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Friday, August 31, 2012

Do This, Not That

While away on vacation I had the opportunity to watch the Cincinnati Bengals practice in Paul Brown stadium where they play their home games right on the Ohio River. I’ve never attended a professional football game. I’ve seen a lot of professional baseball and many college football games, but never professional football. I was fascinated by the organization of their practice. Granted it was a public practice, but it was orchestrated like a military strike. Every 10 minutes an air horn would blow then players and other personnel would scatter in all directions, but literally within 1 minute, new drills would start, including the full running of plays. Having played the game, coached youth teams, and led adults in many circumstances, I know it’s not easy to organize people to work so well together, no matter what they are doing.

I’m not sure what the appeal of football is, but for me it has to do with the overcoming of obstacles, especially for a person carrying the ball. It fascinates me to watch the lengths to which a player will go to score who can see the goal line. The nearness of the goal creates a whole new level of intensity that causes players to throw their bodies around with abandon to score.

In Philippians 4, Paul speaks of the nearness of a goal to motivate both his readers and us. Sunday I will conclude the sermon series Unity Under Fire from Philippians. Paul wrote a personal letter to this small church in the city of Philippi. He wrote from prison where he was likely chained hands and feet. Sometimes in these Romans prisons there would be another chain that would go from the feet to the neck. Then there would be a chain from somewhere on their body to a pole to limit their movement further. Laws were written against having those chains too short, which means sometimes prisoners did experience that. The environment was dark and damp. No windows. There would have been rats and other such critters. There were no provisions to speak of for sanitation. And prisoners were together in close quarters, men and women. What could possibly keep someone moving, someone going in the midst of such tremendous difficulty? Paul spoke of a goal that motivated him, that would motivate them, and will motivate you and me to live with passion and eliminate distractions that would hinder us from reaching that goal.

You can see the scripture, outline, and discussion questions below. You can watch or listen to the message on the Bethany Place website.

Do This, Not That
Philippians 4:1-9
Unity Under Fire, Part 5

1.     See your teammates as partners in the gospel

Philippians 4:1–5 (ESV) Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
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.

2.     Live with anticipation of the ultimate goal

Philippians 4:6–7 (ESV)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

3.     Model a ruthless focus on what is good

Philippians 4:8–9 (ESV)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Questions for further thought or discussion
How would you describe laboring in the gospel? How would thinking of yours and others service in this way promote unity?
How would a strong belief that Jesus could return any moment help feed unity?
How does experiencing God’s peace through prayer effect unity?
What steps can you take to train your mind to look for what is good and true in other people?
Who is counting on you to model a positive focus that leads to unity and joy?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rooted and Grounded

You can see our effort to do post as a video message here. Try not to laugh.

I am sitting in Kat’s parent’s backyard in Knob Creek, KY. Kat grew up here in Bullitt County. Just over the hill there is Fort Knox. 20 miles to the north is Louisville. 10 miles west is the Ohio River. This house is in a rural part of the county; there is no cell signal. I was first on this piece of land 31 years ago, in the summer of 1981. I was singing with a small mission team in a church in New Albany, Indiana, just across the river. Kat and I had met a few months earlier at Cumberland College, now University of the Cumberlands. I was scheduled to drive here and pick her up and take her with me to the concert, but I couldn't find the house. That wouldn’t happen now with a cell phone and a GPS, but at the time I could neither call her nor call back to the church to say I was lost. Eventually I found my way back to the church, but was 20 minutes late for the service, which had everyone concerned. They were publicly praying for me, hoping I hadn’t been in an accident. I was distracted throughout the concert because I had no way of letting Kat know where I was and why I hadn't picked her up. After the concert, I called Kat and explained what had happened, and being young, drove back down here to see her.

It's good to remember stories. I enjoy coming here, returning to where we grew up and reconnecting with family members. However, all of this can be taken away. So while enjoying visiting with family very much, I am looking beyond what this gives to what cannot be taken away. Paul prayed:

Ephesians 3:16–19 (ESV) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

I know some of your stories; you are learning a few of mine. But regardless of whether you have such a place as this, with family still around, and whether your stories provoke grief or joy, your ultimate security is found in being rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.

Kat and I can't wait to get back home to Richmond so we can pursue being rooted and grounded in the love of Christ together. After worshiping with my parents on Sunday in the church I grew up in, we will drive back to Richmond. I plan to be in the office Monday morning, and look forward to seeing you soon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Unity Under Fire, Audio and Video

New audio and video has posted from two weeks of messages series from Philippians at Bethany Place called Unity Under Fire.

Ready, Set, Go, Philippians 2:12-18, Audio and Video
A Vision of Community, Philippians 2:19-30, Audio and Video

Recordings of the most recent and 3rd part of the series will be available soon. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Soccer, Serving, and Church Membership

This post was originally an email to the church body at Bethany Place but it applies well beyond our church.

I have enjoyed watching the Olympics in the past couple of weeks. I learned, to my surprise, that I enjoy watching soccer. You soccer fanatics will have to forgive me but I’m still figuring out the game. I didn’t learn a lot watching Will and Hannah play amoeba ball when they were young. You know what amoeba ball is: 22 six years olds chasing a soccer ball around the field wherever it goes. Plus, we didn’t have soccer at my school back in the Dark Ages. Basketball, football, and baseball were it. So back to the Olympics, of course, there are lots of individual sports to watch, but I enjoy the team sports more. It’s fascinating to watch a group of people working together, interacting in real time. I love the intensity on their faces, the skill in which they operate, and the excitement when they score. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like the celebration that occurs when someone scores in soccer. It’s nothing like the strutting antics that somehow has become professional football in this country. It’s seems less about the individual and more about the team. 

That image of a gifted soccer team; everyone playing hard with passion and skill reminds me of the words of Romans 12:3-8 (ESV):
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
The Bible makes clear that God assigned you a function within his church and gifted you with special abilities called spiritual gifts, to enable you to effectively contribute to the team, the church. These concepts are not easy to grasp as Americans because we are so individualistic, we don’t think much of our responsibility toward other believers. There are other places in scripture that make it clear that not only has God gifted you, given you a function, and expects you to serve, but that the actual gifts God has given you, don’t belong to you. They belong to the church and you and I have no right to withhold them. God intends for you to serve with passion, with joy, and with skill. Your abilities may need to be developed, but if you genuinely belong to God, then you have at least one spiritual gift which for which he will hold you accountable. 

Serving within the organized ministries of the church is not the only way for you to exercise your God given spiritual gifts, but a fair treatment of the biblical material on this subject seems to require the conclusion that everyone is responsible to serve in some clear way through their own local church. This is one of reasons I believe church membership is critically important. It’s not exactly the same thing, but trying to serve Christ without being connected to a local church body is like saying, “I want to play soccer but I just want to do it by myself.” You may kick the ball around a bit, but it’s not much of the real experience of playing soccer.

So for God’s sake get in the game. We can help you discover your spiritual gifts and where you might best fit on the team. That’s what our class 301 is for, which will be coming up soon. In the meantime we are working to clarify our various ministries to be sure that you are aware of current needs as well as how you can get connected and get involved. 

This Sunday, I’m continuing the message series from the book of Philippians called Unity Under Fire. This message is called The Arithmetic of Joy from Philippians 3:1-11. This text clarifies a fundamental misunderstanding with which most of us struggle. I urge you to be reading over that text and pray that God will open all of our eyes to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus (our) Lord.”  You can see the scripture, outline, and discussion questions for this message below. No audio exists for this sermon.

The Arithmetic of Joy
Phil. 3:1-11
Unity Under Fire 2

1.    See the equation that leads to joy

Philippians 3:1–3 (ESV) Finally,  my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

2.    Identify what you truly value

Philippians 3:4–6 (ESV) though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

3.    Rework the problem with the correct values

Philippians 3:7–11 (ESV) But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Questions for further exploration
Do you think joy is connected to unity? If so, how?
How would you define self-righteousness?
What evidence do you see that our natural tendency is toward self-righteousness?
What are you depending on to make you right with God?
Do you see a difference in believing in God and knowing God?
What do you think it means to know Christ and the power of his resurrection?
How would you describe Paul’s desire to share in Christ’s sufferings? In what sense is God calling you to do that?

Monday, August 6, 2012

The value of taking risks

This morning I read Michael Hyatt’s post on the value of frequently pushing past your comfort zone. Yesterday I preached from Phil. 2:19-30 where Paul said of Epaphroditus, “he nearly died, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your care to me.” Recently I read Fearless, the tremendous story of the life of Navy Seal Adam Brown. After all this, I find myself wanting to add a step to my daily disciplines called, “Take a Risk.”

If I/we don't do this we are in danger of obsessing over comfort and safety. It's not bad to be smart about real dangers. I’m grateful for seat belts, smoke alarms, and surge protectors. I don’t want to take foolhardy risks. However, I think its possible that along with the onslaught of commercials we hear, most of which appeal to our desire to be comfortable or to serve ourselves in some manner, we are lulled into not risking anything.

Hyatt suggests that pushing past your comfort zone is important because:
  • This is where growth happens.
  • This is where the solutions are.
  • This is where fulfillment resides.
I want all of those things but more important to me is to be alert to the call of God.

So how often do you take risks? What comfort zone do you need to bust out of that’s holding you back? How is God calling you to live more dangerously? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Vision of Community Preview

On Sunday at Bethany Place, I’m continuing the message series from Philippians called Unity Under Fire with a message from Phil. 2:19-30 called, A Vision for Community. It’s a powerful text for us to hold up to our lives as a mirror. I’m praying it will prompt soul searching that will provoke a fresh expressions of community. You can see the scripture and outline below.

A Vision of Community
Philippians 2:19-30
Unity Under Fire, Part 2

1.    Develop profound interdependence

Philippians 2:19–21 (ESV)19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

2.    Persevere through hardship in serving the body

Philippians 2:22–30 (ESV) 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

3.    Intentionally cultivate gospel based relationships

Philippians 2:19, 23-25, 29 (ESV)
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.
23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,
29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,

Questions for further exploration
1.       How wide is the circle of people whose well-being affects your well being?
2.       Is it possible to be genuinely concerned for the welfare of others when you are overwhelmed with problems yourself? Is it possible that part of the way God will alleviate your own grief is by directing you to alleviate the suffering of others?
3.       How would you describe the level of community you see in this passage?
4.       In what sense are we to honor people who suffer through their ministry? 
5.       How is the love and longing displayed in this passage developed?

Self-Esteem, Pride, and Humility

I’ve not been able to sleep tonight so I gave up and started reading. I read a short book (I’m not sure it should be called a book, I read it in 40 minutes on my phone) called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller. It is a brilliant little piece of writing that I would like to get as many as I can to read it. It's based on 1 Corinthians 3:21–4:7

Here is one of several passages I highlighted from the book.
When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them. They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. Sounds idealistic? The more we get to understand the gospel, the more we want to change. Friends, wouldn’t you want to be a person who does not need honour – nor is afraid of it? Someone who does not lust for recognition – nor, on the other hand, is frightened to death of it? Don’t you want to be the kind of person who, when they see themselves in a mirror or reflected in a shop window, does not admire what they see but does not cringe either? Wouldn’t you like to be the type of person who, in their imaginary life, does not sit around fantasizing about hitting self-esteem home-runs, daydreaming about successes that gives them the edge over others? Or perhaps you tend to beat yourself up and to be tormented by regrets. Wouldn’t you like to be free of them? Wouldn’t you like to be the skater who wins the silver, and yet is thrilled about those three triple jumps that the gold medal winner did? To love it the way you love a sunrise? Just to love the fact that it was done? For it not to matter whether it was their success or your success. Not to care if they did it or you did it. You are as happy that they did it as if you had done it yourself – because you are just so happy to see it. 

Keller, Timothy (2012-04-01). The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (Kindle Locations 298-308). 10Publishing. Kindle Edition.

That may seem impossible but he clearly describes how this is possible in spite of the fact that we may not know anyone who really lives this way.

In addition to being a strong word to me, the book would also work as an extended gospel tract. It is classic Keller, meaning it does a really good job of preaching the gospel in such a way that it speaks profoundly to believers and unbelievers alike.

Right now, and probably always, its 99 cents on Kindle. Most of you know this, but in case you don’t, you don’t have to own a Kindle to read Kindle books. You just need a computer or a smartphone of some type. You can find out how to do that here. But you can also get a paperback for $5. I think I may get a few of these to give away. It might even be worth giving as a gift to first time guests. I’m always on the lookout for something like that. 

These are not affiliate links, meaning there's no monetary benefit to me. That's a very legitimate thing for bloggers to do. it's just not what I'm doing. I like the book and I hope you will read it, that's it. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Unity and Spiritual Progress (Ready, Set, Go) Audio and Video

We had a great day this past Sunday at Bethany Place. You can listen to the audio or watch the video of the message from that service on our website. You can see the scripture, outline, and discussion questions for this message here.