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Friday, July 27, 2012

Unity and Spiritual Progress

You can listen to the audio or watch the video of the message from that service on the Bethany Place website

I’ve been thinking hard about the connection between unity and spiritual progress. Throughout the book of Philippians Paul takes pains to challenge his hearers to intentionally work at their unity. If the relational well being of one believer to another was not a big deal I don’t think the scriptures would talk so much about it. However, those challenges are frequently present in the biblical text. 

In the the book of Philippians in chapter one Paul speaks about his deep affection for the people and he challenges them to continuously grows in their love for each other 
Philippians 1:7–9 (ESV) It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,
Chapter 2 contains these familiar words
Philippians 2:2–4 (ESV) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Again in chapter 4 Paul persists in challenging the Philippians to give full diligence to dealing with relational challenges among them. 
Philippians 4:2–3 (ESV) I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Given this emphasis, i’ve titled the sermon series on Philippians that I’m beginning Sunday, Unity Under Fire. Paul was in prison so he was under pressure. He was clearly delighted with the Philippians but concerned that they keep aiming at unity so that their good progress would not be derailed. 

Here is my outline and questions for Sunday’s message at Bethany Place. 

Ready, Set, Go
Unity and Spiritual Progress
Philippians 2:12-18
Unity Under Fire: Part 1

1. Intentionally work hard
Philippians 2:12–13 (ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

2. Adopt the proper attitude
Philippians 2:14–16 (ESV)14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

3. Follow leaders willing to suffer
Philippians 2:16–18 (ESV) 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Questions for further discussion
  • How do you think the phrase, “for it is God who works in you,” helps explain Paul challenging the Philippians to “work out their salvation?”
  • What are some of the implications of the phrase, “for it is God who works in you?”  
  • How do you understand the difference between your responsibility to pursue spiritual progress and God’s role in causing it to come about?
  • How seriously do you think Paul means, “do all things without grumbling or disputing?” How would your life be different if you did not complain about anything ever?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Need to Feed

Recently I was pounding hard on this text, searching hard to understand it's meaning: 
Philippians 2:12–13 (ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 
My thinking and writing about the text reminded me of a story I heard Bill Hybels tell years ago about being asked to visit with Billy Graham and then being asked by Graham after having visited for a while to "feed" him, to speak to him from scripture. Billy Graham is perhaps the most well known Christian ever outside of the apostles, having ministered all over the world in his long career. Yet he longed for a man 30 years his junior to minister the word to him.

You will never outgrow the need for hearing the word of God preached, for being in fellowship with other believers, to worship and to submit to the life of a church body. However, that does not mean that we are to stay dependent on a high powered spiritual leader to keep us moving in the right direction. 

I'm still working on the greater implications of this text and looking forward to preaching on it this week.

What are your thoughts about the need to intentionally submit yourself to the leadership and teaching ministry of a strong church?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Return to Me Sermon Audio and Video

You can listen to the audio for the message on Hosea 11 called Return to Me here. You can watch the video here. This was the final message in the series, Shock and Awe, which I've been doing in the last few weeks at Bethany Place.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Return to Me: Outline and discussion questions

Below is the outline for the final message in the series, Shock and Awe.

Return to Me
Hosea 11
Shock and Awe, Part 4

1.    Allow God’s kindness to provoke you to repentance

Hosea 11:1–4 (ESV)
11 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
   The more they were called,
the more they went away;
       they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.
   Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
   I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love,
       and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
and I bent down to them and fed them.

2.    Distinguish between true and false repentance

Hosea 11:5–7 (ESV)
   They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
but Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
   The sword shall rage against their cities,
consume the bars of their gates,
and devour them because of their own counsels.
   My people are bent on turning away from me,
and though they call out to the Most High,
he shall not raise them up at all.

3.    See God’s character in greater fullness

Hosea 11:8–11 (ESV)
   How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
       How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
       My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
   I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
       for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
10    They shall go after the Lord;
he will roar like a lion;
       when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west;
11    they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria,
and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.

Questions for further exploration of the text:
  • Would you agree that our tendency is to rebel against God? Why or why not? 
  • How would you define repentance? What would you say is the difference between true repentance and false repentance? 
  • How can the great tenderness expressed in this passage exist along side the warnings of much of the rest of the book of Hosea? 
  • What role does God’s kindness have in our repentance? See Romans 2:4
  • Why do you think its important to grow in the knowledge of all of God’s character? What might be the dangers in emphasizing God's love and compassion without considering his righteousness and justice?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Scandalous View of the Love of God Preview

Perhaps you’ve heard all your life that God loves you. But this can be true and you still struggle to know that love. You need to drink it in so that it seeps into every fiber of your soul, into what makes you tick as a person. We all need a full immersion in the love of God, so that there is no part of your being that isn’t touched by that love. Hosea 3 provides just such an experience. 

I'm continuing the message series from the book of Hosea at Bethany Place this Sunday. You can read about the first message in the series here and the second message hereI will post a link to the audio of Sunday's message when it becomes a available. 
A Scandalous View of the Love of God
Hosea 3
Shock and Awe, Part 3

1.    Grasp God’s persistent love

Hosea 3:1 (ESV) And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”

2.    Contemplate what loving you costs God

Hosea 3:2–3 (ESV) So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”

3.    Turn to God in repentance and worship

Hosea 3:4–5 (ESV) For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

Here are some questions to help you further explore the text

How would you answer this question: "God wants me to be happy, doesn’t he?”
God asked Hosea to do something that was very difficult. What other evidence do you see that God asks people to do hard things? 
What sort of sin do you judge as is the absolute worst in the mind of God?
What does this text say about the seriousness of our sin against God?
Who do you believe is responsible for your interest in God? Your initiative to pursue God or God’s initiative to pursue you? What evidence can you give to back up your answer?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

True and false repentance

Hosea 11:5 (ESV)
They shall not return to the land of Egypt, 
but Assyria shall be their king, 
because they have refused to return to me.

May God give us the desire to consistently return to him. There is the possibility of false repentance, that makes a show of returning to God because of some sort of difficulty. However, real repentance is not a desire to feel better, but a desire to be with God. That's a critical distinction. The Israelites were in  danger of experiencing God's judgement because, though at times they made a show of repenting, they were actually refusing to return to God.

May God grant us the ability to sense when we are moving away from him and be quick to fully return to him. Not to feel better, that's a side benefit, but to be with God. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rough Notes from message on Hosea 1

I've had a few people inquire about last Sunday morning's message at Bethany Place. The audio recording failed. So I am reluctantly posting my very rough notes for those who may want to read them. I am reluctant to post these notes for several reasons.
  1. They are a few steps removed from what happened in the service. My preparation process involves writing out what I sense God leading me to say from the the study of the text. But then I work to condense that writing into short bullet points, all the while sharpening the focus. This document represents the beginning of the creation of the bullet points. A lot of further sharpening took place. Also, what happens live in a service is quite different from what's in my notes.
  2. Generally these notes are for my eyes only so they are not good writing. I once did a message on Evolution & Creation and a teenager in our church wanted my notes to share with an atheist friend. I sent them to her and she forwarded them to him. The atheist student then ridiculed the quality of my writing telling me that it might get a C in his high school English class! Well maybe, if the teacher was feeling generous! This writing is part of a process that never gets to polished writing. As such it could be very hard to follow. Some thoughts are incomplete. Often the flow is not good from one thought to the next. Such things get cleaned up in later revisions. 
  3. I address a couple of controversial issues in this message that could be taken out of context. Live speech creates the opportunity to explain, and put just the write stress on what I am addressing. Of course, I can do this in writing, but since a writing product is not the final goal, this writing does not represent the best thinking on the subject.
So with those caveats, if you are still interested you can find my notes here

If you do make it through to the end, please leave a comment here on the blog.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Addressing Loneliness through Biblical Fellowship

I want you to imagine progressive steps in the way we talk with each other from the most basic to the most personal. We move from saying things like "Hi, how are you," or "good to see you," to speaking facts such as, "I work at Chil-fil-a," or "I am from Kentucky," or "I am single, or divorced, or married,"  Taking a little more risk we express opinions or share ideas. An example might be, "have you seen the new Spiderman movie, it's really good," or, "I don't really agree with what you are saying." That's pretty honest. Finally we move toward revealing our hearts in saying such things as, "It meant a great deal to me that you brought me food when I was sick." or, "I am so worried about losing my job, will you please pray with me." 

What level of communication do you expect to reach when you attend worship? What are your expectations? Occasionally I've encountered a person who attended that really didn't seem to want anyone to speak to them, but i think that's pretty rare. The odds are that a person will not continue to attend a church or any other such gathering if they don't begin over time to make some real connections. On the other hand, many attend, hoping and praying that someone will help them to address their desperate loneliness.

It is true that what we need more than anything is to encounter God in worship and to experience his presence. However, most people will not consistently be able to do that in a church where they really don't have a connection with anyone.

With all that in mind I challenge you to consider these steps to a more intentional approach toward what God intends for Biblical fellowship:
  • Pray that God would use you to encourage and to relieve loneliness for at least one person when you attend.
  • Arrive early enough to get some coffee and take the risk to move conversations beyond the surface.
  • Look people in the eye and make a real effort to learn names.
  • Deliberately sit with people, especially someone who seems to be alone. 
  • Attend a small group environment where you can invest more deeply in people. 
  • Find a way to serve. There are few better ways to connect with people than to roll up your sleeves next to someone and serve alongside them.
I once heard a pastor say that Biblical fellowship is, "to love and be loved, to know and be known, to serve and to be served, to celebrate and be celebrated."

What suggestions do you have for how we can better pursue this vision of Biblical fellowship? I would love to hear about them in the comments section below.