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Friday, August 30, 2013

The results of clarity

I’m studying the N.T. book of Galatians and thinking about the implications for our wider culture. Many believe they know what the bible teaches and they’ve decided they don’t want anything to do with it. This is largely due to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV)  “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan deceives people into thinking that God is holding out them (if there is a god), that he is trying to ruin their fun or take advantage of them, and his people are a bunch of bigoted fools. Many, having been completely duped by Satan have now concluded that the faster they can marginalize and even demonize people who take the bible seriously, the better off everyone will be. 

I want to make what would sound to many as a ridiculous claim. If there were a genuine revival in this country, meaning many, many people coming to a real faith in Jesus and existing Christians repenting and genuinely allowing the Holy Spirit free reign in their lives, that that would be a wild benefit to our society. This is the exact opposite of what an atheist neighbor of mine once said to me. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Gene, I believe that the world would be a better place if everyone paid a lot less attention to the Bible.” Here is why my friend was wrong. The Christian faith rightly understood and practiced leads to stable citizens who serve people, work hard, and make great neighbors. If more people took God seriously and took his word seriously, this country would slowly but in time dramatically improve. Attitudes would soar, work productivity would skyrocket. The real needs of people would increasingly be met. As people authentically encountered God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit would be be generated within them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. What work place, neighborhood, school or home would not be greatly helped by a real increase in these characteristics? Of course anyone can point to people who claim to be Christian who don’t contribute to society in these ways. But that only demonstrates that there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians but don’t reflect the character of Christ.

Such things can’t be forced. But don’t allow the increasing pressure from some in our culture to cause you to believe that we should cower in the corner. And let us insist that government leaders stop trying to reign in our liberty where that is happening so that we may continue to freely pursue faith in Jesus and to live out the full implications of that life.

Sunday I will continue the series, The Danger of Fitting In, when will explore this and other outcomes of a crystal clear grasp of the gospel on our country, our homes, workplaces, schools, our church and our individual lives. You can see the outline for the message here.

Gene


P.S. If you missed the first message in the series, you can watch it and other recent messages here

Finding a Place to Stand, Part 2 Outline

If you are paying close attention this looks similar to last week's outline. That's because I ended up spending much more time on the intro to the series than I had thought I would do when I published the outline last week. So what you see here is what was points 2 and 3 of last week's outline. 

The discussion questions are completely different. 

Finding a Place to Stand, Part 2
Galatians 1:6-24
The Danger of Fitting In. A study of Galatians

1.    Get clear about how people are made right with God
Galatians 1:6–10 (ESV) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
  

2.    Locate your source of truth
Galatians 1:11–24 (ESV) 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Questions for discussion
What stories in literature or movies can you list that speak of a hero suffering for the good of others?
How might it help us to be more diligent to get clear on the core of the gospel if we understood that getting it wrong was the same as deserting Jesus himself?
What do you say to a person who says that they can’t forgive themselves? Isn’t it so that they are really saying that Jesus’ death on the cross was inadequate for them? How would you discuss this?
To what extent are you able to experience direct spiritual benefit from scripture without hearing it from someone else?
Is there a way to become secure in God’s love and grace so that we can love people, work with them, and be friends with them, but not have to have their approval? If so, how do we do this?

Monday, August 26, 2013

9 sermons posted

The final message for the Joshua series is now available, preached by Buddy Lipscomb, one of our elders. 

Qualities of Leadership, August 4, 2013, Joshua 14:1-12; Numbers 13:6, 25-33 and Numbers 14:5-9, by Buddy Lipscomb

I'm so grateful to a couple of our incredible folks for solving our problems on getting our sermons posted. I won't mention their names here because they wouldn't want me to, but in two days they have posted the video for 8 of the last 9 Sundays at Bethany Place. You can see them all on one page here on the Bethany Place website or you can jump straight to individual messages from the list below:

Finding a Place to Stand, August, 24, 2013, Galatians 1:1-5, Intro to Galatians series The Danger of Fitting In
The Go Point: Decision Making and God’s Will, August 18, 2 Corinthians 1:12-22
Begin with the End in Mind, August 11, 2013, Joshua 24
Qualities of Leadership, August 4, 2013, Joshua 14:1-12;Numbers 13:6, 25-33 and Numbers 14:5-9, by Buddy Lipscomb
Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be July 28, 2013, Joshua 7
Fearing the Influence of Faith? July 21, 2013, Joshua 6
Loving Jesus but Hating the Church, July 14, 2013, Joshua 2
Courage to do Hard Things, July 7, 2013, Joshua 1:1-9
Maps or Stories, June 30, 2013 Intro to Joshua series Reproducing Faith

Friday, August 23, 2013

Who is following you and where are you taking them?

After spending six years working on a degree in Christian leadership and before that having already read a lot of books and heard lots of conference talks on vision and leadership, I’m still challenged by the process of trying to cleanly state the vision for our church. Since my time at Bethany Place, we elders have spent a lot of time on the subject, we’ve had some fascinating discussions, and I preached a series of sermons about it. But I believe it will always be a work in progress. Whatever we eventually wrestle through as a church on writing the statement, the following idea is always going to be a part of either a mission, vision or purpose statement. Here’s the statement, you've heard me use it before:

We are to make disciples that make disciples. 

But I've got some questions to make this more personal. For instance:

Who is following you and where are you taking them? 

And a related question, also very important: 

Who are you following and where are they taking you? 

With that in mind I’m returning to a practice this week I kept up for many years. I’m going to provide you with a printed outline for the message on Sunday morning containing the scripture as well as discussion questions. I’m doing this for two reasons. One is I hope to hold that sheet up in my hand each week and say, who do you need to share this with? It’s every believer’s job to make disciples that make disciples. It’s your job. If you just got saved yesterday, you can help someone who is coming to Christ today. Do you know everything there is to know. Absolutely not! But do you know people who can help you if you get stuck. Absolutely. 

The other reason I’m putting these outlines out is that I want us to have multiple sermon based small groups. We've held one over the summer. We will continue that in the fall on Wednesday nights. We hope to start some Sunday morning groups and perhaps some that meet during the week in homes. But maybe our organizational efforts are getting in the way. Don’t wait on us! Start your own group. Discuss these questions with some folks over lunch after church or with your kids or your spouse, or with a coworker or with a group of coworkers, or with your neighbors. This is how the gospel is meant to expand. Don’t wait on us. Yes, we want to get formal groups started. Yes, we will have spiritually grounded leaders in the formal groups that we begin. 

Will it be messy? I hope so. If you get stuck, you can ask for help from someone you know who is a little farther along than you are. Or you can contact one of our six elders. 

Sunday I’m beginning a new series called The Danger of Fitting In. I’ll explain more about that Sunday and probably in my next post. For now, you can see the outline (with blanks now), and the scripture and the discussion questions by clicking here.




Finding a Place to Stand Outline, Scripture and Discussion Questions

Finding a Place to Stand 
Galatians 1
The Danger of Fitting In. A study of Galatians

1.    Live ___________ by good news
Galatians 1:1–5 (ESV) Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 

2.    Be ______________ about how people are made right with God
Galatians 1:6–10 (ESV) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

3.    Locate your source of _________________
Galatians 1:11–24 (ESV) 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Questions for Discussion
What motivates Paul to worship in verses 4 & 5? What are the implications for what motivates our worship?
What does Paul’s tone in verse 6 reveal about the level of passion he feels both for the gospel and for the people of Galatians? How do you think such passion is developed?
How would you explain the gospel to a person who asked you how a person becomes a Christian?
What pressures do you feel to not accept the bible as your authority for living? 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How Do You Make Decisions?

Your brain is fascinating. Many things you do don't require thought about how to do them. If you had to think about every act: how to walk, tie your shoes, or brush your teeth, that would limit how many challenging tasks you could tackle. In fact, thinking about some tasks makes them harder. If I try to think about how I tie a tie, I can't do it. I also can't seem to teach anyone how to do it. I just have to do it without thinking. Thinking about it gets in the way.

Unique challenges though require real thinking. One category of challenges we all manage is making decisions. We all make choices every day that don't matter in the grand scheme of things; choices like what you will wear or deciding which direction you will drive to work. But some have greater significance. Some are life altering. Some have eternal consequences.

Many things influence your decisions. Your values influence you without you necessarily recognizing that. Values are like internal guides that operate on you. You don't think about them much; they just quietly define who you are and what you do. You probably apply your wisdom and knowledge you've gained through experience to decisions you need to make. You may also seek advice or try to gain new knowledge through some form of research. 

Finally, though, being in relationship with God means that that relationship influences your choices. Otherwise, what practically does following Jesus mean? In that case, saying you are a follower of Jesus is just a label with little practical meaning. Instead, following Jesus means you learn from him and that you seek to do what he says. But most believers I know don't claim they receive audible instructions from God. Most don't claim that they can hear God's voice like they can hear a cymbal crashing. So is there a way that we can learn to make choices that honor God and bless people?

One final consideration: other people perceive how you make decisions and determine by that whether or not they can trust you as a friend, or a partner, or as someone they would allow to influence them. Taking all of this together, shows we need to evaluate how we make decisions and make necessary adjustments.

Sunday I'm doing a stand alone message I'm calling The Go Point: Decision Making and God's Will. I've spent the week thinking hard about an incident recorded in 2 Corinthians 1 where the apostle Paul explains how he makes decisions. He did this for a group of people who were in danger of shutting him out, because they'd been lead to believe he was selfishly pursuing his own ends. From that text, we will get a picture of how we can make decisions in line with God's will. You can see the scripture, outline, and discussion questions by clicking here.

The Go Point: Outline and Discussion Questions


The Go Point: Decision Making and God's Will
2 Corinthians 1:12-22
August 18, 2013
Bethany Place Baptist Church

1. Set your purpose to simply honor God and live by his wisdom

1 Corinthians 1: 12-14 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. 

2. Seek to bless others with your choices and decisions

1 Corinthians 1:15-22 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second dexperience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Steps to making good decisions
  • Stay in scripture to shape values
  • Determine your purpose
  • Pray and ask God what to do at each step
  • Identify options
  • Ask who decision affects and how
  • Shine a spotlight around the issue to see new perspectives
Questions for discusion
  • What are some of the biggest decisions that you have ever made?
  • What evidence do you see that we live in a time of tremendous skepticism?
  • How do you feel when someone questions your motives?
  • How do you make decisions? What values drive your decision making?
  • How would you describe the difference in godly discernment and skepticism?
  • What is the danger of vacillating in decision making? 
  • What is the difference in wanting to know God's will because you want to please God or just because you want to avoid pain? 
  • How would you describe your identity in Christ? How does this identity influence your decision making process?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What I want my kids to be able to say about me

I keep a spreadsheet that lists books I’ve read going back many years, but I can’t remember a lot of specifics about most of them. I value reading more than I know how to explain but the value from reading doesn’t typically come from what I can remember years later. Rather it comes from how what I read influences me in the moment, helping me think or by shaping my character. I want to pass along a passion to first engage with scripture, of course that is first. But we also need to be challenged and helped by others. Few would claim they don’t need help. Reading is a way that can happen.

However, I do remember an exercise that helped me with setting goals that I was prompted toward in a book I read about 20 years ago. I think it was the Steven Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This is how I remember the exercise, “Imagine your funeral. Imagine the people who would be present: spouse, children, family, friends, and co-workers. Then write out what you would want them to be able to say about you.” I did that then and what I wrote is somewhere in my office, but I’ve made a new attempt at writing what I would want my kids to be able to say about me:
Dad loved God and he loved us. He demonstrated a life of commitment to Jesus that influenced lots of people but what is more important for you to know is that he was the same guy at home that other people saw everywhere else. He wasn’t perfect, but he was real. He feared God as the scripture describes it and that reverence was real in him in such a way that it was infectious. The long-term affect was that it made us want to know God as well. Those of us who knew him the best and saw him at his best and his worst, know that he responded to those worst moments in confession and repentance and brokenness in such a way that it made you know that he worshipped a God who is real, and the full effect of his life up close was to draw people to want to love and follow God as well.
I’m not claiming they could say such things, its just what I long to be true. What about you? Whether you are or young or old, single or married, parent or not, this is a question everyone needs to answer, "where are you going and who are you taking with you?? I’m not talking specifically about heaven and hell, though that’s a part of it. What can dig into our souls so that we care about our the long-term influence of our lives all the time? Joshua 24 contains the story of the end of Joshua’s life. A close examination of it will help you see the end of your life from the beginning in such a way that can explode apathy and help you focus on eternal influence. You can see the outline and discussion questions for Sunday’s message at Bethany Place where I will preach from this text here

Friday, August 9, 2013

Begin With The End in Mind

Begin With The End in Mind
Joshua 24, Reproducing Faith, Part 7
Sunday, August 11, 2013, Bethany Place Baptist Church

1.    Trace God’s activity done for you

Joshua 24:1–13 (ESV) Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.
“ ‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’

2.    Decide who you will be when no one is looking

Joshua 24:14–28 (ESV) 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.

3.    Plan your funeral

Joshua 24:29–33 (ESV) 29 After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being 110 years old. 30 And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash.
31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.
32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.
33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.


Questions for discussion and further reflection
Why do we need to be reminded of God’s activity on our behalf?
What does it mean to serve God? Which comes first, our serving God our God’s grace on our behalf? Why is this important?
It’s been said that our hearts are “idol factories.” What do you think this may mean?
How would you describe God’s holiness? What does it mean that God is a jealous God? How can God be jealous and not sin?
Why does Joshua say that God will not forgive your sins? How does that compare to 1 John 1:9? How can you explain this?
What makes commitment stick?
Who is following you and where are you taking them?