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November 20, 2016 - Thankful for Grace

This is the time of year that people across the United States start talking once again about what they’re thankful for. You probably commonly hear the five “Fs” (though you may never have realized the cool alliteration!)—family, friends, faith, freedom, and food. Each year, but especially this year as I reflect on how blessed I am, mine starts with a G. Grace, that is. I am thankful for grace.

It’s a word thrown around so much in Christian circles that it often loses its rich meaning, but grace truly is AMAZING. Today we’ll look at the Scriptures to see what God’s Word says about grace, and what the implications are for our lives.

After all, when we get together with some family and friends that perhaps we don’t get along with very well, we might need to extend a little grace. Along with some extra gravy, we, too, may need a little extra grace!

As a nation we paused this week to honor our veterans.  We thanked them, had parades for them, gave them free food, car washes, and a variety of other goodies to show our honor and respect for the freedoms they have preserved for us through their service to our country.  We also took the time to honor our first responders, recognizing that, like the active duty personnel in the military, they, too, are on the front lines of battle for us each day.

In many hometowns across the nation these men and women are hailed as “heroes.”  Heroes.  The word brings to mind images larger than life of actions taken in extraordinary situations by ordinary people, most of whom do not see themselves as heroes but as just doing their job.

As we look at spiritual heroes, we see much the same thing.  The heroes identified in Scripture were everyday people who clung tightly to faith in difficult situation.  Come along as we pay tribute to some of these heroes.

November 6, 2016 - Created to Serve
Several years ago Charles Swindoll wrote a book on Christian living that was misunderstood simply because of its title.  In fact, he found in more than one bookstore it had been misfiled in the Sports section under books on Tennis.  The title that got people confused was, “Improving your Serve.”  It’s easy to see how someone could have simply looked at the title without knowing anything about the book (or the author) and made the mistake.

The book, however, focused on a critical aspect in the life of the Christian – and that is how and where we are to serve in God’s Kingdom.  “Improving Your Serve” and books like it are designed to help one understand how they were created and where they were created to serve.  All of these books start with the premise that we are, indeed, created and designed for that purpose.

Come with us as we look at what the Scriptures say about being Created to Serve, and how it applies to us, today.

October 30, 2016 - Serving Sunday!
Jesus told the parable of the sower who planted seeds in a variety of different soils.  Often when this parable is taught, the focus is on the soil.  Today we focus on the farmer, and our call to not only observe his life, but to imitate. 

October 23, 2016 - Wake Up, Watch, and Pray
Are you awake yet this morning? Chances are, if you’d didn’t get your coffee or if you didn’t get enough sleep last night, you may be a bit groggy. If you’re a morning person, it may not be so bad. Otherwise, you probably resonate with what comedian Mark Lowry says: “If God wanted me to see the sunrise, He would have put it in the middle of the day!”

Physical sleep is one thing. Spiritual sleep is another. One of the greatest needs of the church today is revival. Historically, true revivals were also known as “awakenings.” In great moves of God throughout history, countless nonbelievers were awakened to new life in Christ while believers were awakened to their own spiritual stagnation and indifference. Do we need to wake up, Main Street Church of God? What are we missing in the community, in the world around us because we’re spiritually asleep? We’ll take a closer look at this notion today as we dig deep into Matthew 26.

Several years ago I was privy to a conversation between a middle school student and his principal.  The conversation had to do with behavior that was and wasn’t acceptable in school, and in particular, in the classroom.  Apparently the student had been involved in what began as a verbal argument that escalated into a physical fight. 

Both students were suspended, and this one was defending himself to the principal in an interview upon returning to school.  “But I had the RIGHT!” he kept insisting.  “He disrespected me and …” and so the story went.

The principal explained that regardless what the other student had done, the rules still applied to him.  James tells the early church the same thing.  Come with us as we look at his words.

October 2, 2016 - The Heart of the Matter

“Poppy, can I have a cookie?”  “Of course you can – you’re at Poppy’s house!  You can have just about anything you ask for!”

Well, that’s not exactly how the conversations go, but it isn’t far from the truth.  And if they don’t have a cookie, or a popsicle, it’s likely because they didn’t ask, or because they asked just to irritate the other kids.  You know, get in a little jab – cause a little commotion, a bit of controversy.  Of course, that’s the little kids.  We would never think to do such a thing as an adult!

Apparently, however, the people in the first century church weren’t quite as mature as we think we are today.  James, in his letter to the churches that talks about how our faith informs our actions, has to remind the people about their behavior.  Come with us as we look at these words today.

Way back in the day when I was in Sunday School, our teacher taught us a lot of life lessons and core values in the way of songs.  We would sing the words and music, not realizing that we were actually being taught, much less that we were being taught about how to live Godly lives as adults!

One such song had the lyric, “Oh be careful little…” followed by a variety of things.  “Little eyes where you look.”  “Little feet where you go.”  And perhaps the most poignant for today’s scripture, “Oh be careful little mouth what you say.” 

In his letter to the scattered believers, James gives the same counsel.  Be careful.  Come with us as we look at these words.

Look around. Prayer is more important now than ever. We need God to do a mighty work in our culture, our churches, our homes, and our personal lives. We need to Cry Out to the Lord, just as the prophet Joel instructed the people of Israel to do, as recorded in Joel 1:13–14. It’s time to proclaim a “solemn assembly”, to gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land, and cry out to the Lord for a fresh outpouring of his Spirit.

As we mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we also join Church of God congregations across North America as we set aside today as a special day of prayer—prayers of humility, repentance, yielding, intercession, and recommitment to the Christ and His mission. As we bow before God, we’ll join multiple faith groups across the country and beyond as together we humble ourselves and confess our dependence on him.

September 4, 2016 - Authentic Faith

Photoshop has made it easy for the average computer user to become an expert forger.  Pictures can be cropped, edited, layered, merged, and changed in any number of ways to present a false image that looks real.  Often times it is difficult, even for experts, to spot a good forgery.

The same thing can happen with our faith.  We can become expert forgers at a life of faith, memorizing Bible verses, getting stars on the attendance charts, and even openly sharing about our “faith” but without it really impacting our lives.  The early church wrestled with the question of faith and the balance between faith and action.  James addresses this debate and says ultimately that the two, faith and works, cannot be separated.  Come along as we look at how that plays out in our lives today.

I can’t imagine how it was for the early church as they struggled to understand the concepts of grace and forgiveness, all the while incorporating people who had come from various faith backgrounds, and even no faith backgrounds, into this entity that is called “the church.”  We know, through the letters in the New Testament, that they wrestled with a variety of things that were both theological and practical.

I love the book of James mainly because he uses everyday language and gives practical instruction to the church regarding many of these issues.  As we continue our study, we finish the first chapter where he focuses on temptation.  He compares and contrasts it with the idea of trials, and then identifies several temptations that were being faced by the early church.  Come along as we apply these words to our lives today.

A former pastor taught us the acronym CIE.  That stands for “Context Is Everything,” and it is true not only in everyday conversation, but especially as we read Scripture.

Understanding the context of the writing – the writer, the audience, the cultural, political, and spiritual issues facing the audience – give us better insight into questions the author was addressing or perhaps the admonishment or teaching being given.

Today we begin a look at the book of James – a collection of instruction and encouragement written to the early church who was facing severe persecution and challenge both from outside and inside the church.  Come along as we apply these truths to our lives today!

My oldest brother has an extensive collection of model cars.  He began building them when he was seven or eight years old and has rarely disposed of any of them.  Some are quite valuable and many are irreplaceable, yet they are all just models.  None of them can actually be driven.  Rather, they are examples of what the actual cars look like. 

We model things often, even in the church.  One of the models we use most often is the model for prayer.  Usually when we hear “model prayer” our minds go to what is known as the “Lord’s Prayer,” the prayer he gave for a model to his followers.  But there are many other model prayers that we find in Scripture – from Moses to Jabez to Jeremiah and Isaiah and even David.  Come with us as we look at David’s prayer, and how we can use it as a model today.

July 24, 2016 - Seeking God
“I can’t find my shoes!”  It’s a routine sound when time rolls around for the grandkids to head home from Poppy and Nan’s house.  Of course, the words generally come from the mouth of a child sitting on the floor playing with Lego’s in the living room, not even looking for his shoes, but the sense of bewilderment and sorrow seems genuine when the shoes can’t be found.

Nearly every time, once the toys are put away and the child actually begins looking for them, the shoes are found and found easily.  We shake our collective heads and imagine the scene played out in our own homes, but it more often plays out in hearts and lives.  “I can’t find God!  Where is he?”  But the words ring hollow when we aren’t even looking.  Come with us as we look at what Scripture says about seeking God.

July 10, 2016 - The Final Authority
“YOU’RE NOT MY BOSS!”  It seems that those words echoed through the house many times when I was growing up, usually from one sibling directed toward another.  It was generally in response to a request (or an order) to do something that the requestee didn’t really want to do.

I saw it practiced in the workplace when someone who wasn’t a direct supervisor asked one of my workmates to assist with a job that was outside of his job description.  Rather than focusing on the job, he lashed out at the authority.  “I don’t have to.  You’re not my boss.”  I was shocked.

Who or what really has authority over us?  Come along today as we look at the case for the Final Authority.

July 3, 2016 - Slaves to Freedom
I remember as a teen looking forward to the day that I could make my own decisions, be responsible for myself, and finally have FREEDOM to do whatever I wanted!  It seems that somewhere things didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, and instead of being able to do whatever I want, I am constrained in my freedom by the relationships, commitments, and finances.

Freedom, it seems, is really not freedom, but more a matter of to what we choose to enslave ourselves.  It could be our job, our family, our hobbies, or something more sinister. 

The people at the church in Rome struggled with freedom as well.  These were new Christians coming to grips with the balance of grace and law, and trying to figure it all out.  Come along as we look at a key passage that Paul sent to them to help.