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Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Essential Vice

Long quotes never seem to work in a sermon. Nothing seems to cause people's eyes to glaze over faster than for me to launch into a lengthy quote. I can almost tangibly sense people checking out on me. So here are some quotes I'd love to share tomorrow, but I will only summarize what I sense God leading me to say in the moment:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

A few sentences later  Lewis adds:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.
Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (pp. 121-122). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

And surely if i were to quote the following I would lose nearly everyone but this quote by an author I only recently discovered also speaks to issues of humility, pride and relationships among believers:
It is the fellowship which the people of God have with the Father and with the Son that kindles the desires of others to have communion with them. I tell you, that if saints would be persuaded to spend more time and take more pains about their hearts, there would soon be such a divine excellence in their conversation that others would account it no small privilege to be with or near them. It is the pride, passion and earthliness of our hearts, that has spoiled Christian fellowship. Why is it that when Christians meet they are often jarring and contending, but because their passions are unmortified? Whence come their uncharitable censures of their brethren, but from their ignorance of themselves?
Flavel, John (2012-08-20). Keeping the Heart (Kindle Locations 1295-1299). Fig. Kindle Edition.

I'm grateful to be serving in an environment where there are many who display the sort of grace that can only be developed by time alone with God, but its not wise to let down our guard ever, for as Lewis said, pride is a vice from which none of us is free.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Slinky for Christmas

Some toys endure and others don't. I can remember being given a Slinky on more than one Christmas as a boy and so obviously they’ve been popular for a long time but ironically they don’t seem to last very long. Among a handful of clothes and a few toys, Noelle received a Slinky in her Christmas stocking this past week. By Christmas evening, it was bent and not working properly and this upset her a little. It provided an opportunity for me to explain, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, that we can’t depend on the things we have (or want) to make us happy. Rather, what we need to set our hearts on has far more to do with our relationships with God and with family and friends.

We really do have to keep reminding ourselves of this. It’s easy to smile at a child for getting this out of whack, especially at Christmas. But it’s a lesson we have to keep re-learning, because the very air we breathe seems focused on stuff and getting more of it. In spite of long experience we still get our hopes up that this time some new acquisition is exactly what we need and will make us happy. It’s pure insanity, but nonetheless, it happens.

To live well, not just before God but with others involves having the discernment to know what is important and what isn’t. Furthermore we need to then develop the ability to delight in what is of the greatest worth. The combination of these abilities leads to a heart attitude that expresses gratitude to God and to others and develops an elusive quality that doesn’t come naturally to any of us, but is attractive to everyone: humility.

Some of the characters around the Christmas story demonstrated these precise abilities to discern and what would genuinely delight their hearts. Sunday at Bethany Place I will finish a Christmas series called Hope in the Dark. You can see the text and outline below.

Christmas is All in the Heart
Luke 1:39-55
Hope in the Dark, Part 3

1.    Seek the ability to discern what really matters

Luke 1:39–45 (ESV) 39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

2.    Examine the real temperature of your heart.

Luke 1:46–50 (ESV)
46 And Mary said,
       “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47        and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48    for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49    for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50    And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.

3.    Pursue humility

Luke 1:51–55 (ESV)
51    He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52    he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53    he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54    He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55    as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Christmas Message to Bethany Place

Merry Christmas! This time last week I was hoping to be praying through my Sunday morning message as I usually do on Saturday morning. Instead I woke up terribly ill and I was unable to attend worship on Sunday. So if possible, I’m even more excited about being with you tomorrow morning for worship than normal. I will be continuing the Christmas message series called Hope in the Dark. I had no idea how appropriate that emphasis would turn out to be, given the horrible events in Newtown Connecticut, a week ago Friday. Ironically, the whole Christmas story is well suited to compassionately speak to the darkest and most hopeless situations. Jesus’ story holds the power to move us to love and welcome people who seem very different than us. That’s an important step for us to be sure we are not just focused on ourselves but are moving in to the community to influence where people are hurting the most.

In addition to tomorrow morning’s service, I’m also excited about our Christmas Eve service. I plan to sing in that service and Matthew Ritchie is going to be sharing from the Christmas story. Plus there are other cool things planned you don’t want to miss. That service begins at 6 and we promise to have you back on your way to continue your other Christmas Eve plans by 7.

I encourage you to invite neighbors, friends, and family members to attend these services with you; it’s not too late. I know that can be intimidating but I encourage you to press beyond that. You will be surprised at how many will respond to a simple invitation.

I hope to get to wish each of you a Merry Christmas in person at one or both of these services.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Worrying about Money

I love discovering books I've never heard of while reading other books. I'm reading one now I discovered in just this way, Keeping the Heart by John Flavel. It's an old book written in old English, but you can handle it. This is a quote from a chapter on guarding your heart from worrying about being in need:
6. Does it become the children of such a Father to distrust his all-sufficiency, or (fret) at any of his (provisions)? Do you well to question his care and love upon every new (need)? Say, have you not formerly been ashamed of this? Has not your Father's seasonable provision for you in former difficulties put you to the blush, and made you resolve never more to question his love and care? And yet will you again renew your unworthy suspicions of him? Disingenuous child! Reason thus with yourself: "If I perish for want of what is good and needful for me, it must be either because my Father knows not my wants, or has not wherewith to supply them, or regards not what becomes of me. Which of these shall I charge upon him? Not the first: for my Father knows what I have need of. Not the second: for the earth is the Lords arid the fatness thereof, his name is God All-sufficient. Not the last: for as a Father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him; the Lord is exceeding pitiful and of tender mercy; he hears the young ravens when they cry:‌–‌and will he not hear me? Consider, says Christ, the fowls of the air; not the fowls at the door, that are fed every day by band, but the fowls of the air that have none to provide for them. Does he feed and clothe his enemies, and will he forget his children? he heard even the cry of Ishmael in distress. O my unbelieving heart, dost thou yet doubt?"
Flavel, John (2012-08-20). Keeping the Heart (Kindle Locations 755-765). Fig. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Failing Time Management

1 Peter 4:7 (ESV)
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
I have agonized over time management as much as anyone i know. I have read so many books on this subject. I get emails from one site every day about time management but I rarely read them. In seminary, I wrote a term paper on time management that I turned in one month late. I’m not making that up. I have used numerous time management systems both paper and electronic. For all this effort I often feel ineffective. I am what I only know how to describe as greedy to get things done. There is so much I want to accomplish. 

But just a couple of days ago I read a verse I often read as a part of my prayer time and it made me think that if I could just do this, it would address many of my time management frustration. 
1 Peter 4:7 (ESV)
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
The end of all things is at hand. This refers to living with the expectation that Jesus could return any moment, giving a sense of urgency to doing what really matters and doing it now.

Therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded. I don’t know what that phrase leads you to think about but it applies broadly to our lives to be constantly aware of what we are bringing in to our minds and bodies and to be certain that it is helping us to maintain an accurate view of what matters and what doesn’t

For the sake of your prayers. I’m convinced that if i could stay in a state where I am constantly sensitive to being able to converse with God through prayer about whatever is on my mind, remembering who he is, what is important, that I belong to him, and that he’s called me to follow him, that this would enable me to make good decisions in every moment. 

God’s word is certainly not just for pastors or for people who are super spiritual, whatever that means. It is instruction for all of us. I think this verse deserve a place among serious time management, really life management thinking. What about you? Can you think of other scriptures that if practically applied would help you to put “First Things First” or to be more effective at “Getting Things Done?” I love to hear about them. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Grace Fueled Hope

Here are the scripture and outline for the 2nd message in our Christmas series Hope in he dark, for this Sunday at Bethany Place

Grace Fueled Hope

Luke 1:26-38
Hope in the Dark

1.    Find hope for your usefulness through grace

Luke 1:26–29 (ESV)
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

2.    Worship Jesus for his uniqueness
Luke 1:30–33 (ESV)
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

3.    Let worship lead to trust and obedience

Luke 1:34–38 (ESV)
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hope in the Dark

One of my favorite movies is The Sum of All Fears with Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman. In the movie, Freeman's character is the director of the CIA and Affleck's character is an analyst far down in the organization. At the death of the Russian president, Affleck’s character is called on for expert analysis. In their first meeting, Affleck accompanies Freeman to a briefing of the Intelligence Committee where Affleck says more than he should. Freeman explains to him as they are leaving, “Senators don’t like to be surprised. I always give them a hint of what it is I’m going to tell them; then I give them a little time to get used to it. Then I tell them.” It takes time to get used to new information you weren’t expecting to hear, whether it is good or bad.

Unlike these characters, God doesn’t answer to anyone, nor does he need to explain himself. When he does it’s always an act of grace. The story of Christmas is how God delivered the biggest news the world had ever heard. One part of the Christmas story, not often considered, is the way God prepared the people to be able to hear what they were certainly not expecting and not prepared to hear. The episode I have in mind is recorded in Luke 1:5-25. Mind you it’s not the whole of the message of Christmas, it’s just the beginning of the beginning if you will. It came to an unlikely older couple. They could not have imagined all that would follow, but God got their attention so strongly that they went into a substantial time of silence and seclusion, pondering what they experienced and what God was doing.

We know the whole of the story, or we think we do. I suspect though that like Zechariah and Elizabeth we need substantial moments of silence and seclusion to ponder the message of the good news to really get what God is doing even now.  The good news is still “news” because just thinking we know pretty much all there is to know about it reveals that we don’t. Even in the midst of determined zealots who wish to obliterate any mention of the Christian faith in public discourse, the entrance of Jesus Christ onto the stage of his own play still stands as the defining point of history. Every person will face the full implications of that event no matter how much they may protest that it is ludicrous.

This Sunday at Bethany Place I will introduce a message series called Hope in the Dark that will explore Luke’s version of the Christmas events, beginning at the text I refer to above. I will link to the audio for those messages here when they become available.