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Saturday, February 28, 2015

About That "New" Membership Requirement

Something funny happened after church last Sunday. We had a great morning of worship. At the end of the service a handful of people came forward to pray and a new family expressed their intent to join our church membership. After introducing the new family, instead of praying the final prayer myself, I asked the dad in this family if he would close the service in prayer. You see, I had spent time with this person and  prayed with him on a handful of occasions. I knew he would be fine with praying in that environment. The thought to ask him to pray popped into my head and I went with it.

At the back door, I got teased about this immediately. A couple of people said to me, “You know that no one else is ever going to join the church now, right?” I instantly realized that I had just messed with one of many people’s greatest fears: speaking in front of a group of people. Likely I made it worse, because for some, the idea of praying spontaneously in front of a couple hundred people would be nearly their worst nightmare.

So I thought it would take this opportunity to explain the membership requirements for joining Bethany Place Baptist Church:
  • To have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus. I don’t like to write in the passive voice, but in this case we are more dependent on what God does in salvation, than on what we do in expressing faith in Jesus. I love these verses to describe what it means to be saved: Ephesians 2:4–5 (ESV) 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— All believers have a great responsibility to know and to share the gospel so that unbelievers have a chance to hear it and trust Jesus.
  • Attend a Membership Matters class. In this class, we explain how a person is saved as well as talk about the purposes of the church, our leadership structure, and we spend a lot of time answering questions about the church in general and Bethany Place in specific. Attenders of this class receive a membership application and a church covenant. The application provides an opportunity for a person to describe her or his salvation experience and asks a few other questions. The application and the covenant need to be signed and returned to the church office to complete the membership process.
  • All new members are formally accepted into the church body at the next business meeting. This seems like a formality, but there is real meaning behind it and we should take this seriously. As a church body, we are saying to new members, “we see evidence in you of genuine salvation.” That is what a church is supposed to do. If we accept people into membership who have not been saved, we give them false assurance that they are eternally safe.  
  • Not on the list of membership requirements: You will not be asked to pray publicly.  That is, unless you have made it obvious that you would be happy to do such a thing, then we might.

Anyone can start the process of membership by coming forward during the invitation time near the end of our service, or by marking your desire to discuss membership on a communication card and handing it to an usher or elders, or by emailing the elders at elders@bethanyplace.com.

Tomorrow I continue the series, "What Do We Need to Endure?" Through the series we will explore how conviction is developed. The series comes from the first 5 chapters of the book of Exodus, containing some of the most well known stories in the Bible but which also contain uncanny insights into current struggles. You can listen to the first message in the series here.

We created a card you can use to invite people to the series. We have copies you can take with you. Tomorrow’s message is called My Dream Has Died from Exodus 2.

My Dream Has Died

My Dream Has Died
Exodus 2
What Do We Need to Endure? Part 2

1. Learn to trust the God who rescues

Exodus 2:1–10 (ESV) Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. 4 And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. 5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” 

2. Ask yourself tough questions

Exodus 2:11–15 (ESV) 11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well. 

3. Do what is before you trusting God for the future

Exodus 2:16–22 (ESV) 16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” 

Exodus 2:23–25 (ESV) 23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dressing Warm

Yesterday morning was brutally cold. It didn't bother me much until I had to get out and put gas in my car. For a few moments, I stood still and experienced the feel of a below zero wind child. It made me want to give away my hat and gloves. I had just seen a young man walking on the street wearing what looked like a lightweight leather jacket not buttoned up. He had nothing on his hands or head. Truthfully, he was giving the impression that says, "Coats are for wimps." I'm thinking he probably won't accept them, but if was still out when we left the gas station, I wanted to offer them. Apparently he didn't have far to walk, just into one of the nearby businesses. Having just stood in the cold with a warm coat, zipped to the top and wearing a hat and gloves, I knew he was in no way protected from what he was facing.

This made me think about a different "environment." That is the "environment" of a thousand temptations to turn away from God little by little or to accept small compromises that eventually cause a person to drift disastrously off course. There's nothing new under the sun. Temptation or pressures to compromise aren’t new. However, the amount of such pressures and temptations seem more ominous now. That being true it begs the question of what sort of protection we need to walk into this environment that can so quickly cool passion for God. What do we need to not just protect from "spiritual frostbite" but also help us thrive? The answer: conviction. Al Mohler defines conviction as:

A belief of which we are thoroughly convinced. I don’t mean that we are merely persuaded that something is true, but rather that we are convinced this truth is essential and life-changing. We live out of this truth and are willing to die for it.
Mohler, Albert. Conviction to Lead

There's a great distance between casually saying, “Of course, I believe in God,” of, “Of course I believe the Bible,” and being convinced that it is true, willing to live out of that truth and willing to die for it. But such conviction is required to withstand the cold wind blowing against real faith.

Sunday I begin a series called "What Do We Need to Endure?" Through the series we will explore how this kind of conviction is developed. The series comes from the first 5 chapters of the book of Exodus, containing some of the most well known stories in the Bible but which also contain uncanny insights into current struggles.


We created a card you can use to invite people to this series. You can see that here and we will have copies you can take with you tomorrow morning. Tomorrow’s message is called Fear and Control. Audio

Fear and Control (Message outline)

Fear and Control
Exodus 1

Enthusiasm, compassion, even fear can create bursts of activity that create positive good, but only conviction can sustain faithful difference making in the face of hardship.

1.    Recognize God at work in history

Exodus 1:1–7 (ESV) These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

2.    Identify the fear that leads to abuse

Exodus 1:8–14 (ESV) 8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

3.    Develop the fear that conquers fear

Exodus 1:15–22 (ESV) 15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

Slow Going?

Perhaps it seems so obvious that it doesn't need to be said, but when someone initially comes to faith in Jesus, that is not the end goal. Rather, that moment is the starting point of a lifelong process of being transformed by the renewing of our minds to become like Jesus. But even when we know better, our behavior sometimes betrays that we may not believe that as deeply as needed. Parents make this mistake when they pray and grieve and even worry over their children who have not yet trusted Jesus, but then when their child does accept Jesus and is baptized, there is an internal, if not a literal sigh of relief that says, "whew, I'm so glad that hurdle is crossed."  There is temptation to grow more spiritually careless at this point as if to think, "I've got them in the boat, they aren't going to hell now so we can go back to living the way that we want to live." That's stated overly negative, but I've seen it happen. I can remember some sentiment in myself of wanting to relax a bit spiritually with my own kids after they came to Jesus.

This also happens when a church puts a lot of focus on helping people accept Christ, get baptized, and drawn into relationships through church membership but then doesn't have an intentional process for helping people keep moving forward spiritually. This focus on the beginning of a relationship with Jesus ignores a significant part of what we know as the Great Commission. There Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you, and surely I will be with you to the end of the age. "
It's the middle part that gets overlooked when all the focus is on the beginning of the relationship with God. One reason it gets overlooked is that we Americans are addicted to fast, but the process of discipleship is slow. It cannot be sped up. In our church we hold classes about membership and about how to grow as a believer and how to discover your spiritual gifts. All of these are important and will continue. But perhaps we betray our desire to get these done fast when we shorten them to get them done as quickly as possible. We do this to include as many as people as possible and we will continue, but let us not  forget that the real work of spiritual progress will be slow. Sometimes progress will seem almost non-existent. It's what author Eugene Peterson calls A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I will talk further about this slow process Sunday at Bethany Place in a message from Mark 8:22-26 called, "Slow Going?"