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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mashed Potatoes Theology

I love mashed potatoes.

They love me too. Mashed potatoes seem to be about the heaviest food you can eat.  Loaded with milk, salt, butter, and sour cream; when you eat them, they just park, for a good long while. I am always heavier on a day after I eat them.

Kat makes the best mashed potatoes and we are always grateful when she does and I'm glad to help clean up. But my least favorite task of cleaning up is finding containers to put leftovers in. Those leftover mashed potatoes are not to be wasted! It’s too much work to make them and well, you know. So it's important to find a container big enough to scoop them into so they will be available for later.  You want a container that will hold all the potatoes.

To state the obvious, it's not those little throwaway plastic containers that you are valuable. It's the mashed potatoes that matter.

Stay with me here. You have a theology.  Everyone does; even atheists. There is something in their minds about the God they don't believe in. Your theology is a kind of container for the truth about God. In this case, it's not so much about the size, but its shape.  If we don't have the right shaped container for the truth about who God is, then when we hear Truth, we can't keep it.  Our understanding of who God is, what the Christian life is like, is skewed. That is dangerous. Sometimes we can even reject truth out of hand, if we can't find a shape it fits into.

The book of Revelation is a part of the inspired Word of God. Our understanding of the world and who God is will be incomplete in our mind if we ignore this book. It helps us to see the end from the beginning. Here's how Eugene Peterson says that:

The truth of the gospel is already complete, revealed in Jesus Christ. There is nothing new to say on the subject. But there is a new way to say it. I read the Revelation not to get more information but to revive my imagination. . .  . [John] takes truth that has been eroded to platitude by careless usage and sets it in motion before us in an ‘animated and impassioned dance of ideas.

I'm in the midst of a three-week series from the 6th chapter of Revelation. That's where the material begins that the book is famous for; the prophecies of things to come in the future. The series is simply called, Next. You can listen to the first message here. This Sunday's message is called, "Normal is Overated, Overlooked." I'm praying that you give me the opportunity to share with you the message God has given me this week.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Morning and Evening

Recently I was encouraged to give Spurgeon devotional Morning and Evening another try. Today's reading is a fantastic encouragement to linger over scripture. 

Morning, October 12

“I will meditate in thy precepts.”
— Psalm 119:15

There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on his Word spiritual strength for labour in his service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: if we would have wine from it, we must bruise it; we must press and squeeze it many times. The bruiser’s feet must come down joyfully upon the bunches, or else the juice will not flow; and they must well tread the grapes, or else much of the precious liquid will be wasted. So we must, by meditation, tread the clusters of truth, if we would get the wine of consolation therefrom. Our bodies are not supported by merely taking food into the mouth, but the process which really supplies the muscle, and the nerve, and the sinew, and the bone, is the process of digestion. It is by digestion that the outward food becomes assimilated with the inner life. Our souls are not nourished merely by listening awhile to this, and then to that, and then to the other part of divine truth. Hearing, reading, marking, and learning, all require inwardly digesting to complete their usefulness, and the inward digesting of the truth lies for the most part in meditating upon it. Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord, and be this our resolve this morning, “I will meditate in thy precepts.”

Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening: Daily Readings. Complete and unabridged; New modern edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006. Print.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

If We Knew What God Knows (Message Outline)

If We Knew What God Knows
2 Corinthians 9
Membership Matters

How can we learn to trust God to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading?

1. Arrange giving in advance

2 Corinthians 9:1–5 (ESV) Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

2. Seek God’s blessing to bless others

2 Corinthians 9:6–11 (ESV) The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, 

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; 
his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

3. Preach the good news to yourself to provoke generosity leading to worship

2 Corinthians 9:12–15 (ESV) For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Praying the Gospel
Adapted from the book, Gospel, by J.D. Greear.
1. God, you are our Creator, Owner, Sustainer, Sovereign, and Judge. Acts 17
2. We have sinned against you and so are sinners. Rom. 3:23
3. Because of this we deserve eternal separation from you. Rom 6:23
4. Jesus you died on the cross to pay for our sin. Romans 5:8
5. You rose from the dead, overcoming death to give us eternal life. 1 Cor. 15:1-4
6. This message is not always controlling our thoughts, attitudes, values and actions. Revelation 3:3
7.     We ask for your grace to repent and make this good news the motivating factor of our lives. Rev. 3:3.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Prayer List Challenge

This paragraph is messing with me today:
Packer is concerned about how many Christians tend to pray from long "prayer lists." The theological thinking and self reflection that should accompany supplication takes time. Prayer lists and other such methods may lead us to very speedily move through names and needs with a cursory statement "if it is your will" without the discipline of backing up our requests with thoughtful reasoning. Packer writes that "if we are going to take time to think our way into the situations and personal lives on which are intercessions focus," we may not be able to pray for as many items and issues.“ Our amplifying and argumentation will (then) lift our intercessions from the shopping list, prayer-wheel level to the apostolic category of what Paul called “struggle” (Col. 2:1-3).
From Prayer by Tim Keller page 229-230.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Snowflake Prayer

The Snowflake Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ:
In obedience
to your holy claim upon me,
I give myself anew to you this day;
All that I am, all that I have,
To be wholly and unconditionally
yours for your using.
Take me away from myself,
And use me up
As you will,
When you will,
Where you will,
With whom you will.


I didn't write this prayer, I need to look the source up, but this will be used in this morning's message and I wanted to be able to point people to it. 

Serve (message outline)

Romans 12:1-13
Membership Matters

How can I serve God through his church without getting crushed by the needs of the world?

1. Sacrifice is the path to the life you’ve always wanted
Romans 12:1–2 (ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

2. We depend on everyone so no one is crushed
Romans 12:3–8 (ESV) 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 

3. Develop passion about what really matters
Romans 12:9–13 (ESV) 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Questions for reflection and conversation:
What does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices? In what sense is this our spiritual worship? 
How can we be transformed by the renewing of our minds? What does this have to do with discerning God’s will?
What does it mean for us to think of ourselves with sober judgment? 
In what sense are we individually members one of another? What practical difference should this make?
Discuss the gifts listed in this passage. Do you see all these gifts in use at our church? How can we be better positioned to make room for new people and new gifts to operate in our ministries? 
Why is zeal or passion important in ministry? Discuss how such passion is developed.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Worship (Message Outline)

Ephesians 2:8–10, Hebrews 10:24–25, Psalm 95:1–3
Membership Matters, Part 1

1. Experience the first act of worship

Ephesians 2:8–10 (ESV) 
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

2. Commit to the primary gathering of the body

Hebrews 10:24–25 (ESV) 
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

3. Refresh your vision of worship
Psalm 95:1–3 (ESV) 
   Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; 
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; 
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 
For the Lord is a great God, 
and a great King above all gods.

Questions for further reflection and discussion:

1. Why do we exist as a church?
2. Why do you participate personally?
3. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? How should we cooperate together to make disciples?
4. In what sense is trusting Jesus and his work on the cross for your salvation a first act of worship?
5. Often Ephesians 2:8-9 are quoted in isolation. What does verse 10 add to the understanding of the whole experience of what it means to be saved?
6. Do what Hebrews 10:24 says, that is, consider how we should stir one another up to love. Consider how we can stir one another up to good works. How does Heb. 10:24 go along with Gal. 2:10?
7. What relationship do you see among worship and small group participation and the work of encouragement? How might you be more intentional in your encouraging of others when we gather for worship?
8. How does Psalm 95:1-3 challenge the way you pursue worship corporately? How does it challenge all us collectively? 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Our Vision of Faithfulness in Hard Times Message Outline

Our Vision of Faithfulness in Hard Times

James 5:7-12
Faith That Works

How will we keep from being squashed into something really unattractive when facing persecution?

1.    Long for Jesus return

James 5:7-8 (ESV)
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

2.    Watch your mouth

James 5:9, 12 (ESV)
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

3.    Know God’s compassion

James 5:10-11 (ESV)
10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Questions for reflection and discussion:

  1. What is wrong with this statement, which you may have heard or even said: “Don’t ever pray for patience?”
  2. What does James mean by establish your hearts?
  3. Are there ways in which I am guilty of grumbling against other believers?
  4. Discuss the difference in playful sarcasm and spiteful sarcasm?
  5. In what sense will a Christian face the judgment of God? Consider James 5:9 in your discussion.
  6. What prophets might James have had in mind in verse 10? How might Hebrews 11:32–38 help to answer this question?
  7. In what sense can a believer fall under condemnation? How does this square with Romans 8:1.
  8. Compare James 5:12 with Matthew 5:33-37

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Going Old School

My favorite time of the day is first thing in the morning. Ok, maybe its about 15 minutes later once I get some coffee. There was a time when I had to make myself, or try to make myself spend time in Bible reading and prayer. It is God's mercy to me that this is rarely a struggle any more (I have plenty of other struggles). In my late 20’s, I learned an approach to prayer and Bible reading that transformed my life. I wrote about that here. As the years went on and computers became faster and portable and Bible study software proliferated, I graduated to praying using a computer to aid this time alone with God. It took me a long time, many, many years to recognize that much of the time that is a bad idea for me. There was a sense in which using my computer to help me spend time with God felt more efficient, but I see now that efficiency and relationship are not words that fit together well.

I’ve been going old school now for several weeks. It started when I read one of those articles about how taking notes by hand is a more effective way of learning when listening in class. When a person who types well uses a computer to take notes, it tempts him or her to write what they hear word for word. But when he or she writes by hand, it forces them to synthesize on the spot because it is impossible to write down everything. That distinction in processing increases learning. Somehow reading that article provoked me to ditch my computer for morning prayer.

So now for a few months, I get up and I read a little from a book; right now Tim Keller’s book Prayer. Then I do my McChayne Bible reading plan from my ESV Reader’s Bible, often out loud and slow. I also have a pen and a notebook close by. From this slow marinating of my heart and mind in the word of God, I am provoked to pray and speak back to the God who has just been speaking to me through his word.

I want to say over the top words here along the lines of what you would read in Psalm 119, that this time alone with God is often a rich feast. That is true. But I must also tell you that sometimes my heart is cold and my mind is distracted. But by God’s grace I stay at it. Such times have little to do with being quiet, unless quiet means the sense in my heart that comes from not having my digital devices creating an undertow of stress I didn’t detect until it wasn’t there. The devices are still close by, but their bells and whistles are turned off and they don’t interrupt me.

(Here’s an article about the dangers relative to having a smart phone close by in the mornings. Ironically, I read this while still in bed. But then I got up.)

Making a Difference in Our Community Sermon Outline

Making a Difference in Our Community
James 1:19-27

What can provoke us toward sustained compassionate ministry to our community?

1.    Submit to the word of God

James 1:19–21 (ESV)
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

2.    Persevere in scripture to provoke obedience

James 1:22–25 (ESV)
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

3.    Follow through with compassionate action

James 1:26–27 (ESV)
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Questions for further reflection and discussion:
·      List ministries of our church aimed at people in our community who do not attend BP?
·      How is the challenge regarding listening, speaking, and anger relevant to caring for the community around us?
·      What does it mean to receive with meekness the implanted word? Do you see the word “meekness” as a strong word or a weak word? Why?
·      What is the difference in these two statements: “Do what the word says” and “be a doer of the word?” Why might this difference matter?
·      What practical steps are involved in “looking into the perfect law and persevering in that?
·      Orphans and widows were the most helpless members of society in the time of James’ writing. Is the same still true now, or would you identify other groups of people as most in need now?
·      How can we learn to think as missionaries to our community?
·      How can we be innovative in serving non-Christians outside of our church?

·      What needs in our community is God is God calling us to meet?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Scandalous Grace Message Outline

Scandalous Grace
Judges 14-15
No Perfect People Allowed p. 2

Scandalous grace moves us to . . . 

1.    Exercise self-control

Judges 14:1–9 (ESV) 
Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.

After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9 He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.

2.    Act for the good of others

Judges 14:10–18 (ESV)
10 His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do. 11 As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. 12 And Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, 13 but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Put your riddle, that we may hear it.” 14 And he said to them,
       “Out of the eater came something to eat.
       Out of the strong came something sweet.”
And in three days they could not solve the riddle.
15 On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” 16 And Samson’s wife wept over him and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” 17 She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. 18 And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,
       “What is sweeter than honey?
       What is stronger than a lion?”
And he said to them,
       “If you had not plowed with my heifer,
       you would not have found out my riddle.”

3.    Treat people the way you want to be treated

Judges 14:19 (ESV) 19 And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

See Judges 15

Matthew 7:12 (ESV) 12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Questions for reflection and discussion:
1.     What evidence do you see the Samson bullies his parents? Don’t miss v. 9
2.     What evidence do you see in chapter 4 that Samson lives by impulse? What are the dangers of this?
3.     Why is the incident with the lion a problem? See Numbers 6:1-8
4.     Three times these chapter say that the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Samson? What is the significance of these instances?
5.     What evidence do you see that Samson trusts in his own strength rather than depending on God?
6.     Much of chapter 15 deals with revenge and retaliation. How do you see this same value played out in small ways and big ways from sibling rivalry to centuries of international strife?
7.     How would you describe the difference in revenge and punishment/discipline?
8.     In what sense is Matthew 7:12 the opposite of the primary value exhibited in this passage?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

No Perfect People Allowed

This post is primarily for BP folks but there are links to some interesting things I've read this week at the end.

There are many things on my mind this morning. I want to tell you briefly about a few of them.
Tomorrow we begin a new series called No Perfect People Allowed. Some think church is for good people, for folks who’ve got their lives together. Worse, is the suspicion that we wouldn’t want people whose lives are a mess. This is ironic because the only way to become a part of God’s family is to admit your failures. Over the next three weeks we will look at the life of Samson. It’s a spectacular place both to see the stubborn and even scandalous grace of God, while also seeing that the kind of people God uses are deeply and sometimes embarrassingly flawed. We will gain a strong sense that God is not looking for people who think they’ve got their act together. Or as you may have heard me say, “the church is not a museum for displaying perfectly finished works of art. Rather, its a hospital for sick people; folks that know they need help.” That means there is hope for people like you and me.
Please mark Thursday evening June 4th on your calendar. On that night we will explore the results of the Transformational Church survey many of us took a few weeks back. I've seen the results and I am encouraged by the fact that we already had plans in place before seeing the results to address areas the survey suggests we take a look at. You'll hear more about that in the weeks to come.
Beginning May 31st we begin a series we are tentatively calling Do the Work. It's a study of the NT book James. Early in that book there is a challenge to not just be a hearer of the word but a doer. Soon following that are challenges to care for the practical needs of people. We are structuring opportunities to help us do exactly what the text says. No one will be able to participate in each project. But we challenge everyone to participate in at least one of those local projects. You will hear more about that soon as well.
Each week I come across posts I would like to share with you. Here are a few I saw this week:
Ten Things You Should Never Say to a Guest in a Worship Service - None of you would say such things to people, but I'm guessing you have stories of things you have experienced. I'd love to hear about them.
On Mother’s Day, Remember the Infertile - This is an excellent post highlighting a concern that's always on my mind on Mother's Day.

Read the Bible to Your Anxiety - I've found myself sharing this with a number of people this week. It is definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

The Briefing - This is not a specific post but rather a podcast that I listen to each weekday, usually while getting ready in the morning. It is a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview by Al Mohler the president of Southern Seminary in Louisville KY. That probably doesn't grab your attention much, but I like it because it is intelligent and pointed without being alarmist. You can listen from your computer or podcast it to your phone.