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!