Category Archives: Bulletin articles

Am I a God who is near?

Am I a God who is near, declared the LORD, and not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places, so I do not see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23.23-34)

There is no place in the universe void of God’s presence. He is not limited by the dimensions that confine us. Therefore, we have the knowledge that wherever we are in whatever situation or circumstance, God is with us. Because we are His children through faith in Jesus Christ, we live daily with the assurances that He cares for us and is concerned about us. Though He is indeed Creator and Master of the Universe, He is also Father and we are His precious children – we belong to Him!

Because we belong to God we are never alone; He is our constant companion. Loneliness is an awful thing. People were made to live in “community,” and that greatest community of all is the one that transcends this world where love, friendship, and companionship are not only present now but throughout all eternity.

Because we belong to God when we are troubled, He is our confidence. Because of Emmanuel, He knows what it is like to be here and to be human. He understands hardship and heartache. He knows about worry and anxiety and says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5.7).

– grace to you all, and peace, Bill

 

The True Test of Discipleship

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13.35). Jesus told us that Christianity was going to consist of really personal relationships with each other. The basis of those relationships would be faith in Him and love for one another.

The word for “love” in this verse is agapaō; it is not an emotional form of love but a determination of the will to always act in the best interest of another regardless of the cost to oneself. For example: “For God so loved (agapaō) the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” His overwhelming love for us (in spite of our rebellion against Him) cost Him something. What He did wasn’t in His best interest, but ours.

The most visible test of discipleship is how we treat each other because that’s how the world sees us – how we behave toward one another:

“Carry one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6.2).
“Serve one another” (Galatians 5.13).
“Let us not pass judgment on one another” (Romans 14.13).
“Do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3.9).
“Be patient and forbearing with one another” (Ephesians 4.2).
“Be kind and compassionate with one another” (Ephesians 4.32).
“Honor one another” (Romans 12.10).
“Forgive one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4.32).
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2.3).

Here’s the question: Does the living witness of our faith pass this simple test of discipleship?

 – grace to you all, and peace – Bill

 

The Secret Place

There is a place where thou canst say, “Arise”
To dying captives, bound in chains of night;
There is a place – upon some distant shore –
Where thou canst send the worker and the Word.
Where is that secret place – dost thou ask, “Where?”
O soul, it is the secret place of prayer!
   ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson

Prayer grants us entrance into the Holy of Holies. Prayer is a privilege that lifts us above the clamoring noise of the world and transports us into the very presence of the Majesty on High. The amazing thing about prayer is that God requires no prescribed style or form, no mantras to be repeated over and over by rote. He simply calls us to bring ourselves before Him just as we are!

There is no pretentiousness with God. We can’t fool Him. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our hearts and the intentions of our hearts. Prayer is the secret place where we can go and unburden our souls before the One who knows all our burdens and invites us to cast them upon Him (1 Peter 5.7).

In his book on prayer, Richard Foster says prayer is ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father…no pretense to be more holy, more pure or saintly than we are… To believe that God can reach us and bless us in the ordinary junctures of daily life is the stuff of prayer…the only place God can bless us is right where we are, because that is the only place we are!

 – grace to you all and peace, Bill

 

“Blessed are the merciful…” (Matthew 5.7)

The word “merciful” translates a Greek word from which we get “benefactor.” It appears in this sense only one other time in the New Testament (Hebrews 2.17) where Jesus is described as a merciful and faithful high priest.

The Latin derivation of the word is misericordia, a compound term – misernas, meaning “pity, misery, or pain” and cordis, “heart.” So miseria cordis is “pain of heart.” That’s the primary meaning of mercy. It’s when we count another’s misery or need as our very own and then act within our power and ability to relieve or supply their need.

Jesus illustrated the meaning of mercy to a self-righteous and unmerciful lawyer in Luke 10.25-37. He told the story of a man who was beaten, robbed and left for dead by the roadside. On no less than two occasions, highly respected men could have helped him, but instead chose to pass by. Then a Samaritan, loathsome in the estimation of the Jews, stopped, rendered first aid, carried the injured man to a place of safety and paid for his keep!

Now which of these three, Jesus asked the lawyer, was a neighbor to the man robbed? The lawyer’s only response was, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”

Mercy considers neither status, ethnicity, nor race – simply the need, and compels us to extend whatever aid and assistance we are able to give.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

 – Bill

 

James – the Man, the Book

There are three, possibly four, men named James in the New Testament. One was the brother of the Lord, along with Joseph (Joses), Judas (Jude), and Simon (Matthew 13.55; Mark 6.3). Two were apostles: James, the brother of John (Matthew 4.21-22, 10.2, Mark 3.17, Luke 5.1-10) who was killed by Herod (Acts 12.2) and James, the son of Alphaeus, also called James the Less (Matthew 10.3, Mark 3.18, Luke 6.15).

Interestingly, “James” was not the actual name of these men; some say it was Iames but most scholars agree that in Aramaic it was something closer to Ya’akov, a fairly common name which usually becomes Jacob. It has undergone metamorphosis, becoming James in English, Santiago in Spanish, and Jacques in French. Because the translators of the King James version of the Bible wanted to get the king’s approval for the translation, they translated at least three of the men named Ya’akov into James.

James was a leader of the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 1.13-14, it is simply noted that the apostles gathered with some women and Jesus’ mother and brothers. However, after several of Paul’s journeys, he mentions James in a leadership context, especially in Acts 15.13 where James states the position of the church regarding Gentiles.

James wrote his letter to early Jewish Christians living in Gentile communities outside of Palestine in about AD 49, prior to the Jerusalem Council held in 50. His purpose was to expose hypocrisy among believers and teach proper Christian behavior. It also expresses his concern for persecuted Christians who were once part of the Jerusalem church.

Notice the three themes of the letter: hardship, perseverance, and wisdom (James 1.2-3). He doesn’t say, if you face trials, but when you face them. He assumes that we will all have trials and can profit from them. The point is not to be happy when you face pain, but to have a positive and confident outlook. Consider it all joy because of what trials produce in our lives. James tells us to turn our hardships into times of learning. Trials teach us endurance and endurance perfects us, makes us complete.

Bill  

 

Mark – Jesus, the Suffering Servant

 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8.31).

The center of Mark’s Gospel is the cross of Christ. Once the Twelve had grasped who Jesus was and had confessed Him as the Messiah, He began to teach them about the cross. It was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry and so also in Mark’s gospel.

The essence of Jesus’ teaching is found in His statement the Son of Man must suffer. Why must He suffer? What is the origin of His sense of compulsion? It is because the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Why, then, the Son of Man? By using this Hebraism for a human being, Jesus was referring to Daniel 7. In that vision “one like a son of man” (that is, a human being) comes on the clouds and approaches the Ancient of Days (God). He was then given authority and sovereign power so that all people will serve Him, and His kingdom will never be destroyed (Daniel 7.13-14).

Jesus adopted the title Son of Man but changed his role. According to Daniel, all nations would serve him. According to Jesus, He had come to serve, not to be served. In fact, Jesus did what nobody else had done: He fused the two Old Testament images, Isaiah’s servant who suffers and Daniel’s Son of Man who reigns. For first Jesus must bear our sins and only then rise and enter His glory.

– John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year

 

The Apostle Peter: How to Bear Fruit

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your

  • faith with virtue,
  • and virtue with knowledge,
  • and knowledge with self-control,
  • and self-control with steadfastness,
  • and steadfastness with godliness,
  • and godliness with brotherly affection,
  • and brotherly affection with love.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

– 2 Peter 1.1-8

 

Spiritual Pictures

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God  (1 Corinthians 2.11).

There’s a problem understanding spiritual things with a mind orientated to thinking in physical terms. After all, we live in a world of matter, time, and decay. How do we describe the beauty of heaven, the horror of hell, or the wonder of salvation in physical terms? It seems almost impossible. Yet God, who fully understands our limitations, draws on human experiences and physical reality to describe spiritual things.

The Bible is filled with “spiritual pictures” drawn in language and terms we can understand. By looking at these pictures our spiritual awareness is quickened and our spiritual nature is aroused.

Think of the prodigal son, the pearl of great price, or the tree of life. Each one reveals a facet of great spiritual truth. No single picture reveals it all, but each contributes to the whole revelation until we eventually stand awed by the complete painting.

Some words in the New Testament are pictures themselves – atonement, forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation. Each word draws on examples from the Bible or human experience to shed more light on the wonder of salvation.

Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God: No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him (John 1.18).

To reveal Himself to us God entered the physical realm through Jesus Christ. He did so visibly, powerfully, and dramatically. In Jesus, God says, “I’ll draw a picture for you so you can see what I’m like” – Immanuel, God with us!

 

“…my soul thirsts for Thee…” (Psalm 63.1)

Absalom was the third son of King David. Here is how the Bible describes him: “Now in all Israel was no one as handsome as Absalom, so highly praised; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no defect in him” (2 Samuel 14.25).

He not only was handsome, he was the darling of his father. But he repaid his father’s favoritism by leading a rebellion against him. Absalom “stole” the hearts of the men of Israel, and David had to flee Jerusalem for his life into the wilderness of Judea beyond the Jordan.

It was during those agonizing days, at war with his own son, that he wrote of his longing for God. Psalm 63 opens with these words, “O God, Thou art my God, early will I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Regardless of how desperate his circumstances appeared to be, David took refuge in God’s abiding presence. “For Thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy” (Psalm 63.7).

The psalm reminds us as well of God’s presence, of His promise to “be with us always” and of the risen Christ’s presence amid His saints. And so, as pilgrims in a parched land we seek and thirst and faint for Him to provide for us the refreshing relief of living water.

Grace to you all, and peace – Bill

 

“I thank my God…”

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…”
(Philippians 1.3).

Paul had a special relationship with the church in Philippi. It was the first church ever planted on “European” soil. Paul had been beaten there and thrown in jail. Guess what? He converted his jailor. That’s how the church in Philippi began.

Throughout the rest of his life and mission travels, the Christians in Philippi supported him financially and attended to his needs as best they could. Imprisoned again for the cause of Christ, it was from imprisonment in Rome that Paul wrote,

“I thank my God… Thankfulness is an essential Christian trait. Hearts filled with gratitude have no room for bitterness. A cheerful face and kind word will brighten anyone’s day; that’s what thankful people do.

“in all my remembrance… God did us a great favor when He created us with a memory. I picture Paul under arrest, chained to his guards – hours and days on end. Without memory, that would be unbearable. It would be like (though entirely different) being in the hospital with IVs running in both arms and electronic monitoring devices all over your body making it hard to move. How do you pass the time? One way is by thinking of your family and friends. Memory is good company.

“of you…” Relationships lay at the core of life. We need each other. Friendship blossoms in adversity. When “we” are helpless, it’s “you” who step up. “You” are a great blessing to another’s life.

Indeed, like Paul, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

Grace to you and peace, Bill