Category Archives: Bulletin

Working Backwards to Go Forward

I learned early how to properly navigate a maze. If you start at the end and work backwards, it’s much easier. All those wrong turnsmaze and dead-ends are pointing the other direction and are easier to detect looking from the other side. It is the same with life as a Christian. If we start with heaven and work our way back from that goal, life gets easier. Those wrong turns and dead-ends are easier to see. We can look at those forks in the road and ask which one is more likely to get us to heaven. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we know our preference is for the easy road and we hope somehow God will point us toward that road.

Maybe you’ve learned that the right path is rarely the easy one. Most often, the easy choice is the wrong one. It’s easy to lie instead of tell the truth when that may hurt someone’s feelings or cause conflict. It’s easy to bend the rules and cheat to get what we want faster. That’s why Jesus said the path to righteousness is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14). Even fewer will stay on that path until the end. The path to destruction is easy to find and easy to travel. It promises smooth sailing on a pleasant, downward slope. You don’t even have to try; just coast along and go with the flow. That path is the default choice. We must continually choose to stay on the narrow, righteous path. Even then, there is always an on-ramp for hell’s highway. We can be tempted to just get on for a bit and rest ourselves with the cruise-control set. Then, we tell ourselves, we will get back on the right road at the next exit. Or the next one. Well, there’s another right up there too.

That’s why so few find it. It’s not that God is being secretive or tricky, it’s just that the wide and easy path is so, well, EASY. Seek the way to God through the thicket of the world’s distractions. Then, once you find the way, stay on that path no matter how hard the travelling becomes. The way is actually pretty easy to find. When the apostles asked Jesus to show them the way He responded, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Those dead-ends and wrong turns are easier to see and avoid when you keep your eyes on the goal at the end—heaven. May the Lord shine upon you.

Enough Rope to Blind Oneself

In Jeremiah 34:2-5, God makes a covenant with Zedekiah, the king of Judea. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had surrounded and would soon conquer the city of Jerusalem. God promises Zedekiah that if he commands all Hebrew slaves to be released, then the king will not be killed in the battle but would instead die peacefully and be honored by his people. Zedekiah issues this command and the slaves are freed before the city falls. All the Jews would become slaves to Babylon anyway, and this would put everyone in the same position during the captivity.

Jeremiah 34:11-16 reveals that although the Jews initially released their indentured brethren, they changed their minds and forced the released slaves to return to their former masters’ households. They did the right thing at first, but then went back and did the wrong thing. Peter gives a sickening illustration in 2nd Peter 2:21-22 of those who start to do well but fail to follow through. “For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’ ” They failed God’s test of obedience and mercy, therefore God withdrew His GameHangmanmercy.

Since Zedekiah had not demanded the people keep their covenant by releasing the slaves, the Lord “released” Zedekiah from His covenant. The king’s promised “peaceful” death became anything but peaceful. “So they took the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they pronounced judgment on him. Then they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:6-7). There was even a bitter pun foretold in the promise of God that “your eyes will see the eyes of the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 34:3). Indeed, seeing Nebuchadnezzar kill his sons would be the last thing Zedekiah ever saw.

God gives us just enough freedom and blessing to see how we handle it. If we blow it, He may take it away (Matthew 25:29). Those who see God as cruel for His actions here fail to understand that He promised mercy to Zedekiah and Judah. God gave an “inch” and they took a mile. He gave them an opportunity to be kind and receive kindness, but they were selfish and short-sighted instead. Let us not be guilty of the same selfishness or short-sightedness in using His blessings. Let us make our best effort to use those “talents” wisely so that we might hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” May the Lord shine upon you.

Is It For Me?

Songs touch us in a way other words simply cannot. Supposedly, music activates a different part of our brains than regular conversation does. That would explain why certain songs affect us so strongly. In my case, one of these is the hymn “Is It For Me?” I rarely make it through this song without my voice catching at least once. The lyrics sink deeply within me as I ask the same questions.

“Is it for me, dear Savior, Thy glory and Thy rest? prayer

For me so weak and lowly? Oh, shall I be so blessed?”

It can’t be. Maybe for that fellow over there, but not for me. Do I dare to hope? Shall I (even I) be so blessed? It almost seems too good to be true. Salvation is certainly for those other more deserving people, but even for me? Can it truly be? How could God be talking about me? Doesn’t He know how weak I am? Doesn’t He know how many times I fail Him and fall short in a day? Oh yes, He knows. That is precisely why He makes the offer. He knows how tiring the battle against sin is, so He offers us rest. He offers us a place in His glorious presence where there will be no sin and struggle. But how can this be possible for one such as I?

“Is it for me, Thy welcome, Thy gracious ‘enter in’

For me, Thy ‘Come, ye blessed,’ for me so full of sin?”

The Lord does not make a grudging allowance to permit our entry into heaven’s glory. Instead, He holds the door wide open and eagerly welcomes us into His home. Who would open His door to such a grubby houseguest? He does not stand with arms crossed in disapproval looking down His nose at our filthiness. Instead, he beckons us to come enjoy His hospitality. How could we respond to such kindness?

“My heart is at Thy feet”

We have nothing to give that would adequately show our gratitude. We bring no gift to impress our Host. All we have is what lies within us, weak and flawed as it is, and that is what we place before Him. The good news is that our heart is exactly the thing which melts His own. It’s all He wanted anyway.

“O, Savior, my Redeemer. What can I but adore?

And magnify and praise Thee and love Thee evermore?”

We are left with no way to repay such kindness and mercy. What else can we say but “Thank you. I love You.” Jesus did not come to make servants who would bow before Him throughout eternity. He came to save God’s precious children. He came to bring back those lost sheep who had strayed. Jesus prepared a heavenly home just for us (John 14:2-3). When we are tempted to ask in disbelief, “Is it for me? Really and truly?” the answer is a resounding “Yes!” It is for you, and for me, and for all who will come in loving obedience to Jesus. May the Lord shine upon you.

What Love Does (and Doesn’t)

I was discussing marriage with some friends recently, and I mentioned a simple but powerful exercise I sometimes use in marriage counseling. I have couples read Paul’s great little treatise on love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8 “Love suffers long [is patient] and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (NKJV). I tell the couple that this is what love does. It is an action, a choice, not merely an emotion. Then I say that since this is the standard of how we should be loving one another (especially our spouse), try substituting your name every time you see the word “love.” The passage takes on a new meaning. The goal is to live our life and love others so that all those statements are true. I hadn’t done that exercise myself in a while, so I began to go through it.businessman-looking-in-mirror

“Rob is patient.”

Ouch. Really Paul? We have to start there? I couldn’t get past #1 due to my wife’s laughter. Or maybe it would be because of the pained look on her face. Either way, I start the exercise with a big ole goose-egg. “Rob is kind.” OK, I think I do pretty well at this most times. Would my wife and kids agree? My co-worker? My cashier? Go down the list and see which sore spots of yours get poked. I guarantee you will find them in there. I overheard a man tell a preacher once that his sermon had poked him in a sore spot. The preacher, a very compassionate and wise man, gently replied, “Brother, if I may ask, why is that spot sore?” Likely because we already know we have a weakness there. Continue down the list and see where you are coming up short: jealousy, pride, cynicism, etc. I’ll bet few would even muster a passing grade if we’re being honest. “Well thanks, Rob, for making me feel lousy about myself.” Hey, blame Paul, he started it!

The point is not to make anyone depressed, but to challenge us to a higher standard. It is a pretty tall order, but I do know of one Man who was able to do it. Jesus Christ. Substitute His name for “love” and every word is true.

“Jesus is patient” with me when I fail and stumble into sin again. And again. “Jesus is kind.” No one has ever been kinder. “Jesus does not envy.” Of whom does He have to be jealous? “Jesus does not parade Himself and is not puffed up.” He didn’t come to earth to win fans and fill stadiums. He came to save souls by dying a humiliating death. “Jesus does not behave rudely.” Even when rebuking the Pharisees it wasn’t because He hated them, it was because they were stubbornly resisting the truth about Him to their own souls’destruction. He was merely frustrated at their foolish pride and how they tried to lead people away from the truth He was preaching. Jesus lived out the often misunderstood principle of “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” On down the list we could go.

Perhaps my favorite part and the one which may be most encouraging to you is “Jesus hopes all things.” Jesus loves us and always hopes for the best in us. He knows our hearts and yet He still has hope that we will do the right thing. Often, we won’t, but He HOPES we will. He believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves. He is our cheerleader saying, “I know you fell into that sin again, but you can beat it! Get up and we’ll try again, you and Me. I’ll be right beside you.” That’s love right there. If Jesus believes in you, can’t you try to believe in yourself? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

“Rob never fails.”

Sadly, this is not a true or accurate statement. But “Jesus never fails” is 100% true. Jesus has never failed and He never will. Never. In John 13:34 Jesus told His disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” That’s a pretty big challenge, as we have seen. We may fall short–okay, we WILL fall short–but let’s at least TRY to do what Jesus said. Aim for that high standard and we will certainly be closer than we were before. You can do it! May the Lord shine upon you.

A Joyful Noise

I never, ever, EVER get upset by fussy babies in the worship assembly. I wonder sometimes if they are voicing disagreement about a doctrinal error I may have just made. Babies can be very particular about their theology, you know. My ego normally encourages me to simply accept their outbursts as the baby version of “Amen!” I never know if that that child is teething, dealing with diaper rash, colic, or some other issue. Therefore, I always give the parents the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are doing all they can to quiet the child and will take the little one elsewhere when it goes too far. It can be tempting to make assumptions and form opinions about how the parents SHOULD handle it. Frazzled parents sometimes come up and apologize to me for their noisy child whom they assumed was a distraction to me and everyone else. I always sincerely respond by saying it does not bother me. But, I have found that I cannot speak for others on this matter. Baby-headphones

Some people seem to imagine that there would have been no crying babies in the first century house churches. Ridiculous! Besides, we are not called to live our faith in a quiet, sterile, sanctuary once a week which bears no resemblance to real life. We are called to live our faith in the messy, noisy, inconvenient, and distraction-filled real world. It is good practice for the kids to learn about worship, being considerate of others, and devoting ourselves to God even when they don’t feel like it. It is also good practice for adults to learn how to worship even when things try to pull us away from focusing on God. We are losing our ability to concentrate because of things such as DVRs which allow us to skip past commercials and any other unpleasantness which threatens to ruin our perfect viewing experience. We tappity-tap on our phones for immediate answers to every question except the most important questions like “How can I be more like Christ?”

Praise to you parents and grandparents of small children struggling to teach them to sit still. Praise to you others who are being patient while that child tries to learn those lessons. Remember, YOU were once that fussy baby “bothering” everyone else. Let’s all lighten up and remember that the church is a family and worship is a family activity. It would be so easy (and so sad) for that frustrated parent to just stay home because it would be less of a hassle. We would miss the blessing of their presence and they would miss the blessing of worshiping with the body. They are the future of the church, after all. Plus, babies are cute and funny. But the noise comes along with that joy. It’s a package deal. May the Lord shine upon you.

The High Cost of Paying Attention

phone familyI heard someone recently give a sharp commentary on our culture by saying “Life is what happens when you put your phone down.” To that, I say “Amen!” and immediately think of several people who need to hear this so I share it on face book (from my phone) and link the article in email (from my phone). During that activity I probably ignored my wife as she tried to tell me something important. During Christmastime there was a commercial for Apple’s iPhone. A teenager is distracted by his phone during the family’s holiday gathering. He seems to be missing all the family fun and memories in the making. The parents (and viewers) shake their heads at today’s youth with their noses always stuck in their electronic devices. At the end of the commercial, we actually learn that he was taking pictures of all the special moments and turning them into a slideshow which he played for the whole family. A pleasant twist, but we all know that is the exception to rule.

We’ve lost the ability to pay attention. We feel the “price” is just too much to pay. We don’t know how to be bored anymore. Moments which may once have been spent in quiet reflection are now filled with Angry Birds or cat videos. Has anyone ever felt a wave of panic wash over them when their phone battery died in the waiting room? Oh no, what am I supposed to do now? Read magazines like some primitive savage? Or, perish the thought, actually engage someone in live conversation? We feel that we must be constantly stimulated these days. We no longer appreciate the value of silence and thoughtful meditation.

God encourages readers of Psalm 46:10 to “Be still and know that I am God.” We cannot fully appreciate God in all His majesty, depth, and holiness unless we devote some time and effort to finding quiet. When storms on the Sea of Galilee threatened to capsize the boat, Jesus shouted, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). Jesus was speaking as much to the disciples as He was to the storm. The Lord’s point may have been, “Quit freaking out and just trust in Me!” We cannot have peace when we are panicked and distracted over things we see and hear around us. Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. Our faith cannot grow unless we find quiet time with the Lord on a regular basis. Perhaps it is time to reacquaint yourself with the concept of the “prayer closet” (Matthew 6:6). Find a place where you will be safe from distractions for a time and just bask in the heavenly silence of God’s presence. If we will “spend” some precious time on the Lord, it will pay rich dividends. There is no better investment. Try it!

Who’s Yanking Your Chain?

dog_leashThere is no fence where we live. We have a basset hound who likes to “follow her nose” so when we let her out she has to be on a cable. There are two trees in the front yard and she will invariably get herself tied around one or both. Then she whines begging for help. I have clearly explained to her how to prevent this, but the message hasn’t gotten through. I try to show her how to go back around the other direction to free herself but she pulls against my efforts. She resists going toward what she perceives as fear, pain, and confinement. I also have to pull her along to get enough slack to unclip the cable.

Sometimes we have to go back the way we came in order to free ourselves. We often resist God’s efforts to free us when it means going in a direction we fear or don’t understand. God also needs us to relax and give Him some slack (trust) so He can get us loose. The bumper sticker reads: “Let go, let God.” It seems trite, but it’s often good advice. We must release what seems right to us and trust God’s judgment. He cannot put anything into our hand while we still clutch something inferior in our fist. Sometimes we shake that fist in stubborn pride. Like a toddler resisting a parent’s help with tying a shoe we shout, “I do it myself!” Only after we fail miserably do we come crying and ask God to help us do what we cannot do ourselves. God is a far kinder parent than we and He is able to resist giving an “I told you so” lecture. Instead, He simply says, “I was just waiting for you to let Me help you” (Deuteronomy 32:36).

The trick is to figure out who is actually the one yanking your chain. If it is Satan trying to pull you into temptation, dig in those paws and fight for all your worth. If it is God trying to pull you free of sin, then relax and let Him untangle you from your own foolishness. He never stomps angrily out into the yard muttering, “Again? How many times do I have to do this?!” Instead, He reassuringly says, “Here, my child, let Me show you again. Try to do better next time. But if you fail, I will come free you as many times as it takes.” May the Lord shine upon you.

A Drop in the Bucket

It had been a busy time for Jesus and His disciples. They had been in Judea teaching up a storm and baptizing many people (John 4:1-2). Jesus was never one to rest on His laurels, but instead He turned His attention northward to Galilee. Most Jews would cross the Jordan River to the east of Jerusalem and travel north of Samaria before crossing back over into Galilee. They hated the Samaritans so deeply that they preferred to travel into Gentile territory rather than set foot in Samaria. Surely the disciples bristled when the Lord told them the travel route, but John 4:4 says “He needed to go through Samaria.” Why did Jesus need to go there? We soon learn that there was a soul in Samaria who was very important to Him. Of course, all souls are important, but this particular womanwell-bucket[2] would be a critical turning point in His ministry and the education of His apostles.

Upon reaching the Samaritan city of Sychar, Jesus sent the disciples into town for supplies. He was exhausted and rested beside the well. Although Jesus was thirsty, He chose to wait on this woman so that she might satisfy His thirst. Jesus broke numerous social conventions by talking to this woman and asking her, “Give Me a drink” (John 4:7). She was startled by His question and also confused. She noticed that He had nothing with which to draw water from the well. We know better, of course. This same Jesus had already proven His power to manipulate water when He turned water into wine at Cana. This same Jesus who would later raise the dead certainly had the power to raise water so He could drink. The Lord chose not to do that, however. He asked this woman to do it for Him.

God has a thirst for our love; for our hearts. He cannot (and will not) satisfy this desire by pulling it out of us. We must draw it out ourselves and offer it to Him. Jesus promised the Samaritan woman that if she would provide Him with this earthly water, He would provide her with living water to satisfy the deeper thirst she felt (for love, acceptance, peace, and hope). Likewise, we must offer something to God which seems too simple or even ridiculous—our obedience. If we submit to this simple command, if we give our obedience to Him as a gift, then God will be able to shower us with unimaginable gifts and blessings (Mal. 3:10). Jesus said “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Give Him your heart by doing what He has said to do: repent and be baptized (Luke 13:5; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38).

Uh, Lord? Little Help Here?

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus had been teaching His disciples about how to deal with people when there is a conflict. Right after this, Peter chimes in with a question, sort of. Peter asks in verse 20, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (NASB). Peter probably thought he was being pretty generous. Wow, seven times! Peter, you’re much too kind. How shocked he and the others must have been when Jesus answered, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Now, Jesus did not mean that we should keep a tally sheet and when/if we reach 490 we can then say, “That’s it! I don’t have to forgive you anymore!” He was using a ridiculously large number to indicate that we should not be in the accounting business, but in the forgiving business.jesus hand

Jesus expands on this in the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel which is found in chapter 17. As if the words in Matthew 18 were not hard enough to live out, Jesus ups the ante on forgiveness. “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4). Well, now You are just asking too much, Jesus. Seven times in the same day? That means this person is not showing true repentance and does not deserve forgiveness.

AH-AH-AH! Not so fast. That would require us to know and judge a person’s heart and ONLY God is qualified to do that.

Jesus makes this painfully simple: He repents, you forgive. Period.

But Jesus, You don’t know how many times he has—NO! He repents, you forgive. This is the command.

But Jesus, wouldn’t it be better to teach this person the lesson that—NO! He repents, you forgive. Just do it.

But Jesus, what if he doesn’t ask for forgiveness? Does that get me off the hook?

This is the part where Jesus would facepalm and shake His head. Don’t miss the point.

The disciples surely didn’t miss the point. Their perfect understanding was proven by what they said next. Jesus had just commanded them (and us) to forgive as many times as someone repents. Their immediate response was, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). They knew that they (and we) were going to need some divine assistance to carry out that command. The Lord’s answer is astounding. He essentially says in verse 6, “Use what you’ve got—it’s enough.” Their faith seemed as small as a mustard seed compared to the gigantic task ahead of them. Jesus told them that if their faith was sincere, then it was big enough. Well, OK Jesus. But if I manage to pull this off, I deserve a medal and a parade! The Lord predicts this attitude in verses 9-10 and preemptively strikes down any prideful feelings which may arise. “[The master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ” We don’t deserve a round of applause for merely doing what we were commanded. We are not worthy of a spot in Hebrews chapter 11 with the superstars of the faithful. We haven’t elevated ourselves to some lofty position of Christianity. We haven’t gained anything extraordinary. We are still sitting at zero. All we have done is prevented ourselves from falling below the line of obedience and into a deficit.

Is forgiving hard? Yes! It may be the one of the hardest commands to obey. What it is not, however, is optional; it is required. So let’s you and I stop treating it like it is optional. Let us not require people to grovel, beg, and crawl for our forgiveness after we think they’ve suffered enough and shown “proper” repentance. God did not require that of us. We may sin seven times a day against Him but He offers mercy every time we ask. His grace is eager, available, and immediate. So should ours be.

That’s Mighty Neighborly of You!

Once, as I was rolling my dumpster to the curb in preparation for the next day’s trash pickup, I noticed my next-door neighbor’s dumpster still sitting beside the garage.  I knew my neighbor was out of town, but would be back home before the next trash day.  So, I wheeled the dumpster out to the curb for him. I remembered making a mad dash in my pajamas early on trash day several times when I had forgotten and I would have appreciated someone watching out for me that way.  I felt that I was being a good neighbor.

Jesus once told His disciples to love their neighbor as themselves.  In response, someone asked the question,neighbor_wilson “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).  This parable shows that our neighbor is anyone in need whom we can help.  Indeed, if we have the ability to help someone and the opportunity to do so, it creates an obligation on our part which we cannot neglect.

The real issue, however, is how we can love others as ourselves.  First we must ask, “how do we love ourselves?”  The answer is—quite naturally! Nowhere in the Bible does God command us to love ourselves.  He doesn’t have to!  It comes easily to our nature to be selfish.  When we really examine how we love ourselves, some challenging things come to light.  We make excuses for our bad behavior. “Well, I was just tired and under stress.”  We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.  We are optimistic we will do better next time.  We do not focus on the mistake, but rather on the good in us.  We never think we are evil people or lost causes.  We think we are basically good people who just slipped up.  Here’s the rub. Should we not extend this same courtesy to everyone else for their mistakes? Let that sink in for a moment..

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a very appropriate answer to the question about who my neighbor is.  Not only does it show us that everyone is our neighbor, but it also sets a gold standard for being that good neighbor.  The Samaritan did not help the man because he knew him.  They were not close friends.  He did not hope to be rewarded or praised for it.  He simply found a man in trouble, took care of him, made provisions for his care, and left quietly.  Is that not exactly what Jesus did?  He found us when we had been beaten by Satan, robbed of hope, and left for dead.  Jesus healed us, tended our wounds, made provision for our care (the church), and left suddenly.  But He also promised to return.  Let us make sure we can say we were good neighbors to all people when He comes back.  Let us follow Jesus’ example and treat people the way He treated us.  Let us cut others the same slack we give ourselves so generously.

 

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