A Portrait of a Saint: His Generous Father

Several years ago I read Brennan Manning's Abba's Child. One of the stories he tells in that book, and he tells many, was about a priest from Detroit who went to visit his 80-year-old uncle. On an early morning walk together the old man begins to skip down the road like a happy child with a glowing smile. When his nephew asked him to explain why he appeared so happy, he responded by simply saying, "Yes, you see, my Abba is very fond of me!" Abba is, of course, the Aramaic word for Father, the title Jesus taught us to use in addressing our Father in Heaven. "My Abba is very fond of me!" Do you believe that? 

A dear friend of mine who knows me as well as anyone regularly asks me if I know that God delights in me, referencing Zephaniah 3:17. I hedge. It is one thing to acknowledge His love for me, and quite another, at least for me, to consider that He delights in me. How about you? 

This week's devotional is not directly on that subject, but in a way it is at the very heart of it. With wonderful simplicity and clarity, Jesus encourages us to pray because we have a very good Father in Heaven who gives good gifts to His children. Read Matthew 7:7-11 a couple of times slowly and then use the questions to help you meditate on this exciting text! 

1. Jesus has already addressed the subject of prayer (6:5-15). Why do you think He brings it up here again? Is it randomly stuck in here by Matthew? Is it a suggestion that instead of judging others (7:1-6), we simply pray about it? Or is it something else that prompts Jesus to bring prayer to our attention again? What think ye? 

2. In verse 7 there are three present tense imperatives (three commands that we are to do continually!), each with a promise. List them here. What do you think is the difference or the relationship between them?

3. In verse 8, Jesus universalizes these promises ("everyone") but basically repeats them. What do you think His point is in doing this?

4. Now Jesus gives these promises to intelligent beings who are supposed to use their intelligence to know that God is not a cosmic genie who pledges Himself to do whatever we want. So what qualifications or boundaries are there on these wide-open promises of Jesus?

5. Jesus sets before us these wide-open promises that when we seek our Father and pray (ask, seek, knock) we will be heard, and the design of that is to excite us to pray! But we don't! Why not? What gets in the way of praying? 

6. Verses 9-11 are a warm, homey parable. What is the lesson?
* What does Jesus mean when He says that we are evil? And if we are evil, how can we still have within us the fatherly compassion to give good gifts to our children?

7. What might this parable suggest to us is the fundamental obstacle we face in prayer? 

8. Think for a moment about this: Jesus said that our Father in heaven gives good gifts to those who ask Him. What are those good gifts? (Luke 11:13; Jn. 15:7-8; Rom. 8:32 - note the context; Gal. 5:16-24; II Pet.3-4)

9. If our Father in Heaven is the giver of good gifts what is the negative lesson from this?

10. Let's step back for a moment and consider the larger frame of the Portrait of a Saint. How do we measure up to the standards set by Jesus? Do we look like what He has drawn for us? What do you think is the role of prayer in all of the Sermon on the Mount? 

11. What one thing 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!


The Portrait of a Saint: Judging Others

A lady in an airport bought a book to read and a package of cookies to eat while she waited for her flight.  After she had taken a seat in the terminal near her gate and gotten deeply engrossed in her book, she noticed that the man sitting one seat away from her was fumbling to open the package of cookies on the seat between them.  She was so shocked that she didn't know quite what to do or say, so she just reached over and took one of the cookies and ate it.  The man didn't say anything but soon reached over and took another cookie.  Well, she wasn't about to let him eat all the cookies so she took another as well.  When they were down to one last cookie the man reached over, took the last cookie and broke it in two. He ate his half, got up and left.  The lady was beside herself!  She couldn't believe that man's nerve.  When her flight was called she got up and reached into her purse to retrieve her boarding pass and to her shock, there in her purse was her package of unopened cookies!  With great embarrassment she learned that she shouldn't have been so harshly judgmental of that poor man!

Have you ever been too quick to judge someone?  Who hasn't wrestled with the tendency to judge one another?  We have all heard Jesus' admonition not to judge one another, but easier said than done!  And as we shall see, not all judgement is wrong, but often quite necessary.  
This week we turn our attention to what Jesus has to say to us about judging others. Read Matthew 7:1-6 twice carefully and then use the questions below to ponder His description of what we should look like as those who belong to Him.  

1. Have you ever been on the hurtful side of someone's judgment? What was that like?

2. Have you ever caught yourself judging someone else wrongly?

3. Look up the work "judge" in your dictionary. Which definition best fits with Jesus' lesson here?
The word Jesus uses here can be translated in a variety of ways. For example, it can be translated as "separate, distinguish; judge, consider, look upon; reach a decision, decide; condemn, hand over for punishment; pass judgment on; find fault with." Which definition do you think fits best with what Jesus has in mind? Why did you choose that one?

4. What are some reasons why it is inappropriate of us to judge others? You might take into consideration the following texts:
•    James 4:11-12
•    I Samuel 16:7
•    Jeremiah 17:9-10
•    Romans 2:1-4
•    Romans 14:1-4
•    I Corinthians 4:1-5 What think ye?
5. When Jesus says that we are not to judge, does that mean that we suspend all of our critical faculties? That is, do we never exercise the abilities to distinguish between people? What do the texts below teach us?
•    Matthew 7:6, 15-20
•    Matthew 18:15-17
•    I Corinthians 5
•    II Thessalonians 3:6-15
•    I Timothy 3:1-13
•    When is it appropriate to judge others and in what sense are we to judge others?
7. So, putting it all together, what do you think Jesus means when He tells us not to judge? Can we "not judge" and yet keep a "sense of judgement"?

8. We all judge people by certain standards we believe are important. What are some of those standards that you hold? 

9. How would you fare if God judged you the way you judge others? 
10. What do you think is the point of Jesus' rather humorous illustration in verses 3-5?
11. When is it appropriate to help others with blind spots or sin in their lives? (Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20)

12. What is the point of verse 6? Who are "dogs" or "pigs"? What is "holy" and what are our "pearls"? (Matt. 10:11-15; 23:27-28, 33-36; Lk. 23:9; II Tim. 3:1-5)

13. What does a Kingdom subject look like in light of this section on judging others, and how do you think Jesus would have you apply this section?

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


The Portrait of a Saint: A Christian's Ambition

Costi Hinn, nephew of Benny Hinn, had his testimony published in the September 20, 2017, edition of Christianity Today. Here is part of it: "Almost 15 years ago, on a shoreline outside of Athens, Greece, I stood confident in my relationship with the Lord and my ministry trajectory. I was traveling the world on a private Gulfstream jet doing "gospel" ministry and enjoying
every luxury money could buy. After a comfortable flight and my favorite meal (lasagna) made by our personal chef, we prepared for a ministry trip by resting at The Grand Resort: Lagonissi. Boasting my very own ocean-view villa, complete with private pool and over 2,000 square feet of living space, I perched on the rocks above the water's edge and rejoiced in the life I was living. After all, I was serving Jesus Christ and living the abundant life he promised.

"Little did I know that this coastline was part of the Aegean Sea-the same body of water the apostle Paul sailed while spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was just one problem: We weren't preaching the same gospel as Paul. 

"Growing up in the Hinn family empire was like belonging to some hybrid of the royal family and the mafia. Our lifestyle was lavish, our loyalty was enforced, and our version of the gospel was big business. Though Jesus Christ was still a part of our gospel, he was more of a magic genie than the King of Kings. Rubbing him the right way-by giving money and having enough faith-would unlock your spiritual inheritance. God's goal was not his glory but our gain. His grace was not to set us free from sin but to make us rich. The abundant life he offered wasn't eternal, it was now. We lived the prosperity gospel."

Benny Hinn is an ambitious man and his organization, Benny Hinn Ministries, have been wildly successful in accumulating wealth. But is this an accurate portrait of a saint? Costi Hinn cmae to the conclusion that it wasn't. With the help of his wife Christyne and a study of God's word under the care of a solidly evangelical pastor, Costi's faith in the prosperity gospel collapsed and he was set free from the worldly ambitions of his uncle and Benny Hinn Ministries. But what does ambition look like in a saint? 

This week we will look at what Jesus says about ambition, that is, what draws us, drives us, and determines our steps. Why do we make the choices we do? To do this, we will return to the Sermon on the Mount and ask Jesus to speak in a fresh and powerful way to us. Read Matthew 6:19-14 and use the questions below to help you meditate on this heart-exposing text!

1. Jesus brings up three matters that center in one way or another on our ambition: our treasures, our vision and our master. Verses 19-21 address our treasures and it appears that storing up treasures in itself is not wrong. Rather, Jesus is concerned about what kind of treasures we store up. What do you think are some "treasures on earth"?

2. Why do we store up for ourselves treasures on earth and what does Jesus say is wrong with that?
* What has been your experience with earthly treasures?

3. What do you think are some "treasures in heaven," and what is the advantage of having these kinds of treasures?

4. What is the point of verse 21, and have you had any personal experience with this principle?
* Why does it matter where your heart is? (cf., Prov. 4:23)

5. In the next matter, Jesus addresses our vision, verses 22-23. For just a moment, think of the physiological realities behind what He says. In what way is the eye "the lamp of the body"? And why is it true that if your eyes are good your whole body will be full of light, but if your eyes are bad your whole body will be full of darkness? 

6. Now think about it beyond the physiological realities. What do our eyes represent and what kind of light and darkness is Jesus talking about here? 

7. How does someone come to have good eyes so that his or her life is lived in the light? Consider II Corinthians 4:17-18, Ephesians 1:18, Colossians 3:1-4 and Hebrews 12:1-3. 

8. The third matter has to do with masters, verse 24. What is a master and how can money be a master to us? (Consider Mark 10:17-27)
* What are the dangers of loving money? I Timothy 6:6-10

9. Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. What reason does He give for that, and what do you think of that? 

10. Jesus said it is impossible to serve both God and money. Why do think that is? 

11. Ambition is defined as "an eager or strong desire to achieve something." How does Jesus' teaching on treasures, vision and master address the matter of a Christian's ambition? 
* And what does this portion of the Sermon on the Mount add to the portrait of a saint? What does he or she look like in light of Jesus' teaching here in verses 19-24?

12. How did Jesus speak to you about these matters? 
* What and where are your treasures?
* Are your eyes good? What are you focused on?
* Who or what is the master of your life?

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

PS: Remember that our Annual Meeting is this Sunday at 9:15 AM in the Upper Room. We'll hear reports from the last year and have time for questions about the merger. Hope to see you there! 

Justified by Faith Alone or by Faith and Works?

This week we will hear Pastor James Hoxworth preach on one of those problematic texts from the book of James, James 2:14-26. The difficulty concerns no small issue, but the doctrine of justification, that weighty doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls. Now as many of you may know, Martin Luther, that pesky German monk who turned the world upside down, had little respect for the Letter of St. James. In the preface to his German translation of the New Testament he which he wrote in 1
522, he famously said, "St. James' epistle is really a right strawy epistle, compared to these others [Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and so forth], for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it." It appears that when Luther used word "strawy" he had in mind I Corinthians 3:12, which says, "Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw..." His judgement was that James' letter lacked the riches of the Gospel. Was he correct or did he overstate the case in his enthusiasm for the rediscovered doctrine of justification by faith alone? 

This week in preparation for James' sermon (preacher James, that is!) we will confront the biblical conflict and seek a resolution in the book of James, (St. James, that is!) itself. So get ready to wrestle with the Word of God! 

Read James 2:14-26 and use the questions below to help you think through the important issues of faith and works as they relate to justification. 
1. How would you summarize the argument of James 2:14-26? What is James' main point?
2. Read Romans 3:21-4:8. What is the heart of Paul's argument here? (Cf., Gal. 2:15-16)
3. How would you reconcile James 2:24 and Romans 3:28?
4. Paul has Abraham justified in Genesis 15 (Rom. 4:3, 10) and James has him justified in Genesis 22 (Jas. 2:21). Which is it?
5. One of the rules of biblical interpretation is to pay careful attention to the meaning of words because the same word may have multiple meanings. Consider how the word "justify" is used (you might want to look this up in your dictionary). What does it mean in Romans and how is it used in Luke 7:35? What is the difference?
6. So what different uses of "justify" might clarify the difference between James and Paul?
7. Luther said that the letter of James "has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it." What does James say about the Gospel? Read James 1:18-23. 
o    What is the "word of truth," and what does it do? (I Pet. 2:23)
o    What is the "implanted word," and what does it do?
o    What does it mean to be a "doer of the word"? What word has he been speaking about? (Gal. 2:14)
o    What do you think James says about the Gospel? 
8. What did you learn about the doctrine of justification as presented by James and Paul?
9.The Reformers used to say things like, "We are justified by faith alone, but justifying faith is never alone." What do you think they meant and how does that reconcile James and Paul? (Eph. 2:8-10)
10. Is there anything the Lord would have you apply to your life as a result of this study?

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

PS: Remember that there is a potluck following the combined worship service with Bridgeway on Sunday! 


The Portrait of a Saint: The Christian's Religion

During one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Stephen Douglas accused Abraham Lincoln of being two-faced. Turning toward the audience, Lincoln retorted, "I leave it to you, my friends. If I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?" 

There is an inclination in all of us to be people pleasers to one degree or another and so we are tempted to put on a different face when we find ourselves in certain circumstances or are around particular people. We set aside our true selves for a self-created self. Jesus calls it hypocrisy and it is a very serious matter in our relationship with Him. You will recall His scathing exposure of the hypocrisy of the religious elite of His day (e.g., Matthew 23:1-36). In our study today, Jesus warns all of us against hypocrisy in the practice of our religion. 

This week we will resume our study of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus paints for us a portrait of what we are to look like as those who have come under His gracious rule. We have already looked into the Christian's character described in the beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12), the Christian's influence explained with metaphors of salt and light (5:13-16) and the Christian's righteousness as expressed in the fulfillment of the Law which Jesus brought and which He addressed using a recurrent phrase, "You have heard that it was said... but I tell you..." (5:17-48). Our attention this week will be on a Christian's religion. 

Read Matthew 6:1-18 and use the questions given below to help you meditate on what Jesus teaches us about how and why we are to practice our religious devotion. 

1. Jesus addresses three practices of righteousness in these 18 verses. What are they and how are they different from the practice of righteousness we already reflected on in 5:21-48?
* Are the three practices that Jesus takes up here in chapter 6 commanded of us? What do you think is the role of these practices in our lives?

2. Jesus opens this segment with a warning. What is it, and how would you reconcile that with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16?

3. What does Jesus say about giving to the poor? What are we to avoid?
* What does Jesus mean when He tells us to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing? How can that possibly be applied?
* What do you think is the reward for giving in secret?

4. What does Jesus tell us about how to pray? How are we not to pray?
* What instructions are we given about how to pray?
* What do you think is the reward for praying in secret?

5. What does Jesus teach us about fasting? What are we to avoid when we fast?
* How would you apply Jesus' teaching about fasting to your own practice of fasting?
* What do you think is the reward for fasting in secret?

6. Why does Jesus demand that we practice our religious duties in secret?
* How might secrecy help fight against hypocrisy? 
* Do you think we can give to the poor, pray, and fast in secret and yet still miss the reward of our heavenly Father? Why or why not?

7. How do you understand what Jesus says here about rewards? It seems that everyone is rewarded in one way or another for their religious devotion. What rewards does He promise? 

8. What does this segment of Jesus' sermon reveal about what His followers look like? In other words, how do these verses add to the portrait of a saint, someone who has come under His rule? 

9. Are these three religious practices a regular part of your life as a follower of Jesus? What do you think the Lord Jesus would say to you about giving to the poor, praying, and fasting? 

10. Do you find any hypocrisy in yourself as you have thought about what Jesus says in these 18 verses? If so, what does it look like and what would the Lord have you do about it? 

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


Everlasting Father

In The Last Battle, the final book in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, Tirian is the last King of Narnia, and if you remember the story there is stable which plays a key role in the end. When King Tirian enters the stable he suddenly discovers that he has entered into a whole new realm on what seems like a beautiful summer day. He finds himself in a meadow bathed with warm sunshine and dotted with fruit trees laden with indescribably delicious fruit! In the meadow is a doorway standing all by itself and when Tirian cracks it open and looks through it he sees the battleground from which he had come. Then smiling to himself he makes this observation, "It seems, then, that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places." "Yes," said Lord Digory. "Its inside is bigger than its outside." "Yes," said Queen Lucy. "In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world." Of course, Digory and Lucy are children from our realm and the reference is to the Bethlehem stable where Someone inside was far greater that all than all the world! 

Well over 700 years before He was born, Isaiah saw that when Jesus came into the world people would joyfully discover that He was more than a mere man and they would call Him, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). This week we will give our attention to the third title, "Everlasting Father." Read Isaiah 9:1-7.

1. What comes to mind for you when you hear the description, "Everlasting Father"?

2. What do these passages tell us is true about God? 
* Psalm 90:1-2
* Job 36:26
* Isaiah 40:28
* Isaiah 43:10
* Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12
* Revelation 1:8
* What did you find?

3. Consider carefully Exodus 3:13-14. What is the significance of God's name? What does it tell us about Him?

4. Look up the following texts and note what Jesus said about Himself:
* John 8:58
* John 10:30
* John 17:24
* Revelation 22:12-13, 16
* What did you learn here?

5. What are fathers like and what do they do? How might these passages help us see why people who encountered Jesus would call Him "Everlasting Father"?
* Matthew 9:1-2
* Mark 5:21-43
* Mark 8: 1-8
* John 4:7-19
* John 8:10-11

6. What do these passages teach about who Jesus was? 
* John 1:14, 18
* John 5:19-20
* John 12:49-50
* John 12:45; 14:7, 9-11
* Why might people think of Jesus as Everlasting Father in light of these verses in John?

7. One more reason why people might have called Jesus Everlasting Father is hinted at in the following texts: 
* John 5:21, 24, 26
* John 6:35-40, 51 (cf., 8:24)
* John 6:68
* What do you think?

8. Summarize what you think it means for Jesus to be called "Everlasting Father."

9. Have you experienced Jesus that way? 

Hope to see twice you on Sunday, Christmas Eve! And God be with you,


Night of the Father's Love

In a December 22, 2014, blog post written
for The Gospel Coalition entitled, "Joy to the World: A Christmas Hymn Reconsidered," Alyssa Poblete wrote the following account of one of our favorite Advent hymns: 

Isaac Watts was arguably the most prolific hymn writer of his day. He is known for writing such timeless hymns as "Behold the Glories of the Lamb" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." However, Watts is best known for writing the hymn "Joy to the World"-a song played worldwide during Christmas every year. 

While he is much appreciated today, during his lifetime Watts was considered by many to be a disturbance of the status quo and even possibly a heretic for the lyrics he wrote. While he wasn't a heretic, he was a revolutionary.
Watts grew up in a world where the music in every worship service consisted only of psalms or sections of Scripture put to music. Watts found the practice monotonous. To him, there was a lack of joy and emotion among the congregants as they sang. He once famously said, "To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion." 

Watts's father issued a challenge. He told Watts that if he struggled with the songs they sang, then he ought to do something about it. Perhaps he should attempt to write something different. This moment set Watts on a lifelong pursuit to write lyrics that exalted Christ and reminded Christians of their hope in his saving work on the cross. 
This desire is evident in the way he wrote "Joy to the World." Watts was inspired to write the timeless tune while meditating on Psalm 98. Verse 4 gripped him: "Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!" And this is exactly what Watts set out to do. Little did he know that this song would spark a joyful noise that would ring through the ages. 

This week we will be treated to a musical entitled, "The Night of the Father's Love" which will be presented by the Joy Belles and Friends. In preparation for this Sunday's musical let's read and reflect on Luke's Nativity account. Begin with Luke 1:5 read through 2:38 (114 verses!). It is a lot of reading for a devotional this week, but there won't be many questions! 

1. What does Luke tell us about when these events take place and where they take place?

2. How many different people are involved in this story?

3. Who stands out to you the most in this account of Jesus' birth? Choose one person (or group like the shepherds) and write down everything that Luke tells you about him or her (or them!).

4. What is it that stands out to you about this person?

5. Where does God show up in this story and what is His role? What do you learn about Him?

6. What would you say is the emotional tone of this story both on earth and in heaven? Why do you think that?

7. Do you have a favorite Christmas hymn that best captures for you the wonder of the Nativity?

8. What does the Lord want you to know and how does He want you to celebrate Jesus' coming in light of your meditation on Luke's Nativity account? 

God be with you and hope to see you Sunday!


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!


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.
"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!


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.

"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,


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,


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!   


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!


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!


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!


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!


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!


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!


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!


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!