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Friday, October 31, 2014

Trust God and Question Yourself Message Outline

Trust God and Question Yourself
Judges 4-5
From How Far is Too Far

How can we learn to stop putting ultimate confidence in spiritual leaders or our own opinions and trust God directly instead?

1.      Look past the temporary to the eternal

Judges 4:13 (ESV) 4 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. 2 And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3 Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.
2.      Trust and obey

Judges 4:416 (ESV)4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabins army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand? 8 Barak said to her, If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go. 9 And she said, I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.

12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you? So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
3.      Distinguish between what scripture reports and recommends

Judges 4:1724 (ESV)17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid. So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And he said to her, Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty. So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, Is anyone here? say, No.’ ” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking. So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24 And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


My text this morning included this verse: Judges 3:7-11 (ESV) And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 

I spent a good bit of time talking about the results of forgetting God both personally and as a culture and emphasized strongly the need for repentance instead of trying to make deals with God. But I had also wanted to spend some on what it would mean to "remember God" since the danger comes from "forgetting God."

We have far more resources than the ancient Israelites did for remembering. For instance, we have all their stories of how God revealed himself to them through those stories. But we also have the life of Jesus himself, providing us with rich material to ponder. Independent of this weeks sermon work, I've been thinking and praying through the incident of Jesus' arrest as its recorded in Matthew 26. I want to share with you what I prayed/wrote regarding this verse early Friday morning: 

Matthew 26:50 (ESV) Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you came to do." Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

Here is what I wrote: 

Jesus you replied to him so simply and yet so graciously. At this point you have prayed (in the garden). Here at this point, you are in full control. In the garden and praying, it seems you were not quite so together and then later in that unspeakably horrendous moment from the cross when you cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." But here you are so gracious to Judas even as he is perpetuating such treachery. You called him friend. You called him friend. You called him friend! You knew precisely why he was there. You knew about his evil collaboration. You knew that his heart was never with you, but now he is going public. You knew that he had a very close up seat to see all that you had done and yet his heart remained cold and distant. Yet right here you say, "Friend," (friend!) "Do what you came for." "Carry it out." "This is going to happen." Was this an invitation to Judas even in the doing of it, that he could still come home? There was no more for him to do. Matthew records no other words or actions from Judas. Rather, those who are with Judas come up at this point, now that Judas has already identified you, and they lay their hands on you and they seize you. Surely this was rough and intimidating. I've not given much thought to this before. Surely this wasn't a compassionate act either. The word "seize" communicates that it was with some force, if not violence that they did this. They seized you, who by your very spoken word created the heavens. You are the one of whom the writer of Hebrews said: 

Hebrews 1:1-4 (ESV) Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

So Jesus, I worship you. I worship you for your poise and your brilliance in what you endured in this moment. I give you praise for what you did in this moment of living through the betrayal of Judas, of enduring the brief and perhaps gentle contact between you and him. Probably such a gretting had happened many times, but never so momentously. It was in these moments the first of so many ways in which they put their hands on you with mocking and murderous intent. Jesus, you set your face like flint toward all this. You knew this was coming. I'm up late right now because I cannot sleep, but you were awake all night for us and experienced deeply brutal treatment beyond our imagination. And so Jesus, I want to worship you. i want to be amazed by you. I want to look to the cross in just this way so that I may fully know you and that i may have both the courage and the compassion to move into serving this family and this culture.

You may be thinking, "I don't see all that in that short verse." And you don't need to. But I'm hoping it will help you see a practical way to remember Jesus and to think more deeply about who he is. It is this kind of remembering that works in our hearts to draw our hearts to Him in such a way that conviction is formed so that we have the passion and the courage to obey. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Making Change Stick Message Preview

How can we pass along the gospel of Jesus Christ to the next generation? What do we need to do? What adjustments need to be made? What conversations do we need to have? And if the changes needed were clear to us, would we not seek to make them?

There is a haunting incident recorded in Judges 2. The people of Israel had relied on Moses and then Joshua for many years to be their spiritual leader. The people stayed faithful to God through Joshua’s lifetime and those of his contemporaries who outlived him. But then a slow growing tragedy become increasingly evident over time. Judges 2:10 says:
And all (Joshua’s generation) were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.
The rest of the book of Judges lays out the carnage that resulted from the next generation not knowing God.
This was not just a problem of education. In other words, there was no way they were completely ignorant of God or of how he had worked on their behalf. Rather, they failed to see its importance, they did not value it, they didn’t get it, and they didn’t see how it was relevant to their lives.
Every church in America faces this precise dilemma. We need to ask some tough questions. We need to have some hard conversations. According to 1 Corinthians 10 such passages are recorded for us so we can learn from their mistakes:
1 Corinthians 10:11 (ESV) 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
We can’t make lasting change on our own. Lasting change requires an encounter with God’s grace that reorients our view of God, ourselves, and the world.
To the Bethany Place family:
Judges 2 is a case study in how real faith in God is lost in the handoff from one generation to the next. It provides clear clues to how we should respond to see that we are faithfully making disciples that make disciples prepared for the real challenges the world presents to following Jesus. Tomorrow’s message in the series How Far is Too Far is called Making Change Stick. The message of this book is profoundly relevant to the challenges of living by faith in this culture at this time. I look forward to seeing you there.

Making Change Stick

Judges 2
How Far is Too Far?

How can we understand and experience the kind of transformation required in us so we can effectively pass along the gospel of Jesus Christ to the next generation?

Lasting change requires an encounter with God’s grace that reorients our view of God, the world, and ourselves.

To make change stick we need to . . .

1.    Grieve God’s absence

Judges 2:1–5 (ESV) Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” 4 As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the LORD.

2.    Expose the cost of our idolatry

Judges 2:7-8, 10-15 The people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years . . . 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.

3.    Run to the rescuer

Judges 2:16-23 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Danger of Comfort (Message Outline)

The Danger of Comfort
Judges 1
How Far is Too Far (series preview)

Spiritual decline is inevitable and it’s more dangerous than we think to stray from God, so we must pursue continuous spiritual renewal.

Pray and act
Judges 1:1–7 (ESV) After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. 4 Then Judah went up and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. 5 They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. 6 Adoni-bezek fled, but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes. 7 And Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table. As I have done, so God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there

Press on in the face of obstacles
Judges 1:19
19 And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.

Never Give Up
Judges 1:27–28 (ESV)
Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.

Judges 1:34 (ESV)
34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain.

Danny McCaskill-The Ridge I will be referencing this video at the end of this morning’s message.

Questions for further reflection and conversation:
  • Discuss the assertion that spiritual decline is inevitable. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • Discuss the relative benefits and dangers of studying books of the bible at one time verses picking and choosing isolated incidents?
  • What is the unique message of Judges gained by studying the whole book? 
  • How do you answer someone who asks you why God told the Israelites to completely destroy the Canaanites? Why did God ask them to do this? What application to your life now does this have? 
  • Why was the people’s failure to not drive out the inhabitants of the plain (v. 19) seen as sin rather than simply a military defeat? 
  • How would you describe spiritual bravery? 
  • How does the book of Judges illustrate the gospel?  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

How Far is Too Far?

With the exception of those who've managed to convince themselves that God is not real or that God does not care, most of us have worried at one time or another if we have not gone so far away from God, sinned so much, or sinned in such a way that God would or has already said to us, "Just go away. You make me sick!"

You may also wonder how far our society can go on flaunting God's instructions but still expect we will be protected from serious harm from those who would love to destroy us. It's easy to get complacent and put our confidence in our military or our health care system or the large oceans to our east and west to protect us.  But there are signs that we are not as invulnerable as we may have thought. Ebola has everyone's attention. Some Ebola outbreaks in the past have had up to a 90% fatality rate among those who caught the disease. This week Thomas Eric Duncan, a 42 year old man from Liberia died of the disease, not in Liberia but in a hospital in Dallas with the best medical care in the world available to him. A disastrous outbreak here seems unlikely, but it would be foolish to ignore the possibility.

Then there is the Islamic state threatening and trying to find a way to harm us or at least worry us that they could harm us in our own homes. When I was teenager, parents worried about their kids drinking and driving, doing drugs and being promiscuous. Such rebellions look more manageable in the face of families learning that not only has their child run away, but that they have run away to join the jihad of the Islamic State.

One of the reasons Islamic extremists hate us us by the way is because of our promiscuous and materialistic western culture exported all over the world through TV and Internet. Every week there is new evidence that seems to push further and further away from truth that, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." For instance, last week an article appeared in the New York Times with the title "Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime," written by Margo Kaplan. Ms. Kaplan believes she is trying to protect children, but her title itself contributes to the  increasing insanity around us. I can scarcely imagine what such a headline must sound like to a victim of child abuse.

There's a book in the Old Testament that has many parallels with our time. The book ends with this verse:

Judges 21:25 (ESV) 25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own

Everyone doing what is right in their own eyes, with little or no thought of God. It sounds disturbingly familiar. Judges is a powerful word for our time. That seems unlikely because the events recorded there happened a very long time ago, but they provide a perspective that we will never get reading the New York Times or my home town weekly newspaper, the Tri City News, or anything in between. We tend to focus on what's happening to us right now. We say, "I didn't sleep well last night because I had too much to eat late," or "I got a sunburn because I was out in the sun too long," or "I caught a cold because its going around," or "someone got lung cancer because they smoked cigarettes for 40 years or lived with someone who did." But the book of Judges is like a study that extends for a few hundred years that demonstrates vividly what happens over a few generations where the prevailing value is, "everyone does what is right in his own eyes."

The result isn't pretty. And its not easy to read. Interestingly, it's not so much a challenge to the culture running wildly away from God, but is a warning to God's people who start looking just like the culture around them. Ironically, the force of the book demonstrates the glorious grace of God extended to wildly flawed people like you and me. It answers the question, "how far is too far?" in an unforgettable way. Sunday at Bethany Place we will start digging in to this book. Along the way we will see God use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Huge issues we face every day weave in and out of the stories; issues like pride and humility, compromise, and how to pass the faith on to future generations among others.

Here's the schedule of how we will proceed over the next few weeks.

How Far is Too Far?
  • 10/12: Unseen Dangers of Comfort, Judges 1
  • 10/19: Staying Sane in the Midst of Insanity, Judges 2
  • 10/26: Pride Shattering Help, Judges 3
  • 11/2: Insurmountable Obstacles, Judges 4-5
  • 11/9: Why am I in the Mess that I'm In, Judges 6
  • 11/16: Learning to Trust, Judges 7
  • 11/23: Sin, Success & Failure, The strange & fascinating story of Samson Part 1 Judges 13-15
  • 11/30: Sin, Success & Failure, The strange & fascinating story of Samson Part 2 Judges 13-15

To my Bethany Place family, I urge you to plan to be here every Sunday or if that is impossible, that you would keep up by watching online when you have to be away. Also, this series provides a perfect opportunity for us to invite people to come to church with us. The issues addressed in this book speak clearly to our time and along the way we will meet some of the most colorful characters in all the bible. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow and look forward to meeting some new folks over the course of these weeks.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Selfies or Selfless

I learned this week that there is a Tumbler site called "Selfies at Funerals." The tagline for the site is, "Hello and Goodbye". It's at times irreverent, creepy, and self-focused but not exclusively so. The site is exactly what it says, a collection of selfies taken at funerals. Some are poignant, but most seem shallow. In the unlikely event you don't know what a "selfie" is, it's self-portrait taken with a smartphone, usually for the purpose of posting on social media. Often they are taken in good fun, but they flirt with being a high tech method to gain attention.

Attention seeking and other self-focused behaviors are nothing new. This kind of sin certainly doesn't just disappear among followers of Jesus. So we should not be surprised when we encounter carnality and immaturity in other believers. We also need to be honest about our own sin in this regard. That will help us to avoid a problem I've noticed. Some, who otherwise have a high tolerance for dealing with selfishness or immaturity with people at work or home, engage in church life with a naive view that everyone will behave by the highest Biblical standards. That's unrealistic. If the church is effectively reaching out to the community, it will always have all kinds of people. Some will have no idea how to act. Sometimes a relatively mature believer can be having a terrible day and you catch the ugly underside of their frustration. Furthermore, all of us have blind spots. No one always acts with perfect compassion and love. You know that you have not always done that. So you can't be surprised when someone acts in a way that frustrates you and you can't wear your feelings on your sleeve.

Think about this: Jesus, the greatest team leader ever, had dissent and petty jealousy on his team. And the text we will explore Sunday morning, gives evidence that the apostle John, one of the disciples closest to Jesus, had a rogue leader in the midst of a church with whom he had great influence. If Jesus and John had such inconsistencies on teams and in churches they led, what right do we have to get offended when someone has the audacity to cross us? Why we would engage in church life with the shortest of fuses and the lowest tolerance for difficulty? That's unfair and naive.

Sunday at Bethany Place, we will finish a two week series "FaceTime" from 2nd and 3rd John. 3rd John contrasts three characters who among them display both the heights of God's kind of love as well as Satan inspired, ego driven selfishness. The message is called Selfies or Selfless. The audio to the message should post here on the Bethany Place site in a few days.

Selfies or Selfless Message Outline

Selfies or Selfless
3 John
Face Time, Part 2

Everyone is put off by self-focused and self-absorbed behavior, but that is hard to recognize in ourselves, harder still to acknowledge it, and hardest of all to die to it. So how can we can get honest about our own selfishness and instead love as God loves?

Evaluate your personal concerns  3 John 1–4 (ESV)

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Buddy up 3 John 5–8 (ESV)

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

Develop thicker skin 3 John 9–10 (ESV) 

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.

Choose models carefully 3 John 11–15 (ESV)
11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
13 I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.

Questions for reflection and conversation:

  • What evidence do you see that John has concern for all of Gaius life and not only “spiritual issues”? 
  • What does John mean by "your truth"? 
  • How would you describe your "world view”? What is a biblical worldview? What is a secular worldview?
  • List some joy producing events, like for instance the birth of a first grandson. Contrast that with John’s statement: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." Keep in mind he is not just talking about those in our family who take our name. He is talking about people whom he has invested in. Evaluate and discuss what brings you joy and why. 
  • What is the manner worthy of God in which we are to support other ministries not directly coming from this church?
  • Since love is more action than feeling, what sort of actions display genuine love?
  • What is God calling us to do in terms of our support of other ministries around the world? There
  • What does it mean to go out for the sake of the name? 
  • How does the incident in this text compare to our efforts at missions?
  • Under what circumstances should someone be publicly confronted for “putting themselves first” as John says he will do in v. 10?
  • Read verse 11. Do you agree or disagree that everyone is an imitator? Who have some of your models been? 
  • Why would John ask Gaius to greet friends by name? What steps can you take to be more personal?