Absent or Present
Sun, Nov 17, 2019
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him. - Esther 1:10-12 (ESV) Do you ever look around this world and wonder where God is in all of this? Does it feel like he is absent? Or maybe He just doesn't care? It's not an uncommon feeling even among honest Christians. Did you know there is a book of the Bible where God is absent. It's the only one where He is never even mentioned. This Sunday, I'm happy to have Jonathan Haefs with us. He is the pastor of Shades Valley Community Church in Birmingham. It's our sister EFCA church in the state. This Sunday he will be with you to open up the book of Esther. In this book God is unseen and unspoken. But is He uninvolved? What might this narrative tell us about our day? And what might it encourage us to consider when we feel like He isn't here?
Gospel Doxology
Sun, Nov 10, 2019
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. - Romans 16:25-27 (ESV) It's not how you start, but how you finish. This week, we finish an almost 2 year-long journey though the book of Romans. As we have unfolded this book we have seen the glories of the gospel and its implications. What have you learned along the way? What has impacted you? As Paul closes the book, he wants his readers to return to those themes and the God who revealed them. If you feel tired this week is for you. He wants you to find strength not in a new method or secret strategy but in a familiar truth. Take a few minutes to read the closing chapter of Romans, chapter 16.
Enemies and Friends
Sun, Nov 03, 2019
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. - Romans 16:17-18 (ESV) Ever play the game 2 Truths & A Lie? In this party game, you go around a circle and one person says 2 things about themselves that are true about themselves and one 'truth'. The goal is to figure out who are the best liars. It's a fun game and a great ice breaker. This same game is not fun when it comes to the gospel, but often times that is how error creeps in. Things sound good. The person is eloquent. So what they say has to be true. Right? As Paul draws the book of Romans to a close he sounds a warning. WATCH OUT! He wants the Romans (and us) to be on alert. He lays out the dangers and motives of false teachers. Take a few minutes to read through Romans 16 as we finish up this book. Also, I'd love to hear about the things in this book that have impacted you!
Greetings from Corinth
Sun, Oct 27, 2019
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. - Romans 16:16 (ESV) One of the traditions of Hope during our gathered worship is to have scripture read by an individual from the congregation. (BTW: If you would like to read I'm always looking for folks.) It's great to hear God's Word together. One consistent question I've heard when I ask is, 'Does this passage have any weird names or places in it? And if so, can you help me figure out how to pronounce them?' That's one of the reasons we won't have anyone read the passage we are going to look at this week. It is filled with names. It's a passage we might easily skip or skim when we are reading. This passage has for us some encouragement as we consider it together. Paul is closing his letter and he has a few commendations and encouragements and hellos to pass along. In the midst of this the verses have something to say to us about God's church and our part in it. Take a few minutes to read through Romans 16 as we prepare to dive into this chapter this week. Also, we will have the chance to celebrate the Lord's Table together. This is always an important reminder for us to hope in the gospel and Christ's work in it.
Paul's travel log
Sun, Oct 20, 2019
I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. - Romans 15:24-25 (ESV) Have you ever had a trip that didn't go like you expected? You had grand plans. Every detail was mapped out. Reservations were made and confirmed. But in the middle your plan suddenly took a detour. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe someone lost the reservation. Maybe the money wasn't there for the trip. How did you respond? How did it turn out? What did you learn? This week as Paul begins to close out the book of Romans, he tells the recipients of his upcoming travel plans. He hopes to go from Corinth to Jerusalem then out to Rome and on to Spain. This grand plan will have its challenges, especially traveling in the ancient world, but what could go wrong? I'd like to encourage you to read the last half of Romans 15. If you want to get a glimpse into how it worked to take a look at Acts 20-24. Along the way we can learn how God takes our plans and changes us for his Glory and our good.
Paul's plans for missions
Sun, Oct 13, 2019
. . . and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand." - Romans 15:20-21 (ESV) Do you know what the 10-40 window is? Have you ever heard of 'unreached' or 'unengaged' people groups? Did you know that there are whole groups of people in the world that have never heard the gospel or the name of Christ? Did you know that they aren't just in some remote jungle somewhere? This week we begin to wind down our study of Romans as we look at the closing one and a half chapters. In this section Paul outlines his purpose, strategy, and plan to continue to spread the gospel throughout the world, names a few partners, and reminds them of some key issues. I want to encourage you to read Romans 15-16 as we close out our study. It's a good reminder of how and where we might engage in the mission of God and the spread of the gospel too.
Finding, joy, peace and hope in the Promises of God
Sun, Oct 06, 2019
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. - Romans 15:8-9 Reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, can be odd. The majority of the story is about the Jews and their struggle to follow God. As Gentiles sometimes we don't know how we connect to the story. Is God even interested in us? Or are we just some kind of afterthought? In Romans 15, we have been exploring how we should relate to one another when we have differing points of view on non-essential issues, but some of these issue might be tied to culture. Paul addresses the differences and connection between Jews and Gentiles. He gives us a clear way to understand how we, non-Jews, fit into God's purposes and plans. Take a few minutes to read through Romans 15 and see where we fit into God's plan. See if you can discover what knowing and trusting in this plan produces. Hint: Check out verse 13!
Pursuing Unity
Sun, Sep 29, 2019
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. - Romans 15:5-6 (ESV) We tend to have our list of really bad sins. We are careful to avoid those. Often we don't even want to talk about them, but if we do talk about them, we point them out in others and in our world to gawk at their failure. When God provides us a list of sins, he includes some we don't like to see. In His list of the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21) there are are normal 'bad' sins, but He also includes things like - strife, jealousy, dissension, and divisions. Almost half of the list is taken up with our relational and interactions with other people. It seems like our unity and living at peace with the people around us is a much bigger deal than we usually acknowledge. This week as we head into Romans 15, we will look at this issue of Unity. We have been thinking about the differences between us when it comes to debatable issues, but what holds us together? And why is that not only important but vital to the work of God both in us and through us?
Stumbling Into Loving Unity
Sun, Sep 22, 2019
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. - Romans 14:13 (ESV) One of the persistent problems in church is self-righteousness. We easily recognize that in the New Testament. The Pharisees are the easily despised villains of the gospels. They go around spending time looking religious and looking down on those that don't, but they are driven by position, power, and pride. We would like to think we have nothing in common with them. In all honesty, the longer we are in church the easier it seems to look down on newbies. We measure holiness not by God's standard but our own achievements. The 'bad' sins are the ones we don't struggle with, at least openly. So when it comes to the grey areas or the places that people differ, this attitude often reveals itself. We are the the enlightened ones. We are the 'good Christians'. Paul calls us to think differently. One thing is to dominate our thinking and actions toward those around us. I want to encourage you to read through Romans 14 and see if you can discover that one thing.
Provision For The Soul
Sun, Sep 15, 2019
Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. - Job 13:15-16 (ESV) So today is Friday the 13th. It's the day that no one is supposed to feel lucky. Fortunately, for you our family celebrated it a week early, so none of you have anything to worry about. It's been quite a week around here... Seriously if we believe God, we know that He is the one who rules over everything including both the universal story and our personal one. In the trenches of life, that is often hard to see and harder to understand. Awful things happen to us. Evil things are done. Life falls apart. Permanent damage is done. How do we try to understand this? What do we do when the pieces of life don't fit? This week we have the opportunity to look into the life of a man who seemed to be living Friday the 13th over and over and over. His name was Job. In looking into his story we can not only see his struggle, but also how we can get our bearings as we struggle in our tragedies. I'm looking forward to hear my friend, Jim Dietz open up the Word for us. Jim ministered many years ago alongside my father, and has since held positions as a pastor, seminary professor, and now a chaplain.
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