Christmas Sunday Gifts

Christmas Sunday is just a few days away and if it is anything like last Sunday, it is sure to be a beautiful, celebratory and full worship service! Grace kids are getting ready for the annual presentation of gifts to the Christ Child, and this year, our gifts will be for the neediest Karen refugee children at New Life International Baptist Church. It is not too late to bring wrapped gifts–toys, clothing or gift cards–but please do bring the gifts to the donation bins at the back of the sanctuary by Sunday morning. You can label each gift with the age and gender of the child the gift is intended for, and we will make sure the appropriate Karen child receives it in time for Christmas.

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Not certain who to buy for? Just look at all these beautiful children! As you can see, there is sure to be a child to match with whatever gift you bring. Do you notice the little boy in the lower right corner? That would be my son, Felix. I didn’t know where he was when I was snapping photos last Sunday, and I was so surprised to find him in this picture when I got home. He was right down there with all his new Karen friends!

Felix chose a gift for a boy his age, and you could do something similar. How about choosing a gift that your granddaughter would love, or something that would be perfect for your next door neighbor’s son? It doesn’t need to be large or expensive to be a meaningful gift. One of my best Christmas memories as a young child was when I received a small stuffed animal from an anonymous person at our church who said it was a present for me from Jesus. The item itself didn’t matter–but the love and generosity I experienced made a lasting impression on my young heart and convinced me that Jesus really did see me and care about me.

Thank you for extending the love and generosity of Jesus this year to the Karen children and their parents. May you be blessed with the joy of giving! See you on Sunday!

Sermon on the Mount series (Matt 4:17-5:2)

I thought I’d try putting the basic sermon points, outlines, etc., on our site, after we preach them, during our series on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  The main idea that I wanted to convey from this passage (that actually falls right before the Sermon the Mount) is that to be faithful follower of Jesus Christ, and to be able to make personal application of the Sermon on the Mount, there are some decisions that a disciple must make, and be making!

1.  He/she must have repented, and continue to live a life of repentance.  (4:17)  There must be a fundamental shift in how one views themselves, life, Jesus, etc., in light of the marvelous opportunity to actually enter into His kingdom.  The one-time repentance that often accompanies faith is just a start.  Faithful citizens of this Kingdom become experts at rethinking and challenge both their ideas AND their behaviors.  I don’t see much of a case for saying that genuine repentance exists if one of the two are missing, since a person always acts in accordance to what they believe, even if only at that moment of action.

2.   He/she must become increasingly identified as a follower of Jesus.  (4:19)  Through a process that occurred over a course of months prior to this account in Matthew’s gospel, Peter, Andrew, James and John became increasingly close to Jesus, and made increasingly significant decisions to spend time with Him, learn from Him, and finally, to receive His calling to be apostles.  They became known as belonging to Him; by their families, their village, their synagogue, and their co-workers in the fishing industry.  Followers of Jesus today can decide to identify themselves with Jesus through their behavior, their speech, and the way they prioritize life around His interests and purposes, as revealed in Scripture, instead of their own.

3.  He/she must simply obey Jesus. (4:20-21)  These men “immediately” left nets, boats, and a father when Jesus simply said, “Follow Me.”  There is no doubt as to what the phrase meant, particularly in the culture of the ancient middle east.  To “follow” someone as a disciple was to increasingly pattern and plan one’s life around the teaching of that person, largely through imitation of the teacher’s behavior and attention to the teacher’s words.  Obedience was assumed in the disciple-teacher relationship.  A follower of Jesus today is marked not by his/her theological insights or academic titles, nor by their bumper stickers or tattoos, but by the degree to which they simply, immediately obey Jesus when He tells them what to do.  Obedience is also the way a disciple demonstrates love for Jesus! (John 14:21)

4.  He/she must seek a life of learning from Jesus at every opportunity. (5:1-2)  The Sermon on the Mount was preached in front of a large crowd, but it was preached TO those disciples who gathered themselves around Jesus for His instruction.  It seems to me today that we followers of Jesus often are more motivated to teach other believers than we are to learn from Jesus through drawing close to Him to listen to His Word.  Have you ever been to one of those “bible studies” where everyone seems more interested demonstrating the wealth and depth of their own knowledge and ideas, instead of humbly listening and learning to the Word of God as it is being shared? But this isn’t really about going to a bible study, or church, or learning the complexities and variations of theology–it is about drawing close to Jesus to learn.  What has he been teaching you lately?  A faithful disciple never stops learning!

So there are four areas to think over this week, regarding our relationship to Jesus as His disciples: Repentance, Identification with Him, Obedience to Him, and Learning from Him.

Thanks! Pastor Ken

Grace Greeters

Written by Roger Whaley on Sunday, February 26:

I failed at church today and I feel horrible about it.  I try to make it a point to greet every new person when they visit us.  Today, a younger lady was sitting on the 12th street side of our church and I just didn’t make it to her.  Jeanie, bless her heart, spotted this lady just as the worship was beginning and thought, “Well, I’ll make contact with her after church.” However, the young lady walked by me during our wonderful worship and said, “People here are cold, I am going to find another church.”  Before she left I talked and prayed with her, but there is one thing I didn’t do.  I didn’t ask her to forgive my lack.  This incident broke my heart.  We had a wonderful time of worship and great teaching, but a visitor came in and did not feel loved!  Ouch.  Maybe she was an angel, unaware!  

You know what?  I am not the only one who lacked today. We all did!   I know you probably feel as I do.  I feel crummy whenever I remember her face.  There are a number of Grace Bible people who do a tremendous job reaching out with Christ’s kindness towards our visitors, but we missed this young, and I think, hurting lady (Dawn).  I sure did!!!   

Let’s even do better!!  Come to church prayerful (I am speaking to myself, too) remembering there are some hurting, lonely people who visit us.   They, like us, need Jesus.  We are representatives of the Savior Jesus.   You know what?  It is our calling to care and love everyone who walks through our doors.   If you are not inclined to get involved in a conversation with a visitor, that’s okay.  Just go out of your way to say, “Hello, welcome,” or “Thank you for visiting us”.  Let us never allow someone to come to church and not feel welcome. You, “Grace People”, are warm and loving believers in our Savior, filled with God’s love.  Show off a little!

Oh, don’t forget to pray.

Lenten Repentance

One of the common words we hear about during Lent is “penitence,” which is a synonym for “repentance.” I used to think repentance meant, “I won’t do that bad thing again!”  Sorrow for doing bad things and commitment to stop doing them is part of repentance, but there’s so much more.

In Acts 26:20, Paul declared that people “should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”  Paul tells us that repentance means turning to God.  It’s difficult for well-intending people to admit they have turned away from God, feeding habits which are completely against His will, in fact serving the purpose of God’s enemies (Ephesians 2:1-3).  That’s one reason why following Jesus is repulsive to the world – to truly turn to God, we have to admit that the way we’ve been living is bankrupt, twisted, aligned with evil powers, and in fact dead.

When we turn to God and confess our guilt, we know that God always punishes the guilty, but we also trust that He will forgive (Ex 34:6-7). Only God can resolve this conflict, and He resolves it through the God-man, Jesus, who trades places with us.  Our ungodliness goes on Him, and his righteousness is credited to us.  He takes our punishment, and we are declared innocent.  He was resurrected, and we are given new life too.

So repentance is turning from our old selves and turning to God.  And He never leaves us there, midway in the turn, but takes us all the way through to begin a new life of everlasting quality, because repentance is followed by forgiveness and transformation.  Being forgiven through faith in Jesus, we are washed clean and renewed in our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit (Timothy 3:5).  That’s when are our deepest desires are to honor God, to trust and listen to Him, and to live in ways which reflect our love for Him (Galatians 5:16-25).

So during Lent we take time to remember that we were dead in sin.  We remember that we turned and trusted in God to forgive us.  We remember that Jesus died in our place and was resurrected.  We remember the new life we received.  And we do this to renew our gratitude and loyalty and love for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, motivating us to continue performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

Why Observe Lent?

Think of an important event that you celebrate each year with a loved one, like an anniversary or a birthday.  And suppose you have seven weeks to plan for that event.  In a way, the more thought and planning you put into the day, the more meaningful your celebration will be, and the more your loved one will know how much you love them.

Lent is a period of seven weeks during which Christians prepare to remember the day that Jesus died (Good Friday) and the day He was resurrected (Easter Sunday). How can we prepare to celebrate these important days of the Christian year?

We can think back and remember how life was before we trusted Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-3).  We were separated from God by the guilt we carried for the things we’d done wrong and by the shame we carried for the wrongs done against us.  We were caught up in the course of popular culture, indulging our impulses yet never satisfied.  We were in fact aligned with powers working against God instead of for Him.

We can acknowledge to God how fantastic His love is, in that Jesus died for us even when we were against Him (Romans 5:6).

We can remember how we turned to God in broken humility, confessing the wrongs we have done, asking for forgiveness, and trusting that He would be merciful and forgive us (Joel 2:12-14).

We can give God thanks for the cleansing, healing, transforming power of the forgiveness we received through Jesus (Ps 51).

And remembering all this can stir a renewed love in our hearts so that we live today in ways which demonstrate our love and faithful trust in Jesus (John 14:15; Acts 26:20).

Break away from the busyness of life and take time to prepare your hearts to celebrate Good Friday and Easter.  May this Easter season be a particularly special one for you, for our church as we gather to celebrate together, and for Jesus, as we express our deeply-thought love and devotion to Him!

The Preacher is a Servant of Jesus Christ

With the metaphor of a servant, the late Dr. John Stott concludes a presentation of five metaphors to describe the role of a preacher.  The particular verse from which Stott draws the metaphor is found in 1 Corinthians 3:5:

 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.

The Corinthians had succumbed to “the shameful cult of human personalities,” drawing out distinctions and comparisons between such leaders as Paul, Peter, and a skilled speaker from Alexandria named Apollos.  They claimed loyalty to their favorite leader or preacher, and looked down on those who weren’t members of their particular fan club.   Stott focuses on Paul’s response to such twisted, misguided thinking about the church.  All genuine, called preachers of the gospel are, at the end of the day, servants who have simply done their jobs to the best of their ability.  They are not artists seeking to “create” a masterpiece of a sermon week by week, or pulpit politicians who seek to sway the will of their listeners in a certain direction politically.

Stott writes that a servant must be provided the tools and means to accomplish his task by his employer, or Master.  As a gardener needs to be given tools to work the ground, so a preacher must be given the proper tools to preach effectively—and the primary need is for the very power of God to be dispensed into the preacher so that it can be relied on by the preacher in the sermon.  Stott lists four sources of the power need:

The first source of power is the Word of God.  People are not saved by the words of people, but only by the Word of God.  This means a godly preacher does not rely on arguments of reason or flourish that could play to any crowd, Christian or not, for sake of their impressiveness and apparent wisdom.  Instead, the preacher finds the unadulterated, unadorned words of the Bible to be his one and only subject and source of material.  All other information sources find their value only in the extent that they contribute to the proper interpretation of the Word from God.

Second, there is matchless power in the cross of Christ.  While perplexing to the spiritually minded Jews of Paul’s day, and foolishness to the “logical” Greeks, Paul stubbornly refused to present any other source of truth or reason than that of the fact and results of the most heinous crime in human history—the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the astounding opportunity of redemption that the cross afforded for all who simply believed in it for their salvation.

Third, the preacher finds power for preaching in the filling of the Holy Spirit—in the preacher himself and in his hearers. Whereas common public proclamation and discourse rests on the ability of the speaker to persuade—often through manipulative technique or the display of great speaking skill—the preacher relies on a spiritual transaction to occur in the soul of both himself as he preachers, and in his listeners, as they sit under the preaching of the Bible.

Finally, there is preaching power to be found in cultivating a life of holiness and humility.  A preacher must speak from a life that, while not perfect or sinless by any means, is  sincere in its preference and pursuit of a holy life before God and man.  Also, the preacher gains power through humility.  As the Word tells him that God “gives grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:5), he seeks that grace from God, week after week.

Whew!  Those are the five metaphors of the preacher that Stott leave us with in The Preacher’s Portrait.  Are there any that you feel he left out?

The Preacher is a Father to his Church

Well, this is a tricky one, isn’t it? The late Dr. John Stott’s book The Preacher’s Portrait describes five roles that a pastor-preacher fills in serving the church of Jesus Christ. The metaphor of a father is not usually applied to the role of the preacher!

Stott warns that this father-like attribute of a faithful preacher has limitations; the preacher is not to presume to exercise any sort of fatherly authority over his congregation, for such authority belongs to God alone, and not to the frail human entrusted with preach! (Matt. 23:9)  However, the preacher is to treat his church as family, and relate to them with the tender-hearted kindness, understanding, and sacrifice that any good father demonstrates towards his own children.  Stott’s other domestic metaphor for the preacher, the steward, refers to the preacher’s relationship to the household, particularly in his administration of the goods and stores of the master of the house.  But a father’s primary role in the home is to lovingly relate to its people.  

Stott writes, “Love, then, is the chief quality of a father to which the Apostle refers when he uses the metaphor to illustrate his ministry; not a soft or sickly sentimentality, but a strong, unselfish love which cares and which is not incompatible with discipline.” (1 Thess. 2:13) Only by genuinely loving those we preach to can we truly understand the daily joys, blessings, challenges, and blessings that our church members face.  When a preacher gains such wisdom into the real life of the congregation, he then is fit to speak with both appropriate authority and tender affection to their specific condition.

Stott lists six aspects of such affection: understanding, gentleness, simplicity, earnestness, example, and prayer.  He concludes, “We do not have this love for people by nature; we can only receive it by grace.  By nature we are selfish, lazy and hungry for the praise of men.  There is only one way to learn to love, and that is, to yearn for people, in St. Paul’s phrase, ‘with the affection of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:8).

May our pulpits be filled by only by those who love their congregations like a father loves his children!

The Preacher is a Witness to the Lord Jesus Christ

The late Dr. John Stott’s magnificent book The Preacher’s Portrait describes five roles that a pastor-preacher fills in serving the church of Jesus Christ.  Whereas the role of the steward is a domestic metaphor, which “takes us into a house,” and the role of the herald is a political metaphor, which “takes us into the open air, perhaps a street or marketplace,” the metaphor of the witness is legal—it takes us into the lawcourts.

It is required that a witness has both experienced something, and then is willing and capable of giving an truthful account of what was experienced.  Dr. Stott writes that there are two primary requirements of the preacher who acts as a witness: experience and humility.

The nature of experience required is not of much preaching experience, or advanced academic preparation.  It is rather the experience of living in personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Without such a living relationship, the preacher is simply speaking about something that happened, or happens, to someone else, but not himself/herself.  The “testimony” would at best be only hearsay.

Likewise, humility is required of the preacher. Stott writes that it is a “perilous” undertaking to stand before a church presuming to authoritatively speak God’s truth into the lives of its members.  There is a temptation to presume it is your message, your words, your sermon, instead of your humble testimony to what God has said and done.

We preachers might do a better job of it all if we observed Dr. Stott’s requirements to our sermons, asking ourselves, Am I speaking from my own, personal experience?  And, Do my words arise from a sincerely humble soul, or are they merely the expressions of a proud spirit? I would add third question: Have I preached this sermon to myself before I preach it to others?

The Preacher is a Herald of the Good News of Jesus Christ

John Stott’s magnificent book The Preacher’s Portrait describes five roles that a pastor-preacher fills in serving the church of Jesus Christ. The second role presented is that of a herald.

Whereas the emphasis of the steward is on the role of faithfully preserving and dispensing the Word of God to the church, the role of the herald in pastoring is that of both proclaiming a specific message entrusted to him, and then making an appeal for a response on the part of the listener.  The specific message that he proclaims is that of the spectacular accomplishment of the cross of Jesus Christ in bringing about the opportunity of reconciliation between God and man—the Gospel.  The pastor-as-herald is more than a mere spokesman who says something—he is an ambassador who calls upon those to whom he has been sent to make a decision about what he has told them.  Thus Peter preached to his Pentecost listeners “Repent, and be baptized (Acts 2:38), and Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).  A herald needs to be clear about his message, simple in its presentation, and courageous in calling for a response from his listeners.  It’s this type of moral courage that marks a faithful pastor.

From Stott: “So the true herald of God is careful first to make a thorough and thoughtful proclamation of God’s great deed of redemption through Christ’s cross, and then to issue a sincere and earnest appeal to men to repent and believe.  Not one without the other, but both.”