Friday, May 31, 2013

Reflections on the Bethany Place Life Action Summit

Kat and I were married 28 years ago. Over those years, especially once our kids came along, I often traveled to a conference or a mission trip and there had a huge encounter with God that I would then want to describe for Kat. I would often say something like, “I wish you could have been there.” Similarly, I tried to share the experience with my church family, and I was able to do that, though I always felt like I failed in describing all that had taken place.

One of the reasons why the Life Action Summit was important for our church is that instead of a few going off to a conference or retreat, a large portion of our church experienced this together. Even if you didn’t get to participate much, it is still a shared experience; a corporate memory that I’m confident will have eternal results. Even if you didn’t get to participate at all, you will experience some of the benefit of how God moved in us through this time.

For the many who were heavily involved, the things you experienced may overwhelm you. By my count, if you attended every event, you heard the equivalent of 26 sermons. Many of those talks exposed issues that need attention. But those issues didn’t get that way overnight. If you try to muscle your way through a list of things to fix on your own, you will make yourself and people around you miserable. Transformation usually requires patient faithfulness in providing the conditions for growth. In the parable of the sower, Jesus compared our hearts to kinds of soil. Expanding on that metaphor, our lives consist of multiple seasons of planting, tending, and producing spiritual fruit. In times when we’ve been far from God, we allowed the soil to lie dormant and our hearts grow hard and resistant to growth. In times when we’ve been cooperating with the Holy Spirit through worship, daily prayer, rich Bible reading, and serving, that has resulted in plowing up the ground, planting seeds, tending weeds, and then praying for growth.

The Summit plowed the soil of our hearts deep. Perhaps a message or two dug up things you’d rather ignore. But now it’s out in the open and you have to deal with it and that will take time. Only God can cause growth, but there is still work for us to do. We depend on God’s grace for change, but grace is not opposed to effort. It’s opposed to earning. So we cooperate with God through private and corporate worship, private and corporate prayer, serving, and through rich interaction with other believers. That’s our role, then we will be patient with God and ourselves as he brings about new spiritual fruit in and through us.

Sunday morning, I’m excited about returning to our series, Caring for Young People in a Technology Obsessed World. You can see the text, outline, and discussion questions by clicking here.

Default Setting (Message preview)

Our Default Setting: Sin=Self-Centered Living

John 4:1-30
Caring For Young People in a Technology Obsessed World, Part 3
June 2, 2013, Bethany Place Baptist Church

How do we apply the gospel to what drives us toward abusive uses of technology?

1.    See from God’s perspective (because God’s will is what you would ask for if you knew what God knows)

John 4:1–10 (ESV) Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

2.    Learn that Jesus seeks unlikely followers (without condoning sin)

John 4:11–24 (ESV) 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

3.    Point to Jesus out of your own real encounter with him

John 4:25–30 (ESV) 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Questions for Discussion: (We will discuss these Wednesday evening at Bethany Place at 6:30 PM in a sermon based study group)
How do you see Romans 1:16 addressing negative outcomes from the abuse of technology in our society?
What evidence do you see in your own life of the negative effects from technology?
What positive benefits do you see from the use of technology in prompting spiritual growth?
What are the implications of the phrase “living water” for addressing what drives us toward abusing technology?
What cultural, religious and moral barriers does Jesus break through in conversing with the Samaritan woman? What does this imply about our engaging persons with different values and lifestyles?
Why do you think Jesus exposes this woman’s sin?
Whom have we decided that God has no interest in by our neglect of trying to reach them?
How do you think that Jesus’ lack of racial or religious prejudice will help in speaking to young people about matters of faith?

Who in your life would benefit from thinking through this incident in Jesus’ life with you? What can you do to prepare to be ready to do that?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mission Imposible


Rosario Butterfield was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University, a radical feminist, the director of the department of women’s studies, and was in a same sex relationship. Then through a long process, which she describes in here book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, she became a follower of Jesus. Here’s the beginning of her story in her own words:
How do I tell you about my conversion to Christianity without making it sound like an alien abduction or a train wreck? Truth be told, it felt like a little of both. The language normally used to describe this odd miracle does not work for me. I didn’t read one of those tacky self-help books with a thin coating of Christian themes, examine my life against the tenets of the Bible the way one might hold up one car insurance policy against all others and cleanly and logically, “make a decision for Christ.” While I did make choices along the path of this journey, they never felt logical, risk-free, or sane. Neither did I feel like the victim of an emotional/ spiritual earthquake and collapse gracefully into the arms of my Savior, like a holy and sanctified Scarlet O’Hara having been “claimed by Christ’s irresistible grace.” Heretical as it might seem, Christ and Christianity seemed imminently resistible. Butterfield, Rosaria (2012-09-06). The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Kindle Locations 108-119). Crown & Covenant Publications. Kindle Edition. 
I mention this because it vividly illustrates a statement Jesus made that I don’t think we spend much time focusing on. Here’s the statement from Mark 10.

Mark 10:24 (ESV) 24 . . . Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!

No one accidentally becomes a follower of Jesus. It requires a supernatural intervention of God’s grace.

At Bethany Place we are in the midst of a series I’m now calling Caring for Young People in a Technology Obsessed World. Originally I called it Parenting in the Age of Instagram. But that was misleading. For one, as I stated last Sunday morning, the series relates to anyone who cares about young people, not just parents. Also, beyond the teens and young adults among us, not that many know (or perhaps care) what Instagram is. My new title is perhaps not as catchy, but it better explains the intent of the series.

Through the series will offer practical suggestions for helping to manage the brave new world of technology in most of our homes. But more importantly I’m seeking to show that what is most needed and most effective is to apply carefully the full message of what it means for us to be right with God. This message is largely lost in our culture and so many assume they are okay as long as they avoid major sins. The understanding that to be right with God requires a supernatural act of God’s grace is the greatest hope for us to negotiate the unique challenges our technology presents for all of us. You can the outline for this second message titled Mission Impossible here.

Mission Impossible
Mark 10:17-22
Caring for Young People in a Technology Obsessed World: Part 2

1.   Answer the question, Who is a good person?
Mark 10:17–18 (ESV) 17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.


2.   Update your understanding of love
Mark 10:19–22 (ESV) 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.


3.   Tell ourselves the truth
Mark 10:23–27 (ESV) 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.