Our preacher, Mark Stinnett, publishes articles for the church bulletin each week. These articles are designed to teach, encourage and challenge the members of our congregation. His latest articles can be found below with the most recent at the end of the list. Mark has archived all of his articles on his personal blog 'MicroMarks' which can be accessed at: micromarks.blogspot.com.
I think I'll remember Sunday, March 22, 2020 for a long, long time.
It began like any other Sunday. I started early so I could get to the church building and have some 'alone' time as I prepared my thoughts for Sunday worship. But it was not like any other Sunday. For one thing, I wore blue jeans; but that was not what made it memorable.
I stepped out the back door to walk to my car and the familiar sound of passing cars was missing. No, the streets were not desolate; no tumbleweed. But it was more like a hike in the woods; the sounds of nature. Yet that was not what made it a memorable day.
I turned half a block from my house onto State St. and drove three miles to the church building which is also on State St. All four traffic lights were green, and that almost never happens. I passed only one car, and that never happens. Yet, that was not what made it a memorable day.
I entered the church building and it was dark, just like any other day. However, I did not walk through turning on lights as I normally do on a Sunday morning. I did not unlock the doors. Government officials and health officials had recommended that group gatherings dismiss due to the Coronavirus. No one would be coming that Sunday.
I had arrived two hours before meeting time. Meeting time? Yes.
I wanted to go back through my sermon one more time and get things set up before everyone started gathering.
We were not meeting at our church building; we were not even meeting together physically. One of our church members introduced me to a computer application that allowed multiple individuals to join in an interactive video conference call. It was different than streaming live or watching a worship assembly on TV. We could interact as if we were in the same room.
I know that this is not new technology. It is used in business and education all the time. But it was the first time any of us had 'gathered' online for a period of worship and fellowship. I was able to share songs via audio and video from my computer so that we could all join together in a period of singing. Other men of the congregation were able to lead the whole group in prayer and share thoughts when we paused for the Lord's Supper. At the end of our worship fellowship, we stayed in our virtual assembly to share prayer requests and relate updates relevant to our church group.
I saw something on that day that we didn't 'assemble.'
Before I tell you what I saw, I have to relate a recent experience I had while a part of a religious group on Facebook. I saw a few posts about a particular Bible verse about the Christian 'assembly.' Here's the verse (the discussion focused on the section in boldface type):
Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24–25 (NASB95)
There were basically two views: Some insisted that the verse was a command for Christians to meet every Sunday. 'Going to church' was something a good Christian had to do. Their rigid stance makes me sad; I think they missed the point.
Those opposing that view countered with statements like: "It's not a command" and "It doesn't say every Sunday" and "It doesn't even say Sunday" and "It doesn't say anything about worship." Their rigid opposition makes me sad; I think they also missed the point.
Both positions stripped the Scripture of meaning. The command viewpoint made it something that even a robot or a dog could obey. The opposing viewpoint, however, lacked substance by merely pointing out what the verse 'did not' say. Those with both viewpoints approached the Scriptures as a legal document. Both figuratively rolled up the scroll of Scripture and whacked the other on the head. Shame! Shame on both!
As long as we discuss Bible verses in legal terms we will only construct religious traditions that are not unlike the traditions of the Jewish elders at the time of Jesus. Rather, we ought to search for meaning and relevance in all the things God has spoken. Why did God say anything about "not forsaking our own assembling together"?
I saw something on Sunday, March 22, 2020, that day that we didn't 'assemble.'
I saw Hebrews 10:25 in a deeper way because I was given a different perspective. For the first time ever we were kept from meeting together and it had nothing to do with inclement weather, building renovations, etc. Our circumstances profoundly emphasized that meeting together is important for the life of the church.
With the help of one of our tech savvy church members, forty-two families and individuals met together in an online video conference meeting. I started the meeting 15 minutes early and several had already joined the meeting. One couple amused us by volunteering to be official 'greeters' as other folks joined. After our 'scheduled assembly' many folks remained in the online meeting to chat. This didn't happen because we were "commanded" or because "we didn't have to meet every Sunday." It happened because we wanted to assemble together. No, actually, we HAD TO ASSEMBLE because that is who we are.
That little phrase, "not forsaking our own assembling together" IS God's way of telling us that coming together in the name of Jesus is rich and powerful. Our assemblies have meaning because of the intent of our hearts toward God and toward each other.
I weary of the voices of critics who tell us that our worship assemblies today are nothing like the assemblies of the 1st Century Christians. Maybe so, but God really did mean something in Hebrews 10:25 and I think I will never look at our 'church assembly' quite the same way.
Our small congregation assembled online on Sunday, March 22, 2020. We prayed together; we sang together; we shared in the Lord's Supper together; we considered some thoughts from God's word together and we just sat around and talked together.
It was unusual in may ways. But we were together...and we are richer for our experience.
That is a day I will always remember.
And we will continue to meet online...every Sunday...until we can once again join together in person.
God was so wise in giving us instruction reminding us of the importance of being together.
March 23, 2020
I have found it somewhat amusing when I run errands these days. Because of the Corona-virus pandemic we (in Illinois) are required to wear a mask over our mouth when going into grocery stores and other public places. I’ve been using a bright green bandanna for my mask. I have it tied around my neck so that I can easily pull it up over my mouth and nose before entering a store. I imagine myself looking like a bank robber from the old west. I just need a cowboy hat, horse and spurs to be complete. (grin)
I have not been adversely affected as many have, and I’ve not felt threatened. I have concern regarding the virus, but no fear for my family or me.
Information I’ve gathered from the Internet and news outlets ranges from gripping reports of how bad things are to side-splitting humor. Official sources have sometimes been contradictory, and I’m not sure that I know how to interpret the facts. And, of course, there is an abundance of misinformation; some of it for shock value, some for humor, some just silly.
I’ve laughed at many quips, sayings and videos that have been posted. Yet, some postings have caused concern. (And for the record, the folks at the local church where I preach are NOT the source of my concern.)
- “We s’posed to wear a mask in here too? They ain’t gonna make me wear a mask to the convenience store next week.”
- “They are NOT going to tell me which way to push my cart through the grocery store.”
- “Well, if I want to meet with friends and family, they can’t stop me.” (presumably a larger gathering)
- “It’s a conspiracy!” (President/Republicans/Democrats/China.)
- “It’s just a flu bug.”
- “Wow, did you hear how bad things are in ‘Large City’?” Then minutes later… “I don’t think there's anything to worry about.”
- “Let’s get things back to normal. People die all the time; don’t they know that!?”
I’ve been wearing my bandanna ‘mask’ and following all other restrictions and guidelines and posted instructions at stores. (And I smile really big at store workers because I know that a genuine smile can be seen in a person’s eyes; and they need a smile.) I’m not boasting; I just want to tell you my motivation for compliance:
Every person must be subject to the governing authorities, for no authority exists except by God’s permission. The existing authorities have been established by God, so that whoever resists the authorities opposes what God has established, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
--Romans 13:1–2 (ISV)
For the Lord’s sake submit yourselves to every human authority: whether to the king as supreme, or to governors who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.
--1 Peter 2:13–15 (ISV)
1. Peter gave rationale for submitting to governing authorities: “For the Lord’s sake.” Then he wrote: “For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” Prior to the passage above, he wrote, “Continue to live such upright lives among the gentiles that, when they slander you as practicers of evil, they may see your good actions and glorify God when he visits them.” So, one reason that God wants us to submit to governing authorities is because authority originates with Him. It is contradictory for His people to push against authority and boast an unsubmissive attitude. You actually make God look bad. Even outsiders (gentiles) can see that.
2. I don’t know what the ‘unmasked’ fellows at the convenience store thought about my 'mask,' whether they admired it or thought it was dumb. What I do know is that they had no basis for accusing me of anything. They could mock me, but not accuse me. The idea of accusing people always make me think of Job. You might remember how Satan came before God and accused Job. Yet, God defended Job. Do you think God would defend your attitude if Satan brought an accusation against you?
3. There are eyes watching that are very important to us: Our children and grandchildren. When Paul addressed fathers concerning their children, he wrote, “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” What kind of lesson are you presenting when your children hear you grumble about governing authorities? Will they learn to honor God and His instruction (Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2)? What will they learn when you announce that you will intentionally and blatantly ignore published and/or posted guidelines and restrictions? What kind of mixed message are you sending when you say about governing bodies or store management, “They can’t tell me what to do!”?
4. When a person makes broad, sweeping statements based on personal perception, it is speculative and opinionated...and that is nothing other than the voice of pride. The Psalmist compares such arrogance and ignorance to an impulsive, unthinking beast (Psalm 73). Peter was equally strong when he wrote: "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5)
Honestly, many of us do not know what to think or believe about the Coronavirus pandemic. We just don't know all the facts. But that’s ok. As Christians our response to God transcends what we know or believe about our current circumstances. Whether in a pandemic or not; whether the governing authorities are right or justified or not, our response is to be based on what we know and believe about God and His word; not what we think about the world around us.
It is your attitude that ultimately defines your speech and your actions, so...
Your children and grandchildren are watching you; teach well.
Outsiders are watching you; live for the Lord’s sake.
Satan is watching and God is watching; leave no room for accusations.
May 18, 2020
On Saturday (July, 18th) my family attended a wedding. We are continually mindful of the presence of ‘the virus’ and want to stay healthy AND be considerate of others. For that reason, even a trip to a store can be an occasion that demands forethought...about the virus; a wedding, even more so.
We were early arrivals at the wedding and I observed people entering with masks who kept their masks on throughout the ceremony. Others entered without masks and remained unmasked. Others entered without masks, mingled with people, then sat down and put on masks. Still others entered with masks, sat down and removed their masks.
What do you think about all that?
Here are some labels (in order): The masked, the non-masked, the maskers, and the unmaskers. Do the labels help you to sort things out?
I know that people have different perceptions and motives. Some people mask themselves to be cautious, some out of fear, some out of consideration. When you see someone wearing a mask, you cannot be sure of their perception and intent: caution, fear, consideration.
Some people choose not to wear a mask based on personal awareness. They have considered articles, statistics, guidelines, etc. and have concluded that the mask is not necessary for them. Others who do not mask do so in defiance of government with the intent of demonstrating their liberty to go maskless. They openly declare their attitude, “You can’t tell me what to do.” When you see someone without a mask, you cannot be sure of their perception and intent.
Here’s the point of all this: Mask behavior during the declared COVID-19 pandemic does not necessarily reveal the attitude of one’s heart.
That is a really important and true statement. It naturally leads to a really important teaching statement that we all need to take to heart:
‘Mask behavior’ must not be used as a standard for judging people.
In Romans 14 Paul addressed Christians who stood in judgment of fellow Christians because of things they ate or did not eat; and for the way they did or did not observe special days on the calendar.
In our day, mask behavior could easily turn into an issue in which people stand in judgment of others. ‘Non-maskers’ could label ‘maskers’ as being foolish, uninformed, fearful and lacking faith. ‘Maskers’ could label ‘non-maskers’ as rule-breakers, defiant and uncooperative. If we pre-judge another person we assume the role of God and made a conclusion about that person’s conscience and heart without speaking to them. Prejudice is ungodly and divisive!
There are many extreme attitudes and extreme behaviors. Amidst all that is the truth, even though it is frustratingly difficult to find. I believe Romans 14 provides us direction:
- In behavior: We must exercise our convictions with the Lord in mind. So, let me ask, How would Jesus judge your behavior?
- In intent: We must consider our personal motives in how we make decisions. How would Jesus judge the intentions of your heart?
- In attitude: We must show kindness and consideration to others. How would Jesus judge your attitude toward others?
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
July 26, 2020
Contentment is a decision; it doesn’t depend upon circumstances. God has made astounding promises to Christians concerning forgiveness of sins and life after death. For that reason the inequities and difficulties of this life cannot compare to our hope in Christ. Yet, the person without faith or with weak faith often experiences anxiety and fear.
Unlike contentment, satisfaction depends on circumstances.
The Book of Ecclesiastes might give you the idea that all of the stuff between one’s birth and death is really quite insignificant. Over and over Solomon concluded that life within the created universe is meaningless. He had to look ‘beyond’ our earthly existence to find meaning. He had to look to God.
So, are we supposed to find contentment by quitting our jobs, selling all our earthy goods, and heading to the mountains to feed on berries while living in caves? Are the pleasures of this life bad? Am I not supposed to excel in life? Is it wrong to compete?
The Christians in ancient Thessalonica needed answers to similar questions. There were some among them who seemed to have been convinced that the second coming of Jesus was about to take place. As a result they had begun to ignore their responsibilities in life. Paul wrote them with rather sharp encouragement (admonition).
In one sense, you might think that some of them actually saw the big picture. They realized the insignificance of the things of this life compared to eternal life. Yet, they appear to have been irresponsible.
They might have appeared to be content! Yet, contentment is not the outgrowth of irresponsibility (or apathy). Rather, Paul instructed Christians…
To make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands...so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
—1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.)
So, is it OK...
- To earn a college degree?
- To strive for a good career?
- To start your own business?
- To go on vacations, enjoy entertainment, splurge on a fancy meal from time to time?
The answer to all of these is, "Yes, of course."
God doesn’t expect His people to quit living while they anticipate of the return of Jesus. In fact, God expects us to be responsible and to avoid being a burden to others. As for possessing wealth, there are many examples of wealthy people in Scripture who were faithful to God. Yet, wealth can be a stumbling block. So, Paul encouraged Timothy with the right attitude:
For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering (i.e. clothing and shelter), with these we will be content.
—1 Timothy 6:7-8
So, how can you know if your attitudes and choices are a matter of responsible living or whether you are being blinded by the lure of desire and excess?
The answer is as easy as evaluating the outcome of your efforts. Do your interests and pursuits produce anxiety and/or frustration, or is your joy in Christ sustained in spite of life’s inequities and difficult circumstances? In spite of not being satisfied.
If, after honest evaluation, you recognize that you are not content, there is a very real possibility that you are struggling with an inner sense to satisfy desires instead of true needs. It might even be that you have rationalized your desires by renaming them as needs.
Whenever a person can truly come to terms with chance circumstances and the ultimate futility of possessions, career, self-image, attention, intellect, etc., then and only then can he/she move forward in faith with an expectant view to eternity. Contentment first dependent on one's faith in God and His promises. Then it is a decision to accept reality while maintaining a heart of compassion toward others and a life of holiness before God.
August 2, 2020
Do you ever wish things were different?
I think that, at one time or another, we all wish things were different, but we know that we cannot magically change the world. So, let me ask instead, “Do you ever wish things were different about YOU?”
That’s a different question altogether, isn’t it?
That question is not about things going on around you that you cannot control; it is about the ‘you’ inside, the one thing you can control.
Now, here are a few things we must all understand. First, our world is broken. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, sin entered into the world. Before that, everything that God had created was good, good, good. Paul refers to the brokenness of our current world when he writes about the creation being “set free from its slavery to corruption” (Romans 8:18-22). So, we should not be surprised that our circumstances in this world are less than desirable most of the time.
Second, you are broken. When Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he was talking about your brokenness. Focus on the last phrase: “fall short of the glory of God.” We exist as ones who ‘fall short.’ It’s because of sin.
Third, there is hope (a future expectation of life), but you cannot just sit around waiting for hope to come and sweep you off your feet. You have to desire; you have to choose; you have to move. It is called repentance; and it is a complete change of perception.
Fourth, God transcends all this brokenness. He is perfectly perfect and completely complete. My redundancy in describing God is to impress on our minds the reality that God is not broken. He needs no fixing. In fact, His divine character defines all that is ‘good.’
(To be accurate, any one of us could only be described as ‘mostly good.’)
People deal with this imperfect world and their imperfect selves in a variety of ways. The accumulation of money seems to bring happiness. Solomon even said, “Money is the answer to everything” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). Yet money gave him no answers to life’s deepest quest for meaning. He concluded that wealth, among other things, was futile.
Some people are master escape artists. They seem to be living somewhere else through social media, entertainment of all types, or by burying themselves in work, hobbies, activities, projects, travel, and so on. They will do anything to be somewhere else with someone else.
Still others adopt a ‘Pollyanna attitude’ and look at the world as if everything and everyone is good. As nice as that sounds, it’s just not true.
Satan is the greatest illusionist the world has ever known. Yet, he didn’t fool Jesus. When Jesus sacrificed Himself for you and me on the cross, it was not because everything was good. Jesus was facing the reality of your brokenness. He did not try to escape the brutal reality of life, he embraced it, not accepting it, but rather doing something about it. He brought hope.
Repentance is when we wake up from our sleep of escapism to embrace the hope of Jesus instead of swimming in the mire of falling short of God’s glory. When James wrote, ‘consider it all joy when you encounter various trials,’ he was inviting us to embrace the reality of hope.
So...embrace hope...and grab a hand and bring someone along.
August 9, 2020