Don’t Ever Pray Like That Again – August 10, 2017
Colossians 1:11 (ESV) being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;
Have you heard someone say, “Don’t pray for patience?” That statement reveals an idolatry of comfort and security that has more to do with the American Dream than it does a Biblical vision of living on mission. It also reveals a misunderstanding of the character of God. Saying, “don’t pray for patience” is like saying that if you are foolish enough to pray for patience then God will say to you, “Well ok, I was going to give you a comfortable life, but if you really want patience, then here’s some hard core difficulty to help you develop that patience you say you want.”
Not only does saying “don’t pray for patience,” reveal an idolatry of comfort and a misunderstanding of God’s character, it also demonstrates a misconception of the purpose of prayer. The vision of that statement is contrary to what Paul prayed for the Colossians in Colossians 1:9-14. As soon as he and his team heard that there were new believers in Colossae, they started praying several specific things for them. In the middle of the prayer he prayed that they would have “endurance and patience with joy.” He prayed for patience for them! Why? Because they were going to need it to live on mission in a hostile environment. So do we.
Sunday morning at Bethany Place, I am continuing the series in Colossians called, “Learning to Live in a New Country.” We are learning to live in the new “country” where Jesus is King, while still living in a world that does not follow Jesus as King. We need strength of character (like endurance, patience, and joy, which Paul specifically prays for in our passage) and conviction to be able to do this. Al Mohler defines convictions like this:
“A conviction is a belief of which we are thoroughly convinced. I don’t mean that we are merely persuaded that something is true, but rather that we are convinced this truth is essential and life-changing. We live out of this truth and are willing to die for it.” (Conviction to Lead, Al Mohler)
In every room or environment we walk into, that character and conviction better walk into the room with us or we will quickly adapt to whatever environment surrounds us. With that in mind, we will reflect Sunday on Colossians 1:9-14 and demonstrate how praying like Paul prays will help develop the character and conviction we need.
Learning to Live in a New Country August 3, 2017
It took bouncing along an Alaskan dirt road in a green bus to make me think about how I usually journey through life on well-marked paths, mostly paved smooth with abundant signage.
So begins a story written by Cindy Young, during a particularly difficult season. Her writing expresses well where I sense God taking us in our next series on Sunday mornings. Cindy continues . . .
The bus was my only motorized option to get to Wonder Lake Campground in the center of Denali National Park’s six million acres. I would be dropped off at a campground, pitch my tent and hope for a view of Mt. McKinley. But most of the other passengers had different plans. They came to hike in back country. And, as the driver counseled those disembarking, there are very few trails in the park. This was wild land, where you must navigate by compass and by wits. Most of my life, I’ve been way-keeping. I’ve been working off a map with clearly-marked trails, a prescribed ordering of things. But, today, despite being home from Alaska, I am unsure of my next steps, disoriented and in unknown terrain because I’ve somehow lost the trail of where I thought my career and skills were leading me. Mid-life, I’m told, is where I am. And here I find need for way-finding, the same skills the hikers would use without trails. Heed the wisdom spoken by the bus driver who has spent a decade walking this land. Keep the mountains to your right. So, in this new territory, seemingly without the skills I need for way-finding, I am wise to remember who is my guide and my ultimate destination, and to trust his guidance and light for my feet, whether on a trail or in wilderness. He created this ground on which I walk. He knows this wilderness.
The “in Christ” life, rightly understood and pursued, is very much like traveling in new territory. Followers of Jesus are part of a different kingdom with a different King from that which most of the world follows. And so we try to find our way. Many try to live the “in Christ” life as if following a map in a new country. The Bible is the map, so we think, and we either try to understand it and follow it, or neglect it and hope for the best on our own. This “map” is infallible. It perfectly reveals to us God’s will, but we are not to follow it like a map. Rather, it points us to the Guide, the Lord Jesus Himself. Jesus works within us, using the map of His Word to guide us. But if we miss the Guide, we will never grasp the significance of the map.
The book of Colossians is all about the supremacy and the sufficiency of Christ, our Guide to learning how to live in the new country of God’s Kingdom. I’m so encouraged by my study of the first part of the book in recent weeks and can’t wait to share it with you.
P.S. It’s been an amazing week of Sports Camp where we’ve had record attendance, and the week before that where our student ministry led a VBS and two children prayed to receive Christ. Please pray for these last two nights of Sports Camp as we share the gospel each evening and seek to bless the community around us.
Trusting God No Matter What July 27, 2017
I’ve never seen anything like what happened this past Sunday at Bethany Place! I was so encouraged by every aspect of our Sunday morning services.
Our students truly took over! Not only did they handle the greeting ministry and receive the offering, a few of our students also taught in our Community Fellowship groups. Every detail was handled with excellence by students in the worship service. The music was extraordinary! There was a video featuring one of our students I think you will love; I strongly recommend watching it. (To view click here) The message was brought to us by Mark Mazza and Alex Renner. They both clearly walked us through a couple of well known texts. I am so proud of all our students and greatly encouraged by the adults who coached them. It was a tremendous day of worship and I hope we will do this again in a few months.
Sunday, we finish the series, The Path to Confidence from the book of Habakkuk. Through this series I’ve imagined all of us at one time asking the question, “Why do I need to study this book?” The answer is, you don’t. You don’t need to study Habakkuk if you are content to stay where you are in your walk with God. However, if you sense the tension between where you are and the vision of patient faith displayed here . . .
Habakkuk 3:17–19 (ESV)
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
. . . then you will want to trace the prophet’s path and discover how to reach that same level of confidence. Above all, it’s a message from God himself. I’m praying for a growing hunger to hear from God. I want to hear all He has to say to us from all of His word. Sunday’s message is called, “Trusting God No Matter What.” You can see the outline here.
In the weeks ahead, those of us who went to Barcelona will share how God worked in and through us while we were there. We will also hear testimonies about our integrated Community Fellowship groups, VBS and Sports Camp which is coming up beginning Monday. Please pray as we continue to serve the Lord through various outreach events over the remainder of the summer.
Travel vs. Tourism July 13, 2017
I want to use this distinction between tourism and travel and apply it to how we approach God’s word. I’ve often been guilty of acting like a tourist when it comes to scripture, and not a traveler. I’m acting like a tourist when I rush into scripture for a quick fix to help me through the day. I’m hoping that somehow my quick “selfie,” trying in a short time to see how a passage applies to my life, is going to help me have a better day. What God is calling us toward is to be more of a traveler, to linger and to savor the glory of God revealed to us in that particular landscape of scripture. We are to view a portrait of God, rather than take a selfie with God in the background.
Psalm 92 is a good place for this kind of reflection. Recently, I woke up really down. It happens from time to time, but what happened to me sitting on my back deck was nothing short of miraculous. I prayed through Psalm 92 by writing it out, praying in my mind as I typed it:
It is good to give thanks to you, O Lord. It is good to sing praises to your name. You are exalted over all the earth. You are the great and mighty God. Holy and awesome is your name, O Lord. Our Father, help me pray for I am a complete mess . . . It is good to give thanks to you, Lord. It is good to sing praises to your name, O Most High.
It is good to declare your steadfast love in the morning. I want to declare your steadfast love this morning, Lord, and to be healed by you. O how I need your healing and your mercy, O Lord, I am so weak. It is good to declare your faithfulness by night. Is there a reason that you would say for us to declare all of these things, some in the morning and some in the evening or is this just the way of saying that it needs to be happening all the time . . .
I continued through the prayer not as a quick, intellectual exercise but by God’s grace, I spent time there and looked and lingered. The experience reoriented my whole demeanor. I saw God in His majesty and greatness, and was overwhelmed by His faithfulness and the purity of His love for me. I’m always grateful when I encounter God in that way.
George Mueller once said that he saw it his first duty each morning to persist in God’s word until his soul was happy and alive in Jesus. That statement reveals that he often didn’t wake up that way. That is my experience as well. Turning these phrases over and over and praying them back to the Lord is one way for God to restore our souls so that we are alive to God once again.
My good friend Gary Stewart will be preaching Sunday morning at BP. Four of us from BP join a team of 18 who will serve in Barcelona over the next few days. Please pray for us as we go, that God’s kingdom will come and His Will be done in that place through the work we will do there. We are completely dependent on God’s work through us at all times, let alone on a ministry trip of this nature.
Outreach is Nothing without God in the Midst July 6, 2017
The purpose for the Block Party is to serve our community in a fun way by letting them know about upcoming events. We are praying for 100 to 200 non-church members to participate. If you feel led to help make this event great, please contact Brooklyn Mazza.
Pray for the Student-Led VBS as students continue to make preparations to reach out to the community. Vacation Bible School touches the lives of many young people and we pray God will use this event to bring the gospel to the youngest members of our community.
Sarah Moore and Bethany Egland are continuing to organize all that goes into our Sports Camp. This energetic event reaches our athletic neighbors with the gospel, while sharpening their athletic skills for that sport in an environment that is exciting to them. Ask God to raise up the volunteers needed. Contact Sarah Moore if you are able to help serve.
I have been hearing about a lot of Spiritual Warfare taking place at our church. This actually excites me, because Satan does not attack when the church is doing nothing. Members of Bethany Place, I ask you to pray together for these events. Help to attract attention by inviting neighbors, building bridges, communicating Christ. Above all, pray that in all we do, we bring glory to God and lift up the name of Jesus.
Flee Age Segregation June 29, 2017
Actually, I didn’t type that, but I was really tempted.
Our multi-decade experiment with age segregation has had unintended consequences. We have isolated ourselves to our own detriment. We have cheated ourselves out of the experiences of those who have gone before. We have sacrificed the fresh outlook of those who come behind. Interaction from multiple generations is essential to a healthy and well-rounded point of view.
I’m grateful that our Adult Community Groups are already not strictly age graded, but we felt it would be useful over the summer to pursue this integration more intentionally. Earlier this week, Ben communicated more detailed reasons for this pilot project. For me the main reason for intentionally mixing generations is so we might take advantage of an opportunity to listen to and learn from one another.
“Flee Age Segregation” is the title to a chapter in a great book I finished this week about the “coming of age” crisis in this country. I’m grateful we have the opportunity to do just that in our Community Groups in the next two months.
This summer, as we integrate our classes, let’s remember that we are all members of the body of Christ. Each one of us, no matter our age, has something of value to contribute to the family. Let’s take advantage of this great opportunity to pray for one another as we study and learn together as a body.
Like a Tennis Shoe in a Clothes Dryer June 22, 2017
At times I feel like those shoes. Perhaps you can relate. You can’t always tell what will drive you to this point. You can be going along well when something unsettles you, sending you into a spin you don’t know how to stop. You feel banged around by circumstances, making a lot of racket, getting hot, and melting the very fibers that hold together your soul.
The prophet Habakkuk faced such a moment. This short book in the Old Testament bearing his name, details moments of searing pain and fear. He complains bitterly. What redeems his complaining is the direction it travels. He doesn’t complain to a mere human being. He complains to God.
In the end, Habakkuk’s raw conversation with God generates in him a statement of faith unrivaled in all the Bible. He reached the place of unshakable confidence in the Lord. For us to attain that kind of confidence, we have to follow the same recipe as Habakkuk. Spiritual progress is no more instantaneous than physical progress. A mushroom can grow up overnight, but a majestic oak tree takes a lifetime.
Why do we need to study a book in the Bible like Habakkuk? You don’t if it’s your goal to stay exactly the same as you are now with no growth in maturity, no growth in grace, no new perspective, and no ability to rise above your circumstances. You can just go on being like a tennis shoe tossed about in a clothes dryer. Learning to walk the path Habakkuk walked can grow in us a confidence in God that makes us more like an oak tree than a mushroom. The series is called The Path to Confidence. I’m praying we strongly encounter God together through his word this Sunday in a way that walks us down the path toward confidence, where we can learn in practical terms what it means to live by faith.
Resources from the Series, “What is Best for Us?” June 15, 2017
Links to the Messages
- Why Are We Here? May 14, 2017, Gene Cornett, Genesis 1:26–31, 2:15–25
- Misconceptions Of Singleness May 21, 2017 Gene Cornett, 1 Corinthians 7
- Marriage – A Memorial To The Lord May 28, 2017 Gene Youngblood, Malachi
- We’ve Kissed Sanity Goodbye: What Does The Bible Say About Dating? June 4, 2017, Gene Cornett, Genesis 24
- Anger Issues?: Why Grace is Our Only Hope, June 11, 2017, Gene Cornett, Ephesians 6:1-4
- Evidence of Being Filled with the Spirit, June 18, 2017, Gene Cornett, Ephesians 5:15-33
Audio sermons discovered preparing for the messages on singleness and dating. All these are well worth your time.
- Preparing for the Ultimate Marriage: Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 6:33 by J.D. Greear
- How am I Supposed to Find a Spouse?: Genesis 24:1–27 by J.D Greear
- Misconceptions About Singleness by Sam Allberry
- Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community: A Forum with Wes Hill This was from a conference that happened here in Richmond at Third Church here in April.
Two books I encourage every parent in the church to read:
- The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse
- Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp
Books on marriage referenced in the series I highly recommend:
- The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Paperback by Timothy and Kathy Keller
- Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be, by Christopher Ash
- The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption, by Matt and Lauren Chandler
I’m so looking forward to seeing you and worshipping and serving the Lord with you this Sunday.
Those Who Want the Next Generation the Most Will Get Them June 8, 2017
Desperate churches and parents have sought for decades to capture the imaginations of young people through bells and whistles, games and activities. For some this worked. But many learned that better entertainment was available elsewhere and they walked away from the church. Many who stayed learned a watered down message that reduced the Christian faith to this: “Church should make me feel good and I should try to be good but God’s pretty much okay with whatever I do.” It sounds good, but it’s not good, because it’s a lie. The real gospel tells the truth: Everyone is separated from God because of sin, but Jesus came to suffer in our place. We can be forgiven and made clean before God when we trust Jesus’ death on the cross to pay for our sin. That is good news!
For at least two years, the elders have prayed and wrestled with how we could pursue student ministry in a more gospel centered way. We don’t have it all figured out, but we have a vision and new direction to share with the church. We’d like to see if you affirm that we are on the right track. It’s not a 100% solution, but it represents a fresh vision and structure that supports the work of parents, leaders and students in discipling young people already here and reaching their peers with the gospel. We want to discuss that with you in a Town Hall meeting Sunday afternoon at 4:30.
Actually, this is a huge weekend for our student ministry.
Saturday night our students are presenting a Variety Show with dinner served to help fund their camp at Ridgecrest later this month. They have worked hard to raise money doing yard work. I’m praying Saturday night we can help them raise the rest. These events are always entertaining and there are always fun surprises.
Sunday morning we recognize recent high school and college graduates in the morning service. There are eight of them.
Then Sunday afternoon is the Town Hall where we’ll discuss the new vision and structure for the Student Ministry. It’s important for the students and their families to see and know that the whole church is concerned about this work. If you read last week’s email to the church body from one of our college freshman, you were reminded that Satan is ruthlessly pursuing our young people. There’s nothing new under the sun, but this generation faces difficulties most adults did not face. We must understand that we and they are in a spiritual war. The consequences are eternal. We must operate as a church with a wartime mentality, where everyone is on the job. We need everyone in the church involved in student and children’s ministry, not just the parents of those children and students. Not everyone can or should try to lead a Bible study or chaperone a camp, but the needs for various kinds of mentoring and logistical support will call on the gifts of everyone in the church body. And we need everyone praying without ceasing.
Sunday morning the message series, What is Best For Us continues with a message called: Anger Issues? Why Grace is Our Only Hope from Ephesians 6:1-4. These messages have stirred up a good bit of conversation. You can catch up on the ones you missed or listen to them again here.
The Serpent in Everything June 1, 2017
Until last fall, my first semester at John Tyler Community College, I was particularly confident that I would glide through college without a scratch. My parents were thorough; I did not arrive unaware of all the fascinating new tastes, smells and feels I would be exposed to, but I was totally unprepared for how enticing and alluring all these possibilities would be to me, especially when promoted by boys I had begun to trust and admire. When I confided in my Christian friends and mother, all were shocked by how close I was coming to denouncing all I had ever been taught and had appeared to believe.
You see, I was not one of those common homeschool cases we all hear about: severely sheltered until college days roll around and then dumped unaware among the wolves. My parents invested a great deal in preparing me to stand strong against all the challenges they’d met during their own college experiences. I accepted these teachings eagerly and vowed they wouldn’t go to waste. So it would be expected that I’d be dodging the world’s bullets effortlessly, but in reality I ended up stumbling through the semester with one foot inching toward raves, drugs and boys and the other losing grip on the safety of the church and my relationship with the Lord.
My point is, even if all the ingredients of success are mixed into your soul and you seem to be standing on the right feet, there are as many brands of temptation as there are strongholds in your mind. You could have been raised with all the right tools, your parents could have told everything you need to know, you might pray for strength every day before you go to class just as I did, but when it comes down to it, you are the only one who can say “no,” for yourself. God never abandons those who ask him for help, but if you are walking in a certain direction and you know good and well where it leads, it depends on you whether or not you turn away. It depends on you to cooperate with God.
This is called free will. It is the same sort of free will given to Eve at the beginning of time. It all boils down to a choice, bite the apple, or leave it. The serpent has always promised enlightenment, the knowledge of good and evil, but sometimes he wears a pretty face.
On that note, let me put you at ease by saying that I never really surrendered to all the temptations I’ve mentioned; resisting temptation is not an impossible task. My first semester at John Tyler Community College proved to be a dizzying cycle of reckless near-misses that I am most definitely not proud of. But it could have been so much worse if I’d skidded just a little nearer to the edge. Try to look at it this way: Eve was tempted, God didn’t hide her from that, but just think of how much better the world would be now if she hadn’t given in. Kids just like me will be presented with choices like hers for the rest of time, but, just like Eve did, they will be given the option of making the right choice.
~BP Student Member
A Very Big Trust Fall May 25, 2017
Conversation does not take place under the wing of an active plane. The wind is fiercely loud and hearing nearly impossible. Communication happens with a series of taps on the shoulder, nods, and various hand signals. I considered changing my mind, but there was no way to communicate it to anyone. From that distance, it is plain that the earth is round, and clearly not meant to leave the feet of those who are born wingless.
I received the signal to jump. Almost bravely, I lifted my feet trusting my instructor not to lift his yet, released my death grip and crossed my arms over my chest. Another nodded signal: “Are you ready?” My soul screamed, “NO!” but she was ignored. My instructor lifted his feet and let go.
Sometimes God takes us on the adventure of a lifetime and we need to trust Him enough to lift our feet and let Him take the weight. We need to trust His experience, and trust that he already knows the answer to “Are you ready?” Often, when He asks us, our answer to that question is: “NO!” but what do we miss when we refuse to trust in His wisdom?
Wind rushes by pretty fast outside a moving plane and presses fairly hard against anything reckless enough to fall out. It blew our legs out from under us. At that point, I held my arms over my head in the “I give up” position, as I had been instructed, and that stabilized our drop so we fell belly-down to our deaths, rather than tumble uncontrollably through the air to our deaths. I am told it was in the instant when my feet left the wing support that I began to scream. I am also told I didn’t stop screaming until we reached about 3000 feet. I don’t remember.
I had been warned that the view would be spectacular and that many new divers forget to check their altimeter because of it. I had practiced reading an altimeter; I had practiced pulling a ripcord. I knew what to do, but no one can practice anything enough to perform under the influence of sheer terror. Suddenly, a large hand grabbed mine, guided it to my ripcord, pulled, and the chute opened.
Some of life’s adventures can’t be planned for or rehearsed well enough so that we respond with perfection in the moment. Planning ahead is good, but we do not have to be obsessed with how each and every situation will unfold. We have a Father who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. We can always trust Him to guide us ahead when we’re too frozen to move.
In that moment, terror flaked away like little dead leaves blown about on a gentle breeze. We were riding with the wind, the howling in our ears stopped and everything was quiet. Riding under a parachute is the most freeing experience imaginable, unless you look straight down, which I didn’t do. I focused on the horizon. I could see clouds, and birds, and our plane in the distance. I could see tiny toothpick trees and roads snaking in all directions and leading to nowhere important. I could see a parking lot and then the building at the airport, and then the orange pea-gravel where we were supposed to land. My instructor showed me how to pull down with the straps to guide the parachute, so we did silent, wide circles as we neared the ground.
I had been told landing under a parachute was tricky. When you near the ground you enter an optical illusion. The ground is further away than it looks but you’re rushing toward it faster than it seems. If I wanted to end the jump safely I was to bend my knees and trust my instructor to hit the ground first. He had told me to keep my knees bent no matter how unstable the landing was. If I did not follow these directions specifically, I would ruin the jump with injured ankles.
I am learning that trusting our Father is very much like trusting my instructor during that jump. Sometimes I had to let go first and trust him to hold on. Other times, when the fear was too great for clear thinking, I had to rely on him to do what needed to be done. Then there were the times when I was allowed to guide the parachute, but then other times, I had to relinquish control and let his experience guide us to a safe landing. I made mistakes, but my instructor knew what to do to correct for those mistakes. I placed my trust in him because he had gone this way before, and he was behind me now, guiding me to a safe landing.
It is the same with our Father! Have you ever attempted to mark all the times in the Bible when He says He will be with us? He says it a lot! I think God tells us over and over again because we forget. We forget He knows everything there is to know about guiding us to safety and we forget to trust him to do it. We forget He is right there with us and will never leave us. Think of all the freedom we miss because we are fearfully looking for a way out of a tricky situation, when all we really need to do is relax, trust Him, and enjoy the view.
~A Church Member
Barcelona Team 2017 Support Letter May 18, 2017
Four of our church members will serve on an 18 person team in July this summer in Barcelona, Spain. This mission trip is part of a developing partnership with several other SBC of Virginia churches to work with two IMB personnel in Barcelona. Those workers serve with North Africa and Middle Eastern People groups. That is four SBC personnel seeking to reach 250,000 North Africans living in the area. They have asked for our help.
In Barcelona we will:
- Hold a weeklong basketball sports camp for children in one of the neighborhoods near the ministry center.
- Distribute gospel materials at the Barcelona port to families traveling on a 24 hour ferry to North Africa.
- Distribute gospel materials in marketplaces near the ministry center.
- Prayer walk.
- Other direct support to the work through their ministry center.
We plead with you to begin praying for our team now. The work there is difficult. We need strong prayer support beginning now and continuing through the trip and beyond. It is not unusual for participants on such trips to experience significant spiritual warfare when they return. Also, some may wish to help bear the financial cost of the trip. The cost per person is $1800. Every effort has been made to keep costs low. If more is given than is necessary, the funds will be held for our next international missions effort through Bethany Place.
Such trips provide critical help to permanent workers in the field as well as stir a greater heart for the world in those who go and help to raise the fervor for missions and evangelism in our local church body. This work also is a part of our making disciples who make disciples of the nations. It also reflects the heart of Acts 1:8.
If you choose to assist financially, your gift will be tax deductible. You can make a check out to Bethany Place Baptist Church but do not write Barcelona trip on the check. You can either mail in the check in an envelope marked Barcelona 2017 or place in an envelope in the offering or hand deliver to the office. You will be sent a receipt from Bethany Place Baptist Church for tax purposes.
Bethany Place Baptist Church Elder Chairman
What is Best for Us May 11, 2017
So, when we ask what God wants, we are asking what is best for us. What is best for us is not what we want, but what He wants. When I ask what God wants for marriage, I am saying that I want my marriage to cut with the grain of the universe.
Starting Sunday, between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we will focus not just on marriage, but on how to apply the Bible to the closest of our relationships. We will ask what God wants about parenting, singleness, how we handle money, and roles within marriage. We will also explore why God made us male and female, and why the Bible says what it does about how we manage the sexual attraction that God Himself designed and placed within us. You can relax! It’s impossible for me to forget that my nine year old daughter will be in the room.
Each message will be a call to repentance. We each, in varying degrees, need to turn to God from our own cultural ideas and from our own sinful desires. We need to ask what God wants about all of these things, because it’s what honors Him and it’s what’s best for us.
Tim Keller says in the beginning of his book, “The Meaning of Marriage”
There’s nothing in the Bible about how schools should be run, even though they are crucial to a flourishing society. There’s nothing there about business corporations or museums or hospitals. In fact, there are all sorts of great institutions and human enterprises that the Bible doesn’t address or regulate. And so we are free to invent them and operate them in line with the general principles for human life that the Bible gives us.
However, the Bible provides plenty of wisdom about singleness, parenting, marriage, and other relationships. We can’t just make stuff up about how these work. Our view of the authority of the Bible determines whether we give weight to what the Bible says. Putting more weight on the human side of the Bible, simply seeing it as the writings of men trying to figure God out, causes the solutions of the Bible to seem out of touch and unrealistic. We are more apt to think the Bible is irrelevant to today’s issues. If, however, you truly believe all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness you will see God’s word as applicable and authoritative.
Sunday, we will begin talking about why God made us as he did and how that relates to these types of relationships. The text is Genesis 1:26-31 and 2:15-25. I can’t wait to open God’s word with you this Sunday.
Vicious Dog or Harmless Hamster? May 4, 2017
It is the responsibility of our elders, or any spiritual leader, to protect the flock and “feed my sheep” as Jesus instructed Peter in John 21:15–17. The primary way protection happens is through the feeding of the sheep from the word of God. All teachers must pursue God persistently through his word in such a way that we grow deeply passionate about how God has spoken to us. Then we are able to speak out of the overflow of how God has spoken to us. God made all of us in need of receiving that kind of teaching to be spiritually healthy, as surely as we need food and water to be physically well.
Most of us need far more than we are getting! Acts 2:42-47 explains that the early church met every day! They committed themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. We are a different kind of society. Meeting every day isn’t going to happen, but that doesn’t mean we’ve somehow outgrown our need for daily input. This is one of many reasons we often encourage pleading with God to cause you to remember what a treasure the word of God is. Soon, you will look forward to seeking and experiencing that treasure every day.
Then, through your own study and reading, you learn to detect error for yourself. You learn to do what Jesus says in Matt. 5:15, “Beware of false teachers.” False teachers are not hypothetical; they are a real danger! You don’t need a “Beware of Dog” sign when all you have is a hamster. Jesus’ warning is right at the beginning of our text for Sunday. In that text, Jesus further shows how we can evaluate teaching because it’s important that we understand how we are influenced by what we hear.
Sunday will be the last message in our series Legalists, Rebels and Worshippers from the Sermon on the Mount. The text Matt. 7:15-29 contains one of the most serious warnings in all of the Bible. Please pray and join with me on Sunday as we explore it together in a message called Prepared for All Weather.
Dangers of the Lazy River April 27, 2017
By contrast, the most thrilling attractions involve a lot of steps and sometimes a long wait to get on the slide or in the tube. Not as many people are willing to attempt those, either through lack of patience or the difficulty of climbing the stairs. Perhaps they don’t enjoy the closed in feeling of the long tubes. I greatly prefer the long shooting tubes that take your breath away, over the Lazy River any day.
Of course, that’s all for fun. Real life is another matter. It’s not a bad analogy of Matthew 7:13-14.
 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (ESV)
To my eyes, Jesus begins concluding the Sermon on the Mount beginning back at verse 7. The Sermon provokes some to despair, claiming, “That’s impossible!” It prompts others to lace on their spiritual running shoes for a long marathon of grueling effort. Neither giving up nor applying human effort are correct responses.
Perhaps the best way to describe the appropriate response to the Sermon is to be intentional. Understood rightly, the Sermon generates a soaring vision that creates a passion in the soul, a longing and a hungering for righteousness, as expressed in the first few lines of the Beatitudes. The truly blessed person exercises humility, hungers for God, and braces for persecution. Now, nearing the end of the Sermon, the right response is to neither give up nor to try to white-knuckle it in human effort, but to ask, and to persist, and to even plead, if you will, by pounding on heaven’s door with an increasing intensity, saying, “God, I can’t do this. Please create your character in me!” Then there is a reminder to brace ourselves for a life of challenge, knowing that following Jesus will involve persecution, opposition, and swimming against the tide. Sunday morning we will talk about Living Intentionally. While the Lazy River is fun and the greatest danger is a sunburn, drifting in life is guaranteed destruction. You can see the outline for Sunday’s message here.
Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right April 20, 2017
What are those unchallenged assumptions? One of them is, “You’ve got to be yourself.” In traditional cultures, you are a good person if you subject your feelings and desires for the good of the family. In our society, however, you are not an authentic person unless you look into your heart and decide what you want to be and what you want to do. Then you assert your individual interests over against what anyone else wants. This assumption seeps into nearly every sitcom, movie, and even cartoon.
Unless we show that the Christian faith has a better alternative and demonstrate that the world’s assumptions don’t work or even make sense, it’s going to be difficult to get through. Another unchallenged assumption is this: “Only I have the right to decide what is true for me.”
(The above paragraphs are primarily quoting from a talk Tim Keller gave in 2014 about how to apply the gospel to unique challenges of our time. In case you are interested in checking that out you can find that here.)
These assumptions are why perhaps the most often quoted Bible verse by non-believers is the first two words of Matthew 7. “Judge not.” In other words, someone might say, objecting to you pointing out a Biblical teaching on any number of hot button issues, “I thought Jesus said not to judge people.” How do you respond to that?
We need far more careful thinking about these assumptions and how to patiently and carefully demonstrate that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news ever. These unchallenged assumptions don’t work and are actually designed to blind us to the truth of God’s love and his good purposes for us. This is what we will be talking about Sunday from Matthew 7:1-6 in a message titled, “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.” Between now and Mother’s Day we will finish up the series Legalists, Rebels, and Worshippers from the Sermon on the Mount.
Where Does Your Hope Lay? April 13, 2017
I lived in Ati for about three months. On Saturday mornings I would help volunteer at the clinic. I usually worked with the infants and toddlers, where I would weigh and measure them. Chad is the third poorest country in the world. I saw a lot of sick children.
Yet, I will never forget the look in Elnnisa’s eyes when we gently spoke to her. The American Clinic was probably her last hope for her daughter. I remember her eyes watering as she tried to hold back tears. Her baby girl raised her tiny arms towards Elnnisa’s face. Lifting her up and holding the child close, the mother stared directly into my eyes. I could see her eyes screaming, “Is there really no hope for my daughter? Is there nothing you can do?”
Later that same week an older man came to the clinic complaining of pain in his leg. Abdul had stepped on a thorn about 3-4 weeks prior to coming and he believed he had pulled it out. When he arrived, they quickly realized his leg was infected and the infection was spreading fast. There was no longer anything they could do for the man; they had to amputate. The next day, I came to visit him in the hospital. He had the same hopelessness in his eyes that I had seen Elnnisa. Abdul was a farmer, an occupation requiring two legs and now he only had one. How was he to provide for his family? Was there no hope for him now?
After a year in Chad, I had to move unexpectedly to Cairo, Egypt. Cairo is more established and wealthier than Chad. Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president, was the first democratically “elected” head of state in 5000 years. Egyptians have been controlled by many different countries throughout history and they were hoping for change. As part of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi instituted changes that upset the Egyptians, leading to the largest Egyptian protest in history. During this painful year, I saw an all too familiar sense of hopelessness in the eyes of the Egyptian people. They seemed to cry out, “Will there ever be hope for us? Isn’t the Egyptian Government supposed to make this a better place?”
At that moment, I clearly felt God reminding me of the hope these people needed. It was nothing I could give them. My American ways, money, education, nothing would ever be enough for these people. Only God could provide that hope they needed.
The disciples must have experienced a similar hopelessness at the death of Jesus Christ. They had heard stories and waited years for the Savior. They believed God’s Kingdom would start on Earth; Jesus was going to take down the Roman Empire. The disciples had spent three years following Jesus, only to see him crucified on the cross. This was not how it was supposed to happen. With crushed hopes, the disciples went back to their homes afraid, not knowing what to do next.
Yet, the story didn’t end there. Jesus was resurrected and appeared to the disciples and many others. John 20:31 states, “but these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The disciples and other followers of Jesus realized they could lay their hope in God because of what Christ did for us on the cross.
Jesus Christ is the hope that people need to hear; the hope people should rest their heads on. God has sent those who believe to spread that hope to others. The hope people are looking for, is not through health, money, government, or respect. None of that will ever be enough. The hope people need is through God. Where does your hope lay?
“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”-1 Timothy 4:10 (ESV)
Every Person, Every Week April 6, 2017
Our minds don’t do well with that kind of solitude and uncertainty.
So begins a recent episode of Hidden Brain, one of my favorite podcasts.
Throughout my ministry I’ve been reminded in many ways why early in the Bible, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” One of Satan’s most cruel and effective tactics is to provoke us to hide when we are caught in grief or guilt or depression. When Adam and Eve sinned, their first instinct was to hide. As one one of my favorite pastor friends recently reminded me, when God came looking for Adam and Eve that day, he addressed their loneliness before he addressed their sin. His first question to them was not, “What have you done?” but “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9)
God did not create us to function alone; we need each other. When God’s people withhold themselves from their local church body, they are robbing that church and the Church of gifts and abilities that do not belong to them personally. Those gifts belong to their local church. Outside of a local church fellowship much of the New Testament remains safely hypothetical. What does it mean to be bear with one another in love, or to spur one another on toward love and good deeds? These things are meaningless when you are not getting your hands dirty, and sometimes your feelings hurt, by a group of people who are all over the map in their spiritual maturity.
A church is not a museum for finished works of art. Rather, it is a hospital for sick people. In a regular hospital, sometimes even the medical personnel get sick. In the church, occasionally even very spiritually mature people give in to the flesh and act in immature ways. It happens. We know that sometimes we will let each other down, so we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit and work to build trust in one another.
What are some practical outworkings of this?
1. Form Relationships: Connect and be consistent in investing in a Community group. The gospel travels across relationships. Most hands-on ministry is deployed within small groups. Each of our community groups, from the oldest adults to the smallest among us, have a deacon assigned to assist in shepherding care. When in crisis and you need your church family, the first and best place to connect is with the deacon of your community group and with other members of the group. It is in these groups where we can love and be loved, serve and be served, know and be known, celebrate and be celebrated.
2. Be Accountable: When you can’t be present, let the people in your group know in advance. Treat it in the same way as if you were having dinner with close friends. If it turned out you couldn’t make it, you would let them know.
3. Communicate: When people must be away from your community group, be sure they know they were missed. A simple text or email will do. Do this even when you know why someone is missing. We all need to be reminded that we are loved and that we belong. It is especially necessary to keep an eye out for those who seem to keep themselves on the fringes. Sometimes people are missing because Satan has convinced them that their presence doesn’t matter. Others may feel like they don’t really fit in. Simply letting them know their presence was missed will counter Satan’s lie and help restore them to the fellowship.
It breaks my heart when a person who is a part of our church fellowship becomes estranged. It is very much as if one of my children has withdrawn from the family. I grieve. It keeps me awake at night. Sometimes people move away because God is calling them to serve somewhere else in another church body. However, when someone gradually leaves the church because of some misunderstanding, this almost always is, at its core, a failure of community. The gospel provokes us to reach out and welcome all kinds of people regardless of their differences or what sort of sin they struggle with. As pastor and author Tim Keller says, “We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time.” Let’s take that love and acceptance and shower it on one another diligently.
Our Easter series continues Sunday with a message on John 20:12-23 called Jesus, Continued. You can read the outline for that message here.
P.S. Please read an important message from Ben about an update to the church office schedule in an email also coming out today.
There’s More than One Way to Be Wicked March 30, 2017
Almost immediately, we started speculating about whether or not it was safe to jump. Someone suggested, “We should check how deep the water is first.” I’d like to think I said that, but I don’t remember. Suddenly, one of the guys just jumped! We all gasped at the craziness of jumping before we checked the depth of the lake. It was a long tense moment waiting to see if I was about to witness someone die before my eyes.
He came out of the water and yelled like he’d just won the NCAA basketball championship. Over the next several minutes we all answered with a resounding “YES!” that question our moms used to ask: If your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you follow them?!
It was an incredible experience flying through the air and plunging into the water like that. I don’t remember how many times I jumped. I’ll never forget it. By God’s grace, we all returned safely. By the way, If you are a child or a teenager reading this, what we did was crazy, especially not knowing what was below the surface. I strongly don’t recommend it.
I borrowed the title above from chapter 11 in J.D. Greear’s book “Gaining By Losing.” In that chapter, J.D. tells a story that reminded me of my own story above. The point of the chapter is that many of the most important things in life involve taking a risk. There is the risk of rejection when applying for a school, asking someone out for a date, or asking someone to marry you, but most will push through the fear to take those actions anyway. Other risks we get used to such as those inherent to driving, playing sports, and using a chainsaw. Some risks we would rather avoid, but know we must eventually face, so we hand car keys to a new driver.
Somehow we have gotten the idea that following Jesus is safe and that our church experience should always be comforting and encouraging. However, the picture of the “in Christ” life in scripture is anything but safe. In the parable of the talents Jesus calls the man who played it safe wicked! Yes, the servant who did nothing with his talent was dubbed wicked! Read it for yourself in Matt. 25:26-30. J.D. quotes another of my favorite authors, John Piper, who says of the apostle Paul that:
[He] never knew where the next blow would come from. Every day he risked his life for the cause of God. The roads weren’t safe. The rivers weren’t safe. His own people, the Jews, weren’t safe. The Gentiles weren’t safe. The cities weren’t safe. The wilderness wasn’t safe. The sea wasn’t safe. Even the so-called Christian brothers weren’t safe. Safety was a mirage. It simply didn’t exist for the apostle Paul.
Piper goes on to say, “The Christian life is a call to risk. You either live with risk or waste your life.”
Those are strong words. Based on that criteria, I’ve wasted too much time. Risk taking requires active trust in God’s goodness and his ability to preserve us even as we know that we will not always be protected. See Hebrews 11:32-38 for my favorite passage that demonstrates this reality.
There are many risks God could be calling you to take. Perhaps God is calling you to help start the new group that Ben Haygood is beginning this Sunday? How about participating in our Easter outreach on April 8th at the mall? It may feel like a risk to invite a neighbor to our Easter service, or to have a gospel conversation with a co-worker, or to dive into a difficult conversation with a friend or a family member. But as another book in my library says, “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.”
Sunday, the series Making Eggs Fly continues when we will explore another reason why we would risk: the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. I’m fired up for that already!
Oh, that They Had Such a Heart as this Always March 23, 2017
It is helpful to know that the 10 commandments are found in Exodus 20. Of course, anyone could just ask Google, “Where are the 10 commandments?” and find their way there eventually. What is less well known are that the 10 commandments are recorded twice. The second, and less well known, is in today’s reading. But I want to direct your attention to a verse immediately following the giving of the 10 commandments as recorded in Deuteronomy 5:
Deuteronomy 5:22 (ESV) “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.
This would have been a terrifying sight. It is good for us to slow down here long enough to consider what is happening. Our senses are perhaps dulled by dramatic special effects in movies. It’s easy for us to read quickly over this and not notice what is here. God’s word is so sparse in its language. Here’s what I mean by that:
I was discussing with a friend a few days ago the intense detail of a couple of classic novels. He told me that in one of the novels of Proust, the author described the crumbling of a cookie for 43 pages! That’s extreme! It only goes to show, in stark contrast, the prose of the Bible, which I have tried to describe previously as written with condensed vocabulary. A hugely momentous event is described here in Deuteronomy 5:22 in only 48 words! Just to casually read through this text you might run by it and not notice the drama here. But if we slow down, pay attention, and imagine what they experienced, we too can experience something of the voice of God out of the midst of the darkness and see the mountain burning with fire! We need to feel the terror of what that would have been like for them. God doesn’t have to recreate the experience for us in our current time. The Holy Spirit is in no way limited in revealing the glory of God to us, with all the force they experienced. God will do that in you and me now if we will linger here long enough and seek to enter the event with our mind and heart.
It’s no wonder they said to Moses, “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and we survived it!” They were stunned that they were still alive, but they were also sure that they couldn’t stand any more. In verse 25 they begged Moses to go and meet God for them.
God said to Moses, of their reaction in verse 29, “Oh, that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”
As I prayed through this text, I pleaded with God to create just this sort of trembling in us. It is through this huge vision of God that we can see the grace of God as truly amazing. It is through such a big view of God that a spirit of repentance and humility is cultivated. Jesus invites those in him now to pray, “Our Father” to this same God before whom these people trembled! This passage helps us to pray intimately without losing a sense of awe.
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Sunday’s message is from John 20:11-18 and is called Get A Grip. You can see the outline here.
Countering Insanity March 16, 2017
In another place Paul said,
Philippians 3:8, 10–11 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Can you describe your daily experience as knowing the power of Jesus’ resurrection? I can’t; not all the time. Our experience would look radically different if we knew Jesus in this way, in the midst of our real lives. We need more time, more than once a year, to think about the greater implications of the resurrection.
We need fresh thinking about the fundamentals. We need the Biblical equivalent of what Vince Lombardi is reported to have said at the beginning of camp each year for his professional players, “Men, this is a football.” For believers, that may be these words from the angels spoken to the terrified disciples at the tomb, “He is risen!” Or maybe Mary Magdalene’s announcement a little later, “I have seen the Lord!”
To help us grasp that what God seeks to do in us is a transformation requiring resurrection power, I’ve titled our Easter series from a quote by C.S. Lewis. He said,
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
What God is doing in us, and what we are seeking to encourage one another to do, will be impossible in our own strength, no more effective than teaching an egg to fly. Our Easter series is called, “Teaching Eggs to Fly: Why the Resurrection Must Change Us.” This Sunday’s message is a kind of preparation before we get into four views of the resurrection in the following Sundays. It’s called Foolishness vs. God’s Will from Ephesians 5:17-21.
I’m starting the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus early this year. Will you join me?