or cling desperately to life. Why? It may be the fear of leaving the known for the unknown. It may be the difficulty of leaving family and friends who we love. Or it may be the fear of not having prepared financially, relationally or spiritually.
Paul wrote of himself, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed , but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21; See also Galatians 2:20)
Someone observed, Christ has brought a new attitude toward death. He has invested it with a beauty, a peacefulness and a glory unknown before. This is what caused a Greek by the name of Aristeides to marvel, when trying to explain to a friend the reasons for the extraordinary success of Christianity. In a letter written about A.D. 125, he said: “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving, as if he were set- ting out from one place to another nearby.” Those believers who are gone before are not lost, not separated from us permanently; they are only waiting in another place nearby for us to join them again.
May each of us prepare our families and ourselves to joyfully meet God.
For an organization to have purpose, value and achieve its goals,its leaders must have a vision for the organization. They must communicate that vision clearly and persuasively to the organization’s members. Those members must understand, fully support and actively pursue that vision.
Our Elders have a vision from God’s Word of what this congregation is to be about. This coming Sunday morning, they will share it with all of us. It will involve in-reach activities (to spiritually build members) and out-reach activities (designed to bring non-members to Christ). And it will involve each member being involved in the life of this body of Christians.
This past Sunday, the 2017 Church Calendar was distributed. Carefully review the activities, not to see what “they” are planning to do, but to see what you could be involved in with others. See what activities you should put on your personal and family calendar now, and begin planning for.
This Sunday you’ll find a half sheet in your program, which will break out several particular activities. Joe Tipps will briefly explain the purpose of each of these, and urge your prayers and participation. I’ll close our worship by bringing us to the Bible basis for these things.
Although there will not be a typical sermon, we will be focusing on God and what He wants us to be about, to His glory. It will be an uplifting time, as we think and pray about how we can serve God more fully this year. As you plan to attend next Sunday, pray for God’s guidance for all of us.
Society is undergoing a change of mind about the way religion and people of faith intersect with public life…intensifying perceptions that faith is at the root of a vast number of societal ills.… The decades-old trend that Christianity is irrelevant is increasingly giving way to the notion that Christianity is bad for society. (Barna Report, February 23, 2016)
Most Americans indicate that they think it would be difficult to have a natural and normal conversation with minority groups who are different than them… Evangelicals seem to have a particularly difficult time talking to those outside their group [and] consistently report higher levels of difficulty toward other groups than those groups report toward them. (Barna Report, March 9, 2016)
Last Sunday morning we completed a sermon series on proclaiming Christ. This coming Sunday we’ll begin a brief series on identifying who Christ is. Equipped with information (and hopefully inspiration) from those series, we need to move forward, proclaiming who Christ is. What better time to do that than in this season, and to resolve to do it in the near new year!
It’s not an easy task, as Jesus and New Testament writers made clear. The excerpts above indicate that our culture’s movement to secularism is making it more difficult in some ways. Despite that, since January 1st of this year, there have been 11 baptisms in our congregation – more than we’ve had in several years – people of a variety of ages and backgrounds!
Many people are hardened against Christianity, but many are open to learning about it, and many are seeking meaning in life. We must pay attention to our many opportunities, instead of being discouraged by uninterested and hostile people. We must seek God’s aid in prayer.
II Corinthians 3:3-6 reminds us that our competence and confidence are in our Lord; so we must pray that He gives us both! Ephesians 6:18-19 reminds us that we must seek the prayers of our fellow Christians, so we may speak God’s words fearlessly! Colossians 4:2-4 reminds us to devote ourselves to prayer, for God to open doors to our message, and to proclaim it clearly! Acts 4:29 reminds us to pray that we might speak of Christ boldly!
May we all be busy in prayer for these things in 2017.
The negative tenor of this political season has not been seen in our country in over one hundred years. While we who are Christians are citizens of this country, we’re first citizens of God’s kingdom, so His will takes priority.
Abraham Lincoln warned against invoking Christianity and God’s name for our politics, effectively saying that God is on our side. Instead, we must pray earnestly that we are on God’s side. When we look at the platforms and practices of all parties, it may be difficult to adhere to any of them.
As Jim Wallis says in his book God’s Politics:
God’s politics...challenges everything about our politics. God’s politics reminds us of the people our politics always neglects – the poor, the vulnerable, the left behind. God’s politics challenges narrow national, ethnic, economic, or cultural self-interest, reminding us of a much wider world and the creative human diversity of all those made in the image of the creator. God’s politics reminds us of the creation itself, a rich environ ment in which we are to be good stewards, not mere users, consumers, and exploiters.
Brian Zahnd adds, “The politics of Jesus are set forth in the Sermon on the Mount – and neither the Republican nor the Democratic party have any intention of seriously adopting those politics! They simply cannot.” The politics of Jesus is without coercion. The kingdom of God persuades by love, witness, Spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, martyrdom – but never by force... The world will be changed by non-coercive love or not at all. It’s not the task of the church to change the world by legislative force. It’s the task of the church to be the world changed by Christ. This is revolutionary in a way that conventional politics never can be.
Jim Wallis offers these thoughts. “In any election we chose between very imperfect choices. Yet it is always important to examine what is at stake prayerfully and theologically... What if everyday people made the politics of the prophets their litmus test for political candidates, and for fiscal, social, corporate and foreign policy issues?” Wallis suggests this evaluation: “What moral compass does a candidate bring to his or her public life, and how do his or her convictions shape their political priorities?”
May each of us prayerfully seek God’s direction as we participate in the election process, in regards to each issue and each candidate.
September 29, 2016
In Matthew 16:13-23, Peter identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. When Jesus then said He would suffer, die and be resurrected, Peter was alarmed, and told Jesus this would never happen. His vision of the future was based on the only past and present world system he knew.
Many citizens of the U.S.A. want our country’s future to look like our past. That’s their vision. But the past never returns. God’s Word does not point to a past time and place as the ideal. Rather, it points to what Jesus has done in the past as the peace we can have in the present, and the hope He provides for our future.
Israel was crushed and made captives by Assyria in 722 B.C., and Judah was crushed and made captives by Babylonia in 586 B.C. Disillusioned and feeling hopeless and directionless, God spoke to them in Jeremiah 29:4-7: This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Notice three things. First, God put HIs people into an ungodly nation. (Punishment for their sins.) Second, they were to carry on life as they would have done in their homeland. (To show God’s will for all people.) Third, they were to seek and pray for the well-being of their ungodly communities. (For the ungodly?) What God did not call for: 1.) Fight the culture; and, 2.) Pray the past returns.
God promised His people could return to their land in seventy years; but it would never be the way it had been, in the past “good old days”. (When was that?)
What must Christians do in our ungodly culture – where laws are go against our beliefs, elected officials undermine godliness, the media denigrates our faith, and schools teach things in conflict with God’s word? Jeremiah 29:4-7 (Ephesians 5:15-16; Philippians 1:12-18) gives God’s guidance: In the face of ungodliness, live by God’s word, as you seek and pray for the well-being of your community. And as Daniel’s life shows, God will be glorified through you.
May 26, 2016
Recently writing a paper on God and justice, I said He is deeply concerned about justice for all people. I pointed to His justice laws in Exodus 21-23, Leviticus and Deuteronomy 16:18-20. I impressed that a major reason that He punished Israel was their injustice. I pointed to Matthew 23:23, II Corinthians 7:11 and James 2:1-13, to show that justice must be a central concern for Christians.
Before World War II, most Americans were the working poor. They were concerned about income, workplace, educational and justice system injustices. Changes for the better in these issues began after the war. Today, most people are among the working middle to upper -middle class – including Christians.
As our incomes increase, our justice issues change. Those we had at a lower income are replaced with different justice issues – often regarding our thinking about unjust taxes, or unjust laws for our business. As a congregation’s collective income increases, a biblical study of God’s justice concerns is rarely considered.
Romans 3:19-31 emphasizes God’s justice toward humans. While it’s validates the character of God, it probably meant more to Christians then and there than it does to us here and now. Unless we are threatened with a justice personally (like what happened in Oregon recently), it’s a non-issue.
But God won’t ignore injustice. In Luke 6:20-26, Jesus addressed injustice toward the poor perpetrated by the rich – the “have-not’s” versus the “have’s”. We need not be rich “have” in society. If we’re a “have”, we must practice justice with the “have’s” and the “have-not’s”. We can’t teach Bible ideals on Sunday, but practice an unbiblical business reality Monday through Friday. James 5:1-6 applies to all of us “have’s” in clear, strong terms which we must deal with.
Jesus’ statement that the poor will always be among us is not a license to ignore them or their plight. God will judge us for such attitudes (James 2:12-13). Income, workplace, educational and justice system injustices exist aplenty.
“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7) is echoed in Isaiah 1:17, “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
May God’s justice concerns become our personal and practical concerns.
April 28, 2016
April 3rd was our first annual Community Outreach Sunday. Attend- ance at the luncheon program was a full-house! Several people shared their ministries in the community, and inspired the rest of us. We ran out of time for others to share their ministries. How wonderful! Next year they will share and inspire us. Meanwhile, more opportunities for more of us to minister in the community will be announced as they present themselves.
Our congregation is “enthused”. We think of that as excitement; but the origin of the word means “to be inspired by or possessed by God”. Both are true of us. I hope we’re openly enthused about God’s work among us, so that we speak of it in our daily life. The article below reveals what happens when enthusiasm about God’s work in a congregation is shared openly.
“Hillary sat on a park bench, reflecting on her rocky marriage, and grappling with her faith. Moments later, two women sat down on a nearby bench, happily discussing their faith. Intrigued, Hillary asked where they attended church. The following Sunday, she slipped into the church, to check it out. The worship service brought a surge of tearful emotions. Later she said, “I know now that it was the presence of God speaking to me.” The following week she brought her husband. Over time, they came to Christ, and repaired their marriage.
A church leader there later commented, “Hilary encapsulates the church. She overheard someone speaking about God’s goodness, and she wanted in on it.” Hilary felt the love on a park bench away, because the members of that church eat, breathe and sleep outreach. The congregation often offers retreats, seminars and workshops which impact the lives of people in the church and in the community. They have found that, “When folks are excited about what God is doing in their lives, they talk about it.””
Are you “enthused” about what God is doing in your life? Are you talking about it openly, at work, to your neighbors, with non-Christian friends, or in other public settings? Reflecting our joy in the Lord should be as natural as saying hello, please or thank you. It’s an overflow of our hearts, as we recognize God’s blessings. It’s releasing our joy of salvation in our conversation. Let’s allow God to free us to share Him.
The article above is adapted from “The Domino Effect”, Outreach Magazine, Nov/Dec 2015)
January 28, 2016
For the past 26 years, Betty and I have lived in the parsonage (a house provided by this congregation). The 48-year-old-house and yards have been well-maintained by the church during this time. Betty and I feel blessed.
In September of last year, our master bath began to be remodeled. If you have had any remodeling done in your house, you understand why I said “began”. Remodeling always takes longer than quoted, often because you ask for changes after the project has begun. Invariably, you are inconvenienced. When all is completed, you’re generally pleased with the outcome, and that it’s finally done!
This remodeling project in our house has reminded me of three valuable things. First, I need to grow in patience. Patience is neither natural nor easier for some people than for others. It’s a spiritual discipline which we develop only with God’s aid in prayer. Patience is a much-needed exercise in getting outside of ourselves – outside of what we want, how we want it and when we want it. It’s a much needed reminder that life is not all about me. Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.”
Second, I need to grow in perspective. Perspective is about realizing that my concerns are only parts ‘usually small, insignificant parts’ of a larger concern. I must realize that to put my concerns in perspective, so I can understand whether or not my concerns even need to exist. Usually, my concerns are about my com-fort. I John 2:17 helps me to develop perspective when it says, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
Third, I need to reconsider and renew my priorities. A friend of mine has helped me with this. When I mention my frustrations with something having to do with our typical American concerns, he says, “That’s not a third world concern.” That remark stings – but I need to hear it, and think about it. Is my concern wrapped up in me, or is it wrapped up in God’s kingdom? Jesus commands us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His (God’s) kingdom and His righteousness…” If I am doing that, then that, and not the creature comforts of my culture, set my priorities.
So the house remodeling offers me an opportunity to spiritually remodel my life. God calls this process transformation. This is what Romans 12:1-2, II Corinthians 5:16-17 and Philippians 3:7-11 are about. I need to be about it. Do you?
November 19, 2015
A plane bombed in Egypt; two hundred died. A market-place in Beirut, Lebanon bombed; forty died. A series of bombs in Paris; one hundred thirty died, and hundreds are seriously injured. A radical Islamic group claims they orchestrated all of these; and that more are to come.
Islamic radicals do not represent a nation. They represent the most hostile beliefs of a world-wide religion. They seek world-wide domi-nation.
Human reaction is the fear of our loss of freedom, and death, because we’re not Muslims. Christian reaction is that human freedom and human life are not as important as spiritual freedom and eternal spiritual life.
The world of the Roman Empire was as frightening and deadly for Chris-tians as the threat of Islamic world domination is today. Yet Christianity has survived, thrived and grown around the world. How did that happen?
Jesus promised, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). He predicted wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, hatred, death, false prophets, deception, an increase of wickedness and the growth spiritual coldness of people (Matthew 24:4-14).
Rather than react in fear, we must react in faith. Romans 8:31-39 assures that nothing can separate us from God’s love; and that He’ll take care of His faithful children. II Corinthians 5:1-5 assures that God put the Holy Spirit into our hearts to guarantee what is to come: Life eternal with Him.
It’s easy to become frightened or skeptical, and ask, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (II Peter 2:4). This should encourage us! Life is no worse than ever! God is in control in the worst of times – which is all the time when it’s ungodly. Yet in all times, God has provided for us.
Hebrews 10:35-39 urges Christians in stressful times not to throw away our confidence in God, but persevere, to receive God’s promised rewards for our faithfulness to Him, and our faith in Him. May that be true of us.
October 29, 2015
Wednesday, November 11th, is Veteran’s Day. It’s a day to remember and honor the men and women who have served, and are serving, in the armed forces of the United States of America. They entered the military willing to risk their lives to save the lives of their countrymen. Military service is self-sacrificial, putting others ahead of oneself. For such hearts we remember and honor veterans.
There is another kind of veteran who we should remember and honor. Christians are referred to in II Timothy 2:3 as “soldiers of Christ”. When we are baptized into Christ, we submit ourselves to serving Christ. This is self-sacrificial. We are willing to risk our physical life to save the spiritual lives of people who are spiritually lost. That kind of heart deserves our remembrance and honor.
Each congregation of God’s people has veterans in God’s kingdom. Romans 12:10 calls Christians to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Paul wrote and practiced that – as in Romans 16: 1-15; II Corinthians 8:18; Philippians 2:19-23; 4:2-3 and 10-20. These were fellow Christians who deserved appreciation and recognition for many kinds of service.
As we approach Veteran’s Day, let’s remember and express our gratitude to those who have served in the military of the U.S.A. Let’s also remember and express our appreciation to spiritual veterans, who have served our Lord Jesus well. They deserve our honor for their self-sacrifice. Approach them at our next worship assembly, to thank them for what they have done and are doing. If you cannot do that, call them – or at least send them a card of gratitude. It will affirm and encourage them; and it will draw them and you closer together.
September 24, 2015
How do you think of yourself as a member of the church? Both outside and inside the church, people often refer to Christians as volunteers.
But in the Bible, Christians are often referred to as servants of God (I Corinthians 3:5; II Corinthians 6:4; I Peter 2:16), slaves of God (Romans 6:15-18) and soldiers of God (Philippians 2:25; Philemon 1:1-2).
The idea of servants and slaves is stated in I Corinthians 6:19-20: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” When we become a Christian, we are not volunteering for a civic club. We can neither participate when we wish, nor quit when we wish. We have given our lives to God, and are united with Christ (Romans 6:3-4). We have offered our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, to be transformed from the world’s thinking to God’s will (Romans 12:1-2).
Being a soldier of Christ comes into view when we read Matthew 28:18-20. As King, Jesus gave an order to His apostles as his soldiers. He began by giving His credentials, the affirmation of who He is: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This accords with the prophecies about the Messiah, as a saving king. Notice Colossians 1:15-20.
Because of who He is, He has the God-given authorization to give this order: “Therefore, go and make disciple of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” He concludes with an assurance which we need, and which only God could give: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This king will never desert us, but will be with us in every battle, to our life’s end.
If we’re Christians, we’re Christ’s servants, slaves and soldiers. We’ve given our lives to Him, to serve Him, as our King. We have given up our rights. We are not volunteers. His orders are to each of us.
Are you obeying or disobeying Christ’s orders? The consequenc-es of disobedience are court martial, punishment, dishonorable discharge and the loss of all benefits. The consequences of obedi-ence are matchless and endless rewards by the King of the Universe. May each of us commit ourselves to being obedient servants, slaves and soldiers of Christ.
August 27, 2015
This month Joe Tipps and I have preached about building bridges of relationships and trust. These are to urge us: 1.) to get to know and love our fellow Christians; and, 2.) to better know and love non-Christians, in the hope of bringing them to faith in Christ. This is a high priority of our Elders.
To build bridges, we must use seven building blocks. First, we must love people. We must be concerned about their well-being – especially their eternal spiritual well-being. We must develop genuine friendships with people, which we nurture into loving relationships. (Philippians 2:2-4)
Second, we must encourage people. We’re not called to be messengers of criticism and discouragement. Instead, we’re to encourage people in all good things. (Philippians 4:8; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:5-6)
Third, we must respect people. Every person is a precious child of God, created in His image, with His intention that they become His eternal spiritual children. I Peter 2:17 urges us to show proper respect to everyone.
Fourth, we must accept responsibility for our mistakes. We will say and do the wrong things at times, as we build relationships. We must work to change whatever prevents us from building Christ-like relationships.
Fifth, we must find common ground. When a dialogue leads to deadlock, we may need to agree to disagree on a particular topic, at least for a while. This is discouraging; but it’s a reminder that we must pray for God’s aid.
Sixth, we must learn to manage our emotions. We cannot let what we think prevent someone from being saved from their sins. We must always ask God to speak through us. (Ephesians 4:31-32; Galatians 5:17-26)
Seventh, we must constantly pray: for God to lead us to people; to guide us as we build relationships with people; to guide us in sharing His saving grace; and, to open their hearts to Him. (I Thessalonians 5:17)
May each of us apply ourselves to these building blocks, to God’s glory.
June 18, 2015
We Americans overload our conversations with superlatives. How often do you hear someone respond to something they’ve been told with the words “Amazing”, “Awesome”, “Great”, “Excellent”, “Incredible”, “Special”, or “Wonderful”? The overuse of these words diminishes their use when something truly unusual and beyond words comes into our lives.
Maybe we’re trying to be positive, which is good, but not excellent. Not everything deserves a superlative response. Maybe we want the person speaking to think we’re impressed with what they’re saying. Maybe we don’t have appropriate words for a response, something we should correct. Maybe we haven’t thought about who or what de-serves a superlative response.
In the Bible, all of these words refer to God, His character and His works. Exodus 15:11 says, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” Deuteronomy 4:34 speaks of God’s “great and awesome deeds”.
At the end of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:28 says, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” After Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute, Mark 7:37 says, “People were overwhelmed with amazement…”
Paul asked King Agrippa, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8). God’s credibility is unlimited in His power and His love of all humanity.
In a psalm of praise to God, King David urges his people to “Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” (I Chronicles: 16:9). After God asked Job a series of questions, Job replied to God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3). David wrote, “Praise be to the Lord, for he showed his wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city.” (Psalm 31:21).
The word “Special” describes gifts for God, or days reserved to honor God. It is never applied to people. We use this word for people and things to give honor; but it’s vague, so it does not express exactly what we intend to convey. We should think about specific traits which make the person or thing “special”, and say that. Doing so would give them honor they deserve.
My point is this: These superlative words apply only to the superior One: God. When we think of these words, we should think of God. And when we think of God, we should think of these words. Any other use of these words lowers their value to common things, and places God on the same level. This diminishes our thinking and our value of God.
Read Exodus 15:1-18, and the Psalms. Superlatives were applied to God alone, because He alone is the only One who deserves them. He alone is superior to all others, in every way, and therefore worthy of our praise of Him, our love of Him and our obedience to Him. In the truest, fullest, best sense, He alone is Amazing, Awesome, Special and Wonderful. May we be more thoughtful people in our conversations, so we give God alone the glory He deserves.
May 29, 2015
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedi-ent do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:11-16. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
We must never allow Satan’s victories to discourage and blind us to God’s superior victories. Yet, as Ephesians 5:11-16 impresses, we must be awake to shameful things being foisted on us by Satan’s servants. Sometimes those are people who are supposed to be serving our interests in government.
The Pacific Justice Institute is a Christian-based law firm, which advocates for Christians whose faith is under attack in our public schools and state government.
Here are uncensored examples
This list offends me as it does you. I’m offended that these things are happening. They are evidence of Satan working through ungodly people, to draw more people away from God. What can we do?
We can contact a state legislator or senator, the state chief of educa-tion, or a local school board, to advise them of our thoughts about these matters. We can write an editorial. We can let our adult children or grandchildren know about these things, and offer suggestions about how best to respond. We can place our children in some form of Christian school, or financially help a family to do that.
We must take these matters to God, earnestly asking Him to stop all such ungodly things as I listed. We must trust in God’s wisdom and power to overcome these things. We must regularly monitor what are children are being taught, and question local school officials when we are concerned about what is going on in classrooms. And we must consistently, carefully teach our children God’s will about these matters.
April 30, 2015
The Sunday morning sermons April 19- June 28 honor people who give of what they have to honor God. Nancy Leigh DeMoss wrote this (abbreviated) article about her father’s giving.
I am so thankful for the many valuable lessons my father, Arthur S. DeMoss taught me about a Biblical perspective on money and material possessions. As both a successful businessman and an earnest follower of Jesus Christ, he was a living illustration of those principles.
1. He put God first, above everything else. He believed that the greatest wealth was knowing God. This priority was evident as he gave the first hour of every day to the study of God’s Word and prayer. He put God first in his business. Whenever Dad met anyone for the first time,… the uppermost question on his mind was, “Does this person know Christ?” Christ was first in our home. Dad talked little about the business. He talked much about Jesus. The greatest inheritance he left my siblings and me was the example of commit-ment to love God more than anything or anyone else.
2. He recognized God as the source of every material blessing. He taught us not to look to an employer or parent or a husband as the source of our income, but to look to the Lord as our Provider. And he taught us that we are as utterly dependent on God to provide when we have a regular, substantial income as when we have no visible means of support.
3. He acknowledged God’s right to give and to take away material blessings. This is the reason he was able to be as grateful and content in times of material loss as in times of tremendous gain. I remember one twelve-month period during which we lost our home in a fire, my mother almost lost her life with a massive brain tumor, and my dad lost many millions of dollars... Through all those months, his faith, joy and serenity were never diminished, because he recognized and trusted the sovereignty of God.
4. He saw himself not as a recipient, but as a channel of God’s blessings. He believe that God gives to his children, not so they can store up things that don’t last, but so they can meet the needs of others. Next to knowing God and leading others to Christ, the privilege of giving the… majority of his income was… the greatest joy of my dad’s life. As a result of his influence, I have learned the joy of asking the Lord, when I receive any form of income, “Do You want me to invest this in Your kingdom?” And when I hear of a need of another person or ministry, the question on my heart is, “Do You want to use me to help meet that need?”
Perhaps this is where genuine revival begins – with the willingness (and eagerness) to give everything we are and have to God, and to be channels through whom He can bless and meet the needs of others… “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9)
As we meditate upon this article, may God further shape us, as His children.
March 26, 2015
Jonathan Storment preaches for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. In his blog, he tells of a question Andy Stanley poses in his book, Deep and Wide: “Is the church for members or nonmembers?” Isn’t that a thought-provoking question. Have you thought about that? Has anyone asked you that? How would you answer that?
Stanley asks the question because he believes that churches tend to be internally focused. In other words, a church may exist for its own comfort and pleasure. Its worship, its style and content of preaching and teaching, its culture, its interior decoration, and its programs are geared toward existing (or dead!) members. If anyone wants to become part of such a church, they must accept what is. Could that be true? In contrast, Stanley believes that the church is for the people who do not belong to it! Could that be true?
Jesus taught that His followers must serve the marginalized (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 14:12-24). He told His followers to call the world to Him (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 1:8). His followers obeyed, thinking always about bringing more souls to salvation in Christ (I Corinthians 7:16; 9:19-23; 14:22-23).
As Storment pondered the question, “Is the church for members or non-members?”, he decided to ask the question of Jeff Childers, a Bible professor at Abilene Christian University and prolific author of Bible topics. Childers replied, “The short answer is, the church is for God.” Could that be true?
The church is God’s family, and He loves each of His spiritual children more deeply than we can understand. Each time a Christian helps to bring a non-Christian into covenant relationship with God through Christ, God is pleased with both of them. Each time we deny our selfish desires, to think, speak or act as His Son Jesus, God is pleased. Each time we obey Him, God is pleased. Each time we bring glory to God, He is pleased.
So who is the church for? This question is not an exercise in argument, or a proof that the church is for church members/Christians, for non-church members/non-Christians, or for God. It’s a question of clarification for our lives individually, and for our lives jointly as His church. His purposes supersede our purposes for His church. His church is to focus on members and on non-members and on Himself. When His church is not focused on each of these, it must re-balance itself to be His church.
Considering these things, who is this congregation of His church for?
This past Sunday concluded a two month sermon series on fellow-ship. It focused on our relationship to God through prayer, as members of God’s spiritual family; and on the relationship God intends for us to have with one another, as brothers and sisters in His family. I encourage you to look up and pray about the many “one another” verses in the New Testament. And in the midst of our many weekly and monthly spiritual family activities, let’s not forget to extend frequent fellowship to our brothers and sisters who cannot attend those activities. They need to know that they are not forgot-ten, but loved.
This coming Sunday, Joe Tipps and I will begin a seven week sermon series, over-viewing the Gospel of Christ. It will culminate in our April 12 worship being devoted to Communion. This series offers a good opportunity to invite non-Christian friends, workmates and relatives to join you in worship. They won’t be embarrassed, and the Gospel of Christ will be proclaimed simply. Who will you invite?
March 8 – April 26, Danny Mathews will teach us more about Bible interpretation. He has a gift for making this subject understandable, so that the Bible is more understandable to us. If you don’t usually attend Bible class, give this series a try. Your improved Bible study will make you glad you did! The annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures will be May 5-8 this year. If you can take off four days to attend, or a day, or part of a day, you will grow in spiritual maturity. You’ll find something of value in the many classes. You’ll be uplifted by the singing, a taste of heaven. You’ll be challenged to think, to rethink and to study anew or afresh Bible subjects. Brochures are available in the church lobby.
We often are encouraged to pray for our spiritual brothers and sisters who are physically ill, as well as for family and friends. As we do that, please pray as well for our Deacon search. We have many areas of work which need godly men to lead; and we have many such men. Pray that they are willing to serve, and that they will seek God’s guidance in their service. And pray for our Elders, as they confer with the men whose names are recommended.
Please also pray for our Worship Planning Committee. About a dozen of our members plan our Sunday morning worship assemblies. It’s a diverse group, ranging in age from mid-20’s to mid-80’s. Their goal is to plan worship assemblies which draw all of us closer to God, so that He is glorified in our worship. This group of Christians constantly massages our worship plans to improve and achieve these goals. They listen sensitively to the heart desires of the congregation as they plan.
Our Elders have asked me to speak on several topics this year. Our guest speaker, Dr. Jerry Rushford, began us this month with one of those topics: Prayer. As I followed Jerry’s lead in Matthew 6:9-13, we’ve thought about prayer as calling upon our Father; about God’s faithful response to our prayers; and about God’s unlimited power to answer our prayers, which are in accordance to His will. Once scripture which brings all of these elements together, and which I hope you meditate upon for your prayers and relationship to God, is Luke 11:1-13.
I’ve impressed that our prayers are based upon our relationship with God, and the fellowship which proceeds from that relationship. In February, I’ll further develop our thoughts about fellowship with God and one another, as we explore what this means and involves in practice. We’ll think deeply about being in God’s family, Christ’s body, His church; and we’ll consider how it affects our lives and those of our fellow Christians. Like the series on prayer, these lessons will speak to Christians and non- Christians; so please, invite your non-Christian friends.
These sermons coincide with the new round of Small Groups. Each of us has been encouraged to be part of a Small Group. Those who participated in the pilot groups this past Fall came to know others better and to appreciate them more. As we talk openly about how we understand the Bible, we help one another grow spiritually. In Small Groups, we can speak openly about our challenges in life, and what we say is kept there. We strengthen our bonds as brothers and sisters in Christ. We think more about and pray for one another. Through all of these things, we experience fellowship in its deepest form.
Our Elders want more groups to be formed, as more of us decide to become part of a Small Group. While there are currently five groups, more can easily be added. These groups will exist into June. There will be a break for several weeks during the Summer. Then new groups will form for the Fall. Through this, more of us will have more true fellowship with more people. Remember: these are small groups, each limited to about a dozen of us. So if you’re ready to become part of a Small Group, speak to Keith Fowler or Joe Tipps.
When Betty and I were newlyweds in our mid-20’s, we invited a couple from church, in their mid-60’s, to come to our home for lunch. We’d talked with them following worship several times, so we thought we knew them, and we had our impressions about them. Our afternoon with them changed our view of them, for the better! About a month later, they invited us to their home for lunch. In the process, the four of us became close. Extended time together blessed us and them, and God’s kingdom. Small Groups have the same potential.
Dick Jones announced last Sunday morning that Brent Clements, Keith Fowler and Bruce Tabor are the nominees to be our elders. Any scriptural objections to these men serving must be in writing, signed and turned in by Sunday, November 9th, 6:00 P.M. These will be reviewed by the Nomination Committee for resolution or with-drawal. During this period, we must continue to pray earnestly for God’s will regarding Elders.
On Sunday, November 9th, all members of the congregation will receive a conformation form, to be returned by Sunday, November 23, 6:00 P.M. It is vital that each member of the congregation submit a conformation form. This is because on Sunday, December 7th, the committee will present to the congregation the men whom the church has chosen with at least 70% confirmation to serve as an Elder. On Sunday, December 14th, these men will be ordained as our Elders.
The Small Group pilot program is working very well in the three groups. These groups will have their last meetings on Wednesday, December 10th. On December 17th, the groups will meet together in our Fellowship Hall. We’ll discuss what went well, and what needs improvement. Groups will next meet in mid-January. Before that, we’ll be informed about how all of us can become part of one of many new groups.
For many months, several men have taught the Sunday Adult Audi-torium class about the church. This may seem like old information; but many of our members have not been through this; and the rest of us need to be reminded of it. Brent Clements will complete a segment on the identity of the church this Sunday. For several weeks, Paul Vider will teach on the worship of the church. Vern Alstot will conclude this study by examining the churches of the New Testament era. In a time of unsure beliefs, these studies will confirm God’s plans for His church. I urge you to participate.
The next three Sunday mornings, I’ll preach about the need for unity in Christ’s body, the church. We’ll explore how different under-standings divide us. We’ll think about the effects of division in the church. And we’ll learn how we must overcome division. This is an urgent study in the church today, so I urge you to be present for each sermon.
I’ll have a Thanksgiving sermon November 23rd, a Christmas sermon December 21st, and December 14th we’ll ordain Elders. With those exceptions, November 30 – December 28th my sermon theme will be “Certainties”. We’ll think about the certainties of Heaven, Hell; of what we leave behind when we leave this life; and of our personal influence. Throughout, we’ll focus on why Jesus came, as it relates to these things.
December is a prime time to invite non-Christians to worship. Attention is usually on Jesus as a baby; but these sermons will give substance to why He came to earth. So begin praying about the people you’ll invite, to think about “Certainties” in their lives.
September 7th we began an elder selection process. Information about the process and selection forms were mailed to every current member of the congregation. This material is also available in the church building Lobby, and at the church’s website. Each member is urged to complete, sign and submit a selection form. Forms are to be placed in a marked box in the Lobby. Here is the process timeline:
September 21 – October 12 (6:00 P.M.) – Nomination Phase
October 13 – October 22 (7:00 P.M.) – Introspection Phase
October 26 – Names of all nominees will be announced to the congregation
October 26 – November 9 (6:00 P.M.) – Objection & Resolution Phase
November 9 – November 23 (6:00 P.M.) – Confirmation Phase
December 7 – Presentation to the congregation of the men the church has chosen to be elders.
December 14, 11:00 A.M. – Confirmation / Ordination Service of new Elders.
As I have since we began this process, I urge each of us to give time to fasting and prayer. The length of time and type of fast will differ with each of us; but we have scriptural example for doing this (Acts 14:23; also see Luke 6:12-13 & Acts 13:1-3). Fasting is intended to focus our time in prayer, for God to guide us through the Holy Spirit to select the men of His choice as our elders/shepherds (Acts 20:28).
To help us think this through, I’ve preached on the reasons for elders; their characteristics; and elders as shepherds. Next Sunday I’ll address how elders are to conduct themselves. After a break on October 5th for our annual Youth Forum, I’ll speak on October 12th about reasonable expectations of elders. On October 19th, Daniel Jolliff, preacher for the Simi Valley Church of Christ, will address how a congregation is to treat its elders. And on October 26th, I’ll speak about congregational life with elders. I hope you’ve heard the lessons thus far, and that you’ll be present for the lessons to come. Some may wonder why we are going through this process, and why we’re giving it so much importance. Here are four significant biblical reasons:
We need to have a congregation which is organized with the leadership form which God instituted (Acts 14:23; I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
We need to have men in place who will equip, inform, unify and strengthen us spiritually, so that we grow into the image of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:11-16).
We need to have knowledgeable, respected spiritual guides, who will provide spiritual nurture and protection to us as a congregation / flock (Psalm 23).
We need to experience and share God’s rich blessings (Psalm 23).
We enjoy a great deal of unity and joy within this congregation. May God increase and deepen those blessings through this process; and may those blessings increase even more through His guidance of the men we select.
The morning sermons for the past seven weeks have been straight-forward presentations about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Much more could have been said about this from Scripture and beyond. We’ll return to this subject periodically.
Meanwhile, I urge you to contact me, Joe or any of our leaders about local opportunities to serve others and share the gospel of Christ with them. We urge you to think creatively, as you pray for God to show you unrecognized opportunities to seize!
(Consider this: Do you know one of the most common reasons un-churched people don’t go to church? They haven’t been asked.)
When the New Testament speaks of what a congregation did (I Thessalonians 1:1-10), we must realize that it was individual Chris-tians who were at work (Romans 16:1-16). So many individuals in those congregations were at work that it could be said that “the church” did them. This was not true in every congregation (Revelations 2 – 3).
The New Testament shows that disciples of Christ 1.) bring people to Christ; 2.) plant congregations; 3.) build congregations; and 4.) give their lives for congregations of God’s people. They do this be-cause they love God and people’s souls, and are willing to give their lives to bring people to God.
Not one of us can be casual, confined or comfortable about our Christianity. The Bible teaches that we must be passionate, positive and productive. In John 15:1-8, Jesus impresses that we must pro-duce godliness – godly character and godly concerns. That includes God’s loving passion for saving people’s souls.
John Stott reminds us that “Evangelism is the announcement of the good news, irrespective of the results.” It’s our responsibility and privilege to proclaim the gospel to all people (II Corinthians 5:20). It’s their responsibility and privilege to respond to God’s offer of love (Acts 2:36-41). Notice what Jesus told His apostles in Matthew 10:11-14. Stott observed one of our obstacles when he said, “Nothing hinders evangelism…more than [our] loss of confidence in the truth, rele-vance and power of the gospel.” If you struggle with that, remember the apostle Paul’s confident statement in Romans 1:16-17:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’
May each of us be unashamed of the good news which will save eve-ryone from their sins. May each of us be assured of God’s power in His gospel. May each of us seek and seize opportunities to share this gospel. And may each of us have faith in God to produce His de-sired results for our efforts.
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers
are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore,
to send out workers into his harvest field.’”
The leaders of our congregation believe this call by Jesus applies to every Christian, in every place, until He returns. The harvest of souls is plentiful here in Ventura. We must earnestly pray for workers to reap the harvest. Jesus made this same statement in Luke 10:2, just before sending His disciples out, to call people to God. So they were to pray for reapers, and they were to be reapers! So must we.
A report by the Barna Group concluded that “unchurched” adults in America differ from the churched population in four key ways:
1. Although they comprise slightly less than half of the national population, men dominate the unchurched, at 55%.
2. They are younger than their church-going peers. The median adult age in the U.S.A. is 43, but unchurched adults’ average age is 38.
3. They are more likely to be single and never-married. 26% of all American adults are single and never-married, but almost 40% of unchurched adults fit this definition.
4. They like coastlines. 40% of adults live in the northeastern or west-ern portions of the U.S.A., but 51% of unchurched adults live there. California and New York contain 23% of America’s unchurched population.
Three other traits surfaced about unchurched adults in our country:
1. Most are somewhat isolated from the mainstream activities of their societies.
2. They exhibit non-committal natures, emotionally and intellectually distancing them-selves through moderate ideology, and professing ambiguous theological perspectives.
3. They have independent natures, so they are less likely than church-goers to marry, have children and develop loyalty to organizations and products.
They are not attracted by stirring worship or comfortable seating. We have encountered such people in this congregation. Hopefully we’ll en-counter more! So how can we reach them? The Barna Group concluded that such adults must have life-changing, practical encounters. They must establish an on-going personal rela-tionship with the Living God, and with people who have been trans-formed by Him. Such has happened here, and must happen more.
This is why we are focusing, but not limiting, our efforts on reaching young adults. At least half of them are children of divorce. They don’t know the hope-filled and meaningful life with God. They need us to lead them to Christ. We must go out of our way to be authentic family to them, and to exemplify our discipleship to Christ, for their sake. May God stir us to do this!
We’ve just finished another Vacation Bible School, and the parents and children who attended responded enthusiastically! One family was so pleased that they gave a $100 donation, and were in worship this past Sunday! Praise God for the excellent work He did through everyone who participated. While you V.B.S. workers are exhausted, it’s energizing to consider how God is preparing hearts to come to Him.
We’ve also completed our first Community Service Outreach. Thanks go to Joe Tipps for arranging and coordinating this, drawing young people from Grass Valley, Simi Valley, and from our congregation. People in our community were pleased with the young people who provided free yard work. They have now seen Christianity in action, serving them. These are more people whom God is preparing to come to Him.
Coming later this month are the Family Camp at Balch Park, the Tahoe Family Encampment, the Yosemite Bible Camp, and the fourth Wednesday Devotional at Hobart Park. These are all times of spiritual fellowship, growth and enjoyment. Relationships of a lifetime are often made at these events. Take part in all of these that you can. This coming Sunday morning, we’ll continue with our emphasis on spreading God’s word, here and beyond. Eddie Ewald will preach on “The Challenge to Go”. In the Lobby there will be displays, materials and representatives from Adventures in Missions and Project Understanding. As with last Sunday’s presentations about Let’s Start Talking and World English Institute, the two groups coming this Sunday offer us more and different opportunities to share our faith in Christ – here and beyond. Consider which of these you might become involved in.
Following the emphasis on “missions”, we’ll launch into a series on discipleship. We’ll examine what it means, and its relationship to living and sharing our faith. We’ll look at Christ as the perfect example of being God’s disciple, and how He called and trained His disciples. We’ll look at the divergent lives of two of those disciples. We’ll consider how we can become and make disciples of Christ.
We’ll explore how we can become involved in our community as Christ’s disciples, and how we can call and train disciples. And we’ll learn how we can encourage one another as disciples through small groups.
The Summer has begun wonderfully, by God’s grace. Let’s join hands and hearts as one body, committed to Him, seeking to do His will in ever greater ways, to His glory. I wish you a blessed Summer in every way.
Have you noticed that for the past several months a number of new people have been worshipping with us? Some are visiting our area from out of town. Some have moved into town, and are looking for a church of Christ. Some are former members of the church, who have been away from us and the Lord, and realize their need to come back. Some are local people, who are searching for the truth. Just as you must be, I’m enthused and thankful to God about all of these visitors; and like you, I want us to do all we can to hold onto the local folks. Since we’re all in this together, here are some things we can do:
Our Greeters are not in the Lobby to welcome people for us. The warmer the welcome by many people, the more likely a visitor is to return, and to commit themselves to Christ and His body, the church.
It’s more comfortable to talk with our friends before and after wor-ship, than it is to talk with strangers. Stretch your comfort zone. Talk with your friends after making sure visitors are truly wel-comed. To make visitors our primary focus is to make souls our primary focus.
Before and after worship, look for people you don’t know, and welcome them. Find out their name, a little about them, and why they’re worshipping with us. Introduce them to others with whom they might have something in common.
Unless it’s urgent, keep your after worship conversations with me brief. There are many visitors who I don’t get to greet as they leave, because a member of the church wants to talk with me at length. You and I can talk another time, whether by phone or in person. To many visitors, a minister who takes time to talk with them is crucial to them returning.
On Sunday or Monday, if you have a visitor’s phone number, call them. Briefly thank them for joining us in worship, and let them know that you hope to see them the following Sunday. Often we associate the number 666 with “the mark of the beast” from Revelation 13:11-18. But in the case of visitors, as well as new Christians, 666 must take on a new meaning for us. Studies have shown that a person new to a congregation must make 6 solid friends within 6 months to remain. If they don’t they will drop out; and within 6 weeks, they will not return.
To look for seekers in our assembly, to welcome them from our hearts, to befriend them as they grow from seekers into saved people, members of Christ’s body, shows Christ living in us. To ignore visitors, to give them a passing “Hello”, and to focus on our saved friends is to show visitors our disinterest in them. It’s well that we are friendly to each other; but it’s better for us to be friendly to strangers. I’m proud of this congregation. We’re doing better in welcoming visitors. I’m often told we’re a welcoming congregation. May God help each of us to continually grow in this, to His glory.
April 24,2014A few weeks ago, I was in a small meeting at Pepperdine Universi-ty. It had been called by President Andrew Benton to discuss how to help congregations of churches of Christ which are struggling to survive. He said he wanted to be part of this meeting because he cares deeply about our fellowship, and its vital relationship to the University.
Each Spring, Pepperdine provides an outstanding Bible Lectureship. More than 300 classes, lectures and other programs are offered in three and a half days. Except for the cost of meals and lodging, the Lectureship is free of charge. The University underwrites many other costs of the Lectureship. They believe it’s valuable to Christians; and that non-Christian attendees can be drawn to Christ through it.
Every presenter of every presentation comes at their own expense, to share something they believe is valuable to their fellow Christians. Each presentation seeks to inform, inspire, encourage, or challenge attendees to thought, study and constructive action in Christ’s service, to the fulfillment of His purposes and to His glory.
Like some of you, I periodically receive invitations to attend confer-ences which may enhance my abilities. These all start at $300, in addition to travel, food and lodging costs. Pepperdine’s Bible Lectures provide some of “the best and brightest” in our fellowship, presenting a wide array of topics, experiences and expertise – for free! And best of all, it’s only an hour away!
This may seem like a hard sell for the Bible Lectures – and it is. Those who have attended lectureship programs at other Christian universities consider this program the best. Whether you attend the entire three and a half days, one day, a half day, or just an evening, take advantage of as much of it as you can. The more you can take in, the more blessings you will incur.
Not all of us can attend, for many valid reasons. Betty and I are staying on campus for the entire lectureship. I look forward to seeing many of you there, and to hearing about what you have learned. I will be praying that God bless your time at this spiritual feast.
March 27,2014“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:32)
When he was about 75 years old, Henry Towell retired from preaching. He and his wife Marge moved to Ventura. He was soon lured out of retirement to become the part-time minister for the Senior members of this congregation. He and Marge drew our Seniors together and ministered effectively to their needs. He retired for the last time at the age of ninety one. We’ve missed them and that ministry.
Henry and Marge remind me of two passages in Psalms:
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him. (Psalm 92:12-15) Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:17-18)
I’m thankful to Norman Jadlot for teaching a weekly Bible class at Poinsettia Gardens for Seniors. He has been effective, and is well-appreciated by that group. For more than a decade, we’ve been told that there will soon be an “age wave” of retirees, made up of Baby Boomers, America’s largest generation. Do we, as a congregation, see that as an oppor-tunity? More importantly, do our Seniors see the opportunities to minister to other Seniors, from within and without the congregation? We’re blessed to have a congregation which is well-balanced in ages. While we hope to have more young adults and young families added to the congregation, we have a great opportunity to also add Seniors. We need them for their maturity. Job 12:12 asks, “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring under-standing?” Preparing ourselves to minister effectively to Seniors requires that our Seniors increase their fellowship with one another. The more outgoing must draw in the less involved.
The county-wide Senior Saints’ Potluck exists to encourage Senior Christians. However, for several years, it has declined in attend-ance, while the number of Seniors in congregations has increased. One of many reasons for this is that many don’t want to accept that they are Seniors. They need to remember that “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31). We will host the Senior Saints’ Potluck on Friday, April 4th, Noon to 1:30. Dick Jones will lead singing, Joe Tipps will speak about inter-generational ministry, and I’ll M.C.. There will be lots of good food and fellowship. I pray all of our Seniors are present.
February 27,2014Some months ago, I was in a class someone else was teaching. After commenting about the topic under study, I realized I had said too much, and with the wrong attitude. Ashamed, I scanned through Proverbs, for scriptures about what a person says, and the outcome. I wrote sixteen down on a slip of paper, and put it in my Bible, to review again before I opened my mouth in a class. I might have thought I had good intentions, but my unconsidered words and attitude were harmful.
James 2:1-12 addresses mostly the power for evil in what we say. We must guard our tongues, so that what we say is loving, kind and encouraging. We must discipline ourselves, by considering how what we're about to say may be received by the person we're speaking to. Will it hurt or help them?
Years ago, a teenage boy led songs during a worship service here. Afterwards, an older, seasoned song-leader criticized the young man's skills. The teen never led singing again, and later left the church. The older man thought he was being “constructive”. The young man didn't receive it that way. What we say, how we say it, and whether or not it needs to be said, must be considered before we speak.
Recently, after a worship service, an older woman approached a young mother, to tell her that her children were out of control. The young mother was crushed. The older woman had not intended this; but what she said was destructive. Thankfully, other women heard this, and encouraged the young mother.
The Bible teaches us to be patient and bear with one another in love (Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:12-14). Arnold Glasow observed, “The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” We may need to take it to the next level: Perseverance (I Corinthians 13: 7; II Peter 1:6). David Gutterson offers an insight about perseverance that we need to consider: “To persevere is always a reflection of the state of one's inner life, one's philosophy and one's perspective.”
We've seen those at work here in recent months. Several women have approached a mother with young children, offering to help her with them during worship. And there has been admirable acceptance and encouragement of people whose dress, hair and conduct is different than that of most of us.
The apostle Paul models how we are to treat one another, in I Thessalonians 2:10-12: “You are witness- es, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”Paul's prayer in Romans 15:5-6 is appropriate for us: “May the God who gives endurance and en- couragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
January 30, 2014
Over the past six months, I haven't been preaching or teaching as often as in the past. It's not because I'm ill, or because I don't want to do those things as often as I have, or because I've run out of topics. This is a decision which has been carefully, prayerfully reached by our leaders. And I fully support their decision.
The apostle Paul writes to Christians in Ephesians 4:11-13, "It was he (Jesus) who gave some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (NIV)
Men become the competent, confident leaders God needs them to be, when they devote themselves to learning and applying. It also demands that those whom God has provided to train them devote themselves to training men who want to develop spiritual abilities and maturity. The more often men are given opportunities to develop, the more they grow. So they are being given opportunities; some in teaching and others in preaching. All of us are part of their spiritual development, as we attend their classes and sermons, and personally encourage them. To you are doing that, thank you. You may not know how much that means to these men.
Meanwhile, I can spend more time preparing sermons and classes. I'll teach the Sunday Auditorium adult class in February (on Fear), after Keith Fowler completes his excellent class on biblical worship. Later, I'll teach some other classes.
I also have more time to visit struggling members of the church. This is particularly important, since we don't currently have elders. I have more time to be involved in community affairs, as the "official" face of the congregation. In that role, I'm helping to draw churches together, to do projects in Ventura in the name of, and to the glory of, Christ (Mark 9:38-41).
A role I am most enthusiastic about is discipling. Jesus told His apostles to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Disciples are devoted to Christ, and to being like Him. I've been blessed with discipling some of our men - mostly our younger men. Their devotion to this process, and the growth they are demonstrating, has encouraged me greatly; and it has been seen and appreciated by you. This is in accord with Paul's admonition to Timothy, "the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men, who will also be qualified to teach others" (II Timothy 2:2, NIV).
Frankly, and sadly, I had not taken the initiative to do this until Ben Escobar asked me to disciple him a few years ago. Shortly thereafter, two of our young me approached me, asking help for their stalled spirituality. Then I reached out to a few others. God is blessing this, and I thank Him for confronting me with the need and opportunities to do it. And I thank the men who have and are continuing to work with me in this process. I look forward to discipling many others, whatever their age. This will build up individual men, and will build up God's church here, and beyond.
Please pray for God's guidance and blessing in all of this. And please continue to encourage every man who teaches and preach-es, that each may continue to develop, to God's glory.