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Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Five

Several adults in addition to mom and dad made a big difference in my life growing up. No one is more important than a child’s parents to their well being, but other adults play an important role. Bob and Dorothy Morris were our next-door neighbors from the time I was nine, they both taught school with dad, and our families worshipped and served together at Cumberland Baptist. They were in our house a lot and we in theirs. They are in many of my childhood memories. They were like second parents to my sisters and me. Any time I see them now, they always encourage me a ton.

Orville Collier was my Sunday School teacher in my late elementary and middle school years. Later through high school and college, he still encouraged me every time I saw him. I knew he cared about me, and was always glad to see me. When we travel home we always attend worship with mom and dad. Orville is still there  and every time, every time, he finds me and tells me he loves me and appreciates me. In a sense, he’s still serving as my Sunday School teacher.

When I was elementary age, Bruce Ayers was not yet a believer. But he and my dad were friends, and dad taught Bruce and I to play golf together. Once or twice Bruce and I played a round just the two of us. I don’t know if he remembers this, I don’t think I’m making it up, but I remember him telling dad that the first sermon I preached, when I was 15, along with playing golf with me, had something to do with him accepting Christ. That was hard for me to believe then and still seems amazing. My point is that Bruce was another adult in my life that continues to encourage me now. Every time we’re home, I look forward to seeing Bruce and riding along as he and dad drive around the county, which they do every Saturday morning, talking about everything and nothing.

My Uncle Bob passed away almost two years ago now. He was the postmaster in our town when I was growing up and knew everybody. He was an excellent Sunday School teacher and lay preacher. Uncle Bob always told lots of jokes whether he was preaching or not. Most of them were appropriate. I remember an occasion when he came to our house, because I was so disturbed about whether or not I was really a Christian and he talked me through a passage of scripture to encourage me. I also remember a time when I was in from college and he saw that a policeman had pulled me over. The reason: my license plates were over a year expired. Uncle Bob convinced the police officer that he knew me and that I wasn’t a threat to society.

In the book Sticky Faith, Kara Powell and Chap Clark talk about the role of adults in addition to parents in developing faith that will endure in a young person. They explain that ministries often shoot for a 1:5 ratio of adults to students. But they challenge that churches should turn that on its head and instead aim at 5 adults for every student. Can you imagine the difference it would make if every child in your neighborhood, every child in the schools around where you live, every teenager that steps through our building, had five adults who knew their name, spoke to them, encouraged them, loved them, and took a real interest in their life? I bet that sort of connection would have made a real difference in the heart breaking stories in recent days of 12 year olds jumping off of towers or shooting teachers and themselves in the school yard.

I’ve introduced you to my five above. God has blessed me with the privilege of speaking into a handful of young people over the years. There are young people near you for whom you can serve this greatly needed function. This kind of ministry has never been more important. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Born on Third Base

Listening to a news story this week I heard someone say something like: “You were born on third base, so stop going through life believing that you hit a triple!” I did some research on the phrase, and apparently one of the earliest uses of it, was by the former Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer, who was making the point that he related better to players who grew up poor as he had. Often the phrase is used to challenge wealthy persons to be more aware of the advantages with which they were born so that they will be more sympathetic to those not born with such advantages. Sometimes that comes with the cynical belief that anyone well off didn’t get that way because they worked hard, but because they were born with an unfair advantage.

I wonder if it’s possible to apply the same thinking to people who are emotionally or spiritually well off? For instance, you could believe that people with a great attitude are an accident of their parent’s good genes. Or you could think that such people just haven’t faced serious difficulties. It is true that some are more prone to discouragement or even depression than others are. However, you weaken your ability to overcome difficulty if you just believe that you are naturally a glass half empty kind of person or that you are just not the kind of person blessed with the faith needed to trust God through hard times.

The story of the Old Testament character Daniel is one of the most well-known stories in all the Bible. Daniel experienced heartbreaking difficulty over the course of his life. As a teenager his home country was invaded and taken over by a foreign king. He was then kidnapped and carried away to that country where he had to learn a whole knew way of life. But instead of growing angry and bitter, Daniel thrived. Many years later, while in exile and in the midst of another crisis, he was described as having “an excellent spirit.” This excellent spirit explained how he was able to thrive in a harsh environment.

So the question, is an excellent spirit an accident of good genes, sort of the emotional and spiritual version of being born on third base, or is there a way of developing such a spirit? How you answer that question determines whether you pursue life with hope or grow increasingly bitter. An excellent spirit is a gift of God’s grace, but this does not mean there is nothing that we can do to cooperate with God’s work in us to develop it.

Sunday I’m beginning a two-week series on vision called, Character Required.  We will examine an incident recorded in Daniel 6 and then explore the kind of person God intends to make us.  Following God’s vision is first about who we are, before its about what we do. You can see outline for the message here.

Character Required Outline

Character Required
Preparing for Seasons of Extreme Difficulty
Daniel 6

Depend on God’s grace to enable you to . . .

Live with ______________

Daniel 6:3–5 (ESV) Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Grow from ______________

Daniel 6:6–9 (ESV) Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

________ ________ more than your own life

Daniel 6:10–23 (ESV) 10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously . . .
16 Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” 17 And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
19 Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Questions for reflection and discussion
How would you describe an excellent spirit? How might that be developed?
What suffering have you experienced for living a life of integrity?
Is the outcome of this story a promise from God that if you have enough faith in God, you will always be delivered from difficulty? Why or why not?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Familiar Words Packing a Fearsome Claim

Matthew 18:19 (ESV) 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
This morning I read this verse and paused longer than normal to make myself take note of the outrageous thing Jesus said. I read it often but sometimes treat it as run of the mill information like, “if you eat right, you will be more healthy.” Yawn. What Jesus says here is a little more like throwing a grenade on the table.

Now read it in its larger context.
Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV) 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
You can’t isolate what Jesus says in verse 19 from what the whole paragraph is about. And by the way, these verses are not about “letting someone have it” who gets out of line, but rather taking risks to rescue people trapped in sin which they won’t be able to escape without help. So in v. 19 when Jesus says “again” he is repeating himself so that we will be sure to get it. Jesus directly connects our praying to rescuing people.

Jesus gives no qualifications to his prayer challenge. We squirm knowing there are many things we’ve prayed for in the past that God didn’t answer the way that we wanted So we have questions about how this works. But I’m convinced we talk ourselves out of boldly praying for “impossible” ministry outcomes, instead of believing Jesus and praying with boldness and confidence.

(The rest of the post is specific to Bethany Place)

So I wonder how we might strategically pray together about God’s vision for our church? Sunday, October 27th is Vision Sunday at Bethany Place. We will openly explore God’s vision for Bethany Place Baptist Church for 2014. I have specific images on my heart that I and the elders have been praying over and discussing. I suspect you may as well. On that morning, we will serve breakfast for everyone at 9 am. At 9:45 children will go to their classes, while adults and youth remain in the fellowship hall where we will share the specifics of the vision. At 11:00 we will worship together and issue a challenge to take up your part in moving toward the future as a church. A part of that challenge will be to pray specifically agreeing together as Jesus challenged.

I wonder, what new ministry initiatives would God have us agree together about?
  • A certain number of people who would take up the task to make disciples that make disciples?
  • Beginning a critical new ministry?
  • Hiring a new staff member?
  • A way to bless the community around us by mentoring young people?
  • A specific increase in the amount of money we give to missions and the number of missionaries we support?

I’d love to hear what you believe God is leading you to pray for Bethany Place. A picture of the future is forming. Please do all that is possible to be present on October 27th as we seek to hear God’s vision for us.

This Sunday, I am fired up about what God has burned into my heart to share with you. I believe that we will hear a spine stiffening encouragement that will move us forward, not because of me, but because of the powerful word of God. You can see the scripture and outline here.


Detecting Deception

Detecting Deception
Galatians 4:8-20
How Believers Grow: Part 4

(I will link to the video here when it becomes available, usually on Sunday afternoon.)

To maintain spiritual progress you have to discern when you are being manipulated and when you are being encouraged. It’s not always easy to tell the difference.

1.     Note that genuine ministry ______________ people from _____________

Galatians 4:8–11 (ESV) Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

2.     Understand that real ministry involves ____________ and ______________

Galatians 4:12–14 (ESV) 12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.

3.     Look for ______ for Jesus rather than the ________

Galatians 4:15–20 (ESV) 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Questions for discussion or further reflection:
What “idols” are you most in danger of serving?
In what sense do you think that Paul had become like the Galatians?
What evidence do you see that authentic ministry involves suffering?
How do we publicize events while making much of Jesus rather than ourselves?
To what extent are you tempted to want people to be impressed with you?
What are the implications of the image of childbirth to the process of making disciples?
What adjustments do you need to make in your ministry based on the picture of ministry in this passage? What about the whole church