Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Who We Worship | Deuteronomy 6

This summer our church is taking nine weeks to focus our heart, soul, and mind on worship. For the summer we’re going to focus our attention on worshipping God. We’re going to submit ourselves to the creator of the universe and see what Scripture teaches us about worship. For this series we’ll look at a variety of passages that teach us about worship. For this series I will write some of the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions | Who We Worship | Deuteronomy 6

This summer we’re taking nine-weeks to focus our hearts on worship. The word, worship, describes the acts of the mind, heart and will where we joyfully acknowledge the worth of God. In the 1600’s a group of English and Scottish Theologians gathered, with layman, to bring the church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland. From this gathering emerged the Westminster Shorter Catechism which states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In other words, we were made to worship! Take some time to work through these questions on your own or with a group to grow your heart to worship God with everything you have. 

1) The act of worship is an all-encompassing act in our lives. When you think about worship what do you primarily think about? Anticipating there will be several answers in your group, take some time to share on each response.   

2) Read Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This passage is an instruction from Moses for Israel to worship God. Jesus shared the same commandment at the Temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 22:37 & Mark 12:29-30). What does it look like to worship God with every fiber of our being? How would that be lived out in your life? 

3) Often we view love as coming from the heart so this might be the easiest way to love God. How can we actively demonstrate our love for God by engaging our hearts fully? (see Joshua 22:5, Proverbs 4:23, and 1 John 4:19) 

4) Sometimes we neglect our soul because we don’t know how to connect with God on a regular basis and love Him with our soul. In what areas of our lives do we truly love God with all our souls? (see Psalm 19:7, 23:3, 42:2, 62:1).  

5) Our church is passionate about people loving God with their entire mind. What does it look like in your life to think theologically and love God with your entire mind? 

6) Throughout our passage Moses taught the Israelites to pass these commands to their children (read Deuteronomy 61-3, 7-9, 20-25). No matter what stage you’re at in your parenting, what does it look like to live this out? 

7) Here at Coastline we have a core value of; Putting God First. One of the ways we do that is through a lifestyle of worship. When you think about worshipping God with every fiber of your being, where do you need to grow? 

Close your time in prayer. Pray for strength to invite a friend to meet Jesus. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

The Unforgettable Wedding | John 2:1-12

On April 30th, 2023 I preached a first person narrative sermon on John 2:1-12. I preached it from the perspective of the Father of the Bride. If you've ever wanted to preach that type of sermon, here is my manuscript that I wrote for the morning. I did not bring any notes on stage with me. 

The Gospel of John
The Unforgettable Wedding 
Big Idea: Jesus filled my life with joy

Welcome! My name is Neal Benson and I’m the lead pastor here at Coastline. I want to say a special welcome to those who are gathering with us online. One of my passions in life is preaching. I love preaching God’s word. Ever since I gave my life to Jesus sharing His word has been my passion. This morning we’re going to continue in our sermon series through the Gospel of John but we’re going to approach our text in a new way. I’m going to preach from John 2:1-12 as a first-person narrative sermon. That means I will be a character from the story and share with you what I saw that day when Jesus turned water into wine. 
This year I’m taking a preaching class for my doctoral studies and I’ve been reading more about first-person narrative sermons. Some people have never seen a first-person narrative sermon. Some people have seen it done well. And others have seen it done poorly. I’ve only preached a first-person narrative sermon the life of Gideon before, so this is something newer to me also. It’s a practice that I want to learn as a way for our church to hear God’s word in a different way. I’ve spent a lot of time studying the passage, the region where our story took place, and what it must have been like at that wedding when the wine ran out. 
To prepare us for the sermon I’m going to read the passage in John 2. Then I’ll move my Bible aside, take a couple of steps back, and reappear as the father of the bride at that wedding feast in Cana. Read John 2:1-12. 

Jesus invited to the wedding (vv. 1-2)
Let me introduce myself to you. My name is Baruch ברוך. My name means Blessed. For most of my life I felt like a blessed man. I grew up in Israel and worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I lived in Northern Israel in the city of Cana, it's near the Sea of Galilee. It’s a beautiful region (map). It’s the only place I ever lived and the only place I ever wanted to live. My family lived in Cana forever. My father grew up here, his father grew up here, and his father grew up here. Our city was never famous until the stories of Jesus began to spread. It was in Cana where Jesus preformed His first miracle. It was at my daughter’s wedding. Jesus’ first miracle took place at my house! 
In Jewish culture we are great story tellers. I want to tell you a story that I’ve shared thousands of times. I want to tell you the story of when Jesus came to my daughter’s wedding, saved my family from shame, and filled me with a new joy. I was a shop owner in my town. I had more money the rest of the people in our town because business was good. As my oldest daughter was preparing for marriage her mother and I had picked a husband for her. As we began talking about who we would pick she overheard us. She quietly walked into the kitchen as quiet as a mouse and told us that she was in fact in love with this man and would like to marry him. I was so happy for my little girl! She will always be my little girl. 
We began the preparations for the wedding. I will never forget all the hours our family put into that wedding… and neither will my pocket book! It was common in my culture for me, the father of the bride, to pay for the wedding. What you might not know is that our weddings would last for at least a week! Think of the joy for me; Baruch would be hosting his daughters wedding at his home. I was so excited for her wedding date. My village would come and celebrate with us. Our family would join as our daughter became a bride. The wedding was scheduled for a Wednesday. This was the typical day of the week when virgins would get married. My people would close their shops to come celebrate this joyful moment with us. 
The day of the wedding feast arrived and our friends began to arrive. People from our community showed up and began to celebrate. We even had guests travel from a far. One of those guests was my old friend Mary. I don’t have time to tell you about how we met and our years of friendship, that isn’t why I’m here. I will tell you that I asked for Mary to have a special seat near me during the wedding feast. When Mary showed up she brought her son with her but I wasn’t prepared for extra guests. I want to tell you more about Mary’s son in a minute. He also brought some of His friends but they called themselves His disciples. I thought He was following Joseph as a carpenter but I had a lot to catch up on with Mary. 

A problem occurred at the wedding (vv. 3-7)
The wedding was going great! We had been celebrating for a couple of days. The music was beautiful. My daughter was so happy. I loved seeing her dance with her husband. I loved the way he looked at her. I watched her talking with her friends and a great smile on her face. The wedding was going better than I had imagined it would. But then something bad happened; there was a big problem. Just like Mary brought her Son and His disciples, some of my other guests invited their family with them. When we planned the wedding I hadn’t planned for this many people to actually come to our home. We found homes for them to sleep in the village. Let me get to the main point; we didn’t have enough wine. 
It was a couple of days in to the feast when one of the servants came to tell me that we had run out of wine. I’m a very calm business man but inside I was troubled. It was my job to provide for all the guests during the wedding feast. It wasn’t like we could get in a car and run to Costco to get more wine. We had many people at our home and it was well into the evening. I wasn’t sure where I would find any wine at this hour. Even if I went to all my neighbors to ask for wine it would never be enough for the evening or the rest of the celebration. 
In addition to this, if my guests found out that I ran out of wine it would be an embarrassment. In my culture it was shameful to run out of wine at a wedding feast. If the guests found out we were out of wine I could bring shame on my family. I began thinking of all these horrible options in my mind. Our friends could bring shame on my family. My daughter’s husband could leave her. If he does stay with her, this could bring shame on their marriage. For the rest of their lives people would talk about how the blessed man wasn’t able to provide for the guests. This wasn’t just a case where the wine ran out, there are sociological layers at play in this wedding feast that could cause harm to my family. 
More than that, I wondered if I had embarrassed God. Throughout the holy Scriptures there was a connection with joy and wine. My people knew the Psalms. As I sat at my table I kept thinking about Psalm 4:7 and the connection between wine and joy. The wine had run out at my daughter’s wedding, would the joy run out of her marriage? Would the joy run out of my family? I had so many questions and I think Mary could tell that I was troubled. She leaned over to me and asked about my situation. She must have seen the servant come and whisper in my ear about this dire situation. Mary said she would talk with Jesus. I wasn’t sure what He could do but I will tell you this; that man was filled with Joy. I had never seen so much joy in a person. 
Most of the religious leaders in my region would have never attended a wedding. They would avoid a party like this, but not Jesus. Jesus was right there in the party. He was with the people and caring for them. I watched as Mary pulled Jesus aside and brought Him to our table. I was able to over hear every single word they said. She simply told Him: “They have no more wine.” Jesus was silent for a minute. I heard him respond to her: “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” He wasn’t disrespectful to His mother. To call her: “Woman” was the most respectful name He could call her. I heard that while Jesus hung on the cross, later in His life, that He also called her: “Woman” during that time. The point of the story isn’t Mary, I’m sorry if I’ve made it seem that way. The point of the story is what happened next. 
Jesus walked to the back room where the wine was stored. We had a special place in our home where we stored our food, water, supplies, and wine. Jesus went back there and began to look at all we had. I followed Jesus because I wanted to see what He would do. I also wanted to be there in case He needed anything from me, as a business owner I’m very resourceful. I showed him the back room. He stood there and looked at the stone jars that we had back there. I had six of them that I inherited from my family. I don’t see many Jews in this room so let me explain the significance of the stone jars. Stone jars are not like pottery jars, they are considered ceremonially clean under Levitical Law. That was important for the religious part of my life. They were large stone jars that would each hold about two to three firkins of water. I knew you wouldn’t know that word. They would each hold 20-30 gallons of water for my family. 
Jesus stood in this back room and began to think. The servants stood at the doorway watching His every move. I could hear my heart racing. It was dark and I didn’t know what we would do. Jesus calmly asked the servants to fill the jars. He spoke to them with such a gentle voice. I was emotionally distraught and He was calm. Our servants were used to taking instruction but the way they listened to this man Jesus impressed me. Jesus spoke to them like He was one of them. It was like He knew what it was like to be a servant. The servants obeyed what Jesus asked. They went out and fetched water for the jars. We didn’t have what you call: running water. I’ve seen this running water from heaven and boy is it nice! 
Our servants began to fill the jars with water. It took a little time as they did it without alarming anyone. They just acted like nothing was wrong; they had such a great personal disposition. I’ve thought about how Jesus treated these people. Every time I tell my story I get distracted by this point. Jesus was so loving to them. Sometimes I would get upset or angry and yell at the servants. I didn’t want to be like that but it just came out. It normally happened when I had a bad day at the store. Maybe something would break and I would loose money. A shipment could have been delayed and I would loose money. I didn’t have an anger problem like King Saul; that guy would throw spears at David! In this moment I would have yelled at the servants to hurry but Jesus was so calm and loving. Ever since the wedding I couldn’t stop thinking about this. (Take a minute to think). I’m sorry for getting distracted, Jesus’ love for people really impacted me.

The best wine ever (vv. 8-10)
Where was I? Yes, the servants filled the jars with water all the way to the top. They put in twenty to thirty gallons of water in each jar. We had around 150 gallons of water in there. But we still had no wine. No wine. The problem that I shared with you still existed. We needed wine and we had no wine! Jesus asked everyone to leave the back room. I stayed because it was my home, my daughter’s wedding, and my reputation on the line. Once everyone left the room I stood by His side. He looked at me and gently asked me to leave also. I was hesitant but I could see this great compassion in His eyes. 
I left but I stood right outside the door and listened. My mind went back to the heroes of my childhood. I imagined Jesus crying out to God like King David in so many of his Psalms. I wondered if Jesus would pray like Elijah did on Mount Carmel when he battled the prophets of Baal. As a boy that was my favorite story. I wondered what Jesus would do. I sat outside the room for what felt like hours but it probably only four to five minutes. I listened carefully and it sounded like Jesus had a simple conversation with God… but He called Him Father. 
After a couple minutes Jesus slowly opened the door and invited the servants back in. He said these words to them: “Now draw some to and taking to the master of the banquet.” I was outside of the door when He walked out. Jesus gave me this look that said: “Everything will be fine.” But He said no words to me. He simply walked past me and went back to talking with the wedding guests. I was so surprised to hear the servants shout for joy. I knew my problem was solved. Jesus solved all the things I had been worrying about. I never went in that room to look at the jars. I just knew that Jesus had taken my shame and filled me with joy. 
Every time I tell this story the person or group thinks that I’m done here, but I’m not done. The servants brought the wine to the master of the banquet. I was sitting with my wife again by now and she could see my relief. The master of the banquet was a friend of mine that we hired. He had lead hundreds of weddings in our region. It was customary to hire my friend so that I could focus on my family and he could keep the wedding ceremonies moving. He was the one person in our region who held this role. I watched him drink the water. My eyes stayed on his every move. He began to smile. 
When he pulled his lips away from the cup he shouted for the music to stop. This was not how this was supposed to go. He shouted again and again for the music to stop. The joy of the evening was interrupted. I had never seen this happen at a wedding before. He began talking: “Normally the best wine was served first at the wedding feast. Then after a couple of days the families will switch the wine out for the poorer wine, wine of less quality. You know, the cheap stuff?” This might be like a box of wine for your culture. Then he went on to share: “Most people do this because after you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine no one really cares what it tastes like. But my friend Baruch has saved the best wine until the end of the wedding feast.” He looked at me and my wife Sarah and said: “My friend, this is the best wine I’ve ever tasted.” My wife and I were in utter amazement. 
My friend went on to bless my family, my daughter, and the day of this wedding. What should have brought shame on my family brought fame. We were the family who saved the best wine until the end. But it wasn’t me. I didn’t save the wedding. It was Jesus who saved the wedding. Jesus saved the wedding. I should have been filled with shame but I was filled with joy. I realized that day that Jesus filled my life with joy. That night I lay in my bed thinking about this whole story. I couldn’t fall asleep. My family almost fell into shame but Jesus saved my family. I went on to become a follower of Jesus. I couldn’t leave my family like Peter, James, John, and the others did but I was a believer. 

Apply the text for the people (vv. 11-12)
Jesus was so filled with joy. I wanted to invite Him to my other daughters wedding; who knows what could have happened! I’m an old man now. I lived a full life. I saw my children married. My grandchildren were placed on my lap. My life was filled with joy. From this point I can see that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to save the world. At my daughter’s wedding I was so empty and Jesus filled me with true joy. 
Every time I tell this story I like to ask the people two questions. My first question is: Do you have joy in your life that only comes from Jesus? In my culture, joy was a defining marker of those who followed God. Joy was something that separated them from the rest of the people in the world. Sure we had people who said they followed God but you could tell if they had joy. I learned a lesson that day. I thought I had joy but when the wine ran out so did my joy. My joy was based on what I had not on what I was filled with. From that day on I made sure to be filled with the joy of God. 
If you are not filled with the joy of God, let me ask my second question: What are you filled with? Some people in my city were filled with a desire for money. Some were filled with too much wine. Some were filled with hate. Some wanted to shame others. It was tough because there are so many layers as to why that happens in the life of a person. Maybe you lost something special to you and you lost your joy. Maybe you have never trusted Jesus and today you can see that you need the joy of Jesus to transform you. Will you allow Jesus to fill you with His joy today? 

I don’t have the time to tell you about all the stories of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I know you can read them in the books written about His life. He changed my life at my daughter’s wedding and I think He wants to change your life too. This is my story of how Jesus showed up at my daughter’s wedding, took away my shame, and saved the day. Fill the jars with prayers 
Closing Prayer. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Follow Me | John 1:35-51

Today, I want to share a shortened version of a sermon I recently preached on John 1:35-51. In this passage from the Gospel of John, we see Jesus inviting us to follow Him on a life-changing journey.

Let me start by sharing a personal story. Last December, my wife and I traveled to Costa Rica to officiate a wedding for a former high school student and long-time friend. Excited but tired from our journey, we embarked on a road trip in a small rental car. Unfortunately, we ended up following incorrect directions and found ourselves stuck by a river with a flat tire. In that moment, I realized the importance of following the right path and the consequences of straying from it. Have you ever felt like you're on the wrong path in life? Today, we'll explore how Jesus invites us to follow Him and embark on a life-changing journey.

Our passage begins with the transition from John the Baptist to Jesus as the Messiah. John, a humble leader focused on building the Kingdom of God, points his disciples to Jesus, calling Him "The Lamb of God." This title connects Jesus to His purpose of atoning for our sins through His work on the cross. John exemplifies a selfless leader, passing his disciples to Jesus without bitterness or loss. In a world focused on personal following and influence, John shows us the importance of building God's Kingdom.

To understand the significance of following Jesus, let's explore the concept of discipleship in the ancient world. In those times, disciples would spend extensive time with their mentors, modeling their lives after them. Similarly, the first disciples of Jesus spent about three years with Him, learning and growing in their relationship. In our modern culture, we often limit discipleship to weekly meetings, but we can aspire to a deeper level of discipleship based on this passage. Following Jesus means incorporating His teachings and actions into our daily lives, treating others as He did and loving them with His love.

The passage reveals what disciples do. Andrew, one of the first disciples, immediately finds his brother, Simon Peter, and tells him about Jesus. When we encounter good news, we naturally want to share it with others. Andrew goes beyond sharing; he brings his brother to meet Jesus. Similarly, we are called to bring people to Jesus, spending more time following Jesus than we do our favorite bands or TV shows. By following in Jesus' footsteps, we develop a new perspective and serve others, sharing the incredible love of Jesus.

In the latter part of the passage, Jesus approaches Philip near the Sea of Galilee and simply commands him, "Follow me." There is no elaborate speech or promise of an easier life, just a direct command. Philip, who may have longed for a greater purpose, immediately follows Jesus. This invitation resonates with those who have felt rejected or overlooked. It reminds us of the importance of choosing whom we follow in life. Just as following incorrect directions can lead us astray, following the wrong advice or influence can have negative consequences. Jesus invites us to follow Him and experience a life-changing journey.

In the conversation between Philip and Nathaniel, we see Nathaniel's initial skepticism when he learns Jesus is from Nazareth. In Jewish culture, people expected the Messiah to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth. However, Philip invites Nathaniel to "come and see" for himself. This invitation allows room for personal experience and revelation. Jesus, knowing Nathaniel intimately, surprises him with His knowledge

Thursday, June 08, 2023

The Voice of Reason | John 1:19-34

A couple months ago I preached on John 1:19-34. Today I took that sermon and asked Chat GPT to turn my sermon into a blog post. Here is what was generated. 

Welcome to my personal blog! I'm Neal Benson, the lead pastor at Coastline, and I want to share an inspiring sermon with you today. In this sermon, we'll delve into the Gospel of John, focusing on the passage in John 1:19-34. The overarching message is that the Lamb of God came to remove our sin and end our separation from God. Let's dive in!

The Catalyst for Transformation
Sometimes, a single question can change the trajectory of our lives. I vividly remember the day I was asked a life-altering question. I was attending a court-mandated DUI class, feeling lost and broken. After a personal interview, the class leader told me, "If you don't stop doing what you're doing, you'll be dead in five years." Shortly after that encounter, a fellow classmate invited me to church, and that question sparked a profound transformation in my life.

Questions that Transform
Throughout our lives, we encounter questions that shape our destinies. From deciding to pursue higher education to accepting a marriage proposal, certain questions carry immense weight. However, the question that surpasses all others in its life-altering impact is, "Do you want to follow Jesus?" This question has the power to transform lives more than anything else in this world.

Exploring the Gospel of John
The Gospel of John is a unique account of Jesus' life, distinct from the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Believed to be written in Ephesus around 90 CE, it presents a deeper theological perspective. Today, we'll focus on how John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus.

John the Baptist Faces Interrogation
Our passage takes us to the Jordan River, where John the Baptist catches the attention of religious leaders from Jerusalem. These leaders approach John with a series of questions, seeking to understand his identity and purpose. They inquire if he is the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet Moses foretold. John clarifies that he is not the Messiah, nor Elijah, but instead a humble servant of God with a unique mission.

Discovering Our Role in God's Kingdom
John's response to the religious leaders serves as a reminder for us to discover our own roles in God's Kingdom. Like John, who pointed people back to the Lord, we too can find purpose and fulfillment in aligning our lives with God's calling. Let the story of John inspire you to seek your role in God's Kingdom.

The Significance of Baptism
John's baptism plays a crucial role in the narrative. Although the specific mode of baptism is not the main focus, John's act of baptizing symbolizes a significant spiritual journey. Before individuals enter the waters of baptism, they first hear the Gospel, respond to it, and grow in their faith. John's baptism signifies a transformative process leading to a public declaration of faith. If you have yet to be baptized, consider taking this step in your own spiritual journey.

Drawing Parallels to the Ethiopian Man in Acts
The story of the Ethiopian man in Acts provides a parallel to the transformative power of baptism. Philip, one of the disciples, explains the Scriptures to the Ethiopian man, who then eagerly chooses to be baptized on the side of the road. This account demonstrates the immediacy and joy that can accompany baptism. If you feel prompted by God to be baptized, I encourage you to connect with me or one of our staff members after the service.

John's Profound Revelation of Jesus
Moving forward in the passage, John the Baptist unveils a profound understanding of Jesus' identity. He proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God—a title not used by any other Gospel writer. This designation evokes the imagery

Monday, June 05, 2023

John 4:31-54 | Small Group Questions

The Gospel of John is a unique and powerful account of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Written by John, one of Jesus' closest disciples, this gospel presents a deep and thoughtful perspective on the person and work of Jesus. Unlike the other three gospels, which are known as the Synoptic Gospels and focus on Jesus' actions and teachings, John's gospel emphasizes the spiritual and theological significance of Jesus' life and ministry. For this series I will write some of the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions | When Many Believe | John 4:31-54

Throughout the Gospel of John, we see Jesus engage with a wide range of people, from the wealthy and powerful to the marginalized and oppressed. He performs miraculous signs, teaches profound truths, and ultimately offers Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. In John 4 we read about Jesus spending time with different people in different places. The groups are different but the results are the same: many believed. As Jesus makes Himself available to people of all races and gender we see a powerful of movement of God happening. Study these questions and use this time of study to grow in your faith in the Son of God. 

1) Neal shared a story about revival in the introduction to his sermon. Think about a time in your life when you heard about, saw, or were involved in a time of revival. What were some key events that stand out to you?   

2) Read John 4:6, 31-38. John teaches us that Jesus ministered out of His thirst, hunger, and tiredness. Jesus chose to do the work of God. When you think about these things, what keeps you from ministering in all situations?  

3) It seems that Jesus adjusted His plans and stayed in Samaria (read John 4:39-42). Jesus had margin in His schedule to do the work of God (Luke 7:11-17, 19:1-10). Do you feel like you have margin in your schedule to minister to others?  

4) John makes a note that Jesus had previously encountered opposition in Galilee (read John 4:43-47). Jesus could have simply avoided this area and ministered anywhere. Is there a place God is calling you to minister to others? 

5) This father comes to Jesus with one BIG request. Many people came to Jesus with a  great need (Matthew 9:18-22 & Mark 10:46-52) What is the one thing you need Jesus to help with? Not a huge list but one thing. Why is this important? 

6) Read John 4:48-50. It seems like this man had a weak faith that needed Jesus to come with him. Compare this man to the man in Matthew 8:5-13. What do these passages teach us about living a life of faith? 

7) The conclusion of Samaria and Cana is that many believed in the name of Jesus. Jesus came to seek the lost and hurting (Matthew 9:12 & Luke 19:10). What would it look like to see a revival in our community, county, state, or country? 

Close your time in prayer. Pray for strength to invite a friend to meet Jesus.