Touching Lives

THE GOSPEL ANTIDOTE TO THE EPIDEMIC OF LONELINESS

by Debbie Huber

Upon opening Facebook the other day, there was a picture of my family that I had posted a year ago with a notation from Facebook: “we care about you and your Facebook memories”.

Wow!  Facebook cares about me?  The place where I can show family pictures, see pictures from friends and acquaintances, find out about real AND fake news, argue with others without looking them in the eye, not be accountable to anyone, keep my struggles safely hidden from public view…

Right after seeing this I read an article that referred to a major study that was recently presented at the 125th annual convention of the American Psychological Association by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.  Data from hundreds of studies involving millions of individuals was analyzed. This analysis found that “social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity“.  

More significant than obesity?

Marriage rates have been steadily declining and families are having less children.  Families are separated by miles, divorce, estrangement, and just plain busyness. Schedules are busier and family activities dominate any possibility of free time. Neighbors come and go without ever interacting with one another. Many people live their lives without having anyone truly know about them and care for them.  

There have been multiple studies that suggest that frequent Facebook users do not feel more connected at all; they “actually experience feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, and depression.”

Sometimes we are alone by choice by putting up walls because it can be too painful or fearful to be vulnerable to others. Or we just want to live our lives for ourselves without the baggage that comes from being accountable to one another. 

The Bible does have an antidote to this epidemic of “loneliness”.

We were made for relationship with one another but it is not necessarily how the world defines relationships.  God demonstrates what a healthy relationship is through the relationship between the Father, Son, and the Spirit. A relationship of fellowship, working together, and enjoyment of each other’s company. 

God calls us to relationship with himself through the gospel. We were “separated from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13)

God made us to need Him and also to need one another. In Genesis 2 He says that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  We were not created to make it in this world alone. 

Real, lasting, satisfying relationships within the context of the gospel brings reconciliation between us because we were reconciled to God through Christ when we were without hope or without God in the world. We have relationship with one another even when it is difficult or inconvenient because we know that Christ died for our relationship to be restored to God even when we were “difficult” and far from Him. 

Be prayerful and watchful for the lonely around you. Seek them out face to face.  Be helpful when they need it, speak of the things of God to one another.  In light of what Christ has done for you seek reconciliation when there is division.  The Gospel will be on display in your lives.

And if you are the one “putting up walls” or on the fringes because you are fearful to be vulnerable or too busy remember the gospel!  You were not meant to go it alone in this world. The gospel tells us that we were made for relationship with God and with one another. Serve, help or become a part of a small group.  Ask God to help you to care for and be vulnerable with others. Preach the gospel to yourself daily and pray that the gospel will be lived out though your relationships.

 

PLAY-DOH LOVE

Love is wonderful

Love is popular

Love is deeply misunderstood

It is virtually impossible to find someone who has never been loved (humanly) and has no love for anyone else.

Yet, love for most people lies in a fog of misunderstanding and selfishness.

It’s hard to find a song, a book, a movie or therapeutic expert that gets love fully correct. This means we live in a world so confused about its favorite topic, that we don’t recognize pure love when it looks down from a cross at us.

It is not that people know nothing of love, the problem is that they don’t accept the baseline of love, because they don’t listen to God who is the source of love. If we don’t build on a solid foundation, we won’t end up with a structure that lasts.

Our world loves to think of love as something we can shape out of our own perspective and values. But Alex Duke is correct when he said, “Love isn’t Play-Doh”.

One of the problems with Play-Doh love is that none of us want to be loved according to someone’s pulled-out-of-the-air-according-to-their-own-desires perspective. The reason is simple, it’s not actually love and it doesn’t work out well for the people receiving it.

Of course there is an even bigger problem, counterfeit love is unacceptable to God and will not lead us to him or his kingdom.

When we don’t shape our understanding and practice of love by the teaching of Scripture and the example of Christ, we are left with emotions and interpretations that have much more self-love than true love.

If you want to know love, you must know God!

Alex Duke gives us a good synopsis of the problem and answer to “Play-Doh” love in this article, “Love Is Not Whatever You Want It To Be”.

Love is too precious to get wrong, and life is too short not to start correcting that error today.

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 7.03.17

‘Rejoice in being a gifted church’

 

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

 

Spiritual Gifts 101

1. Spiritual gifts come from a supernatural change in us (vs 1-3)

The Holy Spirit gives us truth, life, and the capacity to be fruitful for God

This is a reality to celebrate, to lift our heart and to energize our life

2.  Spiritual gifts come from the triune God who is communal (vs 4-6)

God is a triune being who has always existed as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

God by nature has always lived in and delighted in community; he has always been communicative and interactive

God’s work in the church flows out of his communal nature

This includes his purpose for the gospel and for spiritual gifts

v7 spiritual gifts are given for the common good (the rest of ch 12 illustrates this)

After v6, the focus remains on the Holy Spirit who distributes spiritual gifts

The context of chapters 12-14 is that the gifts were being used selfishly in Corinth

Instead we should view spiritual gifts through God’s communal nature

3.  Spiritual gifts are the activity of the Holy Spirit

A good working definition for spiritual gifts is found in v7

Believer, you are a gifted person; every believer has spiritual gifts (v7 & v11)

Your gifts are a manifestation of the Holy Spirit (v7)

The Holy Spirit does dwell in us, he does work in us, and he will use us

Spiritual gifts are an empowerment of the Holy Spirit (v11)

The exercise of our gifts is primarily what he is doing

The Holy Spirit uses our capacities, but he works far beyond them

Our gifts are carefully selected in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit (v11)

We should not demean our gifts or feel discouraged by what we don’t have

God is being good in our gifting – so take joy in it

4.  There is diversity in spiritual gifts (vs 4-6)

This is true in the variety of gifts (there is no exhaustive list) and in how they are used

This point is extensively made throughout chapter 12 – why?

We like to systematize our experience and expect others to fit into it

We like to compare, resulting in arrogance or discouragement

With this diversity, we must maintain the following:

(1)  Unity – chapter 12

(2)  Love – chapter 13

(3)  Order – chapter 14

5.  How do we know discover our gifts?

Don’t try to fit into any specific list

Since gifts are manifestations of the Spirit – focus on having a humble and pure heart

Since they are for the common good – be connected to the people of your church

Since each believer has them – be faithful and they will flow from you

 

Applications for Being a Gifted Church

1.  We have been gifted for life together, so let’s share life together

Pursue biblical community – just being friendly at church is not being in biblical community

Be engaged with one another through meaningful listening and sharing

Look for ways to encourage one another in being Great Commandment people

2.  Look for and identify how God is working in one another

Think about your conversations – is there awareness of God’s activity in them?

God is ever active, yet we often don’t feel as if he is, so we don’t live as if he is

If we are not experiencing his presence, we will worship him less

If we are not seeing his faithfulness, we will be tempted to depend upon him less

3.  We are gifted people, so we should want to be a gifted church

What that looks like is up to God, since he is the one who gives gifts

What he does is good, so we don’t need to fear any true manifestations of the Holy Spirit

We should not try to force his activity, but we can make room in our hearts and gatherings for it

 

DOES BUSY CHURCH = HEALTHY CHURCH?

 

When a pastor or church member looks at their church’s calendar when it is full of events, the response is usually one of satisfaction.

However, there are good reasons to exchange that perspective for one of concern.

The reason we like to see a full schedule is because we think it declares fruitfulness is taking place. And perhaps that is true. But most likely the idea of fruitfulness through busyness is only partially true.

I have been a pastor for almost 35 years, and I have discovered that when pressed to identify the fruit in our programs, sometimes the results are surprisingly slim. This has nothing to do with the sincere intentions and faithful hard work of those involved in them.

There have been times when a program that many would consider to be a showcase of good work was in fact producing virtually no identifiable fruit.

The answer is not to trash all programs, but we should carefully examine their usefulness.

The knee jerk reaction by people tends to be that attempts to significantly reduce programs is a step backward from fruitful ministry.

But the opposite truth is the motivation for trimming the programming in our churches. It is because we do want to be fruitful, that we don’t want to fool ourselves into thinking we are being effective because we are being busy. The importance of gospel ministry is too precious to merely think we are being effective.

The ministry goal that Jesus has given us is to be making disciples. This involves having people come to faith in Christ and having them mature so that they become part of the disciple-making process.

This requires a certain amount of programming in and by the church, but it also requires freedom to be involved in disciple-making in our homes and communities.

When we free up the church calendar AND empower church members to be disciple-makers, fruitful ministry expands.

The topic of church schedule and programming is not a minor concern, the health of gospel ministry is partially at stake.

Jared Wilson serves the church well with this article, “10 Reasons Why You Should Underprogram Your Church”. A careful reading of Jared’s points reveals the value of giving this matter serious consideration.

It can be hard for a church to strike a perfect balance, but we can become more careful and intentional about busyness in the church just as much as we should be concerning busyness in our personal lives.

 

EVERY BELIEVER’S RESPONSIBILITY

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by Debbie Huber


We are all a part of the body of Christ. We do not always consider our active role in the body when it comes to reaching out to others. The pastors, greeters, Sunday school teachers are taking care of all of this. We are in a hurry, we have to get home….  isn’t that why the church has ministry programs?

Ministry programs do not lend a listening ear. 

Ministry programs do not spur one another on to love God and His word. Ministry programs cannot give an encouraging smile to a nervous child. 

Ministry programs cannot walk a visiting family to find their child’s new Sunday school class. 

Ministry programs do not notice a worried, sad, or fearful look and offer prayer.

Ministry programs do not rejoice with others. 

Ministry programs do not give encouraging phone calls.

Ministry programs do not spend time with the elderly, or engage the teenager who seems alone.  

Every believer must consciously seek to reach out to others in meaningful ways as ambassadors for Christ. What if every person who is a part of our church prayed and asked God to help us step out of our comfort zone and touch the lives of those around us. Many seemingly small gestures work together to impact the world for Christ. 

If someone asks directions to the bathroom or a Sunday school classroom, instead of pointing them in the right direction walk them there instead.  

Greet others with a smile!  Don’t wait for them to come up to you. 

If you see someone who looks sad and fearful ask if you could help.  Pray for them. 

Speak to one another with biblical encouragement, spurring one another to seek God through His word. 

Pray that God will give you eyes to see the needs of those around you. And go the extra mile to show you care. 

INFLUENCE: FATHER’S DAY EDITION

SGC Pastor's Conference 2016 Some of the people who regularly and deeply influence me with the gospel

Yesterday we honored Fathers and their influence on our lives.

However, some of you men (and women) may be so aware of your limitations that you doubt that your life can be an influence for God.

The famous people in the world certainly seem to have far more influence than the people who serve Christ. However, where it counts most, they are completely impotent!  Just as this world will end, so will the influences of those who follow its values. But the influences for Christ’s eternal Kingdom will last as long as his kingdom does!  

To be a godly influence two truths reign supreme:

1.  The focus of our influence must be the Gospel

Romans 1:16 tells us the gospel is “the power of God for salvation”. There is no greater influence we can have on people than for the gospel. This is not just true for unbelievers. Every believer needs regular encouragements in living out the gospel.

2.  The power in our influence is the Holy Spirit

Our influence is not meant to be what we can be to others; it is what the Holy Spirit can accomplish in and through us. Wouldn’t you rather have your potential be what God will do?

Conclusions about our influence through the Holy Spirit and for the gospel:

1.  Our influence goes beyond our abilities (Acts 4:13)     

2.  Our influence goes beyond our what we can see (1 Corinthians 12:21-22) 

3.  Our influence is not lost due to weaknesses or past failure (John 4:16-18 & 39)

General observations concerning being an influence:

1.  Each person you can influence is worth influencing

We often think and act as if we have no vital ministry from God. Yet, every person already in our life needs gospel influences. Perhaps we will be the only person to be praying for them this way!

2.  Every person who can observe you, can be influenced by you

Just by living a life in contrast to the world, we are an influence on those who see us. The people in your life need to be surrounded by those who love and live by the gospel.

3.  Small things can have an effective influence

The key to every godly influence is how God will use that influences. This should encourage us concerning small actions for Christ. If God honors a small action for Him, should we still consider it to be a small thing?

4.  The world desperately needs the influence of the gospel and godliness

At times if feels as if we live in the middle of a swamp of ungodliness. Rather than bemoan this fact, recognize that it sets up a vivid contrast when we live whole-heartedly for God. In our self-centered culture, godliness will stands out and be noticed. Be encouraged that your life can be a place of solid ground in the midst of the swamp.

And while you are at it, do not tire in thanking those who are an influence in your life. They need encouragement too!

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR YOUNGER WOMEN

by Debbie Huber

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.  Titus 2:3-5

Time has flown so quickly that I find myself as one of the “older women” to whom the writer of this passage is speaking. It is a passage that I read with a combination of joy and fear. Joy, in that I love to be able to encourage others to love their husbands and children and to serve God in the way He has designed. There is also a little fear mixed in because this can also bring to my mind the regrets that I have, wishing I could do some things over again. But I know that God, in His wonderful kindness to me can still use even my weaknesses for His good purposes. 

I have come to see a “flip side” blessing to this charge to older women. There is a unique and treasured benefit that a younger woman brings to this mentoring relationship. I have witnessed several younger women seek out older women to help them and I have seen beautiful relationships develop and godly fruit displayed in lives. Marriages have been strengthened, mothers have been encouraged to seek God’s word instead of the strong influences of the world, and the Word of God has been the foundation. 

God has used a young mother named Samantha in my life in ways I had not realized were important. Samantha has chosen to make it important to show her care and love for me.  Knowing my children are far away she takes the time to hug me when she sees me, ask questions about me,  include me in family events, and send me pictures of her children via text or Snapchat. These small but very meaningful gestures have helped me when I am missing my own daughters. A cherished relationship of mutual encouragement has grown.  This has also spurred me to stay involved in her life so I know about her and I can pray for her and encourage her.

So younger women, God has chosen to use older women to encourage you in Godliness but in His wisdom He will use you in their lives too!  How do you find an older woman to be mentored by?  Do not wait for an older woman to find you to mentor you. Seek out godly older women and ask questions!  Get involved in service in church or in a small group and get to know the women there. 

And older women, do not feel shy about seeking to spend time with a younger woman.  Find out about their life and care for them!   If God has made this a charge to women than His purposes in it are of eternal value.

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 5.15.17

Love for the Gospel Shapes How We Live

 

1 Corinthians 9

Last week, we saw principles that guide how we exercise our rights and freedoms. The Apostle Paul continues this theme at length!  But now he uses his own example to show that serving the Gospel shapes his priorities and lifestyle

Paul Starts By Reminding Them of His Position v1

He was an Apostle: the highest office in the church

A requirement of being an Apostle is to be a witness of the risen Christ. Paul says, “I saw him!”

He was not just an Apostle he was their Apostle vs1-2

In Acts 18, Paul founded the church in Corinth; and he spent 1½ years teaching them

He Understood His Rights in Christ v1 “Am I not free?”

Many in the church struggled to understand their freedoms; but not Paul, he knew them well

 

Yet, He Wants Them to Know the Rights He Gave Up

There are three areas in which Paul gave up his rights

1.  The right to eat food sacrificed to idols as mentioned in chapter 8 and possibly here in v4

2.  The right to have a wife v5 – Paul embraced singleness as he describes in chapter 7

3.  The right to be paid for laboring to serve churches v6

Paul keeps his focus on this last right

He gives four proofs that he has the right to be paid for serving the church

1.  Being paid for your service is a principle that is obvious to the world v7

2.  The Old Testament law affirmed this principle v8

3.  This was the practice for those who work in all temples v13; whether Jewish or pagan

4.  It was commanded by Jesus v14 (Luke 10:7 ‘a laborer deserves his wages’)

He goes into detail about his rights in order to dramatize his refusal of them

 

Why Would the Apostle Paul Give Up Obvious ‘Rights’?

The gospel is a greater purpose than clinging to our rights

He repeats this idea three times: v12, v15 and v18

In vs 12-18 he refers to ‘the gospel’ seven times

Each time, he exalts the value of the gospel to dictate how he lives

Can you say the gospel motivates your priorities?

What is the gospel and why is it worth sacrificing rights and privileges?

Gospel means good news: it involves incomparable events, and it provides unequalled hope

The gospel so thrilled Paul, he made himself a servant to it v19

He was not just willing to live this way, he was eager to do so

The gospel had captured Paul’s heart and he wanted it for everyone else!

This made Paul flexible in how he dealt with people vs 20-22

What point is Paul making?  ‘Servants’ adapt to those they serve

He is not telling us to compromise beliefs, but to compromise our preferences

Love leads us to become comfortable with the people around us

Serving Christ and his gospel shaped how Paul lived vs 24-27

All that Paul claimed to believe about God actually led how he lived

He lived with self-control v25

This is not a negative concept, being out of control is

Just as exercise shapes our physical body, godly discipline shapes our soul  Bible reading, prayer, community

He had direction v26

He was not “aimlessly” reacting to every new situation

We are Christians, we follow a Person; and he is consistent, faithful, and wise

His heart was filled with the joy of serving Christ!

Look at his language: v18 reward, v23 share blessing, v24 the prize

Paul lived to please God and that brought joy to his heart

Have you lost perspective about where goodness is found?

How will you respond to Christ and his gospel?

Do you need this gospel?  Christ is here to save – don’t push him away

For those who have the gospel – is your heart dry? Is your life aimless?

CARING FOR THOSE WHO PLAY THE VICTIM

God’s call upon us is clear. We are to love Him with all that we are, and we are to love our neighbor.

If we are to practice love of neighbor, we must step into their lives, including their hurts and burdens.

However, sometimes we cannot help but wonder if some of the people we are trying to care for are misusing our care. In short are they “playing the victim card”?

Even if people are playing the victim card, does that automatically let us off the hook from being responsible to love them. If we are to love our enemies, should we love those who misuse our compassion?

The short answer is that we are to love every person we meet regardless of the worthiness of their situation or their attitude. Everyone without Christ is broken, blind and totally lost.

The complicated part is how should we put our love for these people into action?

God does not necessarily want the answer to always be immediately clear and easy. There is benefit in searching our souls and the Scripture to find clarity. When answers are too easy, sometimes that is an indication of pride rather than wisdom.

Nick Batzig walks us through this conundrum in this article “Jesus and the Victim Card”, which is found at the Reformation 21 online magazine. He writes:

At the end of the day, our job is to point others to Scripture and to the Savior who is revealed in Scripture. We must resist the snare of putting ourselves in the place of the Redeemer in the name of “being there” for those who are hurting. Our job is to point others to the only one who is able to give both us and them the grace that we need to change.

LET YOUR HOSPITALITY HELP GROW YOUR EVANGELISM

 

This 84 second video will help and encourage your gospel outreach.

Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor at the Village Church in Texas, makes a strong connection between practicing hospitality and sharing Christ.

84 seconds doesn’t give him time to dig into the implications, but with only 84 seconds watching the video, you will have plenty of time to contemplate those for yourself.

Here are a few quick ones that came to my mind:

(1)  Expressions of love and care will impact people and open their hearts to us.

(2)  These actions will also draw them to want to know more about our world – a world in which Christ is the epicenter!

(3)  Hospitality is wonderfully expressed in our homes, but we can also make it a mindset throughout the day.

These should be encouraging thoughts for every believer who wants to reach people; work on your hospitality to impact those around you who are without Christ.