Salt and Light: Jesus’ Teachings in Matthew 5:13-16

This week in our “Gospel Encounters” adult Sunday School class we will continue our study and discussion of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5. Following verses 1-12, which we call “The Beatitudes” and we discussed last week, Jesus explains to his followers how we are called to act as both salt and light in our world. The Message presents these teachings in clear language:

‘“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.’

Here are the slides we will use during class to discuss and explore these verses.

Starting at the 1:16 timestamp, we will also view this depiction of these teachings by Jesus.

In the interest of time, I will likely just reference but not play the following videos, which include some of the cultural references to “a city on a hill” for me. These include President Ronald Reagan in his farewell address from the White House.

Another reference these verses bring to mind is the lighting of the warning beacons of Gondor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.” This is the depiction in Peter Jackson’s third movie in the series, “The Return of the King.”

Last of all, the well known children’s song, “This Little Light of Mine,” has a very important second verse, which proclaims, “Jesus is the Light.” We will discuss tomorrow how this is a vital distinction. Unlike ancient and modern gnostics, as reformed and evangelical Christians we believe Jesus is the light of the world, and it is only through his grace and power that we can come to know our Father in Heaven and receive forgiveness for our sins. We are not the light, but we do seek to share and reflect the light of Jesus in our lives to a dark world hungering for truth, righteousness, love and all the fruits of God’s spirit.

God Empowers Us to Serve Others Through Trials

Yesterday’s Sunday School lesson, as well as sermon, both focused on why we have pain and suffering in our world. These are tough topics for anyone to address. I was and am thankful to for the opportunity to facilitate this lesson at church for several reasons, however. This has been a topic on my mind and heart more frequently than usual in the past few months. It’s also, according to Barna research, the most common question asked by people about God everywhere. “Why does God allow pain and suffering in our world?”

One idea which emerged during our class discussion yesterday is this: While we often (or always) “come up short” understanding the grand plans of God and how individual cases of pain or suffering fit into them, as Christians we often DO experience situations where God empowers us to serve others through our trials and through the trials of others. As one of the speakers in the longer video we watched yesterday explained, often our best response when someone comes to us in pain and suffering is to embrace them and cry with them. We may not have “the answers,” but do have the capacity to love and support each other. We can embrace others and embrace God through faith, and have confidence that God is the one opening the door for us to love each other through our struggles and our dark valleys.

This is also one of the most important ideas which emerged for me yesterday during our lesson: God invites us to call upon him and use the name of Jesus to bring strength, peace, healing, and love into our darkest and most painful moments. I have experienced times like these in my own life, when I have literally cried out to God for help and assistance to bring me back from the abyss of despair. It’s a bad place to be, and an especially bad place to be ALONE. But that’s exactly one of the key messages of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: We go nowhere alone. God goes with us, and he promises to never abandon us or forsake us. What good news this is to everyone facing the suffering and trials of this life! We may be uncertain about the timetable of God’s cosmic plans and how our lives fit into them, but we can be certain about His reality and His provision in our times of need.

The name of Jesus is powerful! Do not hesitate to call upon the Lord when you are feeling isolated or alone, when you are suffering and full of despair. Call upon the name of Jesus to fill you with God’s Holy Spirit in all circumstances, whether they are filled with light or darkness. This is the Good News of the Gospel, that Jesus came to save us from our sins and the destructive power it has in our world. God wins. And we’re on God’s side. This is good news.

A couple more items from yesterday’s lesson.

Here’s the short video I shared with our class, as I gave a brief summary and enthusiastic recommendation of The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Sarah and I were able to spend about 4 hours there last week during our visit to the area, and it was fantastic!

Here is a 44 second time lapse version of my sermon sketchnote yesterday, on Eric Laverentz’s (@ericlav) message, “The Problem of Sin.” I drew this and exported this video with the ProCreate app for iPad. Learn more about creating sermon sketchnotes in this chapter of “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ.” I added quite a bit more to this chapter over the weekend, but still need to add more to the chapter on “Narrated Sketchnotes.”

It worked well to use the website mentimeter.com yesterday to get members of our class to respond to a question using their smartphones. I used this as an opening question on the screen when class members came into class, “What is your favorite encouraging Bible verse?” This was a good way to start a relatively “heavy” lesson on pain and suffering.

May God bless you richly this week as you seek Him and strive to better understand His call upon your life. Make no mistake, God will open doors for you to not only draw closer to him in relationship, but also serve others with whom you have contact today and this week as you ask Him to.

Praise God for His love and the revelation of His truth through His Holy Word. Have a great week!

Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

These are resources for our Sunday School class on April 22, 2018, focusing on lesson 3 of “The 7 Big Questions” series by ExploringGod.com.

We are using the website mentimeter.com for today’s interactive polling questions. A copy of our printed handout is available.

Video 1: Pulse of the World on Pain & Suffering

  1. Did you identify with anyone’s expressed views in the film? If so, who and what resonated with you?
  2. Was it surprising to learn that the top question people would ask God is, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” What would be some of the questions you’d ask God?

Video 2: The Curiosity Collective: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

  1. In what ways can you identify with any of the stories in The Curiosity Collective? What did you find intriguing or compelling?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult is it for you to reconcile the existence of both suffering and God (1 = easy; 10 = impossible)? Why?
  3. One of the Pulse speakers noted, “Some of the best lessons I’ve learned in life . . . came from very painful times.” In what ways might good come from bad? Do you have any experience with this?
  4. If there’s a God, why do you think he allows evil in the world?
  5. In the video, what did you think of James’s suggestion that God “understands our suffering . . . [and] is seeking to heal it”?

Recommended videos and resources related to our topic today include:

  1. Video: What Is the Reason for Suffering? (5 min)
  2. Video: What Is God’s Role in Pain and Suffering? (3 min)
  3. Book: The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
  4. Book: Evil and the Justice of God by N. T. Wright

A wealth of additional resources relating to the topics of pain and suffering are available on the ExploringGod.com website.

How Can God Be Real, Good and Powerful When Bad Things Still Happen?

I remember the setting vividly: It was the summer of 1991, and I was spending three weeks in England at RAF Upper Heyford during the summer before my senior year at the Air Force Academy. Highlights of that trip included visiting Oxford University, Westminster Abbey in London, and getting a ride in a F-111 fighter jet– breaking the sound barrier briefly over the North Sea. I was eating breakfast one morning in the mess hall, when an Amy Grant song came on the cafeteria PA system. I don’t remember the exact song, but I think it was from her “Heart in Motion” album that had been recently released. The song had a lyric about “everything good coming from God.” I was struck by how unrealistic that seemed: How could people ascribe only the good things to God and not the bad things, if God is both omniscient and omnipotent?

I was raised in a Presbyterian church attending family, and I professed faith and joined our church as expected at the conclusion of “communicant’s class” in 8th grade, but it wasn’t until pilot training when I was 23 years old that I had a true “come to God” moment which was transformative for my personal faith. Eating my eggs and bacon in the chow hall at Upper Heyford that morning, I don’t think I had anyone to discuss these ideas with, but they made a vivid impression in my mind which persists today. Unlike my 20 year old self, however, I have better answers for this important and perhaps eternal question which Amy Grant encouraged me to ask:

How can God be real, good and powerful when bad things still happen?

Yesterday our family was almost involved in a very dangerous and destructive high speed automobile chase in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I posted about it on Facebook afterward. In the post, I gave thanks to God that we were not injured. Someone posted in reply, “Why didn’t God protect the other people who were involved in the accident?” I shared a brief response, but didn’t have time then for a more extended answer which this question deserves. This post is my attempt at that longer response.

When we hear the news which is almost universally filled with stories of tragedy, crimes, war, and people generally acting poorly toward each other, it can be easy to be pessimistic. Bad events happen every day. The world is filled with darkness. How can this make any sense, alongside a conception that a supernatural, creative force in the universe exists who has the power to intervene in human affairs? Why would God act to save people in some cases, but appear not to act in others?

We can ask this question in the specific circumstances of our own lives, or as we look at the broad brushstrokes of history. Why did my wife lose her husband to cancer when she was just 26? Why did my friend’s father commit suicide in 1989? Why did Hitler and the Nazis kill millions of Jewish people during the Holocaust? Why did whites almost exterminate native people when they came to the Americas in the 1500s onward?

There are a lot of things I don’t know and won’t claim to know, but here are some insights I’m confident of today which help me face these questions and make sense of them.

  1. I know God exists, is real, and responds to my prayers because of an ongoing relationship I have with him, as well as specific things he has done in my life which “he has given me eyes to see.”
  2. I do not know how God decides when and where to intervene in human affairs and the events of planet earth, but I strongly suspect that is a divine mystery we will never be able to fully comprehend in this life.
  3. I know that when we choose to seek God and ask Him to reveal Himself to us, He answers and responds. God communicates to us through our prayers, through His Word shared in the Bible, and through other people. There are many ways we can be led astray and down ill-conceived paths if we seek “religion,” but if we seek God through the power of his Holy Spirit I know he can and will respond to reveal Himself, His nature and His truth to us.

When we are faced with bleak tragedy in life: the loss of a loved one, the loss of a life’s dream, a crippling injury, or something else, we sometimes come to this choice more directly and abruptly than at other times in life. Will I choose to believe in God and his goodness, or will I reject God because the circumstances of my life are simply too bad to imagine that a loving God would ever allow to exist?

This is the step of faith. Faith is believing when I cannot see, and trusting when I cannot know the outcome. Faith is a gift from God, but it is a gift we can ask for and receive, just as he is gracious to give us all good gifts. The fruits of His spirit are good:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

Amy Grant asks and answers this same question about which I am writing in her song, “Ask Me.” God does not always answer our prayers in the ways we expect or want. God is not a vending machine. God DOES promise to always be with us and never forsake us, even when the darkness surrounds us and we are overwhelmed with fear, pain, and sorrow.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

I have experienced those emotions in my life, and God has walked with me through those dark valleys. Those experiences have strengthened my faith, once feeble and timid, to the point today where I see and acknowledge His goodness when it is manifested in my life.

Evil exists in the world, and yes, God has allowed that evil to remain. But that is not the final state for humanity, and in the end, evil does not win out. As we learn in the Bible, the existence and persistence of evil is closely tied to our human pride. And even though evil may seem to triumph at times in this world, God has overcome evil and the world through his Son, Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings serve as a blueprint for our actions as Christian believers.

My encouragement to you, if you have found this post and are struggling with questions about God’s existence and his goodness, is to seek Him. Seek God through prayer, and seek Him through your own reading of the Bible. Start with the Gospel of John. Seek God through the counsel of trusted friends whom you respect, and who profess faith in God and Jesus Christ.

Pray to God that he will give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Many who have heard and hear today the words of the Lord do not comprehend them, but he offers the promise of understanding and of FAITH to those who seek Him. As we read in Matthew’s gospel:

‘The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (

Matthew 13:10-16)

I pray this day God would give us, as seekers of His truth, ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to understand his goodness.

Amen.

Supernatural Church

These are my slides for the Friday’s men’s group lesson I’m teaching on the final chapter (“Supernatural Church”) of Francis Chan’s 2009 book, “Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.” Thanks to my mom who gave me a scrapbook from my freshman year at the Air Force Academy this week. I used the free Google iPhone app PhotoScan to scan several photos from basic training and that fall at USAFA, which I incorporated into this presentation and slideshow.

Family Faith Story Sharing Challenge

Since our regular Sunday School teacher has come down with the flu and is also planning to travel out of town over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I’m going to have an opportunity to teach as a substitute the next two Sundays. Our teacher gave me the green light to depart from our normal book study lessons (on “The Comeback” by Louie Giglio). Tomorrow I’m going to share a challenge inspired by the “Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” project.

You can access the full, printable, 1 page “Family Faith Story Sharing Challenge” as a Google Document.

Please share this document and project with others! To facilitate easier reading and sharing of this project, I’ve copied and pasted the text of the Google Document project description below.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Why: God calls us to praise Him, to share the reasons for the joy we have, to show & tell the love of his Son, Jesus, and to be his witnesses in our communities and around the world. (More on www.dw4jc.com/why/)
When: As you gather with family this holiday season…

What: Take some time to:

  1. Audio record at least a five minute faith story with an iPhone
  2. Ask for your interviewee’s permission to share their story with others online
  3. Share the story electronically by either:
    1. Posting it as a video to Facebook
    2. Emailing it to other relatives

How:

  1. Download the free iPhone app “Voice Record Pro” (wfryer.me/vrp)
    Press the red REC (record) button to start recording, then START in the upper right corner.
  2. Ask good open-ended questions like these:
    1. How do you know God is real?
    2. Who do you believe Jesus is?
    3. How have you seen God act in your life?
    4. Tell me a story about your life when you have needed God the most.
    5. How has your relationship with God changed as you’ve gotten older?
  3. Press STOP (square icon) when finished.
  4. Tap the CAMERA icon to add a photo if desired. (optional)
  5. Choose SAVE IN PHOTO ALBUM – SAVE.
  6. Select the desired template which will show date/time info and a photo if you added one.
  7. Tap CONTINUE.
  8. SHARE your recorded interview as a video:
    1. On Facebook by uploading it to your profile with a short message. Add the hashtag #dw4jc
    2. By emailing it to other family members

Tips:

  1. Step out of your comfort zone to accept this challenge! God calls us to be bold and courageous!
  2. Find a quiet room to record your interview.
  3. Share the questions you will ask with your interviewee in advance.
  4. Take a photo (selfie) of you with your interviewee before you start recording.
  5. Consider also uploading your audio recording (saved as a video) to YouTube.
  6. Ask someone else for help if you get stuck on any technical issues.
  7. Access examples of faith story interviews on faithstories.speedofcreativity.org.

Image Attribution: Turkey icon by IconFactoryTeam on The Noun project. Microphone icon by Edward Boatman on The Noun Project.

I’ve Got Jesus. Why do I need the Holy Spirit?

These are slides for my presentation on Friday, August 19, 2016, at our church’s Friday Morning Men’s Group gathering. We’re starting a study on Francis Chan’s 2009 book, “Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.”

If I can get the audio speakers to work in the morning, I’ll also share this short video clip of Francis talking about some of the key themes of the book.

Sermon Sketchnote on Psalms 78:1-8

This is my narrated sermon sketchnote and sketchnote for today’s sermon by Jen Howat on Psalms 78:1-8 at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Oklahoma. Key points were:

  1. Don’t hide God’s good news about Jesus Christ!
  2. Remember God calls us to SHARE with others
  3. As disciples we should be reproducing: Helping GROW other disciples!
  4. People can’t follow Jesus if they haven’t heard about him from someone
  5. Remember those who POURED their lives into you as a believer, and resolve to “pour yourself” in a mentor/apprentice relationship into others
  6. It’s good for God to create TENSION in our hearts: Encouraging us to SHARE JESUS with others!

Prayer of Adoration

I had an opportunity to serve as the liturgist today during our early / traditional worship service. This was the opening prayer of adoration I shared:

Dear God,

We come to you this day thankful for this holiday weekend, but remembering our need and desire for you amidst our busy schedules, our many commitments, and our own agendas. We give thanks to you this day, oh God, that you are real, and active, and alive in our lives and in the life of our church. We pray that you would peel back the scales from our eyes, so that we could fully behold you in your glory. After the mix the storms and humidity and clouds of last week Lord, you provided a beautiful Saturday for us yesterday. Help us see the beauty and majesty of your world every day not only in your creation that we can see, but in the relationships we have and the simple conversations in which we can engage this day. Help us to have the eyes of children this day, oh God, to see your creation with a fresh perspective. We give you thanks God for your provision, for our daily bread, and for the daily dose of faith you provide which helps us keep our eyes on Jesus instead of the crises and chaos of our world. It is in the holy name of your son, Jesus, that we pray, Amen

Learning & Sharing at MoRanch Men’s Conference 2016

This weekend I was greatly blessed to again attend and participate in the 2016 MoRanch Men’s Conference. This is the largest annual gathering of Presbyterian men in the United States, and was the 65th year of the conference. Looking back on my blog posts, I confirmed that this was about my 7th or 8th time to attend the conference. My first year was 2007, when I wrote the post “Compatibility between science and faith” following the keynote presentations of Dr. Dan Foster. That post reveals I took 22 pages of handwritten notes at the conference! Yikes! I certainly haven’t done that in awhile. I also recorded a 30 minute audio podcast reflection on what I learned at the conference using the web service and app gcast.com. Unfortunately, that web 2.0 service is now offline, and I never copied/backed up that audio recording, so apparently those recorded digital thoughts are lost to history. Thankfully I don’t think that represents a great historical loss, but it’s still a bit of a bummer and a reminder to me of the importance of locally saving and preserving digital audio files recorded on third-party servers.

The wifi connectivity at MoRanch this year was better than ever, and both of the sessions I presented as well as attended were in the “Trull classrooms” below the main registration building. They are equipped with built-in ceiling mounted projectors as well as wifi connectivity, so I was able to tweet my learning at the conference as I’m now in the habit of doing at educational technology conferences. This afternoon on our 8 hour car trek home to Oklahoma City, I created a Storify archive of my tweets and retweets, which I mostly shared from my Christian twitter channel @eyesrightblog. I also shared a few tweets during the weekend from my primary @wfryer Twitter channel.

Before embedding that Storify archive, I’ll note that a big highlight of this weekend was getting to know Steve Bickley better. Steve works for the amazing Museum of the Bible. It will open in Washington DC in November 2017 just blocks away from the US Capitol and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, but has its headquarters in Oklahoma City. Steve is in our Sunday School Class, and shared several sessions at MoRanch this year about the museum.

I shared a session at MoRanch this year I titled, “Pocket Share Jesus.” The slides and an audio recording of my second session yesterday in the afternoon are available on my “Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” book project website.

I’m very thankful that I was elected again to the MoRanch Men’s Conference Council for another 3 years as well. We have a fall planning session each year at the ranch, and I look forward to continuing to participate in that and bring Shelly down with me as well.

Praise God for another great weekend of worship and fellowship at MoRanch!

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