Be Devoted to One Another

Posted by on 12 Mar 2012 | Tagged as: One Another

I suppose I don’t have to make a very strong argument to convince anyone that we live in a selfish culture. Whether you’ve lost your job or home or whether you have recently tried to fill your car’s gas tank, you have felt the bite of our greedy, selfish culture.

Unfortunately, the church doesn’t seem to be immune. I remember a story from my Bible college days about a church that split over what kind of donuts they served each Sunday morning, powdered sugar versus glazed. While that sounds like an urban legend–and I hope that it is–I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out that it is true. People in churches argue about some pretty inconsequential things, like paint colors, coffee, carpeting. We argue about things that are, perhaps, more important, like Bible school curriculum and styles of music.

It’s nothing new. The early church had arguments about feeding widows, dietary laws, and circumcision. Even our brotherhood of churches–which was formed to restore the unity and example of the New Testament church–split over music, how to support missionaries, and even the deity of Christ and the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Obviously, there are some things that are worthy of discussion and perhaps even arguments, but clearly there are things about which we should not argue.

Personal preferences must be put aside, period. Paul wrote in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” The next verse gives us our top priority: serving the Lord. So everything else is secondary. To be honest, there is just too much work to be done in the Kingdom to worry about our own personal preferences. Is it OK to have preferences? Sure, but those preferences should never take precedence over actual worship, evangelism, prayer, discipleship, etc. Those preferences should never be the deciding factor when it comes to whether you will serve or participate in any given ministry opportunity of the church.

The life and activity of the church should reflect the one who sacrificed everything for us selfish people. When it comes to serving God, we must devote ourselves not to ourselves but to each other so that others might benefit from our sacrifices and ultimately Jesus’ sacrifice.

Meet with One Another

Posted by on 27 Feb 2012 | Tagged as: One Another

The core of any church’s ministry is relationships. Our vision is to be a family of disciples of Jesus who make more disciples, and our strategy for doing that is to connect people to God and other people, to grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus, and to serve like Jesus. All of that depends upon our abilities to form and nurture relationships, and that means we must meet together.

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us in this saying, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” This is the verse that we like to use to convince people that they to be in church on Sunday mornings (and yes, you really ought to be here), but the verse should convince us that our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ is of eternal importance.

Initially, the writer of Hebrews points out that meeting together is a matter of encouraging one another. Then he amplifies this by referring to “the Day,” when Jesus will return; in other words, as Jesus’ return gets closer, we should encourage each other even more. And to do that, he says, we must meet together.

Do you need more encouragement these days? Who doesn’t? God knows that we need encouragement in our faith and in our daily lives; he knows it because he made us for relationships. Acts 2:46 tells us that the early church met together daily, both in the temple courts and in their homes. They ate together, and they praised together. Verses 44, 45 say that they even shared everything they owned in common and that gave to anyone who had needs. That’s encouragement.

Since we know that we need encouragement and since we know that every moment Jesus’ return is closer, shouldn’t we work on meeting together more? If we look at the attendance figures, we can see that are starting to form bad habits of not meeting together. Let’s reverse the trend and meet together to encourage each other. By all means, make it a habit to worship together on Sunday morning, but also try to meet with smaller groups, both in the church in study groups and outside the church in home-based groups. The Day is coming; let’s be ready!

Encourage One Another!

Posted by on 13 Feb 2012 | Tagged as: One Another

Depending upon your resources, common wisdom says that it takes between six and ten weeks to form a habit. For those whose New Year’s resolutions have led them to try to form some better habits, you’re hitting that “sweet spot,” which means your efforts are probably swinging wildly between success and failure. Those who are trying to get more exercise are finding it easier to get outside these days, but that’s unusual for this time of year; normally we’re starting to feel that edginess that comes with mid-winter “cabin fever.” This reminds me of a quote from that famous writer, Author Unknown: “The only exercise some people get is jumping to conclusions, running down their friends, side-stepping responsibility, and pushing their luck!”

It’s not just the winter blahs that make us a little cranky; sometimes we just get on each other’s nerves. It’s understandable; you know what people are like, right? It’s especially true about families, even church families. Unfortunately, what could be simple human nature all too easily becomes a bad habit of complaining about others. James 5:9 says: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.” There are many ways that we interact with each other that might cause our personalities, our backgrounds, or our skills and knowledge to come in conflict with each other, but God’s Word tells us that we must not let those disagreements turn into grumbling or complaining about each other.

Rather, we should take Paul’s advice from 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” What I like most about this statement is that Paul is encouraging his readers to be encouraging. In addition to that, he points out that his readers already have a habit of encouraging and building each other up. That’s what the church should be like, brothers and sisters encouraging each other as God continues to transform us and as we work together to share the Good News of salvation and transformation through Jesus. Keep up the good work; keep building those good habits; and keep on encouraging each other as we all continue to grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus.

Be Accountable to One Another

Posted by on 30 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: One Another

Did you make any resolutions for the new year? About this time, many people who have made New Year’s resolutions are finding it very difficult to keep their resolutions. We’re a few weeks into the new year, and the changes we made on January 1 are starting to wear thin. Perhaps you’re not sticking to the new diet or the new exercise regimen. Perhaps your new budget is slipping. Perhaps you have already gotten behind on your plan to read the Bible in a year. Whatever your goals might be, the first two months are often the most difficult because you’re trying to develop new habits.

Life change is difficult, especially when you’re trying to make changes on your own. I’m sure most of us understand that we need to trust God when it comes to making changes in our lives, but it seems that many of us don’t understand that we really need to get other people involved in our lives to help us make changes.

James 5:16 tells us, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Sure, James mentions confessing sins to each other so we can pray for each other, but really, who among us is willing to share our sins when we hesitate to share the rest of our lives with others?

While only God can truly affect change in our lives, it’s pretty clear that we are responsible to help each other through those changes. Even when God makes changes in our lives, we need not only to confess our sins to each other but to encourage each other when we have triumphed over our struggles, when we have resisted temptation.

While we head into the last few weeks of developing habits to change the way we live–to God’s glory, right?–let us help each other by holding each other accountable. Let’s get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ in such a way that we can work through the struggles of a new diet, so that we can become more regular in our exercise routines, so that we can become more faithful in our Bible study habits.

Love One Another

Posted by on 16 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: One Another

The first church was an “unusual” group of people. Acts 2:44-47 says that “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

They were unusual, at least in my mind, because they had a sense of community that is uncommon today. Christians are known widely for their generosity and love, but this kind of community is rare, even among Christians. For the most part, we do not meet together daily, sharing meals regularly, sharing our possessions as if they were not our own. Our culture would find this strange behavior, and we are likely to agree. As much as we might love our brothers and sisters in Christ, most of us like to protect “our space.”

Perhaps it’s our understanding of what it means to love one another, as Jesus commanded in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This has to be important to Jesus; he repeats the command in John 15:12, 17. How did Jesus love us? Sacrificially. He loved us to the point of dying for us.

While I’m not expecting any of us to encounter circumstances where we might have the choice of dying for our brothers and sisters in Christ, I know that there are other circumstances in life when we might have the opportunity to love sacrificially. Paul explains it like this in Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Generosity is often an expression of our love out of the excess of what we have; sacrificial love gives regardless of what we have, as if to our own family, as if the other person is more important than ourselves.

In this new year, let us work on loving each other in this way. Let us make Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 our prayer for the year: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

Jesus Was a Gift of Love

Posted by on 19 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

It’s often when we’re celebrating Christmas that I consider how content we have become with receiving God’s gift of salvation and eternal life through Jesus. We should certainly celebrate the gift of God’s grace through Jesus, but if that’s as far as we understand it, then we certainly need to consider how to be more like Jesus and focus less on ourselves.

John 3:16 makes it clear that Jesus was a gift of love, but God’s gift was not meant solely to be received; it was meant to be shared. Jesus told his disciples in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Just as Jesus was a gift of God’s love for the world, so we must be gifts of God’s love to the world.

That must begin within the church, among our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s easy to love God, the one who gives us extravagant gifts, but that should lead us to love others: “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:21). Every Christian should have a deep sense of love and kinship with other Christians, knowing that God has done for others what he has done for each of us. It is because of God’s gift to every Christian that we should, as Paul writes in Philippians 2:3, “value others above yourselves.”

We should also be God’s gift of love to the world outside the church. Although we have claimed God’s gift through faith, God gave his gift to the world: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). If we have accepted God’s gift, then we are also expected to share that gift, and John tells us that in order for us to do that we must be more like Jesus: “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus” (1 John 4:17).

As God’s children who have received the gift of salvation and eternal life through Jesus, we should celebrate the birth of Jesus. Let us also remember Jesus’ words that Paul tells us in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Celebrate God’s gift by sharing it with others.

Jesus Brought Grace and Truth

Posted by on 05 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

Did you survive “Black Friday”? The so-called start of the Christmas shopping season began as it has for the past few years, with breaking news stories about lines/mobs of anxious, if not angry, people who were willing to push, shove, kick, punch, gouge, trample, and even pepper spray anyone around them just so they can get the stuff they want–all in the name of celebrating Christmas (whether they recognize the birth of Jesus or not). Clearly someone has missed the point.

As he begins to explain the arrival of Jesus, the apostle John tells us in John 1:17 that “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” If we are celebrating the birth of the one who brought grace and truth, surely we should not be having knock-down, drag-out fights over cheap TVs. While I didn’t see anyone I know on the news throwing punches in the aisles of the local big-box stores, I know that many of us struggle with the idea of “peace on earth” during this holiday season. So, how can we be more like Jesus while we’re shopping for gifts, preparing for guests, and traveling to see friends and relatives? We need to focus on the grace and truth that Jesus brought.

Generally, we understand the truth that all of us are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and that the only way we can receive that forgiveness is by God’s grace, as a gift from God; this is why we exchange gifts as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Perhaps we have forgotten some of the nuances of the word grace, the ideas of joy, beauty, pleasure, charm, and loveliness. The Greek word translated as grace in the New Testament carries these images with it; not only is God’s grace a gift, it is a gift that brings joy.

Do we, as God’s children who have received that gift, reflect the joy that comes with God’s grace? Are you generous in your giving? Are you pleasant as you interact with store clerks? Are you charming despite your disappointment when what you want isn’t in stock or while you are waiting in seemingly endless lines? Does our celebration of Christmas show others the grace and truth that Jesus brought? Our culture has taken God’s perfect gift and buried the joy that comes with it under flashing lights and ribbons and door-buster sales. We don’t have to let it stay that way. Let’s reclaim the joy of God’s grace and celebrate the birth of Jesus so that others may experience that joy as well.

Jesus Gave Thanks

Posted by on 21 Nov 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, most people begin to consider everything for which they are thankful: family, friends, jobs, homes, health, and more. This is certainly the right attitude, one that ought to permeate our daily lives.

This attitude of thankfulness is also found in the Jewish celebration of Passover, which commemorates God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. It is a celebration that helps Jews remember what God has done for his people, surely a time to be thankful. As a Jew, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, reminding them of God’s deliverance in the past.

It was in the context of this celebration and remembrance that Jesus instituted the Last Supper. Matthew 26:26-28 says that “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”

While the disciples remembered that God had freed his people from physical slavery, Jesus gave thanks. But I think that there’s an element of Jesus’ thankfulness that looks to the future. Jesus knew that he was about to be sacrificed in order to free his people spiritually, and despite the pain and suffering he would soon experience, he gave thanks.

If we continue to pray that God would make us more like Jesus, we should also give thanks the way Jesus did. We have the responsibility to remember what God has done for us, freeing us from our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus, and for that we must give thanks. We also have the privilege of giving thanks for what God will do for us in the future.

As we gather with our families and friends to give thanks for what God has given us, let us not forget to give thanks for what God has done for us through Jesus. Let us give thanks for what God continues to do through us, bringing others into God’s kingdom. Let us give thanks for what God will do in the future, gathering us to heaven to be with him forever.

Jesus Taught Others

Posted by on 31 Oct 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

I am thankful for the people among us who are teachers in our Bible school classes, our Adult Bible Fellowship groups, our elective classes, and smaller groups. I am thankful that so many of them take additional time out of their already hectic weeks to prepare and teach lessons so that our children, teens, and adults can learn from God’s Word. It’s a job that has high expectations (James 3:1 says teachers will be judged more strictly), and it often comes with little recognition. Although our teachers do not expect recognition, I am often remiss in my appreciation of their dedication and efforts. So, thanks to all of our teachers; I do appreciate you and your work!

It’s just that I’d like to add to the ranks of our teachers. While I know that not all of us are gifted to be teachers (Romans 12:7) and that not all of us are called to be teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28, 29), I believe that all of us are called to teach in one way or another. If we are to be more like Jesus, then we need to develop a habit of teaching others. In Mark 10:1, it says about Jesus that “crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.” In addition to becoming more like Jesus, we must be obedient to Jesus, who said in Matthew 28:20 that making disciples involves “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

While I would love to have more people called to be teachers in our Bible study programs Sunday morning and throughout the week, I know that not all of us are called or gifted in that way. However, we can all teach others. Parents must teach their children (Deuteronomy 6). Older men and women must teach younger generations (Titus 2:2, 3). Leaders must teach within the body of believers (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24). In Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Regardless of your role, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to teach. Let’s do it together.

Jesus Lived Love

Posted by on 27 Sep 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

As I mentioned in my sermon on September 25, we are God’s children. Of all the things I said, I glossed over one key point that I took for granted: as God’s children, we must love each other. If we want to live as God’s children, we ought to focus very specifically on being more like Jesus, especially when it comes to the way he lived in love.

In Ephesians 5:1, 2 Paul wrote, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Again, Paul reminds us that we are God’s children, and he encourages us to “live a life of love,” giving us Jesus as the example of how to do that.

Jesus’ example of love is a matter of self-sacrifice. Paul tells us that Jesus loved us, and because of that, he offered himself as a sacrifice to God. Obviously, Jesus’ love for us led him to the cross, where he became the ultimate sacrifice. But how did he live a life of sacrificial love?

Jesus interacted with the unlovable—the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers—and that didn’t help his reputation with the religious leaders of his day. Jesus answered questions from people who were trying to undermine his ministry, which often led to further opposition. Jesus spoke the truth, even when people didn’t want to hear it. Everything Jesus said and did was for the benefit of other people, even though it eventually led him to his death.

As we try to be more like Jesus, let us live lives of sacrificial love. Our service to God doesn’t always have to be a matter of preaching or teaching the Bible; in fact, our opportunities outside of the church are likely going to be greater than inside the church. If we really want to reach the world and share the Good News about salvation through Jesus, we’re going to have to “advertise” Jesus’ love by living it out ourselves.

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