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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Report Cards

When we were growing up we received report cards in large green envelopes with the actual report card tucked inside. I remember receiving one for the first time as a first grader. I had no idea what it was. I discovered that I was being measured on my performance. I got grades that I didn’t understand: there were O’s and S’s and N’s if I remember. O was for outstanding, S was for satisfactory and N was perhaps for insufficient. In addition to receiving grades for reading, writing, math and science, I learned that I was also receiving a grade for conduct. Every nine weeks we would receive these report cards and we had to carry them home, get our parents signature on them, and return them. The reason for that was so that our parents could help us to take the evaluation seriously and make whatever adjustments we needed to make to help us to keep pursuing the goal of learning to read and write so that we might be productive members of society. It was fun to good a get assessment and not so fun to get a bad one. Further consequences waited at home if the report card were bad enough.

Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” But oddly we are tempted to ignore the truth. Drifting away from God heightens this urge to not listen to the truth. That makes it uncomfortable to read the bible or to attend worship because we sense that God’s word will assess honestly where we stand. This is tragic because God’s instructions for us in his word are for our good. God doesn’t give us instruction because he is big and strong and can demand his own way. His instruction is for our good. Because of this it’s not possible for us to be spiritually healthy without continually applying scripture to our lives and making assessments of where we stand before God. We need God’s word, we need worship, and we need to hear from pastor’s and spiritual leaders who will patiently prepare and lovingly tell us the truth.

Jesus once told a group of followers: “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Those would be tough words to hear. It’s the sort of message that staying out of God’s word and staying away from church prevents us from hearing, but there are times when everyone needs just such a stark warning. Are you putting yourself in a position to hear what God is saying to you as he specifically applies his word to your heart by His Holy Spirit? There is no other way to be well. No one is safe, no one can be spiritually well without learning to do this for themselves through reading scripture and no one can be spiritually well without a church with whom they can do this work of listening to God together. I’ll be further exploring this text and this idea Sunday at Bethany Place. You can see the text and initial outline for the message below. 

Responding Well to a Tough Assessment
Revelation 3:1-6
Ear Training: Part 5

1.    Take in the full report
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

2.    Follow the get well plan
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

3.    Keep the end goal in view
 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Trouble With the Curve

Minor spoiler alert. In the movie Trouble with the Curve, Clint Eastwood plays an aging (what other sort of role could he play?) professional baseball scout whose eyesight is seriously deteriorating. This affects his ability to read, drive, and do his job of discerning subtle differences between good baseball players and those with the potential to be the best. He is viewed as a relic by friend, foe and even family who believe his usefulness to the sport has passed. Oddly, he is able to compensate for his inability to see well by his ability to hear what no one could or would notice.

Everyone has trouble with the curve in one sense. We cannot perfectly foresee how a set of circumstances will turn in the future. I’ve seen other movies where a character is able to visualize in advance every move a group of opponents will make, enabling the hero to overcome tremendous odds. Such diverse movies as The Matrix, Sherlock Holmes, and the Last Samurai depict main characters having or developing such abilities. In the real world, our ability to anticipate in that way is seriously limited. We do know that if we consistently neglect relationships, finances, or health that they will go bad. We believe that if we consistently do little things well in these arenas that they will go better, but we can’t perfectly anticipate or predict how others will react, no matter what we do.

Our ability to successfully navigate this world and the next depends not on our ability to see but rather on our ability to hear. We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We can’t see many things we would like to see. Opponents of faith love to point this out, and arrogantly claim they will only believe what they can see or prove.

Success depends on the ability to hear instructions from the One who can see the future, who is himself the beginning and the end, and who can see the end from the beginning. Our role is to learn to hear what God says, to trust it, and to act on it. This ability to hear is even more challenged because winning in God’s kingdom often comes about by losing. We learn this not only from Jesus teaching, but from his own experience. The cross seemed like his moment of greatest defeat, but was actually his moment of greatest victory. This truth plays out in the life of Christ followers in both the big things and little incidents of our lives. Sunday’s message at Bethany Place, the fourth in the series Ear Training is called Ironically Overcoming from Revelation 2:18-29. The text delivers both a terrifying warning and a word of hope to those who hear it and heed it.

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

Ironically Overcoming
Revelation 2:18-29
Ear Training, Part 4

1.     Do little things well

Revelation 2:18–19 (ESV)
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
19 “ ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.

2.     Take full advantage of your grace period

Revelation 2:20–23 (ESV)
20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

3.     Hold your position

Revelation 2:24–29 (ESV)
24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Football, Testing, and Faith

My football coach in my first three years of high school lost his job before my final year. He was a good man who had shown interest in me and had always encouraged me. But in my junior year, I think our record was 2-9, and so he lost his job. Another coach was hired that I also knew who had seen a lot of success coaching in a larger school in the state. He was from my hometown. He had played football with my dad in high school and then went on to play for the University of Kentucky. His coaching style was quite different to say the least. He also paid some attention to me, but I wouldn’t have called it “encouragement.”

Still we were excited. We dared hope this coach might help us be more successful. I wondered what it would be like to play in the state finals because he had had that sort of success in the past. We all lifted weights that summer more than we ever had. We went for a 1-week football camp offsite, which we had never done. Over the course of that camp the coaches liked the way I “looked” on defense and moved me from defensive end to middle linebacker.

I will never forget our first game. It was against Elkhorn City. We lost 40-0. We were humiliated. I played terrible. I was not nearly strong enough to play the position I was in. When we watched the game film a couple of days later, I was further humiliated as the coach played and replayed their offensive lineman making me look ridiculous. It was my last experience playing middle linebacker.

I wasn’t the only reason we lost. One thing that had contributed significantly to our poor play was that we hadn’t done any full contact practices in pads. We hadn’t been tested. Our first real test came in that game and it revealed we were not ready. The coach remedied the problem immediately and practices got a lot less “comfortable.” We began to improve and salvaged a respectable season, but we didn’t even make the playoffs, let alone the state final.

Facing hardship by definition is not easy and being tested is rarely any fun. However, there’s no way to make progress in almost any endeavor without these. Making progress in following Jesus is no different. Sunday at Bethany Place we will examine this idea that is illustrated all over the bible from Revelation 2:8-11. I’m calling the message The Upside of Hardship. It’s the second in our series called, Ear Training. You can see the scripture and the message outline below.

The Upside of Hardship

Revelation 2:8-11
Ear Training: Part 2

1.    Lean in to hardship through worship
Revelation 2:8 (ESV) “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

2.    Value what suffering can accomplish

Revelation 2:9-10a (ESV)
“ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.

3.    Aim at the ultimate goal

Revelation 2:10b-11 (ESV)
Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’