Good News

27
May

The Church’s Privilege

May 27th, 2007 by Bob Buehler

“The Church’s Privilege”

Notes for a sermon preached on May 27, 2007 at the Marbury Church of God.
The text:
Romans 8:14-17

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

[more to be added]
13
May

The Church’s Place

May 13th, 2007 by Bob Buehler

The text: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

21:10 And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
21:22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
21:23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
21:24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
21:25 Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.
21:26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
21:27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
22:2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
22:3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;
22:4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
22:5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

We look again today at the church, through the symbolic language of the Book of Revelation.

1. The church’s place is a holy place, and a heavenly place

2. It is God’s own place (v. 22): no lesser lights are needed (v. 21:23; cf. Jeremiah 31:34)

3. It is an international place (v. 24)

4. It is an open place (v. 25)

5. It is an inclusive place (v. 26)

6. It is an exclusive place (v. 27)

7. It is a life-giving place (vv. 22:1-2a) (compare Ezekiel 47)

8. It is a healing place. (2b)

9. It is a place of worship (vv.3, 4)

10. It is a place light (v. 5; also 21:22)

11. It is a place of constant victory (v. 5).

06
May

The Church’s Promise

May 6th, 2007 by Bob Buehler

Our text today: Revelation 21:1-6

(These notes are abbreviated, and the full sermon was rather more complete. Watch this space for the time we can begin podcasting the sermon itself.)

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
21:6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Today we’re going to talk about the hope that God has placed in us. I’m sure each of us has an idea, or an image, in our minds that comes up whenever we think of Heaven, of the dwellingplace of God, of the promise given to believers for eternal life. It’s appropriate for us to make sure that we are fit for heaven. We spend our lives, in a way, doing that. Those of us who work for justice, peace, healing, and equality do so, when we’re at our best, as ones who are mindful that Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for God’ will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Ah, but that brings up the question: How is God’s will done in heaven? That becomes relevant for us if we are to even pray properly, and also if we are to recognize when our prayers have been answered.

The first thing we see in our passage is that heaven, and indeed when God is done with it, earth, is something new. There are those who look for God to come and set up an earthly kingdom of some kind, modeled after the kingdoms of this world. Peter says in his second epistle, We look for a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

The second thing we see is that the church of God, designated here as the new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, is in heaven already, and is not going to heaven. You went to heaven, in a certain way, the day you became a Christian and thus became a member of this Bride, this Body, this holy temple. In John’s vision the church is holy and complete, already belonging to God, every stone and precious pearl in place.

The third thing we see is that God does not bring the people of earth up to heaven, but brings heaven down to us. Where God is, is healing from sorrow and pain.

The fourth thing is, that God makes all things new. He doesn’t just renew what is old, bad, sinful, or wrong; he renews everything.

The fifth thing is, that God gives life freely as a gift to all who thirst for it.

29
Apr

The Church’s Provision

April 29th, 2007 by Pastor Bob

Sermon notes for April 29, 2007 at the Marbury Church of God.

John 10:22-30
10:22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,
10:23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.
10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
10:25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;
10:26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
10:29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.
10:30 The Father and I are one.”

Psalm 23
23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.
23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

The source of the church’s provision is Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. The church is unlike any other organization in the world, in that it lives under supernatural protection and guidance.

In our passage in John 10:30, specifically when speaking of his role as shepherd, Jesus identifies himself with God the Father in the strongest possible terms. His questioners, the Jews (actually the leaders: Pharisees, teachers of the law, chief priests and elders) have challenged him to say plainly whether he is the Messiah. His difficulty is a simple one, though. He is the Messiah, but he is not the kind of Messiah they are looking for: they want a nationalistic leader who will unite their people politically, organize them militarily, resolve their disputes judicially, enforce right behavior autocratically, purify the occupancy of the land ethnically, and restore the kingdom of Israel to the prominent place it had under David and Solomon as the wonder of the world.

But none of those things are on his agenda. Today we still have those who look for a messiah to do all of those things, and are in danger of failing to see that God does not provide the followers of Jesus a role greater than or different from what we saw in him the first time.

If Jesus simply were to announce “yes, I am the Messiah,” without radically redefining for their understanding what the Messiah is and what the Messiah’s purpose is to be, they would remain deceived and would expect many things of him which he had no intention to deliver. He has already refused a popular call to take him by force and make him king. So he has used other words to describe himself and the way in which he has received God’s anointing as David’s heir: he is the light of the world, the good shepherd, the bread of life, the source of living water.

Some things about the way the shepherd provides for his sheep:

First, he provides a calling: My sheep hear my voice. Not just a calling but a response: they follow. And here’s an important point: I know them, he says. Jesus knows his sheep. He can tell when one is missing or gone astray. We know from the parable of the lost sheep that he will go to extraordinary lengths to get one stray back into the fold. We could spend quite a bit of time talking about his care for the individual sheep, and how precious and important each one is to Jesus, but here I want to notice something that almost could go unnoticed, because it almost goes without saying: the sheep belong in a flock, they are called together, they follow together. The individual, personal relationship each of us as sheep has with Jesus does not eliminate our need to move together, under his calling, with others who are called; indeed, it intensifies it.

Next he provides a gift better than all other gifts: I give them eternal life. Eternal life is, in John’s gospel, a shorthand for all that Jesus gives. John uses it the way the other evangelists use “Kingdom of Heaven” or “Kingdom of God.” This is contrasted with the kingdoms of this world, which was offered to Jesus by the Devil in his temptation.

Looking through Psalm 23, we can see some more about God’s provision for his people: I shall not want = I have everything I need. Whether it be our daily bread, strength for the day, or the spiritual riches we are talking about, those who respond in obedience to Jesus will lack nothing. Next is a picture of shalom: green pastures, still waters; peace and plenty without strife.

He restores my soul. Like the prodigal, the one who hears the voice of of the Good shepherd “comes to himself.” How easy it is to forget who we are! We know who we are when we know whose we are and act accordingly. Look at what James says (James 1:23-25): Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it” he will be blessed in what he does. It is important to remember ourselves, which we do by hearing and heeding his voice. Then he truly leads us in right paths for his name’s sake. All of this is true not just for us as individuals but for the church as church. If we let ourselves be just another gathering of people with no purpose and no power, listening to our own anxious voices and the voices that clamor around us, without focusing constantly on the word of God and especially the voice of Jesus, we will easily lose our way; but if remember that this church is God’s church, that Christ himself is our chief pastor, and that when he leads us into a new place it is going to be a place of blessing and peace, we’ll not be like that fellow who forgets what he looks like; we’ll move forward with confidence.

But what if we follow him as he leads and instead of seeing ourselves in a place of peace and contentment, it looks like the path is a dangerous one? What if it looks like doing what he says could spell death for the church as we know it? The psalmist keys in on this possibility, that the path on which he leads us may look deadly: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; Isn’t that the key? When we follow him, his presence stays close with us. His correction and direction become sources of comfort; we can feast in the place where our circumstances say we should fear: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. So we become victors in all things. Our Shepherd will supply our needs.

22
Apr

The Church’s Purpose

April 21st, 2007 by Bob Buehler

Notes for Sunday, April 22, 2007 at 10:00 AM at the Marbury Church of God

The text: John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”
He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.
But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.
Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God
.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

These disciples had a lot going for them. They had been with Jesus for the length and breadth of his ministry; they had not only seen him heal and perform miracles, but had been among those whom he sent out two by two to heal and perform miracles in his name. They had returned to him with joy, reporting that even the demons were subject to them in the name of Jesus. They had eaten of the multiplied loaves and fishes. They had heard his private explanations of his public teaching, the keys and meanings to the parables with which he taught the crowds. They had gone place to place with him, and had entered Jerusalem with him on that final, fateful week where he spent his time teaching in the temple. They had been with him at the last supper, heard him re-interpret for him the Passover celebration, received his instructions about the new covenant. He had washed their feet. Then they had gone with him to the garden of Gethsemane, seen him pray in agony, seen him arrested, taken away, spat upon, lied about, accused of outrageous things, and sentenced to die; and they had seen him die, heard him utter the words of forgiveness from the cross. They had gathered in a huddle, fearful of whether they would be the next target of the authorities, and had then been confronted, first with reports, then with more confirmations that he was alive, and finally with Jesus himself, present with them, showing them his scars, teaching them again, filling their hearts with joy, commissioning them to forgive sins in his name and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

They knew his presence; had received his Spirit; had learned of his power, that it was for them to use to spread the message of forgiveness of sin. But still these disciples, blessed and enriched as they were with all of their experience of Jesus, had no clear purpose. They had all of this going for them, and just weren’t really sure what to do with it. Finally, after a few weeks they had begun to scatter, each to tend, no doubt, to their own affairs, the things in their lives that perhaps had been left behind when they had first forsaken all to follow him. Our scene opens back up in Galilee, by the lake where Jesus had first called several of them. Seven of the eleven are there, perhaps all members of that fishing community: Simon, Thomas, James and John, Philip, Nathaniel, and two others… and they are about to do what people do. Lacking a clear purpose driving them, they just go back to what they are good at, what they enjoy, what they know. They’re fishermen all, and starting with Peter, they are going fishing. He takes the lead, they all get in the boat, and….. nothing.

There is a stage in the life of the church where we can be fully instructed, fully empowered, fully filled with the experience of walking with Jesus and being in his presence, but we still all have our own ideas of what we’re good at, and what way we should best spend our time. We can use our expertise, gathering with some subset of people we get along well with…. not now all the people of God, maybe, but the ones who are most like us, with whom we share both spiritual and natural bonds, who share our interests and abilities…. and we can get involved in things that seem like a good idea; only to find that after a whole night of toil, there is nothing to show.

Into this situation Jesus again appears. He’s not going to scold them for going back to fishing, even though he had called them, once, away from that life. He just asks, calling from a distance: “Children, have you any fish?” Did you catch anything? Are you being successful?

They have to admit: No luck so far.

The situation is much like that first encounter he had with them by that very lake, when he had called Simon and Andrew and James and John to follow him. That time also, after a fruitless night, he had instructed them in how to do what they did best. This time he tells them where to cast their net, and what a catch they suddenly have!

When we attend to the voice of Jesus, success will follow us even in our ordinary tasks.

Now we have two disciples, namely the one identified as “the disciple who Jesus loved— that would be John, who is now telling us this story — and Peter, who begin to suspect that this is Jesus. They both were there that other time, and this event is just too uncannily similar. So John gives Pete a heads up, and Peter, remembering perhaps so many of his faults, has no time any more for fish — he wastes no time in getting to Jesus. Perhaps here we begin to have a clue how he is to emerge as the leader of this group.

The relationship with Jesus is more important even than the task at hand.

So the blessing and instruction of our Lord gives them success in what they have set out to do: the net contains a hundred and fifty-three large fish. He invites them to bring the fruit of their success, but look: Jesus does not depend on their work or their effort for his own provision for them. Yes, their labors have brought them a lot of fish, but Jesus himself has already cooked breakfast.

He’ll do for us infinitely more, even in the meeting of our daily needs, than any effort of ours can do for ourselves or for him.

So now that they know that he can provide for their personal needs, that purpose for their lives is off the table. He can feed them, can prepare for them a feast without labor on their own part. So now, the question turns in a very personal way to what the purpose of their lives is going to be. For the world, the purpose is survival, doing one’s own work, getting successful. He has set all that aside, because success is not an issue, daily sustenance is not an issue, he’s got all of that covered. So now comes the crucial conversation.

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

Do you love me more than the familiar things of your life? Do you love me more than the friends you grew up with, the people you enjoy working with? Do you love me more than the work you love to do? Or am I just, perhaps, one more thing for you to add to your list of familiar, enjoyable interests?

do you love me…. more than these?

Yes, Lord, he says….. you know I love you.

Then, says Jesus: Feed my lambs.

No longer is the purpose of Peter’s life to feed himself, or his family, or the friends he loves to go fishing with. Jesus has shown this very morning that all of those needs are well within the divine capability to meet. Now Peter has a new mandate, a new purpose, which is to grow directly out of this special relationship he has with Jesus: Feed my lambs.

How we want to show our love for Jesus in our own private worlds, whether with worship and praise and private prayer, whether with celebrating with family and friends the familiar things that make our lives so blessed! How we so tend to be satisfied to be among the seven disciples that we know how to get along with, figuring those others can get along fine on their own! How satisfied we can be, thinking yes Lord, I love you, and I love the comfort of my life….. until he challenges us with the question, Do you love me more than these? If you truly love me, feed my lambs.

Some of the lambs are strays, that must be found. Some are sick or wounded, and must be tended. Some will need such comfort from you that they will not immediately give comfort to you. But if you love me, he asks again and gives the answer twice more: Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.

You have been called by Christ, and your life is not your own. You have given it away freely when you received his love and declared your love for him. Your purpose is no longer to provide for your convenience, to do what you know best, to stay with the familiar. You have a purpose that will bring you beyond yourself, and it may mean that in the end the needs of others will prevail over your own. The Christ who was crucified, now risen from the dead, calls you to share with him in the willingness to set aside your own will, your own purpose, for the purpose of the tending of the ones he calls his own. They’re not yours, necessarily; but they’re in his flock. “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold,” he said back in his prayer in John 17.

The church’s purpose: to tend his lambs, to feed his sheep, to care for Christ’s beloved in the name of Jesus, though it cost us our comfort and our familiar ways.

These things are worth loving, but he asks: “do you love me more than these?”

These seven disciples soon rejoined the other four, and the dozens more that formed that first community; and not many days after these events, the power of the gospel went forth with purpose. There’s no record that Peter or the others ever went fishing again, and no record that they regretted it either. They set themselves to live the love for Christ that they professed.

15
Apr

The Church’s Power

April 15th, 2007 by Pastor Bob

Outline for the sermon preached on April 15, 2007 in the 10 AM worship service at the Marbury Church of God.

Today’s text: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

We are talking today about the church’s power. In this passage we see that the infant church, consisting on that first Easter evening of a group of frightened disciples, began to be empowered by the risen Christ. This empowerment involved a process begun that night and continuing over many days. It was not to be manifest until the outpouring of Pentecost, but God’s miraculous working is seldom instantaneous with no preparation. So here we will see some aspects of the power the church was to receive. (ref. Acts 1:8).

The power of Presence
The church’s power begins with Christ’s presence. They had locked the doors in fear, but the risen Christ can penetrate the barriers of fear that arise in our hearts. Just when things seem to be at their worst, when all hope has been dashed, when the worst that could happen has happened, and there seems nothing for it but to cower and hide, try to disappear, forget about the grand hopes of former days and just figure out how to survive — there comes Jesus, ready to provide a Presence that will never leave. “I will never leave you or forsake you“ is his promise, and indeed later he tells this same group, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.“ It’s the same promise he had given long ago to Moses: “My Presence will go with you.” The first evidence to the world of the resurrection of Christ is disciples who have encountered him.

The power of Peace
The church’s power begins with peace. “Peace be with you“ is the first word of Jesus to his disciples. He says it not once but twice that night, and a third time a week later when he greets Thomas. Peace is the beginning-point of all Christian experience. It is the prerequisite for all ministry; and it is the fountainhead of the power of Christ. The church’s power begins with peace.

What a contrast this shows with the way power is thought of in the world, much of the time. For the world, peace is an end-point, an elusive goal, dependent on the exercise of power that has to be brought to bear in order to make peace possible. But for Jesus, who is called the Prince of Peace, and who pronounces a blessing on the peacemakers, peace is his first gift, the essential beginning point.

A church, a disciple who does not proceed from a standpoint of peace has no power in the things of God, but merely imitates the world. But those who rest and remain at peace in Christ, and who “seek peace and pursue it’ in obedience to God’s express desires, are equipped to be reconcilers and conflict-resolvers in a world that needs to hear from those whose “feet are shod with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

The power of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the vital force of God’s presence. At the center of every human being is the spirit of that human being, the thing which animates our deepest sense of self, our deepest desires. Scripture teaches us that the condition of sin in our lives has rendered that spirit dead, and the gift of God in Christ is now to breathe life into our spirit with God’s own life, just as at the beginning God gave life to a lump of clay: “the first Adam became a living soul, and the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45)

The power of Forgiveness
The church’s power proceeds with forgiveness. The power to forgive is the only evidence Jesus provides at this point of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In an early encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus was severely questioned because he made forgiveness of sin such a centerpiece of his ministry, including the healing ministry. The Pharisees said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?“ Often we read that passage as just another evidence of the divinity of Christ, since he responds by demonstrating through an act of healing that “the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” We agree with the Pharisees that only God should have power to forgive sins, and we say, “well, that’s all right then, because it’s Jesus, and that just proves His divinity. Forgiveness of sin is obviously a job for God, not for the likes of us.” And into such a mind-set comes the risen Christ, giving to mere humans this awesome responsibility: “the sins of whoever you forgive are forgiven; the sins of whoever you do not for give are not forgiven.” We say i’s God’s job to forgive, and are glad to be rid of the responsibility; but Jesus gives this awesome responsibility to us, to humans, to the church. The church’s power is manifest in forgiveness.

The power of Faith
Faith is the “evidence of things not seen” according to Hebrews 11:1. When Thomas was absent from that first meeting, Jesus made sure to include him later, and did all he needed to do to evoke from Thomas the confession of faith; but his profound follow-up statement was both a warning for the future and a promise to those who reach out in faith, even a little faith, to him: “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Faith sees beforehand what God has yet to show. This promise is for us, who read: “these are written that you might believe….. and that believing you might have life through His name.

18
Mar

Isaiah 55: God Provides

March 18th, 2007 by Bob Buehler

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55:1-9

In this wonderful passage, God through his prophet offers an open invitation to wealth, ease, prosperity, a free celebration, an open bar, a party to outdo all parties. I love the exuberance of the first verses: Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. It’s a grand announcement that God has something of life-sustaining value, and not only that, something pleasant and palatable, to give away for free.
But the second verse suggests that some of us are looking for these good things in a way that is useless to us: “Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? Or your labor, for that which satisfieth not?” And the invitation is renewed: “Hearken diligently unto me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Now I loved that passage long before I began to partake of the fatness which comes from “that which is not bread.” But let’s pause for a minute and see what he’s talking about.

So much of our time and effort, and yes, even our prayers, are spent on that which is not bread in the sense that God is now speaking through Isaiah — on physical comforts, sufficiency of food, warmth, shelter, health. Surely we need these things, and God is not stingy with them. But of them Jesus says, Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). We’re reminded of the words of Jesus: Labor not for the food which perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:27). And, I am the bread of life.God will satisfy the needs of our body, but it is our soul which he says should delight itself in fatness.

How do we obtain this gift, this free gift of a fat, satisfied, enriched soul? The first clue comes in Isaiah 55:3 Listen diligently to me says God. Are we not only listening, but listening diligently to God? Are we going out of our way to make sure we hear what he has to say? Here he also says, and eat what is good . Now also remember how a New testament writer cites the Psalmist: O taste and see that the Lord is good. He even gives us three simple steps: Give ear; come to me; hear me.
Give ear
means to begin to pay attention, be ready for what God might say. Come to me means to step out of our own routine, our own path, to do something that we wouldn’t be doing if it weren’t our priority to pay attention to God and his free gift to us. Hear me then means to take in God’s words, take them to heart, understand them, and let our life’s course be altered by them: that your soul may live.  How many people are walking around with dead souls?

He then promises a covenant, his sure mercies promised to David. Why David? David was a man of great faith, and of great sins. God made promises to David based on his faith, and taught David to return to him for forgiveness from his sins. David had a man killed in order to cover up his own adultery; yet when he repented, God forgave him. This forgiveness didn’t come without cost or consequence, but it was forgiveness all the same. It was a sure mercy, actually many mercies that God showed to David.

This act of mercy towards sinners is intended as the means by which God’s people are to be examples to the nations, a beacon of hope that says forgiveness is free, available, and for all. What was the message that was to go out to all nations in the name of Jesus, according to his own words? Repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47).

This message is then given explicitly in verses Isaiah 55:6-8: Seek the Lord while he may be found etc. It is a message of mercy and pardon for all who seek the Lord, all who call upon him. How different are his thoughts than ours! How different are his ways from ours! He wants to do away with sin by forgiving and redeeming sinners. He wants to resolve conflicts among nations by giving away the free gift of His presence to all nations. There is a sense of urgency, however, to this call. In some ways it is still that call to enjoy the excellent feast he has prepared: Get it while it’s hot! Don’t delay, now is the day, today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. We don’t know if there will be any day but today.

Still, he assures us who have this message now to give to the nations (and also we who still need to hear): he expects a result, because his message is powerful. It will accomplish its work. People will be set free, forgiven, redeemed, released, their hungry souls fed, their useless cravings set aside. God has gone to every length to send forth his word of mercy. Can we receive it? Have you received it? Can our souls be filled, so we are moved to invite others to this rich feast? There’s plenty for all.

25
Nov

Rev. Shannon Buehler Ordained

November 25th, 2006 by Bob Buehler
On November 19, 2006, the Rev. Shannon Buehler was ordained to the Christian ministry at her home congregation, the Marbury Church of God. Her husband, Pastor Bob Buehler, and neighboring pastor, the Rev. Tim Bean of the Marbury Baptist Church, each brought a brief message.
Ministers from the Chesapeake-Delaware-Potomac District of the Church of God were in attendance, including Ministries Director Wayne Harting, Credentials Committee Chairman David Harness, and former Credentials Chairman Jeff Tomlinson, who also served as the mentoring supervisor for Shannon during her period of evaluation by the Credentials Committee. Music was provided by the Marbury Church of God choir and by soloist Larry Oakley, with Joyce Boudreaux leading congregational singing and Ruth Ann Ferrell playing the organ. A reception and delicious repast were provided by members of the Marbury Church of God.
In attendance also were the candidate’s sister, Sequoia Edwards, from Albuquerque, New Mexico; three friends from the Buehlers’ previous congregation who traveled from Albany, New York; Pastor Bob’s uncle and aunt, retired missionaries, pastor and teacher Bob and Fran Clark, as well as numerous friends from the Accokeek First Church of God, and co-workers from Southern Maryland Hospital.

The Rev. Shannon Buehler began to actively respond to her sense of a divine call to the ordained ministry in 2001, taking distance courses from Anderson School of Theology, working also with the Credentials Committee on a course of independent study, and receiving her ministerial license in 2004. In 2005 she was recognized by her home congregation as Minister of Music and Worship. She has supplied the pulpit at the Accokeek First Church of God as well as at her home church, on numerous occasions over the last several years. Her husband of nearly 29 years, the Rev. Robert C. Buehler, expressed his delight with and support for this step in her ministry, and the two of them look forward to working together as a team in their current assigment in Charles County, Maryland. She will continue to support her husband in his pastoral ministry, pursue her own calling as a preacher, music minister and Christian educator, and be attentive to further leadings as the Spirit of God directs.

Laying on of hands
Laying on of hands
14
Apr

A Hope and a Future

April 14th, 1996 by Pastor Bob

Sermon notes for April 14, 1996.  Preached at the Marbury Church of God.

The focus is on the future. Most peoples of the earth are identified by their past: human descent, bloodlines, political and cultural and social history. Each of us has physical parentage, a political and cultural heritage, and a social setting that has to some extent shaped us. But the people of God are identified not by history but by promise, not by the past but by the future, and this is what gives us our common life.

This was true for Abraham. He was unique in his generation not for what he had accomplished, but for what God promised him… for the future that was given to him. His defining human characteristic was faith, which the author of Hebrews defines as “the substance of things hoped for.” Now just as all children of faith are children of Abraham, we become people of promise and a new covenant just exactly when we align ourselves with what God has set before us as a future, and let that define who we are, what our relationships are, and how we behave in the world. Like T.H. White’s Merlin, we are unlike all the people around us in that we live “backwards in time.” We “remember” the future, because the future is God’s promise and is more sure than our present circumstances and even more sure than our past, from which we are set free by grace. Look what happens to the defining moments of our past: “So far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper [heb., shalom] you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future…” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

“This one thing I do, forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” ( Philippians 3:13-14)

Our future is established by Jesus Christ, who is the Pioneer and Finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2), and our “forerunner” (Heb. 6:20) into the holiest place. The message of Easter is one of hope for our future… Christ has been raised from the dead, not as a curiosity of history, but as “the firstfruits of them that sleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Let’s look at some things about our future that impact the present very directly.

Our personal future is full salvation. “Therefore he is able to save completely them who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.Heb. 7:25.

The future of the church is that of a holy community, without spot or blemish, comprised of “every people, nation, and language”. It is one in which distinctions of race, sex, nationality, social status, and religious background have no impact whatsoever, “but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

But in the plan of God, what is future is already present. John the Baptist, and Jesus, both testified that the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, and Jesus instructed his disciples when he sent them out two by two to inform those who would reject there preaching that “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.” Accordingly, we read in, for example, James chapter 2 of the practical application of this fact in the way the local assembly is to conduct itself.

The kingdom of God, which consists in “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” according to Paul, is put on display (manifested) in the church. The rules that govern the world, where the strong rule and the eldest get the most respect, are turned on their head in the community of Jesus, to whom he says, “Not so with you; for he that is greatest among you shall be as the youngest; and the one who rules like the one who serves”. The church is a daily laboratory for working out and living out Kingdom principles.

What are these kingdom principles? They are principles which arise out of the character of God himself, in contrast to the principles often characteristic of those who are without God. In God’s holy community, Love takes precedence over hatred, revenge, or even indifference; healing wins out over sickness and infirmity; mutual support overrides distinctions of social status; giving takes higher precedence than accumulation of wealth; and forgiveness does away with sin. These are the principles that are to be operative in the church, as the social laboratory for God’s kingdom. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” This is our future and our calling.

Because our future is secure, our journey forward is a joyful one. This is true even when that journey brings us face to face with all kinds of trouble and adversity, the testing ground of our faith. I like the way this was illustrated in the old (maroon) Hymnal of the Church of God. As you know, in the back of the hymnal, as there is in most hymnals, was a topical index, where you could look up songs by subject matter under a topical heading. To save space, some topical headings are cross-referenced to others; for example, in this particular hymnal, if you looked for the topic “Christ”, it would say, “see Jesus Christ”, and if you looked up Comfort, it said, see Consolation. Well, the folks who put this hymnal together knew their gospel well. Under the topic, “Conflict,” you will find a cross reference: “see Victory.”

That sums it up rather well. We have a high calling, and a certain future, if only we “hold fast to the beginning of our confidence firmly to the end” as the writer of Hebrews puts it. I like that, too. Sometimes we get so tangled in the complexities of our lives that we lose sight of “the beginning of our confidence”, which is Jesus Christ, crucified for us, risen from the dead, offering repentance and forgiveness of sin to all who will believe on him. It may be years since we came to Christ, and had our sins forgiven; but this simple fact, the confession of our need of Him and his gracious reaching out to us, is still where our confidence begins. Out of that grows our own self-respect, our love for our families, and for the church, and our ability to expand that love beyond our immediate circle to include those to whom the same offer is made, but have not yet received it. From this simple beginning flows all sorts of ministry: prayer and Bible study so that we can draw closer to the One who has so marvelously saved us, and come to a fuller understanding of the scope of his love (length and breadth and depth and height (Eph. 3:14-19); from this flows our desire to “walk worthy” of him, because He has made us worthy by His own blood; from this flows all sorts of labors of love — hospitals and schools; day care centers and orphanages; universities, mission work, programs to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, and most importantly to bring the good news of grace and forgiveness to whoever will by any means receive it.

When God called Abraham, he promised both to bless him and to make him a blessing to all the families of the earth. That promise shaped his future and his character, because he believed that God was able to do what he had promised. In the same way we are called for the purpose of receiving and transmitting a blessing. We receive the blessing by faith, which comes to us in hearing the word of God. We receive this blessing in the person of the Holy Spirit, the seal and sign of our salvation; we transmit it through the word of the gospel and through the fruit the Holy Spirit bears in our lives, fruit that benefits all around us: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness, and self-control

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