Yes, what we believe is important. Yes, there are distinctives we hold to about God, Jesus, faith, sin and salvation. Sometimes, though, we need to just love somebody and tell them about Jesus. We worked on that yesterday.
What did you do yesterday?
What did you do yesterday? Yesterday we loved people. At least we tried. I’m not sure we always get it right.
Yesterday was our third I heart My Neighborhood event. This one was pretty simple. We got together at one of our members’ homes and knocked on doors asking three simple questions:
What is something a church might be able to do to make your neighborhood a better place?
Do you know someone in your neighborhood who needs some help?
How can we pray for you?
It’s always interesting to see what kind of response we will get. I’ve noticed that the nicer the house, the more likely the person who answers the door is going to be grumpy. I’ve also noticed that the number of people who answer their doors is inverse to the number of Ring doorbells on a street. And, people over 65 and under 35 are way more likely to answer the door and talk cordially with us. (Gen X-ers, what’s up with us?) And that’s all OK because we really just want to talk with people who want to talk with us. (Life’s just easier when mean people don’t answer their doors.)
One great response makes it worth it!
What I’ve noticed as we have worked to just love somebody is that one great response makes it worth it! Yesterday, the group I was with got to meet a couple ladies who invited us into their house, talked with us about some needs in their neighborhood and let us pray for them. That was a lot of fun.
The other group met some people who thought it was really interesting that a church was knocking on doors. They found out as they talked with people that there were not many unmet needs in their block because their block takes care of one another! What?!? I want to move to that block! What a great place to live! (If you live in that block, I impressed! Keep it up! And let us know how we can help! We want to support neighbors caring for one another! Seriously, we want to be that kind of neighbor!)
Just loving somebody will cost you something (or, maybe, a lot)
You’ve probably noticed that loving someone always costs us something. Yesterday it cost us about two-and-a-half hours of our Saturday morning. Saturday morning is prime family time. That’s expensive.
Jesus told us that loving people is not cheap. In Luke 10, Jesus sent his followers out to prepare the way for his teaching. When they got back, he listened to their report. Then, he told the story of The Good Samaritan. You are probably familiar with the story, but let me give you a little refresher (You can read it for yourself here.)
Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. (That’s putting it mildly.) A Jewish man was mugged on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. As he laid there on the side of the road, a couple good Jews walked by without helping him. Then, a Samaritan tended to his wounds, put him on the animal he had been riding and took him to the nearest inn to be cared for — in a world without CareNow, inns were the closest thing to urgent care. Then, the Samaritan paid the bill for the man’s stay and medical bill.
To be fair, the Samaritan was not a poor man. He had an animal with him. Feet were the cars of the day, so he probably had some wealth. But, he understood at least part of the purpose for his wealth was to help someone else. And he did. Generously! A lot!
…and tell them about Jesus
It’s funny. Once you have met a real need in someone’s life, they will let you tell them about Jesus. Of course, you can’t be judgy or fake. You have to continue to love them. (Your love has to be the real thing. They will figure it out if it’s not.)
What do you tell them about Jesus? That’s pretty simple really. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul told us what our message should be:
Jesus died for our sins and was buried.
He rose from the grave (proving death and sin were defeated).
When we trust in him, we receive a place in his resurrection.
Even though it’s not a tough message, sometimes it can be hard to share. But, you’ll find it’s a lot easier when you really love the person you are sharing it with (and they know it).
Come love people with us
If you live near us and want to make our cities better places to live, you are invited to come love people with us. This time we were just knocking on doors. We often have people doing the work of loving people by doing odd jobs or small construction projects to meet real needs. You are welcome to send me a note and let me know you are interested.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been reading from 1 Corinthians — a letter from the Apostle Paul to a church in the First Century that was divided by all kinds of problems. It has really hit home because our world seems so divided right now. As I have read, this question just keeps running through my mind: “Is your God big enough?”
Is your calling big enough?
Paul opens 1 Corinthians talking about calling. God called him to be an Apostle. God set us apart to be holy, called us to be saints. And, God blesses us with grace and peace that comes from God and Christ himself. But do we look like a people called together and blessed with grace and peace?
Is God’s grace big enough?
Then, Paul expresses his gratitude to God for the grace and gifts God gives us through faith in Jesus. He writes about how God enriched their speech and knowledge. He encourages them that Christ is the one who will sustain them until the end because the God who called them is faithful.
This introduction to Paul’s letter led me to ask some big questions about the God I believe in — or, maybe, my belief in God. In spite of these great claims about God’s work, the church in Corinth divided itself over the very blessings Paul wrote to them about. They fought over sin and spiritual gifts and even Communion. What in the world would make a church so blessed by God so divided?
Their God wasn’t big enough. The rest of the letter Paul points out the shortcomings in their attitudes and behaviors that reveal what they truly believed about God.
What do our lives say about God?
I’m afraid we don’t do much better. We divide ourselves over everything from baptism to politics. Although we claim to serve the God who created the universe and gave his only Son to save us, we struggle to believe he is bigger than our pet ideas and preconceptions. Let’s decide to change that. Let’s find the God who called us to work together to make his name great. Let’s answer the question, “Is your God big enough?” by working together to bring his kingdom of love and life to hurting people around us.
What can you do today to make sure your faith is in the God who is big enough?
What do you do when the Bible is hard to understand?
What do you do when the Bible is hard to understand?
This week — actually for the past 2 weeks — I’ve been working on writing a lesson for Daniel 9. Daniel 9 is a chapter that contains some prophecies that make it kind of tricky to understand. As I worked on this lesson this week, I thought I would share 3 tips with you to help you understand the Bible when it gets hard to understand.
Tip 1: It’s all about Jesus
All of it is about Jesus
The most important overarching principle of reading the Bible is that it’s all about Jesus. All of the Bible — both Old and New Testaments — tell us about Christ. The Old Testament tells us why we need Christ an what he will be like when he comes.
When the religious leaders were trying to entrap and kill Jesus he told them: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me John 5:39 ESV
From the very beginning of the Bible we see foreshadowing of Jesus. Following Adam and Eve’s first sin, God told serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Genesis 3:15 ESV
Then, he covered the first family’s nakedness by executing an animal and covering them with its skin. This anticipates the principle from Hebrews 9:22:
…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22 ESV
It also demonstrates that the failure of the man and woman to cover their nakedness with the clothing they tried to make from fig leaves was because they needed a covering for their sin that came from the sacrifice just as our righteousness is the gift of God purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness… Isaiah 61:10 ESV
This thread of Christ and his deliverance is echoed throughout the Old Testament. For instance, when the nation of Israel needed a hero, David arrived on the scene and killed the giant while the other warriors cowered nearby. Jesus is the Savior who slew the giants of sin and death when all we could do was cower on the sidelines.
About Jesus, not me (or you)
The challenge we face as 21st Century readers is that we often try to find ourselves, rather than Jesus, as we read the Bible. The Bible is about Jesus. He is the main character of the Bible. Every story in the Bible primarily teaches us about him. Every other character in the Bible was a supporting Character whose arc was devised to tell us about Jesus. We have a similar role in redemptive history. Our own stories are brief interactions with Jesus that continue to show him and his glory to others.
Always begin reading the Bible by looking for Jesus.
Tip 2: Genre matters
We all read different types of books, but we don’t read them all the same way. Great fiction authors and historians are both trying to teach us something about our world, but they do it very differently.
Some people talk about reading the Bible literally. That’s exactly how the Bible should be read if, by literally, you mean according to a passage’s type of literature. Different books and passages from the Bible have to be understood differently.
Much of the Bible is narrative. God uses joy and heartbreak in the lives of his people to show us what he is like. Some of the Bible is poetry that proclaims the greatness of God. It often uses metaphors and allusions to show us who God is and how he has revealed himself to us. Some of the Bible is wisdom literature full of insights how to live in a way that allows our lives to point to Jesus. Some of the Bible teaches us very directly who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Much of the Apostles’ writings clearly tell us who Jesus was and what he was like.
Always try to understand what genre you are reading when you read the Bible.
Tip 3: Look for law and gospel
When many people think of God’s law, they think of The Ten Commandments or the first five books of the Old Testament. Those are full of God’s law, but there’s more to it than that. When many people think of the gospel, they think of the first four books of the New Testament or the passages in the New Testament letters that tell us about how Jesus died receiving the punishment for our sin and rose from the grave. That, of course, is the gospel. But, did you know that you can use the law and gospel as a tool for understanding all of the Bible?
When you read the Bible, always keep your eyes open for commands. Commands or imperatives are the law of God in both the Old and New Testaments. When Moses or David or Jesus or Paul or Peter gives us a command, that command is law. Law usually pretty easy to identify because it has a verb that involves doing something like: “Thou shalt,” “you must,” “you should,” “do this,” or “do that.” Back in the 16th Century theologians understood that these commands that make up the law of God exist for three big reasons (I used Ligonier Ministries web site to refresh my memory on these):
To show us our sin — all of us. When God gives us a command, if we are honest, we realize we don’t measure up to it. God’s law demands perfection, and we all break all the laws all the time. That’s why in the sermon on the mount, Jesus describes adultery as looking with lust and murder as being angry with someone. (No, not all anger is murder or every look at a woman is adultery, but we have all crossed those lines.) God’s law first shows us how we fall short, so we will look to Jesus for our salvation.
To restrain us. God’s law given through scripture and through civil authorities gives all of us a sense of right and wrong throughout all history and in every culture. We all understand that taking from others is wrong even though different cultures draw the lines a little differently.
To tell us God’s will. How do we know God’s will? The law tells us how God wants us to live. When we are obedient to God’s law, we are doing God’s will. When we have a decision that is not guided by God’s law, we act in wisdom and freedom. (More on that another time.)
What about the gospel? Whenever you see in the Bible a statement that tells you who you are in Christ, you are reading an announcement of who God has made you in Christ. Throughout the Bible, we see statements about us that tell us we are healed, resurrected, forgiven, righteous and children of God among many, many other promises in Christ. All of these promises find their “yes” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).
No, I’m not talking about prosperity gospel because the fulfillment of these promises is in our resurrection in Christ — the completion of which we will not experience in this life. But, we do receive the firstfruits of our resurrection in this life as the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer as the seal of our salvation as well as Christ’s presence with us in the Spirit as we go about the task of making disciples.
So, as you read the Bible always keep your eye open for commands and promises that teach us our shortcomings and God’s will for our obedience as well as God’s promises to us in Christ.
What if you need a little more help?
Well, I guess it’s time for me to finish my lesson on Daniel 9. Say a prayer for me that I get it right. That leads me to the last tool we have when we need to know what the Bible says: commentaries.
Just about any time I write a lesson or a sermon, I find a good commentary to help me correctly understand the passage I am teaching. I like to think of commentaries like having another believer (who is way smarter than I am) to guide me through the text I am teaching.
When I’m reading a passage in order to teach through it, I often have insights that bring the passage to life. Those are really exciting moments because I know the people I will be teaching will be wowed by something about God or what he has done for us. Commentaries are very important to me in these moments because I want to make sure that insight is not something new.
I know you’re probably thinking: “Wait a minute! Don’t you want to share something new?” Yes. I want to share an insight that is new to the people I am teaching. However, I don’t want to share a completely new idea. Because the Bible has been studied for over two thousand years, someone has had just about all the correct understandings of the Bible. Any new understanding I have about a biblical text is probably wrong. So, when I’m studying a passage, and I come up with an idea I can’t find in a commentary, I check another commentary. If I can’t find it after checking a couple, I move on. As much as I want to share new ideas with the people I teach, I want to get it right.
The problem for most people is that commentaries can be kind of expensive. Here are a couple solutions:
First, John Calvin has written commentaries on just about every book of the Bible. His commentaries are available online for free. They are not super easy to understand, but they are a great place to start if you don’t have another option available to you. You can find them here: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/commentaries.i.html
Another great solution is to simply make sure the commentaries you are purchasing are worth having. Before I buy just about any commentary, I check bestcommentaries.com. There you can find a list of commentaries for every book of the Bible. Each commentary is rated with info on how helpful it is to people with different purposes.
Because the Bible is worth getting right, I would encourage you to begin investing in commentaries as you work to understand the Bible.
Oh yeah. And pray. Maybe, we should have started there. God’s Spirit who dwells inside every believer works in us, so we can understand God’s word. Jesus is God’s revelation to us — he is all the revelation we need (Hebrews 1:1-3). The Bible about 1,500 years of God-breathed words telling us about Jesus. God’s Spirit illuminates that revelation, so we can understand who Jesus is and how to follow him at the deepest part of who we are. So, anytime you open your Bible, pray. Ask God to cause his Spirit to use those words to change you at your very core, so you can be a disciple of Jesus and a disciple-maker.
And, as you pray, please pray for me. When I read the Bible God uses his words not just to instruct me, but to instruct hundreds of other people.
God’s word is rich. It is active in every believer by his Spirit, so read it, understand it and let God’s Spirit change you.
When it comes to God, your story matters. Because, let’s be honest, your story colors how you see God. Over the next few weeks I’m going to blog and release some YouTube videos about my story. I will be asking questions to help you think about your story and how it relates to God. I’d love to hear from you via comments, email or, better yet, your own videos of your story because it’s great to tell your story in your own voice.
My story begins…
My story begins at church. I remember crawling around a toddler Sunday School class in my cowboy boots in Columbus, Ohio. Those are good memories. They are about friends and adults who cared about me and about Bible stories. I learned about Noah and his boat full of animals, Moses parting the Red Sea, Joseph and his coat of many colors, King David and Elijah who prayed for God to send fire down from heaven. All of these stories were about God’s greatness, and I learned them in an environment of genuine love and compassion.
Church was fun, too. I remember best friends. I remember pinewood derbies. I remember breakfasts and basketball practices where men from the church let me be one of the guys before I was even eight years old. Music was a big deal. I remember singing in children’s choirs. I remember performing musicals. I remember standing next to my dad listening to him sing songs of faith at the top of his lungs.
Then, there was sin. That’s the dark part of life. The brokenness of being human. When you grow up around church you don’t mind talking about it, though. It starts as something like a news headline: “King David disobeyed God.” Then, over the years it becomes more personal. I remember one Sunday in 1984 when as an eight-year-old it became real to me. As I sat next to my dad listening to our pastor teach, I realized that I had sinned. That day everything changed. I realized sin is a personal thing. I realized I would face God’s wrath for my sin unless I trusted in Jesus.
That’s when the rubber hit the road. All those stories I had been taught by all those caring adults converged on that moment. I felt the emotional weight of all the wrong things I’d done — from the mundane to the unspeakable. I knew it was time to decide. But, I’m a slow decider. (Even though I was only eight years old) For the next week I thought about the gravity of trusting in Jesus and choosing to follow him the rest of my life. I wanted it, but I knew it was a serious decision, so I took it seriously.
The following Sunday I decided it was time. At the end of the church service, I walked to the front of the church. One of the pastors led me in a prayer to tell God I was ready to trust in Jesus. And, everything changed for me.
Then, junior high happened, but that’s the next chapter…
What about your story?
Where did your story begin? Who started it with you?
How did you begin to think about God? Who was a part of that chapter of your life?
Where did your story intersect with God? Did you decide to trust in him? Why or why not?
Welcome to this week’s Sunday Review. My wife, Shelly, and I were out this Sunday, but I have heard great things about what took place while we were gone. In this Sunday Review, Pete will take a look at this past Sunday with me. Pete will take a few minutes to talk about his message. Then, I’ll share some upcoming events and let you know what to expect next Sunday. After you have taken a few minutes to watch the video, let us know if you have any thoughts. Pete and I would love to discuss them with you.
God on Politics – God’s heart and your voice in our nation
Are you ever overwhelmed by the world of politics? Do you get tired head when you try to figure out how (or if) your vote really counts? Or do you feel like everyone in washington makes decisions for their power and their pocketbook, so why does it really matter who is in office?
As a GenXer all these thoughts have crossed my mind. And, to be honest, I have probably missed out on opportunities to express myself in our political process because it all just seems so hopeless. Pretty sad for a pastor, right? Ten years ago John Mayer expressed our GenX hearts pretty well when he wrote:
Now we see everything that’s going wrong with the world and those who lead it. We just feel like we don’t have the means to rise above and beat it, So we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change. (If you haven’t heard it, it’s a pretty interesting tune.)
I think though, GenXers, it’s time for us to step up to the plate. As a new generation younger than us enters the workforce and adulthood (Did you know we will be outnumbered 2 to 1 by Millennials in the workforce soon?), it’s time for us to begin leaving our mark – especially those of us following Christ. So, what would Christ have us do?
With thanks to those who have come before us – from our founders to our defenders to the generations of Americans who have shaped our nation for the past two hundred years – we have a very special opportunity. We are free to pray, worship, organize, gather and vote according to our conscience. Beginning next Sunday, February 7th, we will be talking about how God expects us to put these liberties into practice to impact our nation and the ends of the earth with the message of Christ’s love.