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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Paradox of Fighting Opposition

Sunday at Bethany Place I will conclude the messages series Confidence: A Study of Romans 8. 

The Paradox of Fighting Opposition
Romans 8:31-39
Confidence: A Study of Romans, Conclusion

Fight opposition by  

1. Actively resting in God’s grace and provision
Romans 8:31–34 (ESV)
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Celebration of the Lord's Supper

2. Placing the greatest value on knowing the love of Christ
Romans 8:35–39 (ESV)
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
       “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Questions for further thought or discussion:
  • What do you think Paul means to include in the “all things” of verse 32?
  • How could verse 32 encourage you to be more specific in praying for the things that you need to be able to honor God with your life?
  • What does it mean to be “more than conquerors”?
  • Do you see the list of hard things in verses 35-39 as only hypothetical or to be expected in the life of the believer?
  • How does a person learn to so value the love of Christ that they are confident in spite of all the suffering they face?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


(This is part two in a series, you can see part 1 here

Confessing sin and asking for forgiveness is an important part of daily prayer. This is so, If for no other reason, because Jesus included it as part of the Lord’s prayer. 
Matthew 6:12 (ESV)  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
There is a sense in which Christ followers are forgiven of all sin at the moment of salvation. That is justification. But forgiveness is one of many aspects of the Christian experience that has an already/not yet aspect to it. That is, believers experience forgiveness of sins and are made positionally clean before the Lord at the moment of salvation. However, we still sin and still need to confess and ask for forgiveness. This is not a contradiction to the first aspect . Then in the end, we will be completely saved from sin, at the moment of glorification, when we will be made fully like Jesus, as alluded to in 1 John:
1 John 3:2 (ESV) Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
There are many places in scripture to turn for help in prompting confession. I provide many for you here. One of the most well known is 1 John 1:9:
1 John 1:9 (ESV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This is unambiguous. God calls us, invites us, to confess our sins. To confess sin means to agree with God about our sin, to say the same thing about our sin as God says about it. If we do this, then God is faithful. He will act, he will be true to his word. He is also just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. How can God be just in doing this? Is this tied to our ability to remember all our sins and meticulously confess them? No. God is just in forgiving us because of what Paul explains here in Romans. 
Romans 8:3–4 (ESV)For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Part of the transaction of coming to faith in Christ as Jesus takes upon himself our sin is that we get credit for the perfect life Jesus lived. The righteous requirements of the law have been fulfilled in us through Jesus life and death. God is just, perfectly true to his nature in forgiving us only on the basis of Christ.

Here’s an example of my own confession: (it may seem lame, but i was genuinely convicted about this)
O God, I have sinned in the way I have handled this very post I am writing now. I promised this weeks ago. I am grieved at promising more than I can deliver. I am grieved by my inconsistency. I am troubled by my lack of ability to follow through as you have called me to do, to be faithful. I confess to you my sin. I plead for your forgiveness. Please cleanse me. Wash me O God, you are the one I need. 
Here’s a process for confession:
  •  Choose one passage from this list
  •  Read it silently, out loud, or my favorite, rewrite it.
  •  Confess sin which the passage prompts or which I remember.
  • Ask for forgiveness using some of the rich biblical language for this (listed here)
  •  Probe for un-forgiveness in me and seek God’s help in forgiving
  •  Move to thanksgiving for God’s amazing grace in forgiving me.

I’d love to hear about your experience with these prayer helps or your own practice of confession.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Of Oreos and Living Generously

For two months now, I’ve been using an app on my phone called Lose It. (It also works on a computer, and I’m sure you could do the same thing with pencil and paper, if you remember how to add.) You probably know that one strategy for losing weight is to write down everything you eat. Something about doing that has a way of restraining bad habits. “Lose it” makes a game of that for me. I have a goal of not having my waist size equal my age. To reach that, I have a daily calorie target to keep me on track. When I get close to reaching my target for the day, it makes me think twice about eating half a bag of Oreos. In two months, I’ve lost 10 pounds. I still eat ice cream, hamburgers, French fries, pizza, cookies, and candy; it’s just that now I’m not usually doing all of that on the same day.

Why am I telling you this? Fully experiencing and understanding the good news of Jesus will provoke us to generosity. However, some of us are so undisciplined in our spending, kind of like me with eating, that we have little ability to be generous. I suspect something similar to writing down everything we eat, works with managing money; writing down everything we spend. Maybe that is a no brainer but I’ve tried to wing it financially with less than stellar results. Online banking and bill pay makes it possible to nearly set your finances on autopilot. Notice I said nearly. What actually happens, I know this from experience, is that your bank account gets skinny and your debts get fat. (Don’t get me wrong, creditors love us. We keep our bills paid. Also, we give a full tithe to our church, but we've often been hindered from doing much more.) The gospel will move you to living more sensibly, not so you buy more stuff for yourself but so you can bless others and meet other needs. But in our culture, with so many ways to spend money, if you don’t have an intentional plan to be disciplined to follow where God is aiming you, you will be greatly hindered from doing so.

After taking a few weeks off from the vision series, I’m wrapping that up Sunday with a message tilted Grace and Generosity. It’s probably dangerous to announce in advance that I’m preaching on this subject, but it’s really not about the money. I believe following God’s word in this area is an important key to our ability to influence the world. So I urge you to be there Sunday, or to listen online if you live elsewhere. This is not just about Bethany Place. This need is for God’s people everywhere.

You can see the scripture and outline for the message below.

Grace and Generosity
2 Corinthians 8:1-14

1.    Evaluate your experience of grace
2 Corinthians 8:1–5 (ESV) We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

2.    Make a plan for expressing generosity
2 Corinthians 8:6–8 (ESV) Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

3.    Keep preaching the gospel to yourself
2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Praise of a Long Season of Preparation

One of the reasons I love what I do is the effect that the effort to prepare to preach has on me. This work of rigorous studying is both incredibly challenging and deeply precious. By God's grace, a huge amount of the time of my preparation in scripture is a real encounter with God through his word that leaves me in a very different state than where I began. I think that my unusual path to my current role may have contributed positively to my approach to study.  It seems possible that if I had served as a pastor from the very beginning of my ministry that I may have developed bad habits in sermon preparation that caused it to become something I just had to get done. As it happened, the opportunities came slowly, especially in the early years. Then in the last 15 or so years, I began preaching about 20 times per year. That was enough to develop experience and confidence but still left plenty of time for reflection on the experience and continued tweaking of the process. Now I have the incredible blessing and huge responsibility to stand before people weekly. I'm very, very grateful for God's grace to me in calling me to do this.

This quote below gives a glimpse into what preparing to preach is supposed to be like and by God's grace often is for me.
As preachers of the Word, then, we begin by receiving the Word as it is "preached" to us. We will preach to the minds of the sheep as we allow our own minds to be preached to. That means that during our preparation, we come to the text less interested in what we will be saying about the text to others the next Lord's Day and more interested in what the text is saying to us on that day. (italics mine)

quote is from R. Albert Mohler Jr.;James Montgomery Boice;Derek W. H. Thomas;Joel R. Beeke;R. C. Sproul;R. C. Sproul Jr.;Sinclair B. Ferguson;Don Kistler;Eric J. Alexander;John Piper;John MacArthur. Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching (p. 97). Kindle Edition.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Name Calling

Occasionally in addition to reading a news story on the web, I will read beyond that to the comments that people make about the story. It the story has anything to do with people of faith or moral issues, It's not terribly unusual to encounter a person who would claim to be an athiest calling anyone of faith a "religious wacko." It's an attempt to dismiss any thought coming from a person of faith as not worthy of being considered. It's intellectually lazy to just insult a person instead of engaging an idea and debating it fairly.

I'm wondering if I should start trying to engage such comments. I suspect it would just trigger a load of verbal abuse. But I'm intrigued by the challenge of attempting to reason calmly with such a person. Perhaps that's not possible online. My friend Tom Gilson deals with this often on his blog Thinking Christian so I'd sure be interested in his thoughts.

 I came accross this verse this morning and I'm wondering what would happen if I just started posting this verse as a response to the "religious wacko" comment, with the hope of engaging the person in a "conversation:"

1 Samuel 2:3 (ESV)
 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.  

What do you think? Have you encountered such reactions online or perhaps even in person? What is the right response? 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Adoration and Assurance

An important key to walking faithfully with God in the midst of difficulties, disappointments, and struggles we face is to be able to sense the Holy Spirit within us reminding us that we belong to him. This past Sunday at Bethany Place, I promised I would write what God has taught me over the years regarding how to place myself in a position where I was able to sense the Holy Spirit speaking to me in this way, thus feeding my assurance that I belonged to Him.

You can see the guide that has served as my daily blueprint for prayer for more than twenty years here. After many years prior often wondering if I really belonged to God, taking up these practices consistently enabled me to sense that I belonged to God.  The power of the guide is in the scriptures it lists that can provoke adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication and intercession. Over the next few days I plan to write about each of these elements of prayer and how to use the guide.

Concerning Adoration
Jesus said that true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). God’s word feeds the truth side of that equation. In time, praying scriptures that reveal God generates real affection for God.

Each day I choose one passage from the adoration section. Then I use that to guide my worship and adoration of God. For instance Psalm 111 begins like this:

Psalm 111:1–3 (ESV)
111  Praise the Lord!
       I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
   Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
   Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.

Prompted by these lines I would pray something like this: “I praise you O Lord. I give thanks to you with my whole heart. I will give thanks to you in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Your works are great, O Lord. They are studied and meditated on by all who delight in them. Your work is full of splendor and majesty and your righteousness endures forever.”

Mostly what I have done here is to turn the language to first person so I am expressing it directly to God. I may write that out in my computer, say it out aloud, pray it quietly, or write it in a notebook. Usually I would move through the whole Psalm allowing it to provoke my prayer of adoration. In this way, I’m directed to actual truth about who God is, rather than just praying out of what is in my head. There will be plenty of opportunity to pray when I can’t look at scripture. When I can use scripture though, I want to take advantage of that so because I want my mind continually transformed by scripture. Since God is infinite, that means our knowledge of him is always incomplete. There are many nuances to getting to know a human being who is finite, getting to know God, and learning to delight in that knowledge of him will never cease to fascinate us throughout all eternity. Praying the scriptures ensures that we are worshipping God in accordance with the truth.

As I have practiced this over the years I recognized that over time, real affection for God began to be generated in my soul. In my earlier years I remember being troubled that it didn’t seem that I had much real affection for God. It’s hard to love someone you don’t know well. Through the years as I’ve prayed daily over the character of God as revealed in scripture, my heart began to awaken to the glory of God. It is clear to me that I have only begun to scratch the surface, but what I have begun to see of God is transforming me in a way no other experience has. This particular part of prayer, along with the actual study of scripture has generated the greatest overall change in my soul, at least from what I can tell. Over the next days, I will reflect on each aspect of this prayer experience and post them on my blog.

Will you sign up to receive email notifications from my blog so you will receive these? You can do that near the top of this page. Just below the picture is a place you can enter an email address where you would like to receive new posts. I would be so grateful to know that I could speak to you in this way.