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Friday, April 26, 2013

Leading Change, Life Action, and Killing Complacency

Several years ago I read a book that I refer to regularly called Leading Change. One of the points from that book I often have cause to remember is that when putting forward a new idea, leaders tend to grossly underestimate the effort needed to clearly communicate that idea. It takes time for people to absorb a new direction and choose to follow. So this week when someone asked me to clarify for them the purpose of the Life Action Summit so they would understand better how to pray, I smacked myself in the head as if to say, “Gene, you forgot again the need to write it, say it, and repeat it, a lot more than you think you need to.”

I appreciated the question from one of our faithful and energetic leaders and so I took the time to think through and write out in more detail what I believe the Life Action Summit to be about. Here’s a shortened version of what I wrote:
  • God is clearly at work at Bethany Place. The purpose in inviting Life Action ministries  is not for them to come and generate something that’s not already happening. That wouldn’t work anyway.
  • However, complacency is dangerous and though the church over all is doing well, that doesn’t mean that everyone is doing well. Plus, all of us are always in danger of drifting from God. Having new people to speak into our lives may be what God uses to generate renewal in us or for new people to come to Christ in the first place. For instance, our head elder, Mike Ryan was saved at the last Life Action event that happened here 20 years ago.
  • We need both consistency and the challenge of new voices. I greatly value longevity in ministry for pastors and other key spiritual leaders in a church. We are blessed at Bethany Place to not just have a pastor, but six elders, and many other spiritual leaders as well! However, with this long-term consistency, we also need to be challenged by leaders, carefully chosen from outside of our church body. The main speakers coming with the Life Action team are gifted communicators of God’s word, with many years of experience serving within a ministry with a 40-year track record of faithfulness in ministry. 
  • The need for renewal and repentance never goes away, even for the most mature believers. God is infinite in his perfection. We clearly are not. That means by definition, to follow God means that we need to be in a consistent stage of change. We never outgrow the need to repent. God has no intention of leaving us where we are at any given point in our spiritual lives. This is the focus of Life Action’s ministry. 
  • The Summit provides an onsite retreat for all of our leadership. Everyone needs to be ministered to. Some of our hardest workers sometimes have few opportunities to rest and be ministered to. 
  • Additional mentors for our young people. The potential for our young people to connect relationally with the young adults who will be here as part of the Life Action team has great potential to be a transforming experience for our young people. Life Action’s standards for these young people are high, meeting all the requirements we have for people who work with both children and youth at Bethany Place. 
Sunday morning’s message is called, The Prayer That Destroys Complacency from Psalm 80. It’s a passage that I’ve been using to guide my praying in recent days as we prepare for the summit. Complacency about many things is dangerous, but on matters of great spiritual importance it can be tragic. I am praying that God will use this text to awaken greater diligence in all of us. You can see the outline and scripture below. (I left the highlights in on purpose) 

The Prayer that Destroys Complacency
Psalm 80

1.    Focus on God’s character in prayer

Psalm 80:1–3 (ESV)
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,
stir up your might
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!

2.    Pray honestly through despair

Psalm 80:4–7 (ESV)
O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us an object of contention for our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!

3.    Pray for the grace to repent

Psalm 80:8–19 (ESV)
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10  The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches.
11  It sent out its branches to the sea
and its shoots to the River.
12  Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13  The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14  Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15  the stock that your right hand planted,
and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
16  They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your face!
17  But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
18  Then we shall not turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call upon your name!
19  Restore us, O Lord God of hosts!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cry Out To Jesus

This has been a terrifying week of explosions in this country. Likely you have seen the video dozens of times of the two blasts near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday. Then late Wednesday night came the news of the horrific blast at the fertilizer plant in Texas. Most of us only hear about bombings in places far away, but in these two instances, especially in Boston, we have video evidence that puts us at the scene. It’s not difficult to imagine being right there on the side walk watching those runners. We can nearly feel the elderly man collapse at the moment of the blast. That video makes it real and greatly increases our awareness of how terrifying it would be to experience such an explosion. 

Kat and I noted that as people were running away from the site of the bombing, the first responders in the bright yellow vests were running toward the sound of the blast. It fills me with gratitude for the people who choose to work in those fields, who run toward danger rather than away from it and seek to rescue people in the midst of terrific pain. They show up ready to do whatever is needed and there they see and hear and even smell horrendous things. Some of these likely suffer with images in their minds they will never shake. 

We also have a Rescuer who enters our pain and sees all that any first responder will ever see and far more. He knows the private carnage that many suffer in their own hearts and minds, whether due to their own sin or the sin of others. But Jesus is not like the first responders who keep themselves in close proximity to where there might be danger so that they can quickly react. Rather Jesus is already there before it happens. And of course Jesus accomplished the ultimate Rescue when he experienced all the carnage for himself physically, emotionally, and spiritually on the cross in our place. 

Recently I’ve been thinking hard about what it means for our faith that Jesus can order around the wind and the sea (Mark 4:35-41) and that he holds authority over the most dangerous people and circumstances on the planet (Mark 5:1-21). This week I’ve been looking at how a desperate woman and a desperate man, who on the slimmest of information they had heard of Jesus, ran to him, taking great risks to pour out their deepest grief and fears to him. (Mark 5:21-43)

We have truckloads more evidence about the faithfulness of God and the trustworthiness of Jesus than those biblical characters had. Jesus is worthy to be trusted. Sunday at Bethany Place I will wrap up the series called, What Do You Fear? with a message titled, The Fear of Sickness & Death. You can see the outline for that message below.

You can listen to/watch the first two messages in the Fear series by following the links below: 

Fear of Sickness and Death
Mark 5:21-43
What Are You Afraid Of? Part 3

1.    Pour out your fear and grief to Jesus
Mark 5:21–24 (ESV) 21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.

2.    Allow Jesus to draw you into community
Mark 5:24–34 (ESV) 24 And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

3.    Trust Jesus’ timing
Mark 5:35–43 (ESV) 35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

What are You Afraid Of?

You can watch the video of this sermon here.

Several things have terrified me over the years; here are a few I remember: Being trapped under a canoe when I was 10, being involved in a high speed wreck on the interstate at age 19 (I was driving), passing out gospel tracts outside a, “Gentlemen’s Club” in Fort Worth while in seminary, and trying to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Other things tempt me to fear now. Last Saturday Kat took Noelle to an Easter egg hunt at a local plant nursery. The event was to start at 10:00 am; Kat and Noelle were there early. Children and parents were instructed to wait until told to begin. But some parents after hearing these instructions allowed their children to pick up eggs right away. Then the hunt started a few minutes early. Once it began, older kids scooped up as many eggs as they could right in front of smaller children. Families that showed up on time were too late, the eggs were gone, and their children were crying. Noelle saw this, Kat explained what was going on, and then Noelle laid her eggs back down so some of these kids could have eggs to find. Then the same bigger kids came back and took the eggs Noelle laid down for the newcomers. I say that not to brag on Noelle, she has the same propensity for selfishness that everyone does. What concerns me is to think of parents with no desire to teach their children to honor God, but rather they allow their kids to do what comes naturally to them, which is to be selfish, and for the stronger to take advantage of the weaker. You may have heard older teachers tell stories that at one time parents typically backed up disciplinary efforts that a teacher deemed necessary. However now, I’m told, more parents automatically take the side of the child over the word of the teacher and refuse to believe their child could possibly be guilty of what they are being accused of.

Our culture is racing toward an entitlement mentality where people aren’t held responsible for their actions. I listened to a story recently that talked about the wild increase in disability payments through Social Security, fueled by personal injury lawyers convincing people that the government owes them a living, for sometimes relatively minor disabilities. Add to this an obsession among many young men with violent video games, along with an abuse of cell phones among some teens for sexting, taking pictures, and shooting videos of sex acts among them. Finally, there is the wildly rapid redefinition of marriage in our culture that would say, even to those of us who want to take a compassionate approach in ministering to homosexual persons, that anything less than the open celebration of gay marriage, means we are bigots. These are the things that if I don’t take steps to block, provoke me to fear.

But fear is not a mark of a disciple of Jesus. Jesus chided his disciples once after a genuinely life threatening incident, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Fear dishonors God. Furthermore, the fear of circumstances leads to panic and paralysis but the fear of God leads to peace and productivity so we can make a difference in the real problems around us. Sunday at Bethany Place, I’m beginning a three-week series called, “What are you Afraid Of?” I believe that what God has prepared me to share could significantly change the way you handle temptations to fear. I hope to see you here. Following are the details for all three messages:

What are you Afraid of? The Politics of Fear
April 7: Fear of Circumstances: Mark 4:35-41
April 14: Fear of Dangerous People: Mark 5:1-20
April 21: Fear of Sickness and Death: Mark 5:21-43