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Friday, March 28, 2014

I’m Still Going to Eat Blue Bell

I just finished listening to a book called Grain Brain. I don’t often read such things, but I have learned that periodically reading something relative to diet and exercise keeps me somewhat in check. If you’ve been around me much you know I enjoy food, often the wrong kinds, especially Blue Bell ice cream. But reading the book was thought provoking; the author makes remarkable claims about the benefits of drastically reducing carbs and going gluten free. Critics of the book say it draws too many conclusions and dogmatically claims too many benefits. I agree. Still the book pushed me around and I’ve altered my habits a bit. Some, of course, those with gluten allergies, have no option to play around with such things. 

One of the claims of the book is that if you eat the right kinds of protein and fat it will largely remove your cravings for carbs as well as sugary and salty snacks. And that claim got me thinking about the cravings of our heart (obviously not the physical one.) If we don’t feed our souls properly then our need for spiritual food will drive us to consume things that only makes us want more but ultimately don’t provide what we need. We tell ourselves, “just one more episode on Netflix, one more song, one more magazine article, a few more minutes of ESPN, or a few more clicks on Facebook.) Over time feeding our souls, on those things deplete rather than build up.

If you are still reading you might want to say, “What’s the harm in a little mindless fun?” I would say nothing in moderation, as long as it’s not leading you away from God. But consider this, sometimes the good can be the enemy of the best. I think its good to watch sports, to read a largely mindless novel, and to enjoy movies and TV in moderation. However, all of these behaviors can start to act like addictions. If they crowd out the spiritual practices that feed our souls then we will not have the spiritual resources to move into the overwhelming needs of the world around us. The danger of exchanging the good for the best is that we can just settle for what is good and miss God’s best. There are plenty of things that aren’t wrong, aren’t sin in and of themselves, but if they keep us from doing what God is calling us to do, then for us it is sin.

Jesus never calls people only for their own benefit. He provokes his children to enter into meeting tremendous need before we think we are ready. God places us in situations where we are forced to rely on him to empower us. We need his resources within us and we need him working through us to be of eternal good. Sunday I’ll spend some more time addressing this question: When faced with overwhelming need that God calls us to meet, how do we learn to rely on Jesus rather than only our own abilities? If we don’t do that, we will quickly burn out and give up. That’s not God’s call on your life.

Video for the message Beyond Capacity.

Beyond Capacity Message Outline

Beyond Capacity
Mark 6:30-44
Hi Def Faith: Part 4

When faced with overwhelming need, how do we learn to rely on Jesus rather than only on our own abilities? 

1. Know your limits

Mark 6:30–32 (ESV) 30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 

2. Get what you need 

Mark 6:33–38 (ESV) 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 

3. Watch what God does

Mark 6:39–44 (ESV) 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nominalism vs. Fanaticism

Here is one of my favorite passages from the Reason for God.
Many people try to understand Christians along a spectrum from “nominalism” at one end to “fanaticism” on the other. A nominal Christian is someone who is Christian in name only, who does not practice it and perhaps barely believes it. A fanatic is someone who is thought to over-believe and over-practice Christianity. In this schematic, the best kind of Christian would be someone in the middle, someone who doesn’t go all the way with it, who believes it but is not too devoted to it. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that the Christian faith is a basically a form of moral improvement. Intense Christians would therefore be intense moralists or, as they were called in Jesus’s time, Pharisees. Pharisaic people assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This leads naturally to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression. This is the essence of what we think of as fanaticism. 
What if, however, the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? Belief that you are accepted by God by sheer grace is profoundly humbling. The people who are fanatics, then, are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.
Keller, Timothy (2008-02-14). The Reason for God (pp. 54-55). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Tale of Two Characters

God shaped my life as a teen with preaching that was loving and compassionate but also tough and uncompromising. It was the kind of preaching that generated conviction of sin. My sense is that such preaching results from a combination of the content, forged from rich immersion in scripture, along with a high dependence on God, generated through prayer, along with the force of a life that clearly embodies text.

In the early part of my ministry, I became enamored with a kind of preaching that was a bit light by contrast. I’m embarrassed by some of the messages I preached that largely spoke only of the benefits of a relationship with God and obscured the challenges and costs. I pray that my preaching now more closely reflects the balance the Bible strikes.

This is on my mind because of a curious phrase in my text for Sunday. Mark 6:14-29 records how John the Baptist loses his head, literally. Jesus is the main subject of the gospels but Matthew, Mark, and Luke all relate the incident. Herod Antipas had married Herodias, who was his brother Phillip’s wife. That had to make family gatherings awkward! John challenged Herod about this, telling him it was against God’s law. Herodias hated John for this and literally wanted to kill him. But Herod’s reaction was more complicated. He arrested John, but then the text says:
Mark 6:20 (ESV) 20  . . . Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
What's going on here? What I think is happening to Herod is the conviction of sin. Herod shows its possible to be intrigued and moved by preaching, but still not be made right with God. John preached God’s word in such a way that it did what Hebrews 4:12 would later explain that it does: it divides and purifies and disturbs and troubles. But this affect can’t be taken for granted. We can’t see all that God is doing in people’s hearts as they hear God’s word. We get supernatural insight through scripture as to what’s going on in Herod. I think we can be sure of this: John was not a smug individual, sitting back hypocritically throwing verbal rocks at people he didn’t like. Herod could have easily dismissed such a person. Rather John was consumed with the truth and consumed with a passion for God that led him to speak the truth in such a way that got him arrested. But even after he arrested John, Herod went to see him often because listening to John challenged him to his core. May God grant that our preaching, teaching, and even conversations have such an impact. Why? Because being confronted with the character of God is the most important and necessary thing that can happen to a person.

From this text, I will speak Sunday about the end of casual Christianity.

The End of Casual Christianity Message Outline

The End of Casual Christianity
Mark 6:14-29
Hi Def Faith: Part 3

1.    __________ in spiritual conversations from current events

Mark 6:14–15 (ESV) 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

2.    Speak _____________ with humility

Mark 6:16–20 (ESV) 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

3.    ____________________ your character under pressure

Mark 6:21–29 (ESV) 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A prayer strategy for anxiety

A couple of nights I go I woke up at 3 and couldn't go back to sleep because I started worrying about some things. I'm reluctantly allowing a peek under the hood from part of my prayer time later that morning once I gave up trying to go back to sleep. I usually pray by writing so it's not unusual for me to have something like this written out. I edited it for clarity but this is largely how the prayer went as I reflected on this verse. 

Psalm 103:19 (ESV) 19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Lord you have established your throne in the heavens, you have established your throne in the heavens. Lord, you and you alone have established your throne in the heavens, You are Lord over all. You are the great and mighty king. Holy and righteous and awesome is your name. What does it mean to say that you have established your throne in the heavens? How does it help to remember this?  I need to remember that you are the King, that you are sovereign and that I can live and move in the world without anxiety because, though my life will not be easy, nothing happens to me, nothing faces me that surprises you, or that hasn’t passed through your hands. This means that when I get anxious in the middle of the night about the idea of flying to Cambodia for two weeks on a missions trip, that I have no reason to worry or be anxious about that where my family is concerned. I don’t worry when I drive to the office every day. I am in no more danger as I fly to Cambodia than when I drive to work.  My confidence must be in you, not in my ability to drive my car and my familiarity with the drive to work each day. Help me place my confidence in you. I can trust You because you have shown me through your son Jesus that you are good and gracious. Romans 8:32 (ESV) 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? I have no reason to doubt God’s goodness to me and so there is no reason to fear. So how do I do this? How do I defeat anxiety when it strikes?
  1. Memorize Psalm 103:19 and Romans 8:32
  2. At the first moment of sensing anxiety, confess to God that I am forgetting that he is the King and that he is good.
  3. Choose to dwell on the text until I am more impressed with God than I am with the problem provoking the anxiety.
On another subject, Sunday I'm preaching a message called, Let it Go, and yes I or hopefully Noelle, will sing a bit of the song from the movie Frozen. She is like a constant soundtrack from the movie right now, so I think it's only fair we share a bit of that with you. You can read the scripture and outline here

Let it Go, Message Outline

Let it Go
Mark 6:7-13
High Def Faith, Part 2

How do we do positive good in the world and sharing the gospel without needing to monitor whether people like us or not?

1. Go on the basis of a calling from God to meet real needs in people’s lives

Mark 6:7 (ESV) 7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

2. Develop means for remembering your radical dependence on God.

Mark 6:8–11 (ESV) 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

3. Pursue a balance of word and grace ministries

Mark 6:12–13 (ESV)12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Limiting God? video/audio

The first message in the series Hi Def Faith is available here on the Bethany Place website. You can read the preview for this message here.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Will Cornett preaching on Deuteronomy 6 at Bethany Place

It's hard to put into words what an enormous privilege it was for Kat and me this past Sunday to host our daughter Hannah and son and daughter in law Will & Kim at Bethany Place. Hannah sang just before the message and then Will preached the morning sermon. We are so proud of all three of them. You can watch/listen to Will's message on Deuteronomy 6 here from the Bethany Place web site. Unfortunately we don't usually record any of the music parts of the service.  

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Danger of Distorted Vision

I don’t see well. I didn't know that I didn't see well until I was about 10 when I got glasses. How I functioned before that I don't know. It was a serious hindrance playing team sports so early in high school I got the most hideous athletic glasses you've ever seen. They didn't improve my image, but they worked well for basketball. However, in football they fogged up terribly. I had to come off the field often because I couldn't see at all. That was no great loss, but we didn't have many extra players.
When I was around 16 a family friend recruited me to play Santa Claus for a local kindergarten class. I'm way more "equipped" to play that role now but with some pillows and a hat to cover up my hair, I could reasonably pass. For some reason, I thought my glasses didn't go with the costume so I took them off. When I walked in and saw people, I immediately assumed I was with the children and yelled, "Ho, ho, ho!" but it was just some parents and teachers. It was pretty embarrassing.
Not being able to see can be annoying, or embarrassing, and in some cases dangerous. How we see God critically influences our ability to trust him and know him. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature but several things influence that way we see him. For one, electronic distractions get in the way of us paying attention to any one thing for very long. But more dangerous is what David Wells describes in his book God in the Whirlwind, about how our culture influences how we understand love. The apostle John said, "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10) Jesus sacrificial death defines love according to the Bible. It was necessary because our sin invokes the righteous wrath of God. We stand accountable to God and in eternal danger unless we accept God's love expressed to us in the cross. 
Our culture defines God's love differently. Wells argues that many would now say that God’s love means that:
He is there for us when we need him. He is there for what we need from him. He is love in that he gives inward comfort and makes us feel better about ourselves. He is love in that he makes us happy, that he gives us a sense of fulfillment, that he gives us stuff, that he heals us, (and) that he does everything to encourage us each and every day.
That view of God and God's love distorts and misleads. Sunday at Bethany Place we will examine an incident in Jesus' life that contains the power to explode our misguided ideas about who Jesus is and create the possibility for a Hi Definition Faith. You can see the scripture and outline here.

Limiting God? Message Outline

Limiting God?
Mark 6:1-6
Hi Def Faith, Part 1

How can we see Jesus clearly so that our faith is fully provoked toward radically following him?

1. By seeing Jesus as a real person

Mark 6:1–3 (ESV) He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

2. By killing pride that blocks our vision

Mark 6:4 (ESV) 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

3. By seeing that Jesus is worthy to be trusted

Mark 6:5–6 (ESV) 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.
And he went about among the villages teaching.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Humility vs. Self-Righteousness

Several weeks ago I started using as part of of my prayer time each morning one of the resolutions that Jonathan Edwards wrote, when he was 18 and 19 years old. Here is the one that I read this morning. It's a terrific picture of what humility looks like as opposed to a self righteousness.
Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
This fits well with Romans 3:23-25 which I also spent some time with this morning as well as a tremendous video clip regarding homosexuality by Tim Keller that I came across yesterday afternoon.

You can read the backstory on Edwards' resolutions here.