A Fighter Verse for Bible Reading

Luke 1:37-38 is from our Community Bible Reading this week and for our Bible reading throughout the rest of the year!

Our theme for this year is working together. We began the year in Ephesians 4:11-16, first to see that it is God’s will that we work together but then answering, how does working together work? The answer, beginning with Ephesians 4:11, is that working together works when our pastor works…correctly.

Yes, there is a way that our pastor is to work correctly. Ephesians 4:11-16 teaches us that the pastor who teaches, teaches to equip the saints. This equipping (supply, re-supplying, repairing) is to equip you and me for the “work of the ministry,” that is, the work of serving others (ministry is the word deaconing, a word used for waiting on tables, like in a restaurant. And notice it is described as work). This “work” builds up the body of Christ, the church.

It is important to remember that it is Jesus who builds the church (Matthew 16:18). He actually said, “I will build my church.” And he builds the church in giving the church two gifts – you and the pastor. You as a Christian are uniquely gifted by Jesus with a spiritual gift (Ephesians 4:7). This gift is for the working of the church. The second gift is described in four varied ways – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (quite likely the pastor who teaches). In that second gift, we (hopefully) experience regularly the pastor who teaches. So, think upon it: working together includes you with your spiritual gift and the pastor who teaches to equip you. And it is not just any teaching that equips. It is teaching doctrine that equips, teaching doctrine in love that equips (Ephesians 4:15).

And in order for this to happen two things must happen. First, you must see that our church vitally needs you. And second, you must see that you vitally need our church.

This Sunday will be related to last Sunday. We will be in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. We work together knowing God’s will together.

These two Sundays are important Sundays for our year of working together.

We will soon be back in our study of the Gospel of Luke.

Also, as the year begins, consider the joy of our gathering together each Sunday. It begins at 9:30 am with prayer together. And then at 10 am it continues with our worship together.

I love you.

-James

Encouragement for Thursday

In his fighter verse discussion about 1 Corinthians 13:4 this week Pastor James asked the question, “Does this describe YOU?” The Scriptural connection that comes to my mind from the description about love always seems to be to Ephesians 4. It takes the foundation of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 and builds on it the application of how love would appear in our lives as believers.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

As Paul continues in Ephesians 4, he reminds us of the basis for our standing as believers:

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Paul takes this principle further. As a result of the basis he presents in verses 4-6, we are all considered necessary parts of the body of the church. It is the interaction of all of us that enables us to mature, and to fulfill the purpose of the church. Just as we wouldn’t allow a part of our physical body to intentionally restrict or injure another part of our own body, we shouldn’t restrict or injure another part of our church body.

Paul summarizes his thoughts in Ephesians 4 with the following instructions:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Like many principles we must follow, sometimes they seem to be easier said than done. Many of God’s instructions through the Bible can be simple to understand, yet difficult to follow due to our human nature.

I think there are a couple of behaviors that can help us in showing the entire body love and help it to operate more smoothly.

1) Appreciate yourself and your own abilities

We are blessed with different abilities and personalities. We all have value to the body of believers. There are things we do well, and things we don’t. We often tend to feel that we are lacking because we can’t do everything, or at least something that we wish we could. Realize that God loves you. Recognize what you can do well and what contributions you can make, and serve the church with them.

2) Appreciate others and their abilities

Just like we are blessed with certain abilities and personalities, others are blessed with a different combination of them. Sometimes we see what others can do and feel either inadequate or jealous. Sometimes it might cause us to feel superior because someone else can’t do something we can. Looking at others in the body with love helps to conquer these feelings. Legs are visible and important to our physical body, but if we had five of them and no liver or pancreas we wouldn’t be able to survive.

I am thankful that we are all different and supply different strengths to the church. Love yourself because you are God’s child and Christ’s brother or sister. Love your fellow believers because they are God’s children and Christ’s brothers or sisters. It’s all part of being a part of the body of Christ.

Take heart and be encouraged!

This Is The Last Fighter Verse

I hope you are encouraged with this week’s fighter verse – the last fighter verse of 2020. It will require some time not just with memorization (which is simply recalling the words when needed) but in reading 1 Corinthians 11, 12 and 13; then reading 1 Corinthians 13:4. And concluding with a question: does 1 Corinthians 13:4 describe me? Specifically, does 1 Corinthians 13:4 describe my relationship, my interaction with my local church?

Remember how we began 2020? It was 10 things to remember throughout the year. Remember where we always begin (Luke 1:4); Remember that one Sunday each month; Remember that we are in this together; Remember to be us; Remember that it is about changed lives and how those lives really change; Remember to dream, pray, plan – in love – all kinds of ways to reach all kinds of people; Remember the pastor (he is to remember people); Remember to pray; Remember to pray together continuously; Remember to pray together continually.

How will we begin 2021? First, we will spend time this Sunday in Ephesians 4:11-16. Then we will spend time the following Sunday in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. And finally, on Sunday, January 17 we will return to the Gospel of Luke.

Also, Children’s Church will resume this Sunday (January 3).

Looking forward to gathering with you!

-James

Encouragement For Thursday

I have heard the account of Christ’s birth in Luke 2 read by countless people over the years– men, women, preachers, teachers, and even myself. Yet none of them seems to touch me as much as this reading by Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Even as a young child when I first saw this special, this reading captured me. I think this is for a couple of reasons.

First, it comes from someone unexpected. Here you have a cartoon about kids attempting to put on a Christmas play, and being distracted by all of the trappings of the play itself. Then out of the blue, one of the more unassuming characters in the story, Linus, steps forward and presents the focus and reason for not only their play, but for Christmas celebration itself. Linus gets it. His clear, simple presentation brings attention to the account and not to the presenter.

Second, the reading by Linus comes in an unexpected place. Luke’s account here isn’t presented in a church setting, and isn’t read by someone in a “Scripture reading” voice. It is on a school stage, told by a child. It may not have been common for a reading like that to happen in that setting even back when the show was created. Today I think it would be nigh unto impossible in a public school setting.

I am thankful that we have Luke’s wonderful descriptive account of Jesus’ birth. I am also thankful that Charles Schulz loved it enough to include part of its text in his story about a bunch of common kids putting on a play and trying to appreciate Christmas. I suspect that for many children who see this special, it might be the only exposure to Jesus and scripture that they have during the year.  I pray that it might influence many.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).

Take heart and be encouraged!

We See God’s Glory

Christians are to be the merriest on Christmas!

In this week’s fighter verse, part of the application is to read the Christmas event (Matthew 1; Matthew 2; Luke 1; Luke 2; John 1) whether Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or Christmas Night. And to read it knowing that we see God’s glory. How is it that in reading the Christmas event we can see God’s glory?

For the third Sunday in a row, the plan is to be in Hebrews 4:14-16. I really, really, really think it will happen this time. BUT…God’s plans the last two weeks have been better (as always).

We will be enjoying communion together this Sunday, too!

On Sunday, January 3, I would like to look ahead at 2021 or how we need to look at 2021.

We are really, really, really looking forward to being with you this Sunday!

-James

What Happened To Us Sunday?

One question to consider: what is grace?

I cannot wait to hear your answer.

Our fighter verse for this week is Matthew 5:16. I love it.

The plan this Sunday is to be in Hebrews 4:14-16. Our family is doing well. Cam is getting better each day (actually, today she sounded like her self). Breathing has greatly improved. Her fever subsided a couple of days ago, but she still has no sense of taste or smell. Friday will be our last day of quarantine as long as no one develops any symptoms.

I was (and still am) grateful to have a Sunday to listen. How rich is that very first verse of Matthew’s Gospel? And how well does that verse fit our fighter verse from last week? How well does it partner with rejoice in hope? be patient in tribulation? be constant in prayer?

Encouragement for Thursday

Back in the 1930’s, Montgomery Ward department stores gave away coloring books to children every year at Christmas time. They normally gave away versions that had been created by another company and labeled for the store’s use. In 1939 they decided to create their own. They assigned one of their advertising copywriters, Robert May, the task of writing a story for a coloring book that was about an animal. He began working on it. That year his wife was found to have cancer and died a few months later. He was left to raise their young daughter alone. He was by faith and heritage Jewish, at a time when there was strong anti-Jewish sentiment in at least part of the world. Montgomery Ward told him to stop working on the story and turn in what he had finished. He refused, remembering his daughter’s love of a particular type of animal at the zoo, and wanting to complete it in memory of his wife. His work and his story bought him hope for better days ahead, and for seeing his wife again one day.

Wikipedia has an excellent definition of hope:

“Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. … Among its opposites are dejection, hopelessness, and despair.”

Our fighter verse for this week encourages us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12, NIV)”

In his discussion about this verse Pastor James made the point that how well we make it part of our lives will show in our attitudes. During our COVID challenge I do have hope. I am not too sure I can say I feel joyful. I try to be faithful in prayer, yet I know that I should be more faithful. The point that seems especially difficult is being patient in affliction. Like everyone I am weary of trying to isolate from others. Mask wearing is uncomfortable and seems impersonal. I hate to hear about small businesses I have supported closing permanently due to repercussions from the restrictions that they face. I am impatient for vaccines to be released that might be able to slow the spread of the affliction. When I look at these feelings I realize that what might help me through them is finding joy in hope.

In 1939 at Christmas time Montgomery Ward introduced Robert May’s story, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It turned out to be much more popular than they expected. They gave out 2.4 million copies of the book until war restrictions on paper forced them to stop printing it. A songwriter named Johnny Marks noticed the story and made notes about it for the future. In 1949 he married Robert May’s sister. With May’s permission he wrote his song “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” He presented it to the singer who he thought would best perform it– Gene Autry. It took some urging from his wife, but Mr. Autry agreed to record it as a “side B” on another record. In the years since, this song has become the second largest selling Christmas song in history, after Bing Crosby’s version of White Christmas. In 1964 a stop motion animated version of the story appeared on television for the first time. It expanded the story told in the original poem and included new songs written by Johnny Marks, a few of which have also become classics. It has been shown seasonally every year since it was introduced (56 years and counting).

Why has this song and program endured? On the surface it is an unbelievable story about a fictitious reindeer. It has endured because of its message below the surface. Hope. Rudolph, of course, was born with a condition that made him an outcast. Dejection, hopelessness, and despair were his constant companions. He tried to run away from his troubles. He found some companionship and eventually tried to find a place of belonging on the Island of Misfit Toys (I feel a special sympathy for the toys there; “No child wants to play with a Charlie in the Box!”). Love and a sense of duty caused him to find hope. As the story progresses we see him mature and overcome trials, until he realizes acceptance and the special role that developed as a result of that hope.

In many ways we are like Rudolph. We focus on things about ourselves we don’t like, we doubt our abilities, and we sometimes feel excluded from groups. We feel dejection and despair. We sometimes let ourselves lose hope. We try to run from our problems. Watching Rudolph we are reminded of how growing can lead us to hope. Rudolph found his sense of purpose by focusing on others instead of worrying about himself. He devoted himself to action in trying to meet their needs. He didn’t run from danger. In the end he made himself open to possibilities that he didn’t imagine in the first place. His hope for a place and purpose was realized.

Can we really learn about hope and positive outcomes from a fictitious reindeer? Absolutely.

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, you’ll go down in hi—sto—ry.”

Take heart and be encouraged!

Church, Keep Fighting

Church, keep figthing.

Never against one another.

And not against the world.

Yesterday, I shared that this week’s fighter verse very well may be the most important fighter verse yet. Look carefully at it again. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). And keep the whole chapter in view.

Romans 12 begins with these words: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Notice the word brothers – it is plural. We can think of this as brothers and sisters. Paul is writing to Christians, specifically, a local church. Next, notice the words your bodies – this, too, is plural. So far, put it together. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers [and sisters], by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Pause there. Each one of you present yourselves together as a living sacrifice, as one living sacrifice. Living sacrifice is singular. So, each one of you come together as one. This is really a verse instructing us to not see ourselves as many, but as many coming together as one and doing something!!

And the rest of the chapter keeps building on verse one. Look at verses 4 and 5. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

It is why I asked us yesterday, what could happen? What could happen if together we did Romans 12:12? A fighter verse is only a fighter verse when we apply it to our lives. And how do we know if we are doing Romans 12:12 together? How would you know if I am doing Romans 12:12? The answer: attitude.

My attitude stunk last week. I knew it and I noticed it gradually worsening. I told the Lord about it and in part, it had to do with this year. I am tired. I am tired of COVID. I am tired of hearing about COVID. I did not notice the effect it was having on me right away. I tried to muddle through it. Yes, it was a reason why there was no fighter verse last week. But it all changed when I read Romans 12:12. Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation. Be constant prayer. These three things have changed my attitude.

And I know this year wears on you as well. And I am not asking, but rather imploring us with much enthusiasm to keep fighting and to do so by rejoicing in hope, being patient in tribulation and constant in prayer. I do not think those three things need much explanation, but rather much application! And together, what could happen? As you keep looking at Romans 12, this chapter is filled with what a local church looks like.

I just felt like saying more today. I hope you do not mind. And I felt like saying more or sharing more because that verse, those three things are changing my attitude. Romans 12:12 might be the most important fighter verse for us yet.

What Could Happen?

This week’s fighter verse is Romans 12:12. In order for a fighter verse to be a fighter verse it must be applied to daily living. I am excited about this fighter verse. Maybe we could think of this fighter verse as containing a 1-2-3 punch. It left me wondering, with excitement, what could happen if we do this 1-2-3 punch together?

This Sunday we will be in Hebrews 4:14-16. Our attention will be upon these words: we have a great high priest. As you prepare for Sunday, perhaps take some time to read Hebrews 2 and Hebrews 3 and Hebrews 4 and Hebrews 5. Each of those chapters emphasize that we have a great high priest.

Mark down Sunday, December 20, a very special Sunday. It is the Sunday before Christmas and on this Sunday we will gather together at the Lord’s Table. I am really looking forward to that day.

Be sure to check the blog again this Thursday for the encouragement for Thursday – these are good and helpful as the week winds down.

Encouragement For Thursday

As Pastor James reminded us last Sunday we are now in the season of Advent, anticipating the day of remembrance of Jesus’ birth. The entirety of the Christmas season for us includes anticipation and preparation. We remember the ultimate gift that God gave to us—the incarnation of His Son. We also remember the period of celebration that this season brings. It is a celebration based on family relationships and family traditions. We decorate a Christmas tree and our homes. We sing Christmas carols, play Christmas music and watch familiar movies and T.V. specials to bring us joy and turn our thoughts from the negativity that we might encounter daily to the positive message of the season. We plan for gift giving to our family and friends, which in a very small way emulates God’s great unmatchable gift to us. We simply enjoy.

The Christmas season for us is based on the anticipation of celebrating a finished event in history—Jesus’ birth. We benefit from having the Scriptural account of His birth along with the prophecies, promises and events leading up to it. I wonder how we would appreciate the prophecies and promises differently if we didn’t know the end of the story. Would our anticipation be based on wonder, trust and faith? Possibly a slight sense of anxiety? We find an example in David’s experience with God.

King David lived a life in God’s service that was at times challenging and difficult. From the time he followed Saul into kingship he was faced with people both inside and outside his kingdom who wanted to kill him. Although he was an imperfect man, he attempted to keep God in place as his leader and deliverer. He was noted as being a man after God’s own heart. Through the prophet Nathan God asks David to build Him a house. In turn He also promises to provide a home for Israel. David receives an even more personal and specific promise:

“’Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ (2 Samuel 7:11b-16)”

The most immediate promise to David will involve his son Solomon, but the promise is recognized in 2 Corinthians 6:18 and Hebrews 1:5 as ultimately applying to Christ. David’s thankfulness for God’s promise to him comes in his prayer to God in verses 18-29. Even though he couldn’t see the fulfillment of God’s promise, he anticipates it in faith:

“’And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.’ (2 Samuel 7:28-29)”

Which is better, to anticipate a great event for which we know the outcome, or to anticipate one in faith for which the outcome is a mystery? When the object of anticipation is Jesus Christ, I don’t think it really matters. He exceeds all expectations!

Take heart and be encouraged!