Exodus 34:6-7 The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.
As the Lord passed before Moses on Mt. Sinai, Exodus tells us that God “proclaimed the name of the Lord.” Join with me in prayer as we elevate God’s name in praise.
O Lord, our Lord, we thank you for your holy name. We exalt and praise you, our God, for you are our God and your mercy and grace is a blessing to us each and every day. We thank you for your patience and longsuffering toward us, and we rejoice in your steadfast love and faithfulness.
Our God, we praise you for your holy name. We lift our hearts to you, the Lord our God, with thanksgiving and love for you, because you forgive us of our iniquity and you blot out our transgressions. Your steadfast love and faithfulness endures even as we sin, and your mercy and grace overwhelm our failings. We rejoice in you, o Lord our God.
Holy Lord, we magnify and glorify your holy name. We worship you with our hearts, we serve you with our hands, and we rejoice in your gracious mercy. Bless us o Lord, forgive us of our sin, be merciful toward us, let your grace toward us overflow our hearts, fill us with your faithfulness.
We ask all things through your Son Jesus, our Savior and our King, amen.
- Daniel Stauss, February 1, 2018
Our assembly in Issaquah has taken on a group initiative to read the whole Bible in 2018. The readings this first month have been all about the patriarchs, those folks that came prior to the covenant with Moses. What a mess! Most of the people mentioned in this period were horrible folk. God wipes out a billion people because all they did and thought was evil. Individuals identified as men of faith in Hebrews 11 lied, cheated, and committed fornication of all manner. There are parents playing favorites and brothers killing (or thinking about killing) their siblings. Men married multiple women, had concubines, and slept with handmaids at the prompting of their wives. Women were mistreated, offered for rape, had little to no formal rights, and were only regarded for their ability to produce children. The history is rough, graphic, and confusing given God preserved this for our learning, growth, and edification.
It would be easy to write off this period without a second thought. However, after much consideration and prayer, I think these accounts can help me better understand God and serve him. Here are three things of which the patriarchs remind me.
SIN IS HORRIBLE
The patriarchs show me the true nature of sin. When I see their transgressions, and wonder how they could do that, all I must do is look in the mirror. Paul tells me “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) John lets me know that if I say that I have no sin, I am lying. (1 John 1:8) My problem is that the assessment of my sin is somehow different that those of the patriarchs. The problem is sin is sin, period! It is that sin, no matter what it is, that separates us from God. The patriarchs remind me of how ugly my sin is to God—and how patient God is when I sin. It reminds me that when my fellow heirs in Christ sin, I need to stop judging them, and love them enough to help them reconcile with our God.
GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISES
I try to keep my promises. I often fail. I deflect the blame to justify my actions. God could have done that with the patriarchs given their actions. He could easily do that with me. However, that’s not the nature of God. He made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and he was going to keep it. Paul tells Timothy, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) God keeps his promises despite all that I have done. He honors the covenant he made with me, written with the blood of my savior. The patriarchs teach me that I in no way earn or influence God’s promise of mercy and grace—it is a gift freely given to me.
FAITH HAS DEPTH
Hebrews 11 talks about faithful men. It mentions Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The writer of Hebrews tells us in verse one, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Again, in verse three he says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” These men of faith, flawed, marred by sin, believed God’s promises and freely embraced that he is the creator of all things. There’s no talk of how good these guys were—there’s no rewriting history here. Rather, it’s the affirmation that they trusted God as creator and promise keeper even as they struggled with sin. He does the same with me based on my faith.
The patriarchs of Genesis were deeply flawed. So am I. However, they loved God and trusted that, even amid all their failings, he would be there for them. It’s the same with me. I don’t deserve God’s love and mercy—I deserve to die for my sins. But, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17) Praise to God who keeps his promises and reminds me that even deeply flawed people like me can enjoy his love and peace.
- Chris Bethell
Humans are generally impatient. Getting things when we want them is the world’s mantra. Happiness is fast food, a fast connection, and access to any digital content, any time, on any device. For Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory fans, It’s Veruca Salt Syndrome—we want it all and we want it now! It was obnoxious when she demanded it and it can be a temptation for us to sin when we face unmet expectations from God and our fellow man.
The Bible is replete with examples of patience—and often perseverance is its partner. Noah waited 100 years for the flood while he built an ark and preached repentance. Abraham and Sarah waited 25+ years for a promised son. The Israelites waited 40 years to enter the promise land. Joseph waited as God worked through him to protect his people from famine. Jesus knew before the world was created that he was to become man and die as a sacrifice. He then, according to Hebrews, “endured the cross”.
Patience is easy when everything meets our expectations. Why? It’s not really patience. Patience is defined as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” It’s when things don’t go our way that patience challenges us. God calls it a characteristic of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4—something many of us forget when the waiter doesn’t bring us water in a timely manner, when someone cuts in front of us in line, or a car creeps along in the fast lane. It’s even easier for us to forget when we face an extended period of unemployment, the impact of a natural disaster, or the prolonged sickness of a loved one. Being patient is not easy. Godly patience requires the transformation of our minds and hearts. Here’s three ways we can develop Godly patience.
- Put yourself in God’s shoes—God has an amazing amount of patience with us. Psalm 103:8 says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” even as we try him again and again with our sins. Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” If we understand how patient God is with us, it should promote patience as we wait on God and show compassionate patience to our fellow man.
- Put yourself in the shoes of your fellow man—Have you ever made a mistake that caused delay, trouble, or suffering to another? We all have. A little patience by the one wronged is a welcome kindness and a blessing. It’s a blessing we should desire and one we should give others. Thank God that we have a savior and redeemer who is patient with us.
- Remember that our patience is a reflection of God’s mercy and grace—God, in love, showers mercy and grace on us. We don’t deserve it. We deserve death for our sins. In his mercy he keeps us from what we deserve. In his grace is grants us the blessing of eternal life with him even though we don’t deserve it. How are we going to show our gratitude? Are we going to be patient with others or be like the unforgiving servant discussed in Matthew 18:23-35? He didn’t appreciate the mercy and grace shown and he was called into account for it.
Being patient is not easy. For most it does not come naturally. However, God calls us to be patient. When things don’t go our way, we need to wait on God for an answer. When others (or situations) cause us delay, trouble or suffering, we need to show patience in the spirit of love. Empathy and perspective can go a long way in directing us towards a patience which reflects God’s love for us and those with whom we interact.
- Chris Bethell
Three Other Things to do on Black Friday
It’s the day after Thanksgiving. You ate too much. You shared time with family and friends. Perhaps you caught a parade or a football game. You might have even entered a Tryptophan induced coma courtesy of the Thanksgiving Day centerpiece. Now it’s time to shop! Welcome to Black Friday.
I don’t like Black Friday. The material gluttony and gross commercialization are an affront to a holiday season that’s supposed to be marked by charity, compassion, and sacrifice. The culture says indulge on unbelievable, one-time only specials—and show those you love just how much they mean to you by showering them with gifts. The message is clear—the more you spend on those you love, the more they will know you love them. “Yuck” is the first word that comes to mind. It’s about time we take a stand against Black Friday. Here are three simple things you can do on Black Friday (and during this holiday season) that will reflect on the true meaning of the holiday season and help shine the light of Christ in a dark world:
- Remember the poor—In Luke 18 Jesus invited the rich young ruler to follow him. All he had to do was give everything to the poor. He could not do it. Are we any different? Too often our gifts to the poor and needy are a mere remnant of our excess, be it time or money. Honor the poor with you time and money, and you will honor God at the same time.
- Spend time with God—Many people have this Friday off. Use this time to draw closer to God. In Ephesians 5 Paul encourages us to try to use our time in wise way. He wants us to understand the word of Lord, be a light to the world, and to not participate in evil practices. More prayer, more study, and more praise to God will help ensure we don’t take “part in the unfruitful works darkness,” (Ephesians 5:11) but spend time communing with our God and encouraging each other.
- Share the good news—In Luke 5 Jesus heal a paralytic. He does this by forgiving his sins. The rulers are appalled—only God can forgive sins. So, Jesus heals the man to prove his authority to forgive sins is from God the father. The best thing we can do this holiday season, and all through the year, is to give the gift of the good news sent from God.
Everyone has the liberty to choose what they do on Black Friday—if you decide shopping is the way to go, please make sure and put Christ first as you navigate your course. For those looking for Black Friday alternatives that will honor Christ, remembering the poor, spending time with God, and sharing the good news are three options you might consider. No matter what course you choose, remember the words of Paul to the Colossians “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Happy Black Friday to all.
Chris Bethell - November 24, 2017
Telling the Story of Jesus
Stories are powerful. Stories communicate. Stories leave an impression. There’s a gospel hymn titled “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”—it gives an emotionally-charged narrative of our savior and king. The story of Jesus holds the keys to life eternal. This story shows God’s love and mercy towards his creation, through the willing sacrifice of his only son. The story of Jesus is the most powerful, compelling narrative ever written.
Today many Christians don’t tell the story of Jesus when they share the gospel—they simply provide a list of facts (via scripture) that layout a plan by which we can be reconciled to God. There’s no color or conversation. The gospel has been turned into an equation which, when properly calculated, derives an irrefutably correct answer. Devoid of emotion, we slap a five-step checklist on the table (we’ll talk about step six after step five is completed) and wonder why more people don’t respond to the gospel message.
Why have so many adopted the “gospel process” over telling the story of Jesus? I believe it’s because telling the story of Jesus:
Is harder to do—learning a checklist is way easier than really knowing the story of Jesus and the gospel message. I can memorize a few verses in an hour. Telling the story of Jesus, the story that has transformed your life, is a much deeper effort.
- Takes more time—I can’t just toss out some facts and call it a day. I must invest time into telling the story. I must convey from the heart my conviction to the story being shared.
- Requires an emotional vulnerability—when I tell the story of Jesus, I inevitably share my own sins and faults. Part of the gospel message delivered by followers is that I was wading in the mire of horrible sins and Jesus rescued me. I need to tell the story within the context of my experience.
I want to encourage every Christian to tell the story of Jesus. The impact to your spiritual growth and the spreading of the word will be profound. As you do this keep these three things in mind:
- Your experience can’t change the story of Jesus or the gospel message. Paul told the Galatians “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:8) The gospel changed your life, not the other way around.
- Telling the story of Jesus requires more, not less, study of God’s word. Paul tells Timothy to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) Jesus is the Word according to John 1:1. The story of Jesus must be painted within the construct of His truth .
- You should be open about your sins and the grace and mercy you received. Don’t be afraid to talk about your shortcomings. Paul told the Romans “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) Our weaknesses and sins illuminate the story of Jesus and demonstrate the transformative impact of his grace and mercy. It’s what makes the story of Jesus personal and why He wants his disciples to share it rather than just give them a Bible, brochure, or checklist.
God made us all storytellers. He gave us the greatest story ever written. He then charged those in His kingdom to share that story with everyone in the world.
Go tell the story of Jesus to everyone.
Chris Bethell - November 2, 2017