A Generous Heart

by Nate Powell

Last week, I had to tackle a bit of a difficult topic from the pulpit. No leader really likes to talk about giving, but the Matthew 6:19-24 text demanded it. Jesus preached directly to the correlation of treasure and heart location. Where we put our money is where our heart lies and what we delight in.
 

It was with that in mind that my daily reading landed in Exodus 35:4-29. It could be seemingly an insignificant text, describing the gifts of materials toward the construction of the Tabernacle, for the post-Sinai Israelites. Moses has received the commandments and the prescribed instructions on how Yahweh is to be worshiped. Moses states to the people what God has commanded for the provision of this tabernacle construction in Exodus 35:5 (CSB): “Take up an offering from among you for the LORD. Let everyone whose heart is willing bring this as the Lord’s offering…” In light of what I had just preached and studied, this passage took on a whole new light as I examined not simply what the people gave, but how they gave it. Look the passage up and note how the people gave:

  • Everyone whose heart was moved and whose spirit prompted him came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work …” (v 21)
  • “Both men and women came; all who had willing hearts brought …” (v 22)
  • All the women whose hearts were moved …” (v 26)
  • “So the Israelites brought a freewill offering to the Lord, all the men and women whose hearts prompted them to bring something for all the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done.” (v 29)
The passage speaks strongly of people whose hearts were moved. This offering was an offering to the worship of the Lord and his work. This giving was their act of worship, and was clearly the movement of God’s spirit upon people who’s hearts had been softened toward generosity.
 
In light of teaching about giving, it should be said: If you feel in any way coerced to give by a human being, please don’t give. If you are new here and don’t really understand why we give, please don’t give. If you give for other motives besides that of a softened heart toward God, please don’t give. Much of people’s misunderstandings and misgivings in the church today regarding giving come from the fact that giving has been used and abused for worldly gain. But this is not what we are called as a church to do, and we as leaders are accountable to our members for this.
 
Giving flows from grateful hearts. Let your giving be joyful and let it be given with secrecy and sincerity toward God. Disciples of Jesus should be mindful for opportunities to share with their God and the needs of their neighbor. Let’s be open and willing to do his will this week.


I’m Evil? [Thoughts from the Cutting Floor]

by Nate Powell
 
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt 7:11, NASB)
 
We were studying this passage this past Sunday, regarding the topic of prayer. But there were two little words in this verse that hung with me a bit, and when we pause to study the text, should probably hang with you too. Those words were: “being evil”. It’s easy to gloss over these two words, but then you come back to it. “Whoa, whoa, whoa … did Jesus just call us evil?”
 
There are a few issues in context that we want to look at. We should see that the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is spoken to his entire audience. There are a few spots where he refers to how the Pharisees give, pray, etc. But overall, the cast of Jesus’ message is very broad in its appeal. The “If you then” question of the passage should be interpreted as stated toward the whole audience, not simply people we would like to project the title of “evil” onto, such as the pharisees.
 
Jesus is of one mind when it comes to understanding the hearts of mankind: we are evil, and we find ways to do evil.
 
But you might counter with: “Hold on … aren’t all people basically good?” We should reconsider this philosophy based off a few other passages.
 
Case in Point #1: John 2:23-25 // In this passage, we see that Jesus was doing many great signs and wonders, but that he didn’t fully entrust himself to the people at this point of his ministry. Why not? “Because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” And what would happen at a point in his ministry in which he would fully entrust himself to men? They would murder him by nailing him to a cross. He understood the evil that was lurking in the hearts of men. Indeed, Jesus “knew all men” all too well.
 
Case in Point #2: Mark 10:17-18 // Jesus points out to the Rich Young Ruler that he knows men all too well. When asked a simple question by the man, who calls Jesus the “Good Teacher”, the man asks what must be done so that he may inherit eternal life. Jesus retorts with a pointed response: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus understands clearly that the title of “Good” is not man’s title. He knows us all too well and knows our capabilities when left to our own devices. The Title of good belongs in all truth to God.
 
Case in Point #3: Romans 3:10-18 // I could just hit the copy and paste button on my computer, but you really should go look this passage up. The point gets summed up when he gets to verse 23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Are there exceptions here? No. We all get to wear the label. Evil. Rebel. Sinner.
 
Pretty dark stuff, I know. So you’re probably stuck on this … wondering if there is any hope. If I’m an evil rebel sinner, what can I do?
 
Jesus said it: No one is good but God alone. And Jesus is the God-Man who lived perfectly and died sacrificially to make a way to heaven for anyone who believes. And those who believe get to wear and new name Christian and be clothed in the white robes of his righteousness. Turn from your sin and trust fully in Jesus Christ today. Be baptized into him.
 
Are we evil rebels? Yes. But Jesus came to bring life and hope to evil rebels. That’s what we preach … the Gospel: a message of hope for Rebels.  
 
**The Cutting Floor is a series of blogs where we chase rabbits that we didn’t have time to chase during the weekly sermon. Thanks for chasing a rabbit with us. The rabbits usually lead back to Jesus. 😉


P.R.A.Y.

By Nate Powell

We’ve spent a couple weeks sorting thru the how and the what of prayer in light of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teaching in Matthew 5-7. We spoke this past week about how we address God. But I do realize these sermons have been a bit thick … there’s been a lot to digest. It might be easier to ask: “How do I easily remember what to pray for?” Some of us really struggle to focus in prayer. Some of us struggle to vary our prayers much outside of mentioning the medical needs people have. It’s good to vary it up and learn to cover the bases. That is why I have taught a couple different acrostics to my students during my years of youth ministry to help them pray. Here is an easy one.

Praise

Repent

Ask

Yield

We start by praising God for who he is and what he has done. We repent by confessing our sin to God and asking for his forgiveness and aid in helping us turn from it. We ask by presenting any requests we have before God, either for ourselves or for others. We yield by giving ourselves and our day over to his will, that what he wants would be done in and through us. P.R.A.Y.

Pretty simple, huh? Write this down and use this as a pattern when you pray. It can help you take baby steps toward practicing a fuller, deeper prayer life.

**This Acrostic is not original to me. You can read a more full article about it here.



Lord, Teach Us To Pray

By Nate Powell

In yesterday’s sermon we ended with a note regarding reasons that we don’t pray. These reasons were highlighted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I relate to several of them, and I’m sure you will too.  It is good for us to reflect on this list and how many of these currently apply to us.

  • We have a lack of discipline. We are not disciplined people and struggle to do anything out of habit.
  • We doubt anything will happen. We’ve felt let down by prayer before, and become cynical.
  • We don’t sense God’s nearness. We have not read our Bible, been to church, with other Christians. He doesn’t seem present daily with us.
  • We lack awareness of real need. We don’t see a real pressing need to pray.
  • We have a small awareness of God’s greatness and greatness of the Gospel. We’ve lost sight of the holiness of God and how large he is in power, presence and majesty.

We could feel down about reading this list. We struggle in so many ways. Yet I think that we should take hope in this list. Prayer is not easy. Many of us struggle with prayer. And prayer is a skill that is learned through a lifetime of discipleship … being with other Christians … seeking to grow in the art of prayer.

When Luke records the Lord’s prayer, it begins with the disciples asking Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) When we hear Jesus’ prayers, we get to sit at the feet of the master. May we reflect upon the good prayers of Jesus, and may we has our savior to teach us to pray.

**If you are looking for an excellent book on prayer, Whitney’s book is great. I’d encourage you to read it.



The Preacher’s Disclaimer

By Nate Powell
 
“ … You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” (Romans 2:21)
 
A few weeks ago, I started a new weekly task: to preach a sermon to the Auburn Christian Church each week. I say “preach to” and not “preach at” because it’s not words for a location, but words for a people. I’ve been having a blast doing deeper studies and more reading, a task that will continue to grow and increase as I do it more.
 
But I’ve been reminded that preaching is a humbling task. It’s a task that can’t simply be picked up with an axe to grind against anyone, or without a full measure of self-examination against the text. That’s where the disclaimer that I would desire to post each week comes in. If I could each week, I would want to post a disclaimer that states the following:
 
“This week’s sermon has been first and foremost preached to the pastor. In light of the scripture, he has been made aware of his own shortcomings, but has the strong desire to grow in the grace of following Jesus Christ faithfully with you.”
 
In other words, I seek to preach sermons that I need to hear myself. Paul questions those who teach in Romans 2:21, as to whether the lessons they teach have been taught to themselves. As I study and prepare the week’s assigned text, I do it not by asking simply “What is God’s word saying to them?”, but by asking “What is the scripture saying to me, about my life?” I want to be challenged to run the race faithfully, with full endurance, alongside you as a church. We all need the teaching, rebuke and correction of scripture.
 
If you ever feel that I am not living up to my own standard as a pastor, I give you full permission to call me out on it. I submit myself to you, seeking to decrease in hypocrisy, and increase in living within God’s grace, serving you faithfully.


Word for Word?

by Nate Powell
 

You may have noticed something different if you’ve been in church over the past few weeks, though very few of you have said anything about it. I’ve asked you to turn to a passage while I’ve been preaching, and you find that what I’m reading doesn’t match up with what you are reading. So what is up with that?

So, the last few weeks, I’ve been preaching from the Christian Standard Bible. It’s the newest translation from a publisher called Holman Bible Publishers. It used to be called the Holman Christian Standard Bible. But in 2017, they did a new edition of the translation and published it under the new CSB label. I’ve been enjoying reading and studying it since I got a copy a couple years ago.

So you might be asking: Are we switching versions again?  Some of you may remember that for years and years, we had used the NIV 1984 translation for our preaching and readings. Indeed, we found that to be a reliable translation for a long time. The problem came with NIV made their changes in 2011. They made a new translation, but kept it published as NIV. It was a new translation, not just a revision. And they eliminated the ability to purchase 1984 NIV bibles anymore. Between this choice and some of the translation choices they made, we determined to change things up.

Faced with the choice of the English Standard Version (ESV, published by Crossway) & New Living Translation (NLT, published by Tyndale). When Corey and I made a choice, we went with the more readable NLT, rather than the more word-for-word translation of the ESV.

The problem we’ve faced in preaching from the NLT is that its translation doesn’t actually carry the weight of the original text in English. I struggled as on occasions I’ve had to spend a bunch of time backwards explaining the translation out of a very loose English translation only to forward translate it in a way that is much closer to original meaning. (I know it sounds confusing, but I won’t bore you with a longer explanation.) In short, the NLT gives me a lot more work to do in cutting to the chase.

Therefore, we are in something of an experimental period this summer. I’ve been preaching for a few weeks from CSB, which is a bit closer to word-for-word (in the vein of the NIV). I also hope to use two versions over the next few weeks that are much closer to word-for word translations: the aforementioned ESV, and the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

I know that some of you use the pew Bibles, and I know some of you bring and study from your own translation. Honestly, I think studying from a variety of translations is a great thing! It gives us a better idea of the nuances that are sometime present in the scripture and brings more scholarly perspectives to the table. Regardless, we’ll be preaching the Word of God, and that is a good thing!



I Swear [thoughts from the Cutting Floor]

by Nate Powell
 
After last week’s sermon, a member of our church hit me up with a question. “So does Jesus want us to take vows in our marriages? Or is that wrong?”
 
The inspiration for the question was quite appropriate. We noted in Matthew 5:31-32 that Jesus has a very high view of marriage. Divorce is to be a last resort and for very limited reason. In the verses that follow (Matthew 5:33-37), Jesus speaks of not taking oaths or swearing to anything, but simply letting our yes mean yes, and our no mean no. So the question stands … Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t take marriage vows?
 
To the contrary, Jesus is affirming the limited oaths that we take. To take an oath of marriage is perfectly appropriate. We make a promise, and we resolve to keep it. The problem lies when we use oaths frivolously. In Jesus’ time, oaths were being manipulated. At times they would invoke God’s name in the oath, to say if it were a more serious oath or not. The oaths were a ploy to allow an individual to get away with their word if they didn’t swear to God or swear by heaven. Jesus says that in all matters, his followers should be truthful, and shouldn’t be people who twist words, white lie, or invoke that things were true “for me at the time it was convenient.” Yes should mean yes and no should mean know when coming from the lips of a disciple of Jesus.
 
So keep making your vows in marriage, and keep keeping them. What matters to God is that we are truthful and keep the covenants we make.


The More You Know

by Nate Powell
 
Remember when NBC used to run different public service announcements, with differing current television stars? They always used to end with the same graphic and phrase: The More You Know. They may or may not have told us something we knew, but we always felt a bit more educated when we saw that star and graphic fly across the screen. Often, someone can share a small bit of information that makes us a whole lot smarter, or (better yet) a whole lot wiser.
 

I’m feeling a bit that way in my new role. Sometimes a bit of info is all I need to feel a whole lot smarter. Much to the chagrin of everyone in the church, pastors are not psychic! There is a whole lot that we don’t know. We do our best to get a people and ask questions. But there are often some major pieces of information that would help us to do our job so much better. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • Surgery & Hospital stays: We want to do our best to make sure you have someone pray with you and for you when you have a medical need. One of the best things you can do is to drop a quick phone call to the church office or a text to myself or one of the elders (our cell numbers are listed in the bulletin every week). Or ask a friend to do it if you’re not able to. We want to pray with and for you. That’s what families do: support each other! We’re also well aware of your privacy in these needs, and will only ever share prayer requests to our prayer chain with your permission.
  • People needs: One of the best ways to make sure we are caring for each other is to keep an eye out for each other. When you know of another church member or person in our community that you care deeply about, let’s pray for them together and see if we can find a way to help meet that need, or display the love of Jesus to them in some tangible way.
  • Email power: Often, there are things that we remember about church or hold to communicate to the pastor only on Sunday. And sometimes we hold these things right until the time of service, either before or after. One pastor I listen to talks about how a lady stopped him 2 minutes before the service to complain about a toilet that wasn’t working. An important problem to be sure, but the gruffness with which she handled the issue made it difficult for the pastor to focus on his sermon and the service at hand. So here’s a tip: During the week, drop an email to the office or to me (or to Janell) and let us respond as we can. It will also help us remember your issue better, as Sundays bring many different things to the pastor: names, tasks, decisions, calls, prayer, the sermon, etc. You can see how all of that can feel mentally overwhelming, especially if you don’t want me to forget what you talked to me about. Email is a great way to do that with non-emergency requests. As well, this is a way to use the Connect cards in the pews to your advantage. I want to spend Sundays focused on the people who are present and on preaching the word. You can help me do my job better.

Thank you for your patience as I ease into my new role. I hope that over time, we will grow in the skill of good communication, and help each other know a bit more about Jesus and about the needs around us than we did yesterday!



Telling Your Story

by Nate Powell
 
We were in the middle of your typical Monday morning staff meeting the other day: Emily, Janell and myself. We were reflecting on the past week’s happenings, when we suddenly had some unusual visitors. A retired gentleman followed by four teenagers walked in. The teens seemed a bit on the shy side, but the older gentleman piped right up: “Hi, my name is Paul, and my dad used to be the pastor at the Auburn Christian Church.” I looked at Janell and we both knew we were going to need to take a recess from our meeting for me to talk with this gentleman.
 
His name was Paul Platt, and his father, Harold D. Platt, was the pastor at ACC from 1950-52. Paul spoke of remembering attending church in our building as a young boy, and attending elementary school at the old brick school by highway 136. His family had moved to Auburn in his younger years from a ministry with the Missouri Valley Church of Christ. Following their time here, his father would take a pastorate in Kansas, before eventually becoming a professor at Dallas Christian College.

 

While his story was interesting enough, I loved even more to hear why he had four teenagers following him to Auburn, Nebraska. Paul introduced me to his four grandsons. It turns out that they were on a long 2 ½ week road trip. Paul had left his home out east (Virginia, I think), picked up 2 grandsons in South Carolina, picked up 2 more in Texas. They then proceeded on a long road trip to explore the roots of their grandfather and great grandfather. It was so great to hand each of those teens a copy of our centennial church history book and hear them immediately exclaim “There he is!” as they found a picture of their great-grandfather. “We have that picture at home!”
 

What Paul was doing is something that is so important and is perhaps even a lost art among the young and old today: the art of testimony. It’s the art of storytelling and passing on the tales of how you have seen God work in your life.

Asaph, one of the psalmists, reminded us that this is our important duty: to remember what God has done and pass on those tales to the next generation. Hear his words in Psalm 78:1-7:

“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;     incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable;     I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known,     that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children,     but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,     and the wonders that he has done.

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers     to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,     so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”

For all who call themselves Christian: Every one of us have a story, a testimony, to share with all who come after us, to remind them of the goodness of our God. These stories remind them that God wasn’t just good or moving in lives during Bible times; He does those things now.

So what is your story? You might not get to take a long trip like Paul and his grandsons; but you can make plans to tell your family of God’s goodness to you. We ALL have a story. Let’s not let them go to waste.

 

 



The Scrolls Affirm (The Cutting Floor)

by Nate Powell

You’ll be seeing a posts in the coming weeks called “The Cutting Floor”. It’s basically a spot to put stuff that I thought was really good, but certainly didn’t have time to cover in this week’s sermon

In this past week’s sermon, I said the following:

“This book is not going away. There are some in the current Christian community that question the helpfulness or the use of this OT text we were given. We must stand on Jesus’ words here and believe him firmly. We will treasure all of God’s words. They stand forever (Isaiah 40:8).”

I wish we had more time to examine in the sermon last week about what we know of the trustworthiness of the text of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus said it best last week: “Neither the smallest letter, nor the smallest stroke of a letter will pass away.” (Matt 5:18) As we said, neither the Iota or the Yod (the two smallest letters in Greek and Hebrew) will pass away.

The question can come: How do we know this is true? How do we know that the biblical text didn’t get doctored up over time? I’d love for you to read this great article on the Dead Sea scrolls and how their discovery points us toward the truth of what Jesus said … This Word endures. Check out this excerpt:

“One of the most important Dead Sea documents is the Isaiah Scroll. This twenty-four foot long scroll is well preserved and contains the complete book of Isaiah. The scroll is dated 100 B.C. and contains one of the clearest and most detailed prophecies of the Messiah in chapter fifty-three, called the “Suffering Servant.” Although some Jewish scholars teach that this refers to Israel, a careful reading shows that this prophecy can only refer to Christ.

Here are just a few reasons. The suffering servant is called sinless (53:9), he dies and rises from the dead (53:8-10), and he suffers and dies for the sins of the people (53:4-6). These characteristics are not true of the nation of Israel. The Isaiah Scroll gives us a manuscript that predates the birth of Christ by a century and contains many of the most important messianic prophecies about Jesus. Skeptics could no longer contend that portions of the book were written after Christ or that first century insertions were added to the text.

Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide further proof that the Old Testament canon was completed by the third century B.C., and that the prophecies foretold of Christ in the Old Testament predated the birth of Christ.”

Click here to read the whole article. The Dead Sea Scroll discovery was certainly a monumental find in assuring us that was the Bible says is true. It is God’s word, and as Jesus told us, it is unbreakable. (John 10:35)