Opportunities Like Never Before…

We have almost completed the first week of the new year. Tomorrow begins the first full work-week of 2019, and for many of us, life will return to a sense of normalcy after the long holiday period. Usually the weeks around Christmas and New Years are characterized by reflection, evaluation, and goals for the future. I know this has been on our mind here at Kettering as we began our new curriculum year last month and have focused on self-evaluation, etc. I expect most of us have taken a hard look at where we are spiritually and have resolved to strengthen what is weak and cultivate our strengths as we move into a new year.

Your opportunities for spiritual growth abound … like never before … in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago.

While the Bible remains the same, its availability to us grows every day. Chances are that you own a smart phone, and if you do it is likely you have the Bible wherever you go. If you have a Bible app installed you are literally seconds away from accessing God’s word. Task and calendar programs can be set up to automatically remind you of reading a passage, taking time out to pray, or intentionally scheduling five minutes of quiet time for reflection and meditation. Some programs will even read your selected text for you, allowing you to take in God’s word in the car, on your bike, or while you’re walking. Putting these things into practice may involve some changes, like getting up thirty minutes earlier each day, or actually putting the reminders in your mobile device. (If you don’t have a Bible app already and use an iOS device, see me for what app I use and recommend.)

In your email inBox this morning, you have already received the Daily Bible Reading Schedule for this week. It contains a short devotional written by Gary Henry that sets the tone and direction for the week. Every Monday through Friday you will receive a short reminder detailing that day’s reading, the key point to consider, discussion questions if you choose to have a devotional with your family, and a short reading from the wisdom literature. (If you’re not into email, a paper copy of the schedule will be printed every week and left inside the front entryway.)

One of the best ways to facilitate your personal spiritual growth is to be in the word … outside of the worship assembly and Bible class. Resolve today to make this a top priority as you focus the new year.

How the Early Church Endured Adversity

There are multiple forces working to suppress and even harass believers who exercise their faith in the public arena. Going forward, we will have to exercise wisdom and discernment in order to interact effectively inside the growing new reality. 

We are not the first generation to experience hostility. How did the early Christians handle adversity? The Letter to Diognetus is dated to ~130 AD. It was written by someone who used the name Mathetes (not a proper name but the Greek word for disciple). Scholars believe it was either a personal letter written to defend the Christian faith or a formal written defense to a judge. Whoever the author was, he identifies himself as a “disciple of the apostles.” In Chapter 5 he describes the behavior of the early Christians living with the unpleasant reality of mistreatment and persecution:

They obey the laws that men make, but their lives are better than the laws. They love all men, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, yet are more alive than ever. They are paupers, but they make many rich. They lack all things, and yet in all things they abound. They are dishonored, yet glory in their dishonor. They are maligned, and yet are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless. They suffer insult, yet they pay respect. They do good, yet are punished with the wicked. When they are punished, they rejoice, as though they were getting more of life. They are attacked by the Jews as Gentiles and are persecuted by the Greeks, yet those who hate them can give no reason for their hatred.

Walsh, Gerald G. “Letter to Diognetus.” The Apostolic Fathers. Translated by Francis X. Glimm, Joseph M.-F. Marique, and Gerald G. Walsh. Vol. 1. The Fathers of the Church. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1947.

What a great testimony to the faith and steadfastness of the early church! May we resolve to remain true to God and His word no matter how society’s perceptions and actions regarding Christianity change. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life, Revelation 2.10.

We Rejoice in the Hope of God

The opening verses of Romans 5 are some of the most beloved of Paul’s writing. Here, Paul is bringing to conclusion the first section of his letter, where he makes the stunning assertion that salvation is by faith and not by a system of law. We are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 3.24. Because of this fact, Paul makes the following conclusions in the opening verses of chapter 5:

  • we have peace with God.
  • We have access to the grace in which we stand.
  • We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which will not put us to shame.You can entrust your soul with God. He will not let you down.
  • We enjoy the love of God, which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

This is just amazing language. And to think that it applies to those who were once ungodly sinners and enemies of God, 5.6-10. His love is inexplicable and defies human logic. Over and over again, God’s word proclaims this marvelous fact.

As you pause from your normal routine this week, be sure to give thanks for the grace in which you now stand. Because Jesus came, you have received grace after grace, John 1.16. You are literally engulfed in it. His grace did not stop at the cross. You live in it everyday. His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, Lamentations 3.22b-23a. It was Isaiah who wrote, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be come like wool, Isaiah 1.18. Our sins have been forgiven and we stand before Him pure, righteous, and holy.

Where would we be without Jesus? He is the one who fuels our life with hope. If you haven’t received these promises, can we help you? It would be our greatest privilege and honor to share the good news of the gospel with you.

All Stress is not Bad

During December our sermons will attempt to take a sweeping view of our society and the church. How do things look? How are we handling the troubling things we see? What are some things that make us nervous about the future?

One thing that ranks high on the list is the number of stressed and burned out lives. Think about yourself for a moment. How would you describe the level of stress you’re feeling right now? Most likely the stressors you are coping with come from several different areas of your life. How are you responding to that stress?

While today’s sermon will focus mostly on the sinful type of worry and stress that overtakes and dominates one’s life to the point of debilitation, we need to remember that in and of themselves, stress and pressure are not necessarily bad. In fact, they are God-given things that can cause us each to lead a responsible life. Stress and pressure can actually strengthen us to accomplish the challenges God sets before us.

This is the type of pressure we can handle and must manage. In 2 Corinthians 11.28-29 Paul writes of the daily internal pressure of anxiety for all the churches. He was concerned for those who were weak. He cared when people were led into sin. The NCV translates 11.29 this way: I feel weak every time someone is weak. I feel upset every time someone is led into sin. Being concerned for the spiritual welfare of others is just one example of the stress we can feel.

Stress that motivates us to positive change is also observed in 2 Corinthians 13.5 when Paul challenges Christians to self examination and the quality of their faith. I’m sure you’ve already filled out the chart on p. 6-7 of this year’s Vision 2019 plan. How did you score? What are the areas of greatest concern? Where are you most spiritually vulnerable? Your desire to do right before God will probably make you uncomfortable when you think deeply on these things. Let that feeling of discomfort and stress motivate you to make the right changes.

This is stress and pressure from a positive perspective. We all need to feel it, respond appropriately, and participate with God who is at work in us, Philippians 2.13. This is how we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It is the combination of our faith and actions.

What are the areas of life you need to work on? What is your plan of action? When will you act?

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 3.18.

Decrease Self. Increase Christ.

Put off your old self, …and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self.

– Ephesians 4.22-23 

How can we become more successful in conquering the flesh and our selfish wants and desires?

Cease to make excuses. The moment that some defense mechanism comes into play, recognize it, and ask yourself: Why am I letting this upset me?

Practice self-examination. For a moment, reflect on how self enters into everything you do. It influences our actions, work, conduct, dress, appearance,..everything! Do you need to increase your personal discipline and moments of self-examination? In writing about himself, Paul said, I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified, 1 Corinthians 9.27. We must realize how much misery is traced back to love of self. Recall your moments of unhappiness and irritability. Self is the main cause of unhappiness in this life!

Measure yourself against Christ’s standard. Philippians 2.5-7 teaches that Jesus “emptied” Himself. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. How did Jesus “make himself nothing?” Jesus told those who follow Him, I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me, John 5.30. He was totally concerned with serving His Father. Let that be the case for yourself.

Perhaps no greater example of Jesus’ commitment to the interests of others over that of himself is seen while He was on the cross. While suspended in air—spikes driven through His hands and feet—he prayed Father, forgive them for they know not what they do, Luke 23.34. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, 1 Peter 2.21-24.

Jesus set the standard that we are to follow. How are you doing? Make the commitment to decrease self and increase Christ. Have you put the wishes of the Savior above your own? 

A Greater Appreciation for the Word of God

A true Christian runs to hear the word of God.

Of his own will he brought us froth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures, James 1.18. As God’s children each of us have experienced the tremendous power of the word of God in it’s conviction and saving power. Think back to the time when pure gospel preaching moved you to action. You were hungry. You couldn’t get enough teaching. Classes were exciting and worship was exhilarating. 

Wednesday evening after Bible class, Jim Grushon Sr. and I were talking. He mentioned the feeling he had the morning after his baptism. As he walked into work later that day and ran into the guy who shared the gospel with him, he asked, “How long does this feeling last?” 

His friend replied, “As long as you remain close to the Word.”

I like that. Every member at Kettering should understand the power of the word in producing salvation. Now, the imperative is for each of us to let it continue to do it’s powerful work. James 1.19a tells us how we do that. We need to be quick to hear. 

The idea is that we grasp every opportunity to increase our hearing of God’s word. True Christians run to hear the word of God. They long to read it. They want to learn it. How is your hunger? Do you long to grow? How is your appetite for the word?

This is the mark of the believer. If you observe a person who has no desire to be under the teaching of God, chances are that you’ll see a person who does not demonstrate what it means to be a true Christian.

As a member at Kettering, you have tremendous opportunities to dive into the word. Besides Sunday, you can participate in a Bible class at least three other days of the week. Devotionals and group studies are on the schedule. There will be a men’s retreat next weekend and the ladies hold monthly studies. These events are designed to challenge you and wet your appetite for deeper personal study. Can you say along with the Psalmist: Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart, Psalm 119.111.

Do Good to Everyone

Doing good is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22) and is the natural result of allowing God to shape our heart. In Galatians 6.8 Paul said that we will reap eternal life when we allow acts of service to characterize who we are. 

What are some good things you can do? For those inside and outside of the church? Here are ten simple suggestions (in no particular order):

  1. Romans 12.10 – help your familythe ones you need to serve the most are often the ones closest to you.
  2. 1 Peter 4.10-11 – volunteer to serve in your spiritual family – what spiritual gifts do you possess that you can use in service to others?
  3. Matthew 25.36 – donate items to the needy – you probably have clothes and other possessions you don’t need that someone else could use.
  4. 1 Thessalonians 5.11 – send someone an encouraging note – use the church directory to identify someone you think could use an uplifting message of support and hope.
  5. Acts 20.35 – deliver a meal – someone may be going through a difficult time and really appreciate this act of kindness.
  6. Hebrews 13.16 – watch someone’s kids – give a young mother a break.
  7. Philippians 2.3 – help others shine – build them up and applaud their efforts.
  8. James 1.19 – listen – make a world of difference in someone’s life by allowing them to just talk and express how they feel.
  9. Proverbs 11.24-25 – pay it forward – your act of kindness might just come at the right moment for someone else.
  10. Galatians 6.9 – every day of your life is an opportunity to do good – sometimes the best acts of kindness are spontaneous and do not have to make a powerful difference in someone else’s life.

We can all demonstrate the love of Christ. How are you doing? Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor, Romans 12.10.

The Loneliest Generation

Three weeks ago National Public Radio reported on a survey about loneliness which was conducted by one of America’s leading health insurance companies. Over 20,000 adults were contacted. Nearly 50% of respondents reported that “they feel alone” or “left out always or sometimes.” 54% said they “always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well.” 56% said they “sometimes or always felt like the people around them are not necessarily with them.” 40% felt like “they lack companionship,” and that their “relationships aren’t meaningful” and that they are “isolated from others.” The survey suggests that most Americans are considered lonely. 

Along with this comes additional data suggesting that the younger a person is, the more he/she is considered to be lonely. Generation Z, born between the mid-1990’s and the early 2000’s, ranks the highest, followed by millennials and baby boomers. The Greatest Generation, people age 72 and above, were the least likely to be lonely. (Statistics for Generation X, born between the mid-1960’s and early 80’s, were not mentioned.) The study, by San Diego State University, “suggests that more screen time and social media may have caused a rise in depression and suicide among American adolescents. Those who spend less time looking at screens and more time having face-to-face social interactions are less likely to be depressive or suicidal.

Perhaps, like at no time in recent memory in the USA, there is a great opportunity for God’s church. What does salvation through Jesus provide? Not only pardon from sin and eternal hope, but true companionship and genuine relationships with real people coping with real problems just like us. When we share Jesus we want people to know they are going to get to connect with some of the finest people on earth who want to share their life with others. Not perfect people mind you, but those who are eager to do life together along with other believers.

When we have a scare with our health, we’re not alone. When one chapter of life ends and another begins, there are those along beside who have been there and done that. If we lose our job, suffer through financial difficulty, struggle with our kids, or cope with growing older, there is someone in our spiritual family who can help. God has placed the church in your life for a purpose. He designed it to be a place of refuge, comfort, and hope. Paul said, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patience with everyone, 1 Thessalonians 5.11, 14. You don’t have to go through life alone. When you have God’s family in your life, loneliness won’t be a problem. How strong is your connection to the church? 

For more, see https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/05/01/606588504/americans-are-a-lonely-lot-and-young-people-bear-the-heaviest-burden 

When You Face Temptation

Recently, I preached a series of lessons from Ephesians 6.10-17. This is where Paul is wrapping up the letter to the Ephesians. He began by writing about the marvelous salvation we have been given. God lavished His grace on us (1.8). God made us alive together with Christ (2.5). Our new life is a product of God’s work, not our own (2.8-10). All of this is according to His incredible plan which has been revealed to us through His apostles (3.9-10). He has endowed us with great power (3.20).

Since all these things are true, we have been called to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called (4.1). We are expected to live inside our new identity (5.8-10) and to be filled with the Spirit (5.18-21). We need to know our spiritual walk will not be easy. In fact, we should expect resistance from:

  • Our flesh, Galatians 5.17.
  • The world, John 15.18-19.
  • Satan, Ephesians 6.11-12.

So what do we do? How can we win on a day-to-day basis? How can we stand firm as Paul directs in Ephesians 6.13? Here are five helpful suggestions I recently ran across in my sermon prep:

  1. Remember that Satan has already been defeated. Through His work on the cross, Jesus has dealt a mortal blow to Satan. Jesus came to destroy Satan’s work, 1 John 3.8.
  2. Remember that the power that defeated Satan is dwelling in you. He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world, 1 John 4.4b. Look again at what Paul writes in Ephesians 3.20. Are you accessing this power?
  3. Realize that you can successfully resist Satan. 1 Peter 5.8 begins with two admonition: Be sober-minded and be watchful. The adversary is real. His intention is real. Therefore, when he comes, resist him, firm in your faith (5.9). You can resist by not giving him an opportunity (Ephesians 4.27). What does that passage imply? If Satan has gained opportunity over you, it is because you failed to resist. So, don’t be outwitted by Satan and don’t be ignorant of his designs, 2 Corinthians 2.11.
  4. Flee the temptation. Flee youthful temptations and pursue righteousness…calling on the Lord with a pure heart, 2 Timothy 2.22.
  5. Bring every thought into captivity, 2 Corinthians 10.5. We need to allow our mind to be controlled by the will of God. It has been said that there are no shortcuts to effective, victorious Christian living. If you’re going to win, you must have a mind that has been given over to the word of God so that your thinking and feelings are controlled by spiritual truth.

You can win against temptation. What is your battle plan going forward?

When Words Aren’t Necessary

We’re doing a study on Christian fellowship this quarter. Today, I spent time in Romans 12.15-16 and mainly focused on the second part of 12.15: Weep with those who weep.

Following through on this can be extremely difficult and unpleasant. I don’t know of anyone who is ever excited to run out and cry with someone as they roll through a situation that’s full of grief, betrayal, or extreme pain and sorrow. But, I do know from personal experience what it means for the person who is going through difficulty.

Last week, I was called to help out with a family in our community whose son drowned in the Little Miami River. When I arrived, the mother, two sisters, and a brother were gathered around their car in the parking lot. The emergency trucks and their flashing lights could be seen across the field next to the river bank. The young man’s youngest sister was unconsolable. Everyone else was just staring at the emergency personnel who were going back and forth. They were in stunned disbelief. Also gathered were three teens who jumped in the river to try to save the victim. They almost drowned in the swift muddy water trying to pull him out. One in particular, still barefoot with sand all over his legs and feet, kept holding out his hands as he replayed the events in his mind. What do you say in such a situation? Nothing. You just give a hug where you can and let them know you care.

I am reminded of the story of Job, whose deep and grave trouble came upon him suddenly and with no expectation. Not only did he lose all his material possessions and offspring (Job 1), he lost his health (Job 2.1-10). Upon hearing this, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to comfort him. We read:

“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

(Job 2:11–13, ESV)

What is said here is very moving. Just read the words slowly and let them sink in:

  • Job’s condition was so bad, they did not recognize him.
  • His suffering was very great.
  • When they saw him, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads…
  • They sat with Job on the ground, …and no one spoke a word to him.

Sometimes, all you can do is be there. The grief is so overwhelming, astonishing, and stupefying, that no words are adequate. In these situations, there is a reverential awe with which we approach the sufferer and a tender caution with which we address them. It is almost as if any words spoken would be out of place.

The only thing that matters, is your presence.

Last Saturday, I had another opportunity to visit with the family who lost their son. When I walked in, the mom said, “I don’t remember your name, but I do remember your face.” And you know, I realized at that moment she wouldn’t have remembered any words I would have said the previous Tuesday night. But she did know that I was there. And, as we talked on Saturday, you could tell it meant quite a lot.

Never forget that your presence in such situations speaks to them in a language which they cannot but understand and feel. And that, is far more powerful than any carefully crafted words of persuasion could ever be.

“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor,” (1 Corinthians 10:24, ESV).