In the Bulletin
We have almost completed the first week of the new year. Tomorrow begins the first full work-week of 2019, and for many of us, life will return to a sense of normalcy after the long holiday period. Usually the weeks around Christmas and New Years are characterized by reflection, evaluation, and goals for the future. I know this has been on our mind here at Kettering as we began our new curriculum year last month and have focused on self-evaluation, etc. I expect most of us have taken a hard look at where we are spiritually and have resolved to strengthen what is weak and cultivate our strengths as we move into a new year.
Your opportunities for spiritual growth abound … like never before … in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago.
While the Bible remains the same, its availability to us grows every day. Chances are that you own a smart phone, and if you do it is likely you have the Bible wherever you go. If you have a Bible app installed you are literally seconds away from accessing God’s word. Task and calendar programs can be set up to automatically remind you of reading a passage, taking time out to pray, or intentionally scheduling five minutes of quiet time for reflection and meditation. Some programs will even read your selected text for you, allowing you to take in God’s word in the car, on your bike, or while you’re walking. Putting these things into practice may involve some changes, like getting up thirty minutes earlier each day, or actually putting the reminders in your mobile device. (If you don’t have a Bible app already and use an iOS device, see me for what app I use and recommend.)
In your email inBox this morning, you have already received the Daily Bible Reading Schedule for this week. It contains a short devotional written by Gary Henry that sets the tone and direction for the week. Every Monday through Friday you will receive a short reminder detailing that day’s reading, the key point to consider, discussion questions if you choose to have a devotional with your family, and a short reading from the wisdom literature. (If you’re not into email, a paper copy of the schedule will be printed every week and left inside the front entryway.)
One of the best ways to facilitate your personal spiritual growth is to be in the word … outside of the worship assembly and Bible class. Resolve today to make this a top priority as you focus the new year.
— Matthew Allen
As we’ll see in today’s sermon, there are multiple forces working to suppress and even harass believers who exercise their faith in the public arena. Going forward, we will have to exercise wisdom and discernment in order to interact effectively inside the growing new reality.
We are not the first generation to experience hostility. How did the early Christians handle adversity? The Letter to Diognetus is dated to ~130 AD. It was written by someone who used the name Mathetes (not a proper name but the Greek word for disciple). Scholars believe it was either a personal letter written to defend the Christian faith or a formal written defense to a judge. Whoever the author was, he identifies himself as a “disciple of the apostles.” In Chapter 5 he describes the behavior of the early Christians living with the unpleasant reality of mistreatment and persecution:
They obey the laws that men make, but their lives are better than the laws. They love all men, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, yet are more alive than ever. They are paupers, but they make many rich. They lack all things, and yet in all things they abound. They are dishonored, yet glory in their dishonor. They are maligned, and yet are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless. They suffer insult, yet they pay respect. They do good, yet are punished with the wicked. When they are punished, they rejoice, as though they were getting more of life. They are attacked by the Jews as Gentiles and are persecuted by the Greeks, yet those who hate them can give no reason for their hatred.
What a great testimony to the faith and steadfastness of the early church! May we resolve to remain true to God and His word no matter how society’s perceptions and actions regarding Christianity change. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life, Revelation 2.10.
— Matthew Allen
The opening verses of Romans 5 are some of the most beloved of Paul’s writing. Here, Paul is bringing to conclusion the first section of his letter, where he makes the stunning assertion that salvation is by faith and not by a system of law. We are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 3.24. Because of this fact, Paul makes the following conclusions in the opening verses of chapter 5:
- We have peace with God.
- We have access to the grace in which we stand.
- We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which will not put us to shame. You can entrust your soul with God. He will not let you down.
- We enjoy the love of God, which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This is just amazing language. And to think that it applies to those who were once ungodly sinners and enemies of God, 5.6-10. His love is inexplicable and defies human logic. Over and over again, God’s word proclaims this marvelous fact.
As you pause from your normal routine this week, be sure to give thanks for the grace in which you now stand. Because Jesus came, you have received grace after grace, John 1.16. You are literally engulfed in it. His grace did not stop at the cross. You live in it everyday. His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, Lamentations 3.22b-23a. It was Isaiah who wrote, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be come like wool, Isaiah 1.18. Our sins have been forgiven and we stand before Him pure, righteous, and holy.
Where would we be without Jesus? He is the one who fuels our life with hope. If you haven’t received these promises, can we help you? It would be our greatest privilege and honor to share the good news of the gospel with you.
— Matthew Allen
During December our sermons will attempt to take a sweeping view of our society and the church. How do things look? How are we handling the troubling things we see? What are some things that make us nervous about the future?
One thing that ranks high on our list is the number of stressed and burned out lives. Think about yourself for a moment. How would you describe the level of stress you’re feeling right now? Most likely the stressors you are coping with come from several different areas of your life. How are you responding to that stress?
While today’s sermon will focus mostly on the sinful type of worry and stress that overtakes and dominates one’s life, we need to remember that in and of themselves, stress and pressure are not necessarily bad. In fact, they are God-given things that can cause us each to lead a responsible life. Stress and pressure can actually strengthen us to accomplish the challenges God sets before us.
This is the type of pressure we can handle and must manage. In 2 Corinthians 11.28-29 Paul writes of the daily internal pressure of anxiety for all the churches. He was concerned for those who were weak. He cared when people were led into sin. The NCV translates 11.29 this way: I feel weak every time someone is weak. I feel upset every time someone is led into sin. Being concerned for the spiritual welfare of others is just one example of the stress we can feel.
Stress that motivates us to positive change is also observed in 2 Corinthians 13.5 when Paul challenges Christians to self examination and the quality of their faith. I’m sure you’ve already filled out the chart on p. 6-7 of this year’s Vision 2019 plan. How did you score? What are the areas of greatest concern? Where are you most spiritually vulnerable? Your desire to do right before God will probably make you uncomfortable when you think deeply on these things. Let that feeling of discomfort and stress motivate you to make the right changes.
This is stress and pressure from a positive perspective. We all need to feel it, respond appropriately, and participate with God who is at work in us, Philippians 2.13. This is how we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It is the combination of our faith and actions.
What are the areas of life you need to work on? What is your plan of action? When will you act?
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 3.18.
- Matthew Allen
Once a man visited his counselor and related his problem to him. "I am a tailor and over the years I’ve gained an excellent reputation for my experience and high quality of my work. All the nobles around me entrust me to make their costumes and their wives' dresses. The prince himself heard about me and asked me to sew him a garment with the finest silk that is possible to get in the country. I used the best materials and made my best effort. I wanted to show my art, and that this work would open the doors to a life of success.
But when I presented the finished garment to the prince, he started shouting and insulting me. “Is this the best you can do? It is an atrocity! Who taught you how to sew?” He ordered me to retire and threw the suit behind me.
I'm ruined I thought. All my capital was invested in that clothing and worse, my reputation has been totally destroyed. After this, no one will ever order a garment from me again! I do not understand what happened, it was the best job I've done in years!
"Go back to your business," said the counselor, "uncover each of the stitches of the garment and sew them exactly as you had done before, then take it to the prince."
"But I'll get the same outfit I have now!" Protested the tailor. "Also my mood is not the same as always."
"Do what I tell you, and God will help you," said the counselor.
Two weeks later, the tailor returned. "You have saved my life!" When I presented him again with his clothes, the prince's face lit up: "Beautiful" he exclaimed.”This is the most beautiful and delicate suit I have ever seen!" He paid me generously and promised to give me more work, and he would recommend me to his friends.
The tailor asked, “I want to know what was the difference between the first garment and the second one?”
"The first suit," he explained, "was sewn with arrogance and pride. The result was a spiritually repulsive outfit, although technically perfect, lacked grace and beauty, yet the second seam was made with humility and a broken heart, transmitting an essential beauty that aroused admiration in everyone who saw it."
How do you do your professional, family, personal, etc. work? Is it with arrogance and pride, or with humility in the heart?
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ
- Jaime Restrepo