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Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Importance of Corporate Worship

It is true that a child of God can worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23) without being at a specific physical location designed for worship. I think that it would do many of us some good to worship with our churches in a different physical location to keep us from becoming fixated on meeting God at a particular time and place. The curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom at Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:38), dramatically demonstrating that the way to God is now open for all. However, I believe that some Christ followers interpret such truths in a way that leads to a disastrously casual attitude about their own participation in corporate worship. It doesn’t matter much that we worship in a specific physical space as a church body, but it is critical, critical! that we worship God corporately. You cannot survive as a follower of Jesus without it. Satan hates you. He hates you. He wants to destroy you and everyone that you care about. If he can keep you away from corporate worship, you are a far easier target. 1 Peter 5:8 in the ESV says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” We’ve all seen episodes of National Geographic or Nature where a predator is pursuing a herd of some kind. Usually a single predator is no match for a herd. But if the predator can isolate one animal, often one younger or weaker, then the animal is easy prey.

When a person is discouraged or even depressed, there is a strong tendency to want to hide and not be around other people. Also a young person is largely at the mercy of the adults in his or her life as to whether or not they will attend worship. These two groups are the most vulnerable to be “picked off” by Satan to devour.

So, I urge you to not listen to the voice of Satan who says, “You don’t need to go to church this Sunday. You can go next week. You need the downtime more than you need to be with all those people. A lot of them are hypocrites anyway.” I’ve got news for you; we are all hypocrites to one extent or another. None of us lives up to our own ideals, let alone consistently following the instructions of scripture. Welcome to hypocrites anonymous! The church is not a museum for people who are perfectly polished works of art. The church is a hospital for sick people. The church is an organization for which to get in, you have to be willing to acknowledge that you are sick. Here’s how Jesus said it, “Repent and believe the gospel.”

Furthermore, you don’t come to church to make God like you better. You can’t make God love you more than he does right now. We need to be in worship because we all need to be reminded together that God is God and that we are not. It’s very unlikely that we will make spiritual progress without regularly sitting with other believers and hearing the gospel passionately preached from God’s word. That may be a bit out of fashion, but it is a critical part of the way God draws people to himself. (I’m not forgetting that there are some people who cannot physically get out. That’s a different issue. Also this has nothing to do with worship attendance figures at Bethany Place. I think that is going really well. Rather, the importance of corporate worship is a deep conviction of mine that it was time to share.)

This Sunday at Bethany Place I will be talking about Fighting for Joy from Psalm 42-43. One important way we do that according to that text is to worship. I am looking forward to seeing you here on Sunday as we fight for joy together. You can see the scripture and outline for that message below. I will link to the audio here on the blog when it is available next week. You can get to past sermons at Bethany Place by clicking here, or here, or by subscribing to the podcast from within Itunes.

Fighting for Joy, Learning the Language of Faith Part 3
Psalm 42:1–43:5 (ESV)

1.    Recognize that longing for the past doesn’t help
   As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
   My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
       When shall I come and appear before God?
   My tears have been my food
day and night,
       while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
   These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
       how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
       with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
   Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
       Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

2.    See the futility of complaining in the present
       My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
       from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
   Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
       all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
   By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
   I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
       Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10    As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
       while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
11    Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
       Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

3.    Pursue God in prayer and worship now
43 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people,
       from the deceitful and unjust man
deliver me!
   For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you rejected me?
       Why do I go about mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?
   Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
       let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
   Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
       and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
   Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
       Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Remembering Chuck Colson

If a person can be mentored by someone they've never met then Chuck Colson was certainly one of my mentors. I've read perhaps half the books he wrote over the years, listened to his Breakpoint broadcast occasionally, and been moved by his story and example for many years. There are several posts about him that I've read this evening. I would especially call your attention to the Thinking Christian blog by my friend Tom Gilson, three articles on Christianity Today and Ed Stetzer's post. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

A prayer to change your world

This week I am praying about and grieved over secret service agents allegedly soliciting prostitutes, soldiers posing with mutilated bodies, and an elderly mom killing her husband and son. However, it's easy to sit back and shake our heads about such actions, but not address our more “respectable sins” of subtly manipulating family members, refusing to serve those right before us, or being controlled by a need to please other people, to name a few. All of these problems, whether more "acceptable" private sins or the indiscretions of public figures in the news 24/7, share a similar source and have the same ultimate solution. The solution is the good news that Jesus died and then rose from the dead to save us from the penalty of our sin. This grace of God personally experienced satisfies the cravings of our souls that otherwise drive us toward all varieties of sin. We sin because we believe that what God offers is not enough and that we have to fight and grasp to get our needs satisfied. The solution is that we need to encounter God so strongly that we are powerfully aware that he is real, that we need him, and that his love is enough.

This Sunday at Bethany Place I will explore a text that, prayed through consistently, would so reveal the goodness of God directed toward us that it would cause significant emotional healing, leading to ever increasing benefits to those closest to you and to the world around you. You can see the scripture text and outline below.

A Prayer to Change Your World
Psalm 139:1–24 (ESV)

1.    Celebrate God’s knowledge of you
   O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
   You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
   You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
   Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
   You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

2.    Celebrate God’s presence with you
   Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
   If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
   If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10    even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11    If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12    even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

3.    Celebrate God creating you
13    For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14    I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
       Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15    My frame was not hidden from you,
       when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16    Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
       in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

4.    Celebrate God’s perspective
17    How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18    If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
19    Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20    They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
21    Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22    I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

Questions for individuals, groups, or families: 

What difference would it make for you to constantly be aware that you are known more deeply than you ever imagined?
What causes you to feel lonely? How does a person learn to not just know that God is always with them, but to believe it to the extent that they rarely sense loneliness?
What unmet needs in your life result in you reacting negatively to other people? 
How can a person learn to see things from God's perspective? 
How do you think that it would change you if you consistently prayed the prayer recorded in Psalm 139? 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Vantage Point Audio

Our tech guys have now split off just the audio from the Easter message. It can be downloaded onto your computer by right clicking the download button at this page

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Vantage Point Video

You can view the Easter message at Bethany Place here

Wrestling with Fear

Fear is an interesting physical response. The web site How Stuff Works describes it like this:
Fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing and energized muscles, among other things, also known as the fight-or-flight response. The stimulus could be a spider, a knife at your throat, an auditorium full of people waiting for you to speak or the sudden thud of your front door against the doorframe.
Some apparently find this experience enjoyable, either by reading books or watching horror movies, but few would choose the real life circumstances that induce fear. We would like to know how to deal with the experience of fear that can often be paralyzing, preventing us from doing what we know is right, or preventing us from really being able to live.

I’ve always found this verse fascinating when it comes to thinking about fear.

1 John 4:18 (ESV) 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Obviously, a greater experience of and knowing the love of God is important. But how does that happen? I believe prayer is the bridge that helps us cross from terror to really living in spite of fear inducing experiences. For a person who knows God, the scriptures give real ways of wrestling with God through fear. The primary tool for that is prayer.

This Sunday at Bethany Place I am beginning a four-week series on the subject of prayer called Learning the Language of Faith. I think that learning to pray can be very much like learning to speak a foreign language. Though according to Philip Yancey,  “. . . more Americans will pray this week than will exercise, drive a car, have sex, or go to work. Nine in ten of us pray regularly, and three out of four claim to pray every day.”  Yancey, Philip (2008-09-02). Prayer (Kindle Locations 211-213). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Many would say that prayer is really important. But how would you judge your experience with prayer? To what extent are you able to face a terrifying experience through prayer and come out the other end of that with a genuine sense of peace under circumstances that would make most people crumble? Do you hear stories about men like Martin Luther or George Mueller who literally prayed for 3-4 hours per morning and just shake your head saying, “How?” if not, “Why?”

I will conduct this short investigation from the book of Psalms. I think that we underestimate the potential of learning how to pray through the use of this book. This collection of songs and prayers covers nearly every imaginable human emotion and gives real life examples of a how person lives life with God.

You can see the text and outline of Sunday’s message below.

Wrestling with Fear

Psalm 56, April 15, 2012, Bethany Place Baptist Church

1.    Ask for grace

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.

2.    Preach to yourself

When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

10  In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
11  in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

3.    Be specific and intense

All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

4.    Know that experience with God builds faith

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.

5.    Obey God in response to his grace

12  I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
13  For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God

Questions for individuals, families, or groups
What do you fear? How do you deal with fear? Are you able to admit when you are fearful? 
What is the difference between complaining and telling God what troubles you?
What do you think that it means to preach to yourself? What do you need to preach to yourself? 
In what ways can you use scripture to learn to pray? Do you know of specific scriptures that address your unique fears? How can you discover them?
How could scripture memory help you preach to yourself?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Vantage Point

I grew up in a Christian home in the mountains of Southeastern Kentucky. We had bibles and books about the bible around all the time. My mom was the music director of our church and is still involved in that. My dad was and is a S.S. teacher, deacon and occasional lay preacher. I remember the first time my faith was shaken in whether or not I could believe what the Bible said. For some reason I had picked up a bible commentary and starting reading it. (I don’t remember why, I was a normal kid, I played all kinds of sports, rode bikes, and played with other kids. It was a time where you would leave the house early in the morning and your parents would see you when they called you in for supper that evening.) The commentary pointed out that there were differences in the accounts of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. This troubled me. Did that mean that it was all made up? Were we all pretending to believe something that wasn’t true?

What I didn’t understand at the time was that the very thing that was bothering me, was actually evidence for the authenticity of the accounts in the bible. Let me explain. In 2008 the movie Vantage Point depicted the fictional president of the U.S. appearing in Salamanca, Spain to give a speech on counterterrorism. During the speech, there is an attempt on his life. The movie then plays the same scene over and over from various vantage points of different people close to the experience. They all saw the same event, no one disputed the ultimate nature of what happened; the person playing the president was shot, but there were differences in the details that they saw based on various factors. That’s the way eyewitness testimony works. People see the same event from various perspectives that are affected by lots of different variables.

So regarding Jesus’ resurrection, if the gospel accounts lined up with precision in the details, like jars of mayonnaise on an assembly line, that would give evidence of collusion, of people fabricating a story and making sure that they’ve got all their details straight. But that’s not how the gospels read. There are differences. But the central fact remains; Jesus rose from the dead. And there are many other evidences that follow that cannot be explained any other way.

Are you prepared to honestly deal with your own questions about the faith? Are you prepared to handle the questions of a young person that you care about whether in your home or out, who like me, encountered information that put questions in their minds about whether or not they could trust the Bible? If we react defensively to such questions, it could further aggravate a young person’s doubt. It is critical that we learn to live in a world of wildly competing ideas, thought systems and faith claims. I believe that the church is the hope of the world. That is right, along with its inconsistencies and hypocrisies; I believe that the church is the hope of the world! To quote Chuck Colson, ironically recorded at the beginning of the old Steven Curtis Chapman song Heaven in the Real World, “the hope that each of us has is not in who governs us, or in what laws are passed, or what great things we do as a nation, our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country, and that’s where our hope is in life.” For us as persons, in our communities, in our nation, and in this world we have to be able ourselves, and be able to help young people to know how to think well, using the best tools available to be able to answer objections that they will surely encounter through friends, through entertainment, news, education or all of the above.

We will explore this further as we celebrate Easter together at Bethany Place this Sunday. I hope you to see you here. You can see a preview of Sunday’s scripture and outline below. Hopefully, we will have the audio posted early in the week, because the outline by itself is not going to tell you a whole lot.

Vantage Point
Mark 15:42-16:8

See the evidence for Jesus death
Mark 15:40–47 (ESV) 40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Note the absence of flourish
Mark 16:1–8 (ESV) When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Questions for individuals, groups, or families:
What level of confidence do you have in the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus?
How often do you think about the reality of the resurrection? Do you see that as real knowledge about the world? What practical difference does it make in the world right now? 
To what extent could you withstand a direct attack on your faith by someone who did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus? If there are young people in your life that you care about, to what extent could they articulate reasons for confidence in what the bible says about this? What implications should this issue have for our ministries as a church?

New message series begins at Bethany Place on Sunday, April 15.
Prayer: Learning the Language of Faith
April 15: Prayer and Fear--Psalm 56
April 22: Prayer and Confession--Psalm 139
April 29: Prayer and Desperation--Psalm 42
May 6: Prayer and Perspective--Psalm 96