Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Deliverer

Years ago Charles Spurgeon wrote the following of Psalm 100:4 - “Be thankful unto Him, and bless His name”:

Our Lord would have all His people rich in high and happy thoughts about Him.  It is His pleasure that His espoused ones should be delighted with His beauty.  We are not to regard Him as a bare necessity like bread or water, but as a luxurious delicacy, as a rare and ravishing delight.  To this end He has revealed Himself as the “pearl of great price” in its peerless beauty, as the “bundle of myrrh” in its refreshing fragrance, or the “rose of Sharon” in its lasting perfume, as the “lily” in its spotless purity.

As a help to high thoughts of Christ, remember that beyond the skies, where things are measured by the right standard, Christ is held in the highest estimation.  Think how God esteems the Only Begotten, His unspeakable gift to us.  Consider what the angels think of Him, as they count it their highest honor to veil their faces at His feet.  Consider what the blood-washed think of Him, as day without night they sing His well deserved praises.  The more loftily we see Christ enthroned the more lowly we are when bowing before the foot of the throne, the more truly will we be prepared to act our part towards Him.  High thoughts of Him increase our love.  Therefore, think much of your Master’s excellencies.  Study Him in His primeval glory, before He took your nature on Himself!  Think of the mighty love which drew Him from His throne to die on the cross!  Admire Him as He conquers all the power of hell!  See Him risen, crowned, glorified!  Bow before Him as the wonderful, the counselor, the mighty God; for only thus your love to Him be what it should.

This Christmas Sunday morning we will be actively engaged in just such an enterprise as we look at the fourth descriptive name of Jesus that Matthew gives us – the Deliverer (Mt. 2:13-15). Drawing upon his knowledge of God’s word and the audience to whom he was writing, Matthew sets forth in three verses a principle feature of Jesus’ glory.

As many of you know, Matthew writes his gospel using the template of the Pentateuch – the books of Moses.  Indeed, the similarities between the five books of Moses and the 29 chapters of Matthew are impressive.  But nowhere is the parallel more clearly seen than in Matthew’s presentation of the aftermath of Jesus’ birth.  Immediately following the announcement of Jesus’ birth to Joseph in a dream, Matthew launches into the story of Herod’s depravity, the visit of the Magi, and the flight of Joseph and his family into Egypt.  And it’s here in verses 13 through 15 that we see a fascinating picture of Jesus as God’s greatest Deliverer.

It’s a serious and shortsighted mistake to limit Jesus’ deliverance to one’s conversion experience.  While being born again by the Spirit of God is essential, it is only the beginning of the full scope of the deliverance offered to us in Christ.  A fuller vision of His deliverance is our aim this week.
In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to review the last three Sunday’s messages on Jesus’ identity in Matthew – “Immanuel” (Mt. 1:18-23), “Shepherd” (Mt. 2:1-6), and “Comforter” (Mt. 2:7-12; 16-18).  In addition you may wish to consider the following:
1.      The significance of Moses to Israel.

2.      What similarities can you identify between Moses and Jesus?

3.      Without Moses where would Israel be?

4.      Why does the angel come to Joseph in three dreams in Matthew and to Mary in a vision in Luke?

5.      What is the significance of the timing of this second angelic nocturnal encounter?

6.      What is the significance of Egypt in the life of God’s people?

7.      What was God’s purpose in delivering Moses from the Nile?  Whose idea was it?

8.      The Hebrew word for Deliverer is “Moshia” stemming from “Yasha”.  Can you find the meaning and connection of these words?

9.      What is the significance of the unusual order of the angel’s words in verse 14?

10.  What is the significance of the timing of the angelic announcement and the escape into Egypt?

11.  Why does Matthew only quote the second half of Hosea 11 in verse 15?  What problem has this posed through the years?

12.  What role do the hands of the deliverer (Moses and Jesus) play in their deliverance?

13.  How is the deliverance of Jesus greater than the deliverance of Moses?

See you Sunday – Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Comforter

An Honest Gospel.

Let’s face it.  Sometimes it seems impossible to have ourselves “a holly-jolly Christmas.” 

As much as I love Christmas and its entire festive atmosphere, eventually reality sets in.  I don’t consider myself a Scrooge or a Grinch, yet how quickly I am reminded that the life doesn’t always parallel the cheery Christmas glee spoken of in so many carols.  From the mundane things—like kids fighting over who gets to hang which Christmas tree ornament; or to the permanent—this being the first Christmas in which we have to remember the life of my beloved Grandmother.  At some point this Christmas, you and I will feel the weight and squeeze of a real world.  Although the eggnog by the fireside might bring some temporary comfort, the aches and pains of our real lives won’t go away.

This week’s text is sobering.  I am still wrestling with it as I write this.  It’s part of the Christmas story, no doubt.  Yet, it’s brutally honest.  Matthew points us to the world into which Jesus Christ was born.  It was not a holly-jolly atmosphere.  Rather, it was a world filled with suffering and sin.  Matthew 2:16-18 describes the massacre of young boys by King Herod.  In an attempt to squelch any threat, Herod embarks in evil. 

I’m not finished with the sermon, and am praying through what Matthew has in store for us.  What I can say is that I am glad that Matthew is honest.   He shows us the core dilemma of our human situation: suffering and sin.  This is real life.  This is where we need a real savior to show up and rescue us.

As we prepare for this week's sermon, I encourage us to read Jeremiah 30-31.  These two chapters are referred to as the “Book of Comfort.”  Amazingly, this seemingly horrific text in Matthew’s Gospel comes from a part of the Old Testament that rings of great and amazing hope!  There are wonderful promises—promises of the forgiveness of sin and the conquest of evil.

1.      How do you react to suffering?  What is the suffering you might be facing right now?

2.      What comforts you?  What brings you relief?  Be honest—no Sunday School answers. 

3.      Where does God meet you in those trials and afflictions?   

4.      When you read Jeremiah 30-31, what promises do you hear from God about you?  Your sin?  Your suffering?  The evil in the world? 

5.      What is your only hope?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Shepherd

"While Shepherds watched their flocks by night" is a Christmas Carol echoing Luke 2:8. That's what shepherds do...watch over their flocks. They give them direction, provision, protection and seek the strays. How precious is Psalm 23:1a "The Lord is my shepherd."  HE cares for us as a shepherd cares for his flock. How often have we prayed for the Good Lord to take care or watch over others or ourselves. We can relate to the old song "Someone to Watch over Me" by George Gershwin that even speaks of a lost lamb needing a shepherd.

In our text, Matthew writes of Jesus as a ruler who will shepherd God's people. This is taken from a prophecy in Micah 5:2-4. The New Testament will then go on to describe Jesus as a shepherd in several ways.

1. HE is the Good Shepherd - John 10:11. Good here is not about doing the right thing but rather about doing the gracious and kind thing. He laid down HIS life for us - talk about caring!!

2. HE is the Chief Shepherd - 1 Peter 5:4. Here Jesus is the model shepherd who all other spiritual shepherds are to emulate. We are to exhibit Christ to those we are responsible for in our churches, homes, workplaces, etc. We are to provide them with loving direction and concern, not abuse or neglect.

3. HE is the Great Shepherd - Hebrews 13:20. We debate who is the greatest president, ballplayer or artist but there is no debate about the greatest caregiver ever...the shepherd, Jesus Christ! Also, Matthew notes that Jesus is a ruler who shepherds. In other words, this is a King who really cares for those HE rules.

4. HE is the One Shepherd - John 10:16. While the sheep (followers) of Jesus may have different denominational preferences and theological leanings we ALL have the same shepherd=our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, it is interesting that the birth of Jesus was first announced to...shepherds!  See you Sunday.

1. Finish the verse "The Lord is my shepherd, I ___ __ ___." Psalm 23:1

2. Some of God's greatest leaders were shepherds. Name two - Exodus 3:1: 1Samuel 16:11-13.

3. Note the biblical description of God's people. Psalm 77:20; Luke 12:32; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2,3.

4. Ezekiel 34 is a fascinating chapter about spiritual shepherding.

     A. Describe bad shepherding. - v.8

     B. Who is a good shepherd? - v.23

     C. How does our God describe HIMSELF? - v.31

5. Note the personal relationship between our Shepherd, Jesus, and ourselves, HIS sheep. John 10:27,28

* For more on the Lord as our Shepherd read "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23" by Phillip Keller.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Last week the news was filled with remembrances of that fateful day in Dallas, Texas 50 years ago.  November 22, 1963 was the day on which many believe the course of this nation’s history was radically altered.  For them it marked the loss of innocence.  For others, it was the beginning of a decade of rebellion and mistrust.  For most Americans over the age of 55, it is a day that is forever seared into their memory.

But, interestingly, for others, November 22, 1963 is marked by the loss of someone of greater eternal consequence than John F. Kennedy.  Like Kennedy this man died at a relatively young age – 64.  But unlike the president he spoke of eternal verities in ways that made children sit up and take notice and leading intellectuals change their minds.  In Sunday’s message, “Immanuel” we will begin with a story from the life of this man who is considered one of Christ’s most important servants of the 20th Century.  In the rarified air of Cambridge University, in a room full of religionists of all stripes, his simple words captured the essence of the Christian faith and the purpose of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ.

Someone has said, “In Jesus, God has put up a “Gone Fishing” sign on the religion shop.  He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it – to trust the bizarre proposition that in Him every believer is home free without a single religious exertion:  no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and receiving the correct creed – no nothing.  The entire show has been set to rights in the mystery of Christ – even though nobody can see a single improvement.  Yes, it’s crazy.  And yes, it’s wild, and outrageous, and vulgar.  And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste.  And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans.  But it is Good News – the only permanent good news there is – and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.”  And so do we!

And it all starts with the incarnation – God becoming flesh and blood.  Think of it.  The God of all condescends to take on all that makes a human being human.  As the writer of Hebrew points out, “For man doesn’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are….” God doesn’t become an angel.  He doesn’t become one of the angelic host.  He becomes a man – a creature of dust and brokenness so that he might recreate us in his own image and likeness.  He takes on human flesh so that He might do for us what Adam and Eve sought to do for themselves.

This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent 2013 at Hebron and we begin where Matthew begins with the first of five names he offers for Jesus – Immanuel – “God with us.”  God with us – have you considered the depth of that name?  Have you contemplated the meaning of that reality in light of any previous contact between God and man?  What does it mean, “God with us?”  What is the interpretation of that statement?  What is the impact of those words?  These are the questions we will consider this Sunday.

In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What is it that distinguishes the Christian faith from all other faiths, including Judaism?

2.      Why does the angel of the Lord cite Isaiah 7:14 in “his” message to Joseph?

3.      What is the context of God’s message to Judah in Isaiah?  What does this tell us about God’s character?

4.      What’s the correlation between God’s message to King Ahaz and Joseph?

5.      Why does Matthew present 5 names for Jesus in Chapters one and two?

6.      Why define the meaning of the name Immanuel in verse 23?

7.      How is the message to Joseph a signal of God’s intention to change His relationship to men and women?

8.      What does the preposition “with” mean in verse 25?

9.      Why is the incarnation and our understanding of it so crucial to a proper understanding of God and us?

10.  What are some of the fruits of the incarnation in your life?

See you Sunday as we worship Immanuel!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gathering to God

For twenty-eight years Woody Hayes coached at Ohio State University, winning three National Collegiate Championships.  He was known for winning games and losing his temper.  His outstanding career disintegrated after the 1978 Gator Bowl.  With the game on the line, Charlie Bauman, a player for Clemson, intercepted a pass and was running down the Ohio State sideline and out of bounds.  After the play was over Coach Hayes stepped out onto the field and punched Bauman in the throat.  The next day he was fired.  He retired in humiliation.

A few weeks later, a prestigious gathering of coaches and athletes from across the country was held.  Tom Landry, the acclaimed Coach of the Dallas Cowboys, had an extra ticket.  He invited the humiliated and discredited former coach, Woody Hayes, as his guest. 

When they walked together into the banquet hall and the heads all started to turn, in that moment Coach Landry became Professor Landry – a teacher of grace and mercy.

Someone has said, “All of God’s blessings are accompanied with a teaching certificate.  When God forgives you, He equips you to become a teacher of forgiveness.  When God pours generosity and kindness into your life, He qualifies you to become a professor of kindness and generosity.”  And that’s what we see the Apostle Paul being time and time again.

What is best known about his letter to the Philippian Church is that it’s one of the letters he writes from prison.  Unlike most of his other letters, Philippians is a letter of unbridled joy, with few disciplinary exhortations.  He begins with the familiar words, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” and he continues both themes throughout.

What is not so well known is the presence of false teachers in the midst of the church of Philippi.  Indeed, it is the presence of these false teachers that prompts Paul, inspired of the Holy Spirit, to describe the heart of what “living a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ” means.  Though he never explicitly states what these false teachers are teaching, it’s clear by the beginning of chapter two what they are saying.  They’re saying many of the same things we hear today from well-meaning, moral, upright, religious teachers.  They’re saying that pleasing God means doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong ones.  It means pulling yourself up by your own spiritual bootstraps and pressing on to be all you can be in Christ.  But the truth of the Gospel is the opposite of that.  And Paul provides two gloriously transparent examples – Jesus and himself.

Since September we have been looking at what it means to live Beyond ourselves.  In the last few weeks we’ve been looking at what it means to serve the world with the Gospel by gathering ourselves and our stuff, and giving to those God sets before us.  This week is the final message in the Beyond Series, “Gathering to God.”  And it’s here in Philippians 3:12-21 that we see how Paul instructs us to do that.

Like everything in the Christian life, gathering ourselves to God is counterintuitive.  Rather than standing up for ourselves, it requires laying ourselves down.  Rather than focusing on bettering ourselves, it requires taking our eyes off ourselves and focusing them on Jesus.  Rather than changing our ways, it requires us to change our minds about who God is and who we are.

The question before the house this communion Sunday morning is “How are we to gather ourselves to God?”  In preparation for receiving the answer we may wish to consider the following:

1.      What did Brit Hume of Fox News say about Tiger Woods a few days after the scandal broke?

2.      Why did the media react as it did?

3.      How does Jesus’ example of going Beyond Himself (Phil 2:1-11) inform us of what gathering to God means?

4.      How does Paul show us he “gets it” in Phil. 3:2-11?

5.      How do you square Sunday’s text with Romans 7?

6.      What does Paul mean when he says, “I press on” in verse 12?

7.      What does Paul forget about his past when he says in verse 13 that he “forgets what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead”?

8.      What is the “goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”?

9.      What is the “mature” way of thinking Paul references in verse 15?

10.  What is the meaning of verse 16?  How do you define “attaining”?

See you around the Table on Sunday!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Gathering Your Stuff

This week’s message is entitled “Gathering Your Stuff” and the text is Acts 4:1-12.

There’s a sentence in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that’s well-known:  “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” (II Cor. 9:6)  That’s the famous statement.  But while the next statement Paul makes is less familiar, it’s more often used to manipulate people into sowing bountifully.  Paul says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

It’s the fear of not having enough that is among the most fundamental human anxieties.  It’s so deep in our DNA that one of a child’s first words is “more”.  Apparently, for every one of us “enough” doesn’t exist.

In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath describe an experiment that was conducted using popcorn.  Moviegoers were given popcorn in containers – some were larger than others, but each container was huge – far more than any person could possibly consume.  Now the catch was that the popcorn was really, really old – popped days earlier and left out to get ridiculously stale, so stale that it squeaked on your teeth.

When the movie was over, the amount of popcorn eaten was measured, and it was discovered that the larger the container, the more people ate.  It appears that human beings can never get enough!  No matter how much we’ve got, we want more!  Life is driven by the fear of lack, and it’s only the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that can redirect our drivenness.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting in the living room of a couple who were struggling with tithing.  “Will we have enough for retirement?  Will we have enough for tuitions?  Will we have enough for everything else?”  It wasn’t greed that prompted these questions, it was fear.  And they’re not alone. For many Christians cheerful giving has been replaced with fearful giving.  We’re concerned that if we don’t look out for our own needs first, they may not get looked after at all.

Thankfully He knows all about it.  The testimony of the Gospel of grace answers every one of those questions in the same way.  Any fear associated with gathering stuff and giving it to Christ and His Kingdom work is irrational.  It’s as irrational as a farmer who gathers up his seed and fails to plant it for fear of losing it.  And nowhere is the antidote to such fear more clearly stated than in this Sunday’s text.

In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1.      Psalm 118:14-24

2.      What is the Psalmist celebrating here?

3.      What is a greater impediment to giving – greed or fear?

4.      What prompts the crowd to gather around Peter and John in Acts 4:1-12?

5.      What prompts Peter to preach to the crowd?

6.      Why does the Holy Spirit fill Peter in verses 8-10?

7.      What does Peter mean when he speaks of Jesus as the Cornerstone in verse 11?

8.      Why is Jesus’ identity as the Cornerstone and the Head of the Cornerstone so important?

9.      What is the difference between giving out of duty and giving out of delight?

10.  How is freedom the absence of fear?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gathering Yourself

A few months ago an Episcopal priest and author, Robert Farrar Capon, died.  A lifelong New Yorker, for almost thirty years Capon was a full-time priest in Port Jefferson, New York.  In 1965 he wrote his first book, Bed and Board.  But in 1977 he left the full-time pastorate to pursue his writing career (twenty books in all).  In 1982 he published Between Noon and Three.

In it he writes of something that’s sadly missing in most Christians’ perception of the Gospel – Grace Alone.  Before I give you the Capon quote that sets up Sunday’s message (“Gathering Yourself” from Jonah 1 & 2), let me cite the words of Jerry Bridges in his book, Transforming Grace.

My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace.  If we’ve performed well – whatever “well” is in our opinion – then we expect God to bless us.  If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly.  In this sense, we live by works, rather than by grace.  We are saved by grace, but we are living by the sweat of our own performance.

Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to “try harder.”  We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way.  We give lip service to the attitude of the Apostle Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (I Corinthians 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Robert Capon expands on Jerry Bridges words when he says:
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of 1500-year-old, two hundred proof GRACE – bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scriptures, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.  The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps – suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started.  (Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace, 1983. p. 114-115.)

Following on the heels of last week’s message, “Serving the World,” in which we highlighted the principle reason why any Christian goes beyond himself or herself to serve the world with the Gospel, this week it’s back to Chapters 1 & 2 of Jonah.  Here we get another clear picture of the grace of God in Jonah’s life.  Here at the outset of his rebellion the compassion of God is all over him.  The grace of God collides with the compassion of God; and the result is repentance.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What is Paul talking about in Philippians 2:12?

2.      How does “working out your salvation with fear and trembling” square with Sola Gratia – Grace Alone?

3.      What do you think Paul is talking about when he uses the expression “fear and trembling” in II Corinthians 7:15 and Ephesians 6:5?

4.      How do these two usages inform the Philippians 2 usage?

5.      How do the events of Jonah 1 & 2 square with what God says to Jonah in Chapter 4?

6.      How do you explain Jonah’s inconsistency – from his prayer inside the fish in Chapter 2 and his reaction to God’s mercy in Chapter 4?

7.      Why would the Holy Spirit see fit to show us Jonah’s failures in each chapter?

8.      What does the story of Jonah tell us about God’s call on our lives?

9.      How do you define repentance in light of Jonah 1-4?

10.  If the last sentence of the Capon quote is true, what does that say about our failures?

Still rejoicing in God’s glorious BEYOND display!  See you Sunday!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Serving the World

Jack Miller, the late founder of World Harvest Mission and the co-founder of “Sonship”, used to say that the entire Bible can be summed up in two sentences:  “(1) Cheer up – you’re a lot worse than you think you are, and (2) Cheer up – God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.”  It never ceases to amaze me how much we rebel against both truths.  And it’s in our rebellion that we miss out on so much of what God has set before us.

Throughout the Beyond Campaign we’ve featured God’s commission to Abram in Genesis 12:  “I will bless you, so that through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”  In short, as Tim mentioned last Sunday, the message is:  “Blessed to be a blessing.”  In other words, “I’ve blessed you so that through you others will be blessed.”  And you know what gets in the way of our executing that commission?  The loss of those two truths.

Spurgeon once said, “Perhaps no figure of speech represents God in a more gracious light than when He is spoken of as stooping from His throne and coming down from heaven to attend to the wants and to behold the woes of mankind.  We love Him, who, when Sodom and Gomorrah were full of iniquity, would not destroy those cities until He had made a personal visitation of them.  We cannot help pouring out our heart in affection for our Lord who inclines His ear from the highest glory, and puts it to the lip of the dying sinner, whose failing heart longs after reconciliation…when you weep a tear think not that God does not behold; for, ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.’  Your sigh is able to move the heart of Jehovah; your whisper can incline His ear to you; your prayer can stay His hand; your faith can move His arm…Remember that however poor and needy you are, yet the Lord thinks on you.  For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him.”

“Oh!  Then repeat the truth that never tires;
No God is like the God my soul desires;
He at whose voice heaven trembles, even He,
Great as He is, knows how to stoop to me.”

Spurgeon would be the first to say that the heart that is “perfect toward Him” is one that understands Miller’s summary of the Scriptures.  And it’s about that summary, and its connection to being a blessing, that is at the heart of Sunday’s message:  “Serving the World” from Jonah, Chapter 4.

As you already know, one of the principle purposes of our Beyond month is to help us all develop a lifestyle of going Beyond ourselves with the Gospel. And at the heart of Sunday’s message is the contention that going Beyond is all about knowing God’s grace.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

  1. How is God’s call to Jonah so radically different from His call to Jonah’s father?
  2. Why does God call Jonah to go to Nineveh?
  3. What do you know about Nineveh and its people?
  4. Why would Jonah rebel against God’s call?
  5. How did the people of Nineveh believe?  (3:5)
  6. Why would they take a chance on a god other than their goddess Ishtar?  (3:9)
  7. What do you make of Jonah’s angry outburst in 4:2-3?
  8. What was the purpose of growing the plant and then killing it?
  9. What is God’s point in 4:10?
  10. What does God’s admission in verse 11 tell us about going beyond?
See you Sunday as we get a clear picture of the Beyond results.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Serving the Witnesses

One of the most famous teachings of Jesus is, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Studying this beatitude of our Lord has revealed a number of perspectives as to its primary meaning.

First, some understand it to be a specific instruction from the Apostle Paul to the elders of the Ephesian Church.  He illustrated his own selflessness in providing his own support while ministering in Ephesus.  He also supported his co-workers and those in need.  Paul wanted these elders to understand that serving Christ and His flock is not about making a living but that you really live when you give!

Second, some understand this as a "boomerang" principle. You give to get, i.e., as you give you will receive greater blessing. Verses such as Malachi 3:10: "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" and Luke 6:38: "Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap..." are seen as teaching this.  I prefer to see these verses not as emphasizing that giving helps you get greater blessing from God, but rather that you just can't out-give the Lord!

Third, some understand this as growing in Christ or Christian maturity.  For example, when I was younger I couldn't wait for MY Christmas or birthday gifts but now I have more joy in selecting and sharing gifts with others than in receiving my own. True growth in Christ teaches us that the greater blessings in life are more about giving than getting.

Finally, some understand this as a picture of the Gospel.  "For God so loved that he gave..." John 3:16.  The Apostle Paul says the greatest gift is love - 1 Cor. 13:13.  So, God GIVING us His Son is the epitome of LOVE!  Then, we who have believed the Gospel and received Christ ought to seek the greater blessing of sharing the good news with others.  Paul demonstrates this when he longs for his Jewish nation to be saved, even if it means his own soul being lost.  Romans 9:3-4(a) -  "For I could wish myself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel".  WOW, talk about someone who would rather give than get!!  I still have some serious growing to do in this area...how about you?

See you Sunday.

1.      Can you find a Scripture reference in the four Gospels where Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"?

2.      Just how did Paul support himself and others while doing ministry?  Acts 18:3

3.      Which one of the Ten Commandments did Paul obey with his selfless approach to ministry?  Exodus 20:17, Acts 20:33

4.      When Paul speaks about clothing he shows us that giving has to do with more than just money.  Acts 20:33.  Note two very different Bible examples about clothing.  One is about getting - Joshua 7:21-22, 25; and the other about giving - Acts 9:36-41.  These are cases where giving is MUCH better than getting!

5.      We sometimes hear of the Puritan/Protestant work ethic.  Describe Paul's work ethic in Acts 20:34-35

6.      When Paul says we should support the weak in Acts 20:35 what do you think he means?

7.      Can you think of an experience where you found the words of our Savior to impact your own life where you were more blessed by giving than receiving?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Serving the Willing

There are many conservative commentators today who have labeled our 44th President, Barack Obama, a narcissist.

Now you may recall that Narcissus was the mythical Greek youth who was so enamored with his own beauty that he stared at his own reflection in a pool of water until he eventually fell in and drowned. 

One of the first alleged glimpses of Obamic narcissism they point to is his first victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park on November 4, 2008.  You may remember it.  Even more “liberal” commentators like Evan Thomas and Jon Meacham, formerly of Newsweek, pointed it out.

On November 5, the day after the election, Thomas and Meacham were on with Charlie Rose.  Meacham said, “Obama is very elusive which is fascinating for a man who has written two memoirs.  At Grant Park he walks out with the family, and then they go away…he is the messenger.”  Thomas chimes in, “There’s a slightly creepy cult of personality about all this.  I mean, he’s such an admirable figure.  It just makes me a little uneasy that he’s so singular.  He’s clearly managing his own spectacle.  He’s a deeply manipulative guy.”

And then they comment on a visual from that night in Grant Park that I haven’t forgotten.  The newly elected President of the United States, all alone on stage, turns to look behind him at the giant video screen.  And Meacham captures it perfectly when he says, “Here he is, watching us watch him!”

Now irrespective of whether Barack Obama is a narcissist or not, narcissism is rampant in our day and much of social media proves it.  While, according to the experts only 1% of the American population has NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), all of us have some narcissistic traits and tendencies and chief among them is a self-focus.

I have a friend who wrote a book over twenty years ago in which he identified the first rule of conversion:  Generally, people are more interested in themselves than they are in you. And the corollary is equally true:  You are by nature more interested in you than you are in other people.

And I want to remind you that Jesus knew that.  That’s why He says, “…And love your neighbor as yourself.”  You see, Jesus wasn’t into self-loathing; He was “into” reciprocity.  He doesn’t say, “Hate yourself and love them.”  He says, rather, “Love them as you love yourself.”  And nothing gets in the way of doing that any more than narcissism.

This week we are going back to the Book of Acts to find a perfect illustration of what loving and serving your neighbor looks like.  The context is critical.  The church of Jesus Christ has just scattered from Jerusalem, and the first people to whom the Gospel is taken are the Samaritans.  Amazingly God sends Philip to Samaria to preach the Gospel and hundreds are saved.  But God doesn’t stop there.  In less than one full chapter He sends Philip to an Ethiopian eunuch.  This time Philip doesn’t preach, he rides.  He doesn’t address the crowds, he listens to the cry of one man and guides Him to Christ.  It’s a perfect example of what God calls us to do by getting our eyes off ourselves by loving and serving our neighbor.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following when reading Sunday’s text – Acts 8:26-40.

1.      Who is Philip and why would God send him first to the Samaritans and then to the Ethiopian?

2.      Why does Luke give us so much detail in verse 26?

3.      Note the textual variant reading in verse 26.

4.      What similarities and differences are there between Philip and the Ethiopian?

5.      What is the nature of the command in verse 29?

6.      What is the nature of Philip’s question in verse 30?

7.      What is the Ethiopian asking for in verse 31?

8.      What does verse 36 indicate about serving our neighbor?  (Check out the meaning of the word hodoygeho.)

9.      What was the prompt for the Ethiopian’s question in verse 36?

10.  Why does the Holy Spirit do what He does in verse 39?

See you Sunday – our first weekend of SERVICE!

Remember, there are still some “SERVE” slots open for you!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Giving to the Greeks

The boy was the son of a minister.  His mother taught him to read in one week, when he was three-years-old.  When he was 16 he enrolled at Rhode Island College (now Brown University) as a sophomore and graduated number one in his class three years later.

Every expectation was that he too would enter the ministry, but within months of his enrollment at college, he found his faith weakening.  A friend, a deist named Jacob Eames, was having a significant influence.  By the time of his graduation the man had no Christian faith.  He concealed his rejection of Christ from his parents until his 20th birthday when he sent word to them that he was leaving for New York, for a life in the theater.

Arriving in New York City, he quickly discovered that his dreams were turning into a nightmare.  He found no promising acting opportunities, so he began to live a life he would later describe as “a reckless, vagabond life, finding lodging where I could, and bilking the landlord whenever I found an opportunity.”

One night he found himself in a small inn where the innkeeper apologized that his sleep might be interrupted by a man “next door” who was critically ill.  Throughout the night he heard his groaning and his gasps.  It bothered him to think that the man next door may not be prepared to die.  At the same time he wondered about himself.  He felt foolish for thinking such things because good deists weren’t supposed to have such struggles.

When he was leaving in the morning he asked the innkeeper how the man in the next room was doing.  The innkeeper said, “He’s dead.”  He asked, “Do you know the man’s name?”  “Oh yes,” said the innkeeper, “the young man was from the college in Providence.  His name was Eames, Jacob Eames.”
Adoniram Judson could hardly move.  He stayed there at the inn for hours pondering death and eternity.  If his friend was right, then his death was a meaningless event.  But if, as Judson wrote, “Hell should open and snatch Jacob Eames, my dearest friend and guide, from the next bed – this could not be pure coincidence.  God is real, and He’s pursuing me.”

Judson’s conversion was not immediate.  There were months of struggle.  But in October 1808 He entered Andover Seminary and two months later made a solemn vow to be a missionary.  In June of 1809 he presented himself for missionary service in Burma.

The same day he met a woman named Ann and soon fell in love.  After a month he declared his intention to marry her, but he knew his life of service to Christ would be dirty and dangerous.  He told her that he never intended to return to America.  He said that he could not think of marriage, unless her father agreed.  So he wrote him this letter:

“I now have to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.  Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her or for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?  Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”  Imagine receiving such a letter!

Her father read and reread it.  He finally decided to let his daughter decide.  She did.  She said “Yes”! 

Now with that as background, we come to the second week of our Beyond Campaign – the Sunday of GIVING!  And here in Acts 17 Paul is reasoning with the men of Athens.  Here in this text we get a vivid portrait of a man who has learned how and why to give Beyond yourself to others.  In many respects, like Adoniram Judson, God uniquely equips Paul for his ministry of giving to the Athenians.  Each one of the four points illustrate the hows and whys of giving Beyond ourselves.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following;
1.      What does Luke mean when he says in verse 16 that “Paul’s spirit was provoked”?

2.      What caused such provocation?

3.      What does Luke mean in verse 17 when he says that Paul “reasoned” in the synagogue and the marketplace?

4.      What does the description of Paul used by the Epicureans and stoic philosophers mean?

5.      What is the Areopagus?

6.      What do you make of their question in verse 19?

7.      How important is Paul’s perception in verse 22?

8.      How is Paul like Jesus here?

9.      How does Paul relate to his hearers in verse 29?

10.  How is Paul a perfect example of a true giver?

See you Sunday for our GIVING Beyond ourselves!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gathering to the Gergasenes

For four weeks we’ve readied ourselves for going Beyond ourselves as a church.  We’ve looked at why we do it.  We’ve looked at what we are to do.  We’ve looked at how we are to do it.  And now, starting this Sunday, October 6, we begin – GATHERING!

All of the canned goods, all of the diapers, all of the Operation Christmas Child supplies have one purpose – to gather others to Jesus.  He’s really what they need!  He’s really what we need!

Last week Tom Hughes made a profound observation that is at the heart of this week’s “Gather” message.  He said, “Often it’s your misery that Christ uses and transforms into your ministry.”  How often we’ve seen that to be true.

In the south of France is a little village that I visited 37 years ago named Vezelay.  In that village lived a group of Gentile Protestants who were persecuted for more than three centuries.  Throughout the 16th, 17th, 18th, and much of the 19th centuries, these Gentile Protestants were denied the right to property, liberty, and in some cases, life itself.

During World War II many Jews who were fleeing the Nazis came to Vezelay for refuge.  Unfortunately, the Nazis were already there.  The Jews were at great risk.  Their future was in the balance and the Gentile Protestants knew it.  So what did they do?  They opened their doors to them.  There was no organization.  There was no strategy session.  There were no meetings between families.  They simply did what they did, and because of their action, the lives of thousands of Jews were saved.

Now why do you suppose those Gentile Protestants risked their lives for Jews they didn’t even know?  I’ll tell you why – because of their own suffering.  You see they had a heritage that said, “It’s easier to open the door than to keep it shut.”  They had a heritage that prompted them to ask, “Why them?” instead of “Why me?”  They had a heritage that recognized that suffering and mercy is pointless unless it results in ministry to others.

Let’s suppose Jesus was born rich instead of poor.  Let’s suppose He was born as the product of a husband and a wife and there were never any question about His legitimacy.  Let’s suppose that when He goes to Gethsemane to pray, He asks His Father to change the plan and He succeeds.  Let’s suppose instead of dying on the cross He never dies, He simply ascends to heaven.  How much easier would it be to follow that kind of Jesus?

Isaiah puts it this way, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…”  Meaning what?  Meaning that He’s a Christ who’s been through it all, seen it all, suffered it all, and conquered it all so that you and I might receive what we need – total identification with Him.  Only a suffering Jesus can meet a need.  Only a suffering Christian who has received His mercy and grace can meet the real needs of others.

This week we will take another look at Mark 5:1-20.  Here Jesus tells a former demoniac to go home to his friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for him and how He has had mercy on him.”  It’s the same thing He’s told us.  That’s why we gather stuff to give to others.  We do it so that they might hear and see that His mercy is available to them, too.  While we gather cans and boxes and toys, the real purpose is to gather others to Him!

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Gathering to the Gergasenes,” you may wish to consider the following:

  1. Read Mark 5:1-20 and our companion text Isaiah 61:1-4.
  2. What was the nature of Beverly Sills’ suffering?
  3. Last week Tom Hughes mentioned Saul’s conversion (Acts 9).  Why does Jesus knock him off his horse on the road to Damascus?  (Acts 26:16)
  4. Why does Mark include this story when he’s known for his brevity?
  5. What’s the correlation between the storm in Mark 4:35-41 and this text?
  6. This is the first of three times Jesus travels to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  What do we know about this place?
  7. How is this man the personification of the fullness of man?
  8. What is the significance of his question in verse 7?
  9. Why does Jesus gather this man to Himself?
  10. Why does Jesus refuse his request in verse 18?
See you this Sunday with cans in hand!