Mighty God

It is hard for me to think about the might and power of God without thinking about the heavens. How about you? One of my favorite sights is a new moon night sky high up in some Colorado wilderness. I think of Isaiah 40:25-26 in which the Lord says to us, "'To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?' says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." It is fascinating to me that the Lord encourages us to go out and look at the stars and remember that He put them in place when we feel discouraged or weary or forgotten by God. Reading on in Isaiah 40 we come to those familiar words, "The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Are you familiar with those words? 

What is truly a help and comfort to us is that God's strength and power are available to us! So this week, let's think about Jesus being Mighty God to us; there is more to it than simply a recognition of His Deity! Read Isaiah 9:6 (Do you have it memorized yet?!) and use the questions below to help you think slowly about this marvelous truth about our Lord and Savior, Jesus!

1. What is the history-altering reality expressed in the first line of verse 6 and this title, Mighty God?

2. Isaiah prophesied that when people encountered Jesus they would discover something about Him that would lead them to exclaim that He is "Mighty God!" What events in Jesus' life do you think would have led people to call Him "Mighty God"?

3. Take a moment and consider some of the passages below (they may well be the record of some of events you thought of in question 2 above!). 
* John 2:6-11
* Mark 6:35-44 (8:1-9)
* Luke 5: 4-11
* Mark 4:35-41
* Matthew 14:22-33
* Mark 5:1-13
* Mark 1:32-34; 6:53-56
* John 11:17, 38-44
* Which of these events do you think would have compelled you to believe that Jesus was no mere man but Mighty God? 

4. As the truth about Jesus settled into the minds and hearts of the apostles and as they had time to reflect on His coming they made some amazing statements about Him. What do the following passages teach us about who Jesus is and what He did and does?
* John 1:1-4, 10-14
* Colossians 1:15-17
* Hebrews 1:1-3
* What did you learn?

5. Jesus is Mighty God for us. Consider these promises. 
* John 14:12-14
* John 15:5, 7-8
* John 15:16; 16:23-24
* Mark 11:22-25
* Romans 8:32
* Philippians 4:13
* Ephesians 1:19-20 (note context beginning at verse 15)

6. People, Isaiah said, would exclaim that Jesus is Mighty God by an encounter with Him. How have you encountered Him as Mighty God? What has He powerfully done for you?

7. If Jesus were to give you a Christmas gift of His powerful touch, what would you like to see Him do for you?

8. What do you think the Lord would have you take away from this meditation?

God be with you, and I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan

Wonderful Counselor

And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor..." Isaiah foresaw that when God's Son, Jesus, came to dwell among us one of the things they would discover about Him would be summed up in the title Wonderful Counselor. It was not a formal name, but an accurate description of what He was like. Have you made that discovery? 

Elisha Albright Hoffman (1839-1929) was a Presbyterian minister who composed over 2,000 hymns and edited over 50 song books. The son of an evangelical minister, Hoffman grew up singing sacred hymns both in church and in the home with his parents. After a very brief stint in the Union Army during the Civil War he attended Union Seminary and was ordained to the ministry in 1868. He pastored several churches in the Midwest. One of his pastoral practices was to visit those who were destitute. The story is told that on one occasion he visited a home which had seen much sorrow and suffering. He found the mother of the home in the depths of despair. Hoffman tried to console her with verses of Scripture, but that seemed to be fruitless. Finally, he simply suggested to her that she could do nothing better than take all her sorrows to the Lord Jesus. "You must tell Jesus," he counseled her. She thought about that for a few moments and then her face lightened up and she cried, "Yes, I must tell Jesus." Hoffman went home and reflected on that encounter and wrote a well-loved hymn, "I Must Tell Jesus." The first verse and chorus go like this: 


I must tell Jesus all of my trials;

I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and cares for His own.
Chorus:
"I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone."


Have you experienced Jesus as your Wonderful Counselor who bear all your burdens? Perhaps this meditation on Jesus as the Wonderful Counselor will be joy-filled discovery or rediscovery for you!


Our text comes from Isaiah 9. Read verses 1-7, and we'll focus on verse 6.

1. Counselors can be anyone who offers us counsel or advice, or comfort or perspective. They can be family members, friends or professionals. How would you describe a good counselor? 

2. Our text in Isaiah tells us that when people would encounter Jesus they would find Him to be a "Wonderful Counselor!" Why do you think that was?

3. What does this title for Jesus suggest about us?

4. Look up the texts of Scripture listed below and note what they reveal about Jesus that might shed some light on why He is the "Wonderful Counselor": 
* John 1:14, 18
* John 2:24-25
* Mark 2:5-8
* Mark 1:21-22, 27
* Mark 10:2-9
* Mark 1:40-41
* Luke 20:21
* John 8:12
* John 10:11-15
* John 11:33-36
* Luke 22:31-32
* John 14:15-16, 26
* Mark 10:45

5. What did you learn? Why would people call Him a Wonderful Counselor?

6. Let's consider a couple of passages from the Book of Hebrews. Read Hebrews 2:14-18 and 4:14-16. What kind of counselor is Jesus? 

7. What has been your experience with I Peter 5:6-7? Have you found this to be easy or hard to do? Why? 

8. Have you experienced Jesus as the "Wonderful Counselor?" If so, how? 

9. In what ways do you need Him to be the Wonderful Counselor to you right now?

10. What is one thing the Lord would have you share with someone else from this meditation this week?

God be with you, and I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan


I Must Tell Jesus

I must tell Jesus all of my trials;
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and cares for His own.

I must tell Jesus all of my troubles,
He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
If I but ask Him, He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.

Tempted and tried, I need a great Saviour,
One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus,
He all my cares and sorrows will share.

O how the world to evil allures me!
O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me
Over the world the vict'ry to win.

Chorus:
"I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone."
 

The Zeal of the Hosts Will Do This

George Fredrick Handel's father wanted him to attend law school and become a lawyer, but music
captured his heart. He mastered the organ, harpsichord and violin and was a master in writing operas. He gained worldwide fame but then lost it; he fell into depression and coupled with stress he developed a case of palsy with which he lost the use of some of his fingers. Frederick the Great opined at the time that "Handel's great days are over, his inspiration is exhausted." 

But then in the summer of 1741 he read the text for an opera composed by Charles Jennens which consisted entirely of Scriptures about the Messiah, Jesus. The three parts of the text covered the prophecies of the coming Messiah; the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and the End Times and Jesus' ultimate victory. Handel was captivated by the text and especially inspired by the opening words of Isaiah 40: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people." On August 22, 1741, he shut the door to his London home and began writing. Twenty-three days later he had finished the Messiah. It is reported that when he was writing the "Hallelujah Chorus," his assistant found him weeping and saying, "I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God." Interestingly enough John Wesley saw an early performance of Handel's Messiah and commented in his Journal, "There were some parts that were affecting, but I doubt it has staying power." 

It has stayed and today is one of the most famous and beloved loved pieces of music ever written or performed. It was written for the Easter season, but it has become connected with Christmas, probably in part because of the opening prophecies about Jesus' birth. One of those comes from Isaiah 9:6, which Handle captured in the beautiful piece, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." During Advent this year we will spend time unpacking this wonderful prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-7. And perhaps we will see the face of Jesus in a fresh, joy-filled way!

Read Isaiah 9:1-7 and use the questions below to help you think through this passage in preparation for this Sunday's message. (Notice that the prophet Isaiah uses what is called a prophetic perfect in this passage. That is, he speaks of future events using past tense verbs.)
1. What do you think the prophet is talking about in verses 1 and 2? What is the darkness he speaks about and what is the great light that has shined on these folks? How does this light address the darkness?
2. There are several word pictures describing how the people would respond (v. 3) to what the Lord would do (v. 4). How do you understand these images? What would the Lord do and how would the people respond?
3. What is the promise of verse 5? When will it be fulfilled?
4. Verse 6 is the familiar text made famous by Handel's Messiah. Who is promised here? What will He do and what will people call Him?
5. What do we learn about this promised child in verse 7? 
6. The last line in verse 7 is, "The zeal of the Lord will do this." The zeal of the Lord will do what? In other words, what will the Lord do that will deal with the darkness and deep darkness described earlier?
7. How does this promised child in verse 6 accomplish what is pictured in verses 4-5? What think ye?
8. What is your favorite image of Jesus from this passage? 
9. What do you think the Lord wants you to take away from this passage?
Happy Thanksgiving, and hope to see you this evening (7:00 PM) or on Sunday!

God be with you,

Dan

When Good Snakes Become Bad Snakes

Haddon Robinson preached a sermon by this title back in 1995. He was a masterful preacher and the president of Denver Seminary when I graduated from there. This particular sermon left a lasting mark on me, and it is the inspiration behind the sermon I will preach on Sunday. The sermon comes from II Kings 18:1-8, which is the story of King Hezekiah's reformation and revival in Judah. And in this story we are told about a very good and very old snake that had become a very bad snake and had to be destroyed. 

The challenge for all of us in these days when it appears that God is moving among us to do something new is whether or not we might have some good, old snakes that have become bad snakes and need to be destroyed. In preparation for this Sunday's message, read II Kings 18:1-8 and use the questions below to think about the snakes in your own life. 

1. What do we learn about good King Hezekiah in these eight verses? What kind of man was he?

2. What do you know about "the high places" and "pillars" and "the Asherah"? What did these represent, and what was Hezekiah doing when he "removed," "broke" and "cut down" these things?

3. In verse 4 we read that Hezekiah "broke in pieces the bronze serpent Moses had made." Turn to Numbers 21:4-9 and read the story about this bronze serpent. 

4. Describe the scene reported in Numbers 21:4-9. 

5. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. What do you think was the point of that? Why do you think God didn't just remove the snakes or provide some sort of snake bite kit? 

6. Of course Jesus picks up on this story in His conversation with Nicodemus. Read John 3:1-18. How does Jesus apply the story of Moses' snake? What are the parallels between the bronze serpent incident and Jesus' death on the cross?

7. Back to Hezekiah. Why does he break Moses' snake into pieces? What had become of that good, old snake? When do good snakes become bad snakes that must be broken to pieces?
* What is the lesson that we need to learn from this story?

8. What do you think might be some "good snakes" in the life of the Church that have now become bad snakes that need to be destroyed? 

9. It is always easier to see the good snakes gone bad in the lives of others around us, but what about you and me? Are there any good, old snakes in your relationship with the Lord that have perhaps become bad snakes that need to be gotten rid of? If so, what are they?

10. Would you pray that all of us at Bear Creek would recognize those things that have become more important to us than the Lord and His Kingdom, and that we would be able to let go of them and even destroy them if need be?

REMEMBER: There is a Congregational Meeting on Sunday morning at 9:15 in the Upper Room. There will be time to discuss the merger we are pursuing with Bridgeway Community Church of Littleton. 

God be with you and I will look forward to seeing you on Sunday morning,

Dan
 

Chosen Servant and Friend

Joseph Scriven wrote a poem to his mother in 1855 which arguably became one of the ten most-loved hymns in the world, What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  Born in 1819 in Ireland, he attended Trinity College in London where he was trained as a teacher.  On the night before his wedding his beloved fiancé drowned, and overwhelmed with grief he packed up all his possessions and moved to Ontario, Canada, where he took up teaching and tutoring.  He was 25.  

In 1855 his mother became very ill and he was unable to return, so he wrote a three stanza poem which we know as What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  I suspect he knew something about that very subject.  

Circa 1857 Scriven fell in love with Eliza Catherine Roche.  But before they could marry, she became very ill and died!  As a result, instead of turning away from the Lord in anger or despair he used his suffering to minister to those who suffer.  He devoted himself to cutting wood for stoves of widows, orphans, the handicapped and the financially destitute.  He was known for his own poverty and sacrificial giving.  It seems that even through heart-wrenching he had found a friend in Jesus who brought stability and purpose to his life.    

His last years were plagued by ill health, skimpy finances and depression.  In August, 1896, his body was found in a lake (or a stream, it is unclear) where he had drowned.  

The Lord is doing something new among us and it seems it is a good time to remember that He is with us as Friend and we need not be afraid or anxious.  This week we will look at a familiar promise found in Isaiah 41:8-10.  Read that precious promise and use the questions below to help you meditate on it.  

1.    Do you have any fears about the merger Bear Creek Church is approaching?  Are you anxious about it in anyway?  

2.    In verses 1-7 the Lord addresses “the coastlands,” nations of the known world in Isaiah’s day, and He speaks of one whom He has stirred up and who is a conqueror.   He will later be identified as Cyrus.  How does Isaiah describe the nations’ response to the threat of Cyrus in verses 1-7?

3.    Israel, the people of God, are called to something else.  How would you summarize the message of verses 8-10?

4.    Let’s unpack these verses a little more.  What are the honors or privileges bestowed on Israel as described in verses 8-9?

5.    What was God’s intent in making Israel His servant?  What were they to be? What were they to do?  (Gen. 12:1-3; Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 4:5-8; 7:6ff.)

6.    As a result of what the Lord has done for them and in light of their place in the world as His Servant, the Lord gave them two commands with a reason attached to each.  What are they?  

7.    What three things does God promise to do for His people in verse 10?  •    How does God do this in our lives?  Have you experienced His strength, help and sustaining power?  If so, how so?

8.    What do you think it is important for us to realize that God will sustain us with His righteous right hand?  

9.    We live in a very anxious world.  How are we as God’s people to be different?

10.    Looking at the very real possibility of a merger for BCC, how might this passage help you address any fears or anxieties?  

God be with you!  And I hope to see you on Sunday!   

Dan

Solo Christo: Christ Alone

Perhaps you are familiar with the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Six inquisitive blind men went to learn about the elephant. They were allowed to touch it and feel it, and they each came to different conclusions. The first bumped into his side and said an elephant is like a wall; the second felt his tusk and decided an elephant was like a spear; the third concluded an elephant was like a snake when he felt its trunk; the fourth felt the elephant's leg and said it was more like a tree; the fifth argued that it was more like a fan for he felt the pachyderm's ear; and finally, the sixth touched the tail and declared that an elephant was like a rope. 

Often times this parable is used to argue that all the world's religions have only one piece of the real truth. With a sort of false humility people claim that religious truth is beyond our comprehension, so no one can make a claim to true truth about God. What is the problem with this argument? It backfires because it is hypocritical. The story is told from the vantage point of someone who has the privilege of seeing the truth, which he or she claims no one can do! 
Certainly one the claims of Christianity that most offends the world is that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. Solo Christo, Christ alone, is the fourth of the five solas we are looking into during this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Consider the texts below and the precious lessons to be learned about Christ alone! 

1. Have you ever encountered resistance to your faith in Christ over the issue of the exclusivity of Christ? That is, that there is no salvation apart from Jesus?

2. Let's begin with what Jesus taught. Look up the verses below in the Gospel of John and jot down what you learn from Him:
* John 3:16-18
* John 5:39
* John 6:45
* John 6:53
* John 8:24
* John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6
* Can you think of any other texts in the Gospel of John?
* What did you learn about solo Christo?

3. Think about Mark's account of the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-8, particularly verse 8. What do you think it means for Moses and Elijah to disappear and "they no longer saw anyone around them, but Jesus only"? 
* Also, think about Galatians 3:1-9 and Colossians 2:16-23.

4. Read the account of Paul on the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17:16-34.
* What were Athens and the people of Athens like?
* What did Paul do before he was taken to the Areopagus?
* What are the salient points of Paul's argument when he addressed the men of Athens in verses 22-31? 
* What do you conclude from this speech about salvation and Jesus? 

5. Here are a couple more important texts: 
* Acts 4:12
* I Timothy 2:5
* I John 5:12

6. How would you define and defend the Reformation principle of solo Christo?

7. Have you personally experienced salvation in "Christ alone"? If so, how?

8. What do people in the world trust in for salvation and how might that be a danger to you and me? 

9. What do you think we as Christians are tempted to add to our faith in Jesus in order to feel assured of our salvation?

10. How can we guard our hearts from wandering from solo Christo, faith in Christ alone for our salvation? 

God be with you!

Dan

Sola Gratia: Grace Alone

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him Whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England... Who can duly adore that love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the debts of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of me, and His compulsion is our liberation." [1] Such did C. S. Lewis describe his conversion to Christ. And the issue we will explore this week is, how do we understand the grace of God in salvation? Is salvation a cooperative affair between men and God, or does God take all the initiative to save us? Did C.S. Lewis cooperate with God or did God compel him by His grace? Did you cooperate in your own salvation, or were you saved by grace alone? 
[1] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, pp. 228-229.

Our meditation this week will be on the Reformation principle of Sola Gratia, grace alone, and our primary text will be Ephesians 1:3-14, where this principle shines! So with a quieted soul and a hungry heart, read Ephesians 1:3-14 twice. 

1. In verse 3 Paul begins with an exclamation of praise: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Before we look at why he praises God, let's think for a minute about praise. What is it? Where does it come from? Is Paul giving us a command or an invitation to bless God? What do you think?

2. According to verse 3, why does Paul praise "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"?

3. What do you think Paul means by "spiritual blessings"?

4. What is the significance of being blessed "in the heavenly places"? Why might that be better than being blessed in the earthly places?

5. What is the significance of these blessings being "in Christ"? 

6. Now here is the question of the day! How many spiritual blessings can you find in verses 3-14? Write them down here and make a brief note about what you think each of them means.

This will take some time, so take your time!

7. What is the foundation for all these spiritual blessings in Christ? In other words, what attribute of God is the basis for these things? Write down the texts that reveal this.

8. What do you learn about the grace of God in this passage? Is it free or is it constrained? Where and how is it expressed?

9. How would you describe the grace of God? What is it?

10. To what end does God bless us with all of these spiritual blessings in Christ? (Consider verses 6, 12, and 14.)

11. In light of this wonderfully rich passage, how are we saved? Is this a cooperative work with God or is it His work alone? 

12. One last question for consideration: If God blesses us with every spiritual blessing in Christ in order to bring praise to His glory, what is the big picture of what He is trying to do? What does it mean to praise His glory? What does He want for us?

Lord willing, I will see you on Sunday!

Dan
 

Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther turned the western civilization upside down. Tradition has it
that on that day he nailed a list of 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, calling for an academic debate on issues fundamental to the theological doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola Fide) and the sale of indulgences. At the heart of the controversy was the authority of Scripture, and Luther's position was interpreted as an attack on the papacy and the Roman Church. Luther was summoned to Rome, but he refused to go. Then in 1521 the pope issued an ultimatum that Luther must recant his writings or be condemned as a heretic. He was summoned to the city of Worms in southwest Germany to stand trial before the Imperial Diet, an assembly comprised of officials from the Empire and the Church. Luther's reply to the Diet was a thunderclap that changed the face of Western Europe. "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise; here I stand. May God help me. Amen." The Diet of Worms issued an edict condemning Luther as a heretic, and he was excommunicated from the Church. 

This October we will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with sermons on five central and fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith that came out of that tumultuous time. They are referred to as the Five Solas: Sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone"); Sola Fide ("faith alone"); Sola Gratia ("grace alone"); Solus Christus ("Christ alone"); and Soli Deo Gloria ("to the glory of God alone"). This week we will look into Sola Scriptura. There will be many texts of Scripture to look up and you probably won't have time to read them all. Pick a couple from each group and trust the Lord to speak to you. 

1. If someone were to ask you what you believed about the Bible, what would you say? How would you defend your position? 

2. What does the Bible say about itself? Let's begin with the Old Testament.
* Exodus 31:18; 32:16
* Deuteronomy 31:9-13, 24-26
* Joshua 24:26
* Isaiah 30:8 and Jeremiah 30:2
* Deuteronomy 8:3-4; 32:47
* Psalm 18:30; 33:4
* Isaiah 40:8; 55:11

3. What was Jesus' understanding of the Bible? 
* Matthew 4:1-11
* Matthew 5:17-20
* Matthew 12:1-8; 12:38-42; 15:3-9; 19:3-6
* Luke 24:27, 32, 45
* John 5:38-40; 7:38; 10:35; 17:14, 17

4. What did the New Testament writers say about the Bible?
* Acts 1:16
* Acts 17:2-3, 11; 18:28
* Ephesians 6:17
* I Thessalonians 2:13
* II Timothy 3:16
* Hebrews 4:12
* I Peter 1:2-25
* II Peter 1:19-20; 3:16

5. What did you learn?
* Is the Bible true?
* What authority does it have?
* Is it infallible or inerrant? 
* Can only biblical scholars understand it?
* How necessary is it? 

6. What are we to do with God's Word?
* Joshua 1:8
* Psalm 1:1-2; 119:9, 11, 25, 28
* Matthew 7:24-27
* Romans 15:4
* Colossians 3:16
* II Timothy 3:16-17

7. In light of what you have read here, would you change your answer to question 1 at all? If so, how?

8. Did the Lord give you a take away? (James 1:22-25)

God be with you!

Dan

The Righteousness of a Saint: Perfect Love

One of my favorite Peanuts comic strips has Lucy with a scowl on her face, sitting and reading a book.  Snoopy walks up to her and plants a kiss on her cheek, “Smak!’  As he returns to his perch on his doghouse, Linus confronts him:  “How can you do that?  I don’t understand how you can kiss such a crabby face.  In the final panel, Snoopy is lying on his doghouse and he says to himself, “Lips don’t care… Lips can’t see!”  It is relatively easy to love the lovable.  It is quite a different thing to love the unlovely, and especially those who hate us.  But Jesus calls us to an indiscriminate kind of love.  


As we have seen, the message of the Sermon on the Mount is a counter-cultural message.  The world operates on a principle of reciprocity.  You scratch my back and I will scratch your back, and if you hurt me, I will hurt you in return.  The moral economy of the world is one of pay backs in kind.  And we like to keep all accounts even.  But Jesus expects something far higher, far different for those who belong to Him, to those who have come under the rule of His powerful grace.  We are to be marked by a righteousness that is better than the best the world offers.  And Jesus has been illustrating that for us in the section of His Sermon which we are considering.  In fact, we will finish this section with the sixth and final illustration of the righteousness that is better than that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:17-20).

Read Matthew 5:17-20 and then verses 43-48.  Use the questions below to help you meditate on the kind of love Jesus wants to characterize His followers.

1.    How would you define an enemy?  Do you have any?

2.    Jesus references something that people were hearing but that cannot be found as it is in the Bible.  Read Leviticus 19:18.  According to what Jesus says, what appears to be the common interpretation of this command in His day?  What had happened to this command?  (refer to Luke 10:25-29)

3.    What is Jesus’ principle (v. 44)?
•    What do you think it would look like to love an enemy?  Can you think of any examples?
•    How might you pray for someone who is persecuting you?
•    Do you think there is any connection between love for enemies and prayer for persecutors?    
4.    Why does Jesus tell us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (v. 45)?
•    Do you think that this verse teaches that God loves everyone the same, without distinction?  Do you think everyone will be saved?  (cf. Matthew 25:46)
•    Do you have to love like God to become a son of God or do we love like God to become like our heavenly Father?  What think ye?

5.    What are the lessons in verses 46-47?  

6.    In verses 45-47 Jesus touches on three incentives for loving our enemies and those who persecute us.  What are they?  

7.    There is some debate about whether or not verse 48 applies simply to this last illustration (vv. 43-47) or to all six illustrations (vv. 21-47).  What think ye?  And why?

8.    What is Jesus teaching us by way of this sixth illustration?  What does righteousness look like under His rule?  

9.    What do you think the Lord would have you do in light of these words to you from His Sermon?     

God be with you and I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan

The Righteousness of a Saint: Retaliation

Confederate General William Henry Chase Whiting was a topnotch military leader during the Civil War, but he was known for speaking evil of General Robert E. Lee, the highly successful and beloved General of the Army of Northern Virginia.  When Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, asked Lee what he thought of General Whiting, Lee said, “He is one of the most able men in the entire Army.”  When others around Lee asked him why he did not take the opportunity to get even with General Whiting, Lee simply replied, “It was my impression that the President wanted my opinion of General Whiting, not his opinion of me.”  

Have you ever wanted to get even?  It is hard to resist the temptation for revenge, to retaliate against someone who in one way or another has attacked us.  That is the issue Jesus takes up next in His description of righteous living in His Kingdom.   Our text is Matthew 5:38-42.  I suspect we will all feel the Spirit of Jesus confront us on this one!

1.    Before digging into this text, take a moment and probe your soul.  How do you initially react to Jesus’ words here?  What feelings does this text arouse?  How are you inclined to respond to these words?  

2.    “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” has become a colloquialism in our culture, but it is very old!  It comes from Moses.  Look up the following texts:
•    Exodus 21:22-25
•    Leviticus 24:17-20
•    Deuteronomy 19:21

3.    What did you learn about this judicial principle commonly known as lex talionis (you might want to look that up!)?  What was the purpose of this rule?

4.    Where did this principle belong, in the civil arena or personal arena?  From what Jesus says here, where were people applying this principle?  

5.    What is Jesus’ rule (v. 39)?  

6.    Here are some more texts of Scripture!  What do these teach us?
•    Leviticus 19:17-18
•    Proverbs 20:22
•    Romans 12:17, 19
•    I Thessalonians 5:15
•    I Peter 3:9

7.    Jesus gives four illustrations of how this principle applies.  What are they?  
•    Which of these four is most difficult for you to apply?  Why? 

8.    If Jesus were addressing us today, what illustrations might He employ?  

9.    Consider these texts of Scripture:
•    Isaiah 50:6
•    Mark 14:60-65
•    I Peter :21-23
•    What did you learn?

10.    Do you think there any limits to Jesus’ principle?  If so, what are they?

11.    How does being a Christian, a follower of Jesus who has come under His gracious rule help you in obeying Jesus in not resisting an evil person?

12.    What do you think the Lord wants you to take away from this meditation?

God be with you and I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan 

The Righteousness of a Saint: Oaths and the Call to Integrity

Abraham Lincoln has a reputation of being honest, “honest Abe.”  He certainly had some pithy things to say about honesty.  Here are a several favorites:  “How many legs does a dog have if you count the tail?  Four.  Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”  “No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.”  Mark Twain had a similar saying:  “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”  Perhaps Lincoln’s most familiar is, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” And Lincoln understood the severe consequences of not being trustworthy in what you say and do.  “If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow-citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.” 

Our study in the Sermon on the Mount takes us to consider what we say, especially, what we promise or vow.  Jesus addresses the issue of oaths, but it speaks beyond formal oaths; it touches on the integrity of what we say to one another.  Read Matthew 5:17-20 and then 33-37.  Ask the Lord to speak to you about the integrity of your speech.

1.       The fourth illustration of a saint’s righteousness concerns oaths.  Can you think of times when we make oaths formally and informally?  What is the purpose of an oath?

2.        Here are some examples of oaths or vows from the Scriptures:  Genesis 22:9-19 (Heb. 6:13-18); 24:1-9; 25:27-34; 28:10-22; Judges 11:29-40; Matthew 14:1-12; Acts 18:18.  What did you learn?

3.       There is nothing intrinsically wrong with making a vow or an oath (as you saw above, some vows are tragically foolish!), but the Lord does set some principles to regulate them.  Consider Exodus 20:7, 16; Leviticus 19:11-12; Deuteronomy 23:21-23; and Ecclesiastes 5:4-7.  What think ye?

4.       According to what Jesus said in our text today (Matt. 5:33-37), what do you think the contemporary practice was concerning oaths and vows?

5.       What do you think it meant to swear by heaven or earth or Jerusalem or even by your own head?

6.       How do you think our society understands promises, vows or oaths? 

7.       How do people today swear informally (not before an officer of the court or the church!), and why do people swear or make oaths?

8.       What is Jesus’ standard for those who belong to Him and His Kingdom?  (His step-brother got it!  James 5:12)

9.       Ponder Numbers 23:19.  What is true about God that Jesus wants to see in us?  (See also, Titus 1:1-3; Psalm 15:4 and II Corinthians 1:12-24).

10.   Why do you think Jesus says that anything more than a simple yes or no comes from evil?

11.   Where do you fall short in being a person who keeps his or her word?  What would Jesus have you do differently in light of His Word about our word?

God be with you, and I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan

The Righteousness of a Saint - Divorce and the Meaning of Marriage


Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Congregational pastor and leader of the First Great Awakening in America, and his wife, Sarah, had a model marriage and family. Shortly before his death, when he was in Princeton, New Jersey, and his family had not yet relocated, he had one of his daughters pen a letter to another daughter back home in which he spoke of his marriage to Sarah. Dear Lucy, It seems to me to be the will of God, that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be left fatherless; which I hope will be an inducement to you all, to seek a father who will never fail you. 

After receiving news of her husband's death Sarah wrote to her daughter: O my very Dear Child, What shall I say. A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may all kiss the rod and lay our hands on our mouths. The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband and your father has left us. We are all given to God and there I am and love to be. 

Jonathan and Sarah had 11 children and by 1900 they had 1,400 descendants. Among them were 13 college presidents, 65 professors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 66 physicians, and 80 prominent public officials, including 3 governors, 3 senators and a vice president of the United States. Remarkable marriage and lasting legacy!

Last week's sermon didn't get as far as I had hoped and as far as you had prepared! We didn't get to what Jesus said about divorce. So, we will pick up that subject again and explore it a little more deeply. It is a difficult and pain-filled subject, isn't it? Do you know anyone who hasn't been touched by divorce? Read Matthew 5:17-20 and 31-32.

1. What has been your experience with divorce and remarriage? And what are your beliefs about divorce and remarriage? 

2. When Jesus says, "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce,'" He is making reference to a text in Deuteronomy 24:1ff. What do you think was the public opinion about divorce when Jesus addressed it? 

3. What is Jesus' counter to this practice of divorce (v. 32)? 

4. Jesus was consistent on this point about divorce and remarriage. Consider Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18. Any new insight? Why do you suppose Jesus is so black and white on this issue?

5. When Jesus defends marriage, He draws upon Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:18-25, especially 2:24-25. What does that tell you about Jesus' understanding of God's creation of us and His design and purpose for marriage? What does this tell you about Jesus' understanding of the Scriptures?

6. How do you think Jesus' stance on marriage, divorce and remarriage would be received today?

7. What exceptions do Jesus and the rest of Scriptures provide for divorce and remarriage? 

8. What do you think Jesus would like to see in the marriages of those who live in His Kingdom on earth? Can you think of some texts of Scripture that would describe the kind of marriage relationship that would bring Him joy and that would be light in the world for His glory? 

9. What do you think the Lord would have you do to have that kind of marriage? 

God be with you and hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan

The Righteousness of a Saint: Lust, Divorce and the Seriousness of Sin

Susie is standing on the sidewalk with her books in hand waiting for the school bus and Calvin walks up and says, "It must be awful to be a girl." Then looking rather philosophical as if he has been thinking about this all morning, "I'm sure it's frustrating knowing that men are bigger, stronger and better at abstract thought than women. Really, if you're a girl, what would make you go on living?" Susie turning away with a scowl on her face replies, "The thought of a jerk like you begging one of us for a date when you're 17." To which Calvin in typical fashion retorts, "Ha! Not me! Gross!"

If you are familiar with Tom Watterson's character, Calvin, you know that he has a great childish and boyish disdain for girls! Most of us did at an early age! But as Susie knew, we change and we find that in God's good design of us men and women have a deep attraction for one another. But like all things in us and in the world, sin has ruined us and our relationships with one another. 

The message of Jesus on lust, adultery and divorce have fallen out of favor in our culture, but we who belong to Him desperately need to be reminded of what it looks like to be sexual creatures under His gracious rule. Read Matthew 5:17-20 and then 27-32. The questions below are given to help you meditate on this passage. A pen or pencil will help you think more slowly and perhaps more thoughtfully.

1. Which commandment is Jesus referring to in verse 27 and where would you find it?

2. Let's define our terms: What exactly is adultery, and how would you define lust?

3. What do you think Jesus means when He says, "everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart"? Is it wrong to have a sexual thought when looking at a person of the opposite sex? Where do you draw the line between temptation and sin when it comes to thoughts or desires?

4. Does this lesson on adultery apply to women as well as men? Explain.

5. Does Jesus intend us to take verses 29-30 literally? If not, why not? What is His point?

* Would it help if all women wore burkas? If men emasculated themselves? (Mark 7:21-23) 

6. How might you apply verses 29-30 in your life? (cf., 18:7-9)

7. Where was it said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce"? What is the context and the point of that Mosaic instruction?

8. What is Jesus' counter to this practice of divorce (v. 32)?

9. Read Matthew 19:3-12. How would you describe Jesus' understanding of marriage and divorce? (Why did Moses give us that command?) 

* Does the exception clause demand divorce? What think ye?

* How serious is adultery?

10. Why does a man who divorces his wife who has not been unfaithful to him cause her to commit adultery? And why does a previously unmarried man who marries a divorced woman commit adultery?

11. What does it look like to be sexual creatures under Jesus' rule? What does He want from you and me?

God be with you and hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan

The Righteousness of a Saint

The very heart of the good news about Jesus is that God counts as righteous those who believe in Jesus Christ, His Son. In fact, God imputes to us the perfect righteousness of His Son Jesus (I Cor. 5:21). This is wonderfully pictured in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress where Christian explains this to another traveler. "By laws and ordinances you will not be saved since you came not in by the door. And as for this coat that is on my back, it was given to me by the Lord of the place whither I go; and that, as you say, to cover my nakedness with. And I take it as a token of His kindness to me, for I had nothing but rags before. And besides, thus I comfort myself as I go. Surely, think I, when I come to the gate of the city, the Lord thereof will know me for good, since I have His coat on my back: a coat that He gave me freely in the day that He stripped me of my rags." 

Jesus took our sin and gave us His righteousness, freely. It cost Him His life, but it comes to us as a gift by faith. But then what is our relationship with His righteousness practically, on a day-to-day basis? There is a practical righteousness that Jesus demands of a saint and over the next several weeks we will look into that. 

For this week, we will look at Jesus' clarifying words about the righteousness of a saint and His first application to our lives, which we actually looked at earlier in the year. So turn to the Sermon on the Mount and read Matthew 5:1-26. We will focus our attention on verses 17-20. 

1. Why do you think people listening to Jesus might begin to think that He had come to abolish the Law or the Prophets?

2. Quite to the contrary, Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. In what ways did Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? 
* In light of what follows in verses 21-48, what do you think Jesus had in mind when He said He had come to fulfill the Law and Prophets? 

3. What does this passage (vv. 17-20) reveal about Jesus' understanding of the Scriptures?

4. What does Jesus want to see in us in relationship to the Scriptures (v. 19)?

5. Not all of us are teachers, but in what way do all of us teach? 

6. Is there a commandment that you have "relaxed" (NIV "breaks") and teach others to do the same? Explain your answer.

7. The scribes and Pharisees were known for their righteous lives (consider Luke 18:9-12). What do you think Jesus means when He says that if we hope to enter heaven our righteousness must exceed or surpass that of the religious professionals of His day? How can that be? 
* See Matthew 23:1-28; Mark 7:1-13; 12:38-40; Luke 11:37-44. What was the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees like?
* What is the relationship between salvation and personal righteousness? (cf., Rom. 1:16-17; 3:19-26; 5:15-17; I John 2:28-29; 3:4-11)

8. In verses 21-48 Jesus illustrates what it looks like to have a righteousness that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees. We have looked at verses 21-26 earlier this year. How is Jesus "fulfilling" the commandment against murder in this passage?

9. How do you explain the change in verse 23? Jesus shifts from warning us about our attitudes and angry behavior to reconciling with someone we have offended. What is the connection? 

10. Does the Lord's message on murder, anger and reconciliation address you in any specific way? If so, how? 

11. How might Jesus' interpretation and application of the commandment not to murder be one of the expressions His light shining through us and of our good works that glorify our Father in heaven (5:14-16)? How is this behavior counter-cultural? 

12. What do you think the Lord would like you to take away from this meditation on His Word? 

Hope to see you on Sunday! God be with you,

Dan

The Influence of a Saint

Those who belong to Jesus and come under the gracious rule of God are changed and are called to purposely stand out from the world. David Garland relates a story about the Hall of Fame baseball player Mickey Mantle and a teammate Bobby Richardson (remember those guys?). For years Mickey Mantle had abused his body with alcohol, and when he was on the verge of dying his many friends gathered around his hospital bed to say their farewells. Bobby Richardson was one of them. Bobby was a follower of Jesus Christ and after retiring from baseball he became a minister of the Gospel. But while playing for the New York Yankees he had not joined the wild parties that marked the lives of Mantle and his teammates. In fact Mantle used to make fun of Bobby as "the milk drinker." But as his life ebbed away he most wanted to talk with Bobby Richardson. The testimony of Bobby's life in the midst of mockery and jeers had made a deep impact on Mickey. 

Jesus said that we are to have an influence for His Kingdom's sake by being salt and light in the world. Our meditation this week will be on another familiar portion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the metaphors of salt and light. Read Matthew 5:1-16 and use the questions below to help you meditate on the influence of a saint in the world.

1. In the first metaphor Jesus gives is, "You are the salt of the earth." What is the role of salt in the world? More specifically, what do you know about the role of salt in Jesus' day?

2. If those who belong to Jesus are the salt of the earth, what is their role in the earth?

3. What does this suggest about the nature of the 'earth'? 

4. How do you think that followers of Jesus fulfill their role of being the salt of the earth? Can you think of any Scriptures?

5. What is the condition for having a positive influence in the earth? (v. 13)

6. How does one lose his or her saltiness and why does Jesus imply that it cannot be restored?

7. What do you think is our 'saltiness' and how can we maintain it? 

8. The second metaphor is, "You are the light of the world." In the Bible, what does light represent? (Consider Psa. 13:3; 19:8; 119:105; Jn. 3:20; Rom. 13:12; II Cor. 4:6; I Jn. 5:5f.; Isa. 42:6; Jn. 1:4-5; 8:12; 9:5) 

9. What is the point of Jesus' references to a city on a hill and a lamp on a lampstand? 
* Why are we inclined to hide our light?

10. How are we to make our light shine and to what end? 

11. What do both of these metaphors suggest about the nature of the world in which we live? 

12. What is the connection between what Jesus says about a saint's influence in the world and the beatitudes (vv. 3-12)? 

13. What did you take away from this meditation on being salt and light?

Hope to see you on Sunday! God be with you,

Dan

The Portrait of a Saint: Character, Part IV

In his thoughtful book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton made this keen observation: "The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence ... When I heard that I was in the wrong place ... my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring.  I knew now ... why I could feel homesick at home."  Jesus' description of the Christian character underlines how alien we are becoming under His rule.  We don't fit; Christian character is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, and as such it can get us into trouble!   

The last beatitude seems like anything but a blessing, but it is critical enough that Jesus provides additional comment on it.  Our focus will be on verses 10-12, but that will require a brief review of verses 2-9.  Read the entire section on the beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12, and use the questions below to help you meditate on these challenging words from Jesus.

1.    In the beatitudes, Jesus has painted a comprehensive portrait of the character of  a saint, the one who has come under the gracious rule of God.  Take a moment and review verses 2-9 and write out a description of the person Jesus describes here.  In other words, how would you describe the person who is being changed by the grace  of God?

2.    How is the portrait Jesus paints of us so different from the values and standards common in the world around us?  How would you describe the person who has not been under the gracious rule of God in contrast to the beatitudes?  

3.    Apparently, followers of Jesus are not always warmly welcomed in the world and their efforts at peacemaking are not always successful.  The final beatitude addresses the subject of persecution (v. 10), and it gets extended attention from Jesus (vv. 11-12).  What is persecution and what does Jesus include in the category of persecution?

4.    The blessing belongs to "those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake."  What do you think that means?  You might consider one or several or all of the texts listed below:  
*    Matthew 10:16ff.
*    John 15:18-21; 16:1-4.
*    II Timothy 3:10-12
*    I Pet. 2:19-23; 3:13-17; 4:12-19

5.    How might you or I be persecuted today for the name of Jesus?  What has been your experience persecution?  

6.    How does Jesus tell us to respond to persecution, and why should we so respond? 7.    What is the promise to "those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake"        (v. 10)?  And what do you think Jesus means when He says "your reward is great in heaven" (v. 12)?  

8.    Why is this final beatitude fitting as the last touch on Jesus portrait of a saint's character and quality of life?   

9.    How did you hear the Lord's voice in His Word today?

God be with you and see you on Sunday!

Dan
   


 

The Portrait of a Saint - Character part 2

Christian character is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. Dee Jepson, who served as an assistant to her husband, Roger, a one-term U.S. Senator (R-Iowa, 1979-1985), witnessed this in a profound way in the midst of the power-hungry atmosphere of Washington, D.C. Political maneuvering and posturing to gain influence and power is the name of the game.  But one day she saw something deeply different. She wrote, "The unimportance of sophistication was brought home to me at a Capitol Hill luncheon for Mother Theresa... In came this tiny woman, even smaller than I had expected, wearing that familiar blue and white habit, over it a gray sweater that had seen many better days, which she wore again to the White House the next day. As that little woman walked into the room, her bare feet in worn sandals, I saw some of the most powerful leaders in this country stand to their feet with tears in their eyes just to be in her presence. As I listened that afternoon, I thought, 'Don't forget this, Dee. Here is this little woman, who doesn't want a thing, never asked for anything for herself, never demanded anything, or shook her fist in anger, here's real power.' It was a paradox. She has reached down into the gutter and loved and given. She has loved those the world sees as unlovable - the desolate, the dying - because they are created in the image of the God she serves. Ironically, seeking nothing for herself, she has been raised to the pinnacle of world recognition, received the Nobel Peace Prize, and is a figure known to most people, at least in the Western world, and revered by many. She has nothing, yet in a strange way, she has everything." 

At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets forth a portrait of a Christian's character in what we know as the "Beatitudes." We are tempted to read the beatitudes simply as measures of godly character and strive to meet the standard. But as we saw last time, these beatitudes are not simply standards of Christian virtue; they are marks of grace that belong to those who have come under the gracious rule of God. We need to know that these are the marks of God's rule in our lives because when we come under the strong and powerful influence of His grace, our lives begin to take on a very counter-cultural character, a new nature that is deeply different. We need to know that being poor in spirit and mourning the loss of innocence and righteousness are marks of being blessed by God. Everyone who belongs to Jesus has each and every one of these attributes in varying degrees, and we are to grow in them as we submit to the rule of Jesus in our lives. So we will pick it up with where we left off last, with the third beatitude. 

Read Matthew 5:1-12 carefully, then use the questions below to help you meditate on three of these beatitudes. 

1.    Two weeks ago we looked at the third beatitude, "Blessed are the meek," but we did not get quite that far in the Sunday sermon. So let's refresh our memories on this counter-cultural disposition. How would you define or describe meekness? (Recall Numbers 12:1-16; Matthew 11:29?) 

2.    In the New Testament "meekness" is often translated as "gentleness." (Gal. 5:23; Eph. 4:1-3; Col. 3:12-13). What is the relationship between meekness and gentleness?

3.     (Psalm 37:10-11)

4.    What does the world say about meekness and what does Jesus promise the meek? 

5.    The fourth beatitude is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied." What does it mean to hunger and thirst for something? What do people around you hunger and thirst for?
*    What do you hunger and thirst for?

6.    What do you think it looks like to hunger and thirst for righteousness? 
*    Do you see any connection with the previous three beatitudes?

7.    What do you imagine is the nature of Jesus' promise to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Is it present? Is it future?  

8.    The fifth beatitude is "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (verse 7). What is mercy and how is it distinct from grace or love?

9.    What does mercy look like in Luke 10:25-37? What does it look like in Matthew 18:21-35?

10.    In what ways might mercy be a counter-cultural virtue? What does the world generally value?

11.    What does Jesus promise to the merciful? (Consider James 2:13). 
*    Do you think we merit God's mercy by being merciful? What does Jesus mean here? 

12.    In what way did the Lord address you from His Word? Are these marks of His grace found in your life? In what ways, would you like to grow under His gracious rule in these areas?

Hope to see you on Sunday! God be with you!

Dan

   
 

The Portrait of a Saint: Character, Part I

I was in a church recently and heard the pastor express his concern over the church in America  and her loss of distinctiveness from the world. Many of us share a similar unease about our conformity to the world around us.  Now what struck me about that was that the loudness of the music in the worship service was just like the loudness of the music we experienced at an amusement park the evening before. Our culture is loud and full of noise, and I found myself wondering if the pastor had thought about his message and the music. I do think he was right in saying that the church in America may be overrun by the culture and lose her distinctiveness. What do we offer a weary world if we are just like the world?
 
We are beginning a study of the Sermon on the Mount and it presents a portrait of a follower of Jesus, but it is a portrait that is thoroughly counter-cultural. John Stott wrote, "Thus the followers of Jesus are to be different - different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value-system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, life-style and network of relationships - all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived out under the divine rule." 

This week we will begin where Jesus begins: with Christian character. Read Matthew 5:1-12 carefully and twice. Then use the questions below to help you meditate on this familiar passage. 

1.    Jesus begins with what are commonly called "The Beatitudes." What is a beatitude and what do you think it means to be "blessed"?  
*    How many beatitudes does Jesus list here? 
*    Do you think there is a difference between having "blessings" and being "blessed"? Explain. 
*    Do these beatitudes describe different groups of people or are they qualities that are to characterize all followers of Jesus? What do you think? 
*    Are these beatitudes achievable in our own strength or are they supernaturally wrought in us?  
*    Finish this thought: "The world tells us we are blessed if we...."  

2.    The first beatitude is "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Think for a moment about being poor. What does it mean to be poor? 

3.    What do you think it means to be poor in spirit? Consider these texts: Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2; Matthew 9:12-13; Luke 18:9-14 and Revelation 3:17-18. What do you think? 

4.    What is the promise for those who are poor in spirit, and why do you think Jesus begins here with this beatitude? 

5.    What is the opposite of being poor in spirit? What is the message of the world?  

6.    The second beatitude is "Blessed are those who mourn." How would you describe mourning?  

7.    What kind of mourning do you think Jesus has in mind? Consider these texts: Psalm 119:136; Ezekiel 9; Daniel 9:1-6; I Corinthians 5:1-2; Philippians 3:18; James 4:8-10.  
*    Mourning often has to do with the deep sense of loss. What have we lost? 

8.    What does Jesus promise to those who mourn? What do you think that will be like?  

9.    In what way is this a counter-cultural virtue?  

10.    "Blessed are the meek" is the third beatitude. How would you define or describe meekness?  

11.    Consider these passages: Numbers 12:1-16; Matthew 11:29. What do you think meekness looks like? 

12.    The original word in the New Testament for "meekness" is often translated as "gentleness." See Galatians 5:23; Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians 3:12-13. What do you think is the relationship between meekness and gentleness? 

13.    What does Jesus promise the meek? (Psalm 37:10-11) 

14.    What does the world say about meekness? What does the world value? 

15.    When can we expect the "rewards" of these beatitudes, now or in the future?  

16.    What did the Lord impress on you from this meditation on the first three beatitudes? 
Hope to see you on Sunday, and God be with you,

Dan
 

The Sermon on the Mount - The Portrait of a Saint

It is not at all original with me, but someone once remarked that the Sermon on the Mount is an unparalleled portrait of a saint. Jesus' message is not creedal, but practical; that is, it is not a sermon on what we should believe, but a discourse on how we are to live. As Matthew Henry aptly described it, Jesus' purpose "is not to fill our heads with notions, but to guide and regulate our practice." It is the measure for what it means for us to follow Jesus. Augustine called it "the perfect standard of the Christian life." While wonderfully practical and filled with memorable images, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is at times thorny and always a challenge to apply. 

Over the next several months we will give our attention to this most familiar and popular message of Jesus and ask Him to help us set our eyes upon Him, who He calls us to be and what He calls us to do. He is our very good and glorious King and our hearts' desire is to know and honor Him in all that we are and do. 

This week your assignment is simple. Read Matthew 5-7, outline its major divisions and write out a one or two sentence summary of the message of the Sermon on the Mount.  

Hope to see you on Sunday, and remember to prepare for the sacrament of Communion!

God be with you,

Dan

   

The Crowds and the Called

Recently the Session of Bear Creek Church decided to suspend the search for a new senior pastor and explore the possibility and feasibility of merging with another congregation. While the elders look intently into this option for BCC, I thought it would be valuable for us to remember who we are and what it is Jesus has called us to. So next week, Sunday, July 2, we will begin a series on the Sermon on the Mount, a precious portrait of those who belong to Jesus' kingdom.  

But before we get to that I would like us to give some thought to Jesus' calling of the Twelve whom  He would designate apostles and upon whom He would entrust the very future of His work in the world. 

In our Sunday school class on Mark we have already looked at this, but I would like us to take a second look, keeping in mind that just as Jesus called together some very diverse characters, He may be calling us to join with another congregation of characters as diverse as we are! If so, what will that mean for us and to what end would Jesus do this? 
So take a few minutes and carefully read Mark 3:7-19 and use the questions below to help you meditate on this passage.  

1.    Crowds are the context of Jesus' ministry. For example, in addition to our text, consider Mark 1:32-34; 2:1-4; 4:1.
*    How might crowds have presented Jesus with greater opportunities for ministry?  
*    How might crowds have been a real hindrance to Him and His work?  (Mark 1:40-45)  *    What do you think about large churches or mega churches? What are the opportunities available to larger churches?  What are the challenges?

2.    But it would not be to crowds that Jesus entrusted the future of His work and His kingdom on earth. It would be to twelve chosen but quite ordinary men. Who does the choosing and why is that significant (v. 13)?  Compare John 15:16

3.    According to verses 13-15, why did Jesus choose twelve men?
*    What will be their commission and what will be their training?
*    Here is a thought question:  what does their commission suggest to you about Jesus' priorities and about the world in which we live?  (see also Mark 1:39)     

4.    What do you know about these twelve men? List them and jot down what you know about them from the Scriptures and from church history.
*    As you reflect on these twelve men, is there a personal application for you?

5.    What do you think is the difference between being one of the crowd and one of the called? How do you see yourself? Are you one of the crowd who is following Jesus or are you one of those called to be with him? Explain.  

6.    What is your calling and commission? (Again, recall John 15:16)
*    Do you think it is possible for you to be with him (v. 14) and learn from him in much the same way as the disciples were? If so, how?    

7.    How do you think these men, who most likely were very different from one another, managed to stay together and stay committed to their commission?  
*    If the Lord were to lead BCC into a merger with another congregation, how do you think we would manage to stay together and stay committed to our commission?    

8.    How would you summarize Jesus' purpose and training of the twelve men He called to Himself? What is His big picture?  
*    What is the big picture for you and for BCC? 

9.    What caught your attention in this meditation on the calling of the Twelve?

May the Lord be with you, and I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan