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Saturday, September 28, 2013

How the Gospel Addresses Loneliness

A youth leader had high hopes for a youth event she had planned with her volunteers. They worked intensely, prayed hard, and planned a creative teaching presentation around a theme. On the night of the event, teens packed the room. Afterwards, the leader overheard a conversation between a teen and his mom. She asked her son, “so how was it?” and he said, “I’m never coming back.” The youth pastor ran after the student to introduce herself. The student tried to keep moving but the pastor persisted, acknowledging she had heard what he said to his mom. She pressed him, asking him how they had messed up and what they could do differently. The student replied, “It wasn't what people did that was the problem. It was what they didn't do. My mom conned me into coming, and nobody acted like they gave a rip if I was here or not. Nobody talked to me; like I was invisible or something. I'd rather spend my time with people who at least pretend they're glad I showed up.”[1]

I came across that story a few years ago and used it to begin my doctoral thesis on the attitudes and values of volunteers, but it demonstrates something else that’s on my mind today. All of us I think, not just teenagers, care more that those who matter to us include us than that they impress us. Without a sense that we belong, we are not likely to care much about events designed to attract us or impress us.

This reality may be more important than ever because there is something like an epidemic of loneliness. God made us to be together, but something about our society tempts us to go it alone. The gospel contains the solution to this problem, but sometimes those who embrace the gospel still wrestle with feelings of not belonging. This happens when we don’t understand the implications of the gospel, especially who we are in Christ, and so we hang back, terrified to risk reaching out to other people.

I’ve long believed that a primary strategy of Satan is to isolate us. Sin itself not only drives a wedge between God and us, but causes us to run from others as well. A significant part of the horror of hell is its complete aloneness. Hell is a lot worse than solitude, but it is not less. We are a culture where many require music, video, or something to read all the time because we can’t stand to be alone. At the same time we resist the sort of relationship with God that would fulfill our need for connection give us courage to move toward others.

As we increasingly embrace the gospel, God satisfies our need to belong through a stunning connection to him that prods us toward rich community with other believers. That’s fleshed out in Galatians 3:26-4:7 from where I’ll be preaching this Sunday. You can read the scripture, outline, and discussion questions here. I can’t wait to see you Sunday.


P.S. Kat wrote a post this week on this topic. You can read there here.

[1] Jeanne Mayo, Thriving Youth Groups: Secrets For Growing Your Ministry (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing Inc, 2009), 11.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How the Gospel Addresses Loneliness Outline and Discussion Questions

How the Gospel Addresses Loneliness
Galatians 3:26-4:7
How Believers Grow: Part 3

As we increasingly embrace the gospel, God satisfies our need to belong through a stunning connection to him that prods us toward rich community with other believers.

1.     Pursue unity in diversity

Galatians 3:26–29 (ESV) 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

2.     Confirm your identity

Galatians 4:1–5 (ESV)  I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons

3.     Walk in intimacy with God

Galatians 4:6-7 (ESV).And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Questions for reflection or discussion
1.     How would you describe the idea of being “in Christ”? Why is this important?
2.     How does unity address loneliness?
3.     What barriers divide people in our area? What barriers to unity must we guard against in this church?
4.     How would you explain the gospel from Gal. 4:4-5?
5.     What is the significance of the concept of adoption for understanding your identity?
6.     Based on this text, what is the role of the Holy Spirit in addressing our battle with loneliness?

7.     How is God prompting you to live differently to address loneliness with other people in our church family and the wider community?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Good medicine for an early morning

Isaiah 40:27–31 (ESV)
27  Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28  Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29  He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30  Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31  but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;

   they shall walk and not faint.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why a Good Study Bible is Your Best Tool for Understanding Scripture

The single most effective tool you can acquire to help you to study and understand God’s word is a good study bible. This of course does not replace the need to submit to a church where the bible is treasured, believed, and faithfully taught. It also can’t replace the need for you to place yourself in a small group where you can talk openly about how the bible applies to your life, and to encourage and to pray for other people. There’s no substitute for this sort of life-on-life interaction. You are also called to do what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:2 (NLT) “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. You along with all believers are called to make disciples that make disciples.”

But outside of these opportunities, your spiritual well being and the well being of the world, (see next Sunday’s sermon at Bethany Place) depends on you and other believers drinking deeply from the word of God on your own, or to use another metaphor, to Eat this Book; chewing on scripture like a dog chews on a bone. A good study bible is an excellent tool to assist you in this. Study Bible’s have been around for a long time and there are many good ones from the past, but I believe that the newer ones are better.

I want to mention three. I use the ESV study bible partially because I use the ESV as my primary translation for preaching and teaching. I read their study notes for a good summary before I read other commentaries after I have done my own scripture work. The quality and thoroughness of their notes almost qualifies it as a one-volume commentary on the whole bible. You can read more about it here.

I’ve also been impressed with the Holman Study Bible, which is based on the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I don’t own a copy but I have flipped through it a handful of times and will eventually purchase one. It contains excellent study helps. You can read more about it here. They also have a good online site that provides much of what is in the paper copy. You can see that here and you can read about other online bible sites I recommend here.

For years Kat has used the NIV Study Bible. She swears by it and won’t change even when I suggest that my study bible is better than hers. J More people use this study bible than any of the others and it has been around the longest of the three. It has everything you would want in a good study bible and is a great option. You can read more about it here.

There are many more. You see a list of what’s available, including youth and children’s versions, here.

Sunday I’m going to be preaching what I think will be one of the most important messages I’ve ever given. It’s called, How to Change the World. You can see the outline here

How to Change the World Outline

How to Change the World
Galatians 3:15-25
How Believers Grow: It’s Not What You Think, Part 2

1.    Get clear on how people _____________God’s kingdom

Galatians 3:15–18 (ESV)
 15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

2.    Get clear on the purpose of the _______________

Galatians 3:19–20 (ESV)
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

3.    Get clear on why ________________ matters

Galatians 3:21–25 (ESV)
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,

Friday, September 13, 2013

My Life in Bibles

Sometime around my freshman year in high school, mom and dad bought for me my first “serious” bible. It was a Scofield Reference Bible, King James Version, and I miss it. That may be hard to understand but I used that Bible through about eight critical years. Over that time God shook me deeply and through that called me into the ministry. Our pastor encouraged us all, from the pulpit, to purchase that specific bible. It was beautiful black Bible with genuine leather. With this bible in my hands I agonized over passages trying to figure out whether or not I was really saved. I read over and over and over, passages like Romans 8:38-39, John 10:27-28 and 1 John 5:13 among many others. I can still see in my minds eye what some of the pages looked like. But sometime during my college years, after buying another bible, I lost track of it. Several times at mom and dad's over the years I've looked for it through their bookshelves and rummaged through old stuff in the garage. I've looked around at the church where I grew up, hoping to miraculously stumble upon it. Even now when I’m at mom and dad’s I can’t resist scanning their shelves hoping to find it.

In 1982, I bought the bible in the picture below.

I was serving in my first ministry position at Manchester Baptist Church. I bought it from a little Christian bookstore in town. It was also my first NIV. I loved it and it was my primary bible for seven years. It carried my through my last 3 years of college and through all our years of seminary. The seminary days were hard, as I continued to wrestle with what God was calling me to do. Sometimes I still wondered if I was really saved. In those days I was pouring over the sermon on the mount, parts of John's gospel and Romans because those have all become convenient pull out sections from that bible.

At my ordination, in 1989 at Seaford Baptist Church, I was given this bible, which I immediately began to use on a regular basis.

When it began to fall apart some years later, I decided to get another bible to carry with me most of the time so that I would not completely destroy my ordination Bible. Around 2002 I changed Bibles again when I switched to the ESV as my primary translation for preaching and teaching.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve increasingly used Bible software for study and now even reading. I’m fascinated with all that I can do with free bible study resources, not to mention bible software. But I have to admit, after years of increasingly consuming scripture through a computer, I miss having a physical copy of the scriptures that tells my history like those first couple of bibles did.

I would love to have a part in provoking you to purchase a bible that could become such a part of your life. But as this is now long, I’ll hold my recommendations for my next post.

Sunday at Bethany Place I’m beginning a new series called How Believers Grow: It’s Not What You Think. I’m continuing in Galatians but with a different focus on the middle chapters of the book. Sunday’s message is called Pushing the Rope from Galatians 3:1-14. You can see the outline and discussion questions by clicking here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pushing the Rope Outline

Pushing the Rope
Galatians 3:1-14
How Believers Grow: It’s Not What You Think, Part 1

The video for this message is available here.

1.    Change your ________________
Galatians 3:1–6 (ESV) O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—

2.    ___________ that faith is the path to God’s blessing

Galatians 3:7–9 (ESV) just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

3.    ______________ live by faith

Galatians 3:10–14 (ESV) 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Questions for further reflection and discussion
How do you need to learn to more visually experience Jesus as crucified? Why is it important to do this?
How would you describe how a person grows spiritually? How might Gal. 2:3-4 change the way you think about this?
How would you describe what it means to “hear with faith?"
Can you think of a time when you have had to justify your actions? With that incident in mind, what might it mean to be “justified before God?”
What does it mean practically to “live by faith?” How can you tell when you are living by faith and when you are not?
The kind of faith this text is talking about is not just generic faith in God but specifically it is faith in the work Jesus did hanging on the cross to become a curse for us? Why might it be important to make this distinction?