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Thursday, March 28, 2013

How the News Makes us Dumb

I read the book with this title several years ago. Our obsession with news nearly guarantees that most news outlets reach for the most sensational things they can to get us to keep listening or watching. The book was written before the time when many (most) of us were getting our news from the Internet, let alone smart phones, which I think aggravates this dynamic further. The author argues that most news is far too close to the actual events to determine their real importance.

How important any news is to you goes up or down based on at least three factors:
  • How much it directly affects you
  • How many others it affects
  • How long that effect will last

For instance, I have little interest in reading wedding announcements in the newspaper. They have no relevance to me personally. But 28 years ago, I asked Kat to marry me. That was a hugely important event with immediate and lasting relevance to Kat and I and to quite a few others. Sometimes we obsess over the weather. It often does have personal relevance, but it rarely has any long-term affect except in the case of a terrible storm. You can judge the relevance of any news item in this way. It’s not wise for us to obsess over things that won’t matter for very long.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says, “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you . . . ” The gospel as you know means “good news.” He goes on to explain the content of this good news in its shortest form:
1 Corinthians 15:3–4 (ESV) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
This news affects every person who has ever lived for all eternity. Period. That’s why Paul says that it is of first importance. There is no news with greater significance to everyone, everywhere, at all times.

In one sense, I don’t look at Easter as any different than any other Sunday. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection every Sunday. I don’t spend more time preparing for Easter than I do other Sundays. Stated differently, I prepare for every Sunday like its Easter. Every Sunday is critical and so I wrestle with God in prayer and study for many hours each week. And no matter how much time I’ve spent preparing, I always spend another couple of hours on Saturday evening and then another hour praying through and internalizing the message on Sunday morning, because this news is the most important news that will ever be delivered and it will always be so.

On the other hand, we usually have the opportunity to share this news with more people at Easter than any other Sunday. For that I am grateful, because no one ever outgrows the need to be reminded of the gospel, whether long time believers actively engaged in church life or a person who usually attends only on special occasions.

This Sunday at Bethany Place I will explore 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 more thoroughly. You can see the outline for the message below. I’m also looking forward to singing along with a drama performed by our C4M group. I’m praying for our church and all churches on Sunday that people will leave our services impressed not with our creativity and ingenuity but with the One who is risen from the dead. Hallelujah!

How do you see Easter Sunday as different from other Sundays or not? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Believing the Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:1–11 (ESV)

1.     Is your belief doing any good?

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (ESV)  Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

2.     What do you view as most important?

1 Corinthians 15:3–4 (ESV) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

3.     Is there real evidence for belief?

1 Corinthians 15:5–11 (ESV) and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Long Range Spiritual Progress

In college I earned a music education degree, though beyond some substitute teaching in Fort Worth while attending seminary, I never worked in a school where I taught students. Still, I've always been around those who work in the field of education. My dad was/is an educator. Many of Mom and Dad’s friends were educators and I’ve always had friends in the field. Because Banner Christian School meets in our facility, I have the benefit of working about as close to the education process as possible. It seems to me that one of the most disheartening things for a teacher is to have a student ask in one way or another, “Tell me the least that I can do so that I just get by or just get the grade that I want.” It betrays an attitude that doesn’t value learning but just wants to find out the least they can do. One of my recent professors, Dr. Tim Laniak, who teaches Old Testament at Gordon Conwell, a brilliant guy and an incredibly challenging instructor combatted this tendency in a unique way. He challenges his students to take their course syllabus and instead of bemoaning the difficulty of the assignments, to instead add something to the syllabus like reading an additional book or writing another paper. I wish I had heard a challenge like that earlier in life, but if I had I’m not sure that I would have paid attention.

I think its possible to do something like the unmotivated student with God. In other words I think it possible to approach God with an attitude that says we just want to make sure that we pass, that we miss hell and go to heaven, but don’t care about growing beyond that, or making any further spiritual progress. This becomes an issue when looking at a tough passage of scripture that makes you wonder whether the author is speaking about a person who is saved or lost. There are many passages like this, one from which I will speak on Sunday, the parable of the sower in Mark 4. What if the Holy Spirit deliberately determined to inspire the writers of scripture to leave this question vague in some of these instances? That provokes deeper thinking about what such texts mean and makes positive change more likely. I believe that we are to allow such passages to grab our attention. They serve as warning signs to alert us to spiritual danger that needs to be investigated and addressed.

Growth happens when something is alive and healthy. Mark 4 clearly teaches that spiritual growth should be taking place and that if it is not, something is wrong that needs immediate attention. The message title is “A Long Range View of Spiritual Growth.” The text includes three parables that give a complete picture of how we should view and pursue spiritual growth. You can see the text and outline for the message below. 


P.S. I'm excited about the Life Action Ministries Event taking place here at Bethany Place in May. You can read more about that here.

A Long Range View of Spiritual Growth
Discerning? No, Following God’s Will, Part 3
Mark 4:1-34

1.    Mix hearing with faith
Mark 4:1–9 (ESV) Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Mark 4:13–20 (ESV) 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

2.    Persist in this style of listening to root out misunderstanding
Mark 4:10–12 (ESV) 10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
Mark 4:21–25 (ESV) 21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

3.    Exert patience in pursuing spiritual growth 26-34
Mark 4:26–34 (ESV) 26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wrestling in the Night

What is success? Perhaps to some success is having a lot of people notice your Facebook post. To some success is making a lot of money and being out of debt. To some success is being able to genuinely help people. To some success is being able to be useful. To others success is having good relationships with the people they care about most. To some success is seeing their kids prosper spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and financially. To others success is knowing they are right with God and being able to do his bidding. To some success is having fun. To some success is consistent growth in sales or people or profits. Likely success is a mixture of many of these things in our minds. I propose, not for the first time and am not the first to do so, that success was clearly revealed through the prophet Micah long ago: 
Micah 6:8 (ESV)
 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

As I write this, looking at my computer it is 3:24 AM on Friday morning. I've not been able to sleep tonight. It's just been one of those nights where I was losing the battle against worry and so a while ago, I got up to pray and wrestle with God. Questions trouble me: How do I need to parent differently? Do I need to lead differently in my role at Bethany Place? What kind of friend do I need to be? What sort of financial manager do I need to be? Even when things are going well, sometimes at night I can get bent out of shape creating trouble sometimes out of nothing. So tonight after agonizing over these questions, I'm back to this: What is success? It's knowing God, being in a right relationship with him, and faithfully following his calling. In the next few Sunday mornings at Bethany Place we will rigorously explore God's call on our lives through a close look at a few scenes in Jesus' life as recorded in Mark. We spent several weeks in Mark in the first months of 2012. In March and April of this year we pick up where we left off then. Such a close look at Jesus is precisely and practically how we follow Him now. As we look, we will be provoked in every good sense of the word to make adjustments to our lives so to more resemble the one we follow and the one we worship. To follow Jesus is to be constantly changing because he is infinitely good and glorious but we are not. We will either look and be transformed or refuse and turn away. For the most part, God's call, or God's will if you prefer that term, is no mystery. Most of what God wants us to do is already clearly revealed in his Word. The remaining part of God’s call that's unique to each, God will likely make clear if we are fully engaged in the school of following what's already been revealed. The series title is, “Discerning? No, Following God's Call.” 

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

Just Do Something
Mark 3:1-19
Discerning? No, Following God's Call, Part 1

1.         Put people before processes

Mark 3:1–6 (ESV) Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

See also v. 7-12

2.         Be with Jesus and his people

Mark 3:13–19 (ESV) 13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

3.         Minister the whole gospel from your unique personality

Mark 3:13–15 (ESV) 13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons.