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Friday, December 30, 2016

Don't Point Out a Need, Create a Hunger (An Invitation to join me on my Bible Reading Plan for 2017)

Several weeks ago, my friend Gary Stewart* challenged me with the words above. In a sermon, I had just issued an invitation to our church to join me in my Bible Reading plan for 2017. His phrase has haunted me ever since. I have longed for years to know how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to create a hunger in us to meet God in His word. God began creating such a hunger in me as a teenager. Then, in my mid 20's I experienced a revolution in getting at scripture in a way that transformed my life and I continue to follow it to this day. But how to effectively help others to develop this hunger has mystified me.

Gary's challenge put words to my concern that bluntly stating, "you need to read the Bible" does not motivate anyone. I have some insight now as to why that is. The time I meet with God in His word each morning is not a duty. Rather, most days it is a delight! But it seems that my encouragement to others often comes out sounding like it’s a task to be performed. Reading the Bible is not primarily an intellectual experience as if I am just trying to learn something. It is how I meet with God. Even when I'm reading tough passages, as long as I don't rush, this time hearing from God and responding in prayer nearly always reminds me that my relationship with God is not based on obligation but on love. I'm reminded God is still God, I am not alone, and regardless of what I'm facing that day, I can live with hope and confidence. Though I am often reminded through scripture that I am more sinful than I feared, I'm also reminded that I am more loved than I ever dreamed.

I want to hear and respond to Jesus' invitation in Rev. 3:20, often used in evangelism, but was initially directed to those already in God's kingdom:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.

How can we refuse such an invitation?

Jesus spoke out of a culture that richly valued unhurried time at a meal as a deep act of friendship. Don't think of scarfing down waffle fries while rushing off to the next engagement or standing over a sandwich and checking email on the phone. No, this is an invitation to a rich experience that results in knowing God, which Jesus says (John 17:3) is the very thing that our soul craves whether we realize that or not.

In 2017 one way I plan to accept Jesus' invitation is to read the Chronological Bible plan. Several in our church have used this plan in recent years. I have not used it before but am very much looking forward to it. You can purchase a physical copy (several translations available)** that follows this plan or you can get the plan for free and read it on a phone or tablet (if you can manage the distractions) or print out the plan and read it in your own Bible.  A few days a week, I will make observations about the reading for that day and send it by email to those who sign up for those updates. Though maybe not profound, I will engage with some portion of the daily reading a few days per week in a way that I pray will be helpful. You can expect two or three emails per week. Please send your email address to or by private Facebook message to subscribe to this list.

*Gary Stewart and I have been friends for more than 20 years. He recently retired from serving as a full time pastor. He and his wife Melinda have been attending Bethany Place for a couple of months. Gary is preaching at Bethany Place this Sunday while we are visiting with family in Kentucky. I’m looking forward to the privilege of preaching in my home church, Cumberland Baptist, Sunday morning.

**There is more than one chronological approach to reading through the Bible in a year. I'm using the one linked to above. You can purchase a physical copy in several translations, but there is not one for the ESV (my preferred Bible) following this specific plan.  I'll be printing a plan and reading from my own Bible or computer.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Misunderstanding Greatness (message outline)

Misunderstanding Greatness: or How to Avoid Embarrassing Yourself
Mark 10:32-45
Stuff Jesus Talks About, But We Don’t

Is there a way to speed up growing up? 

Hear and apply what Jesus says

Mark 10:32–34 (ESV)
32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Recognize the danger of embarrassing yourself if you don’t

Mark 10:35–40 (ESV)
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

Aim at genuine greatness

Mark 10:41–45 (ESV)
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Comfortable Danger: How Grace Cures an Anxious Heart (Sermon outline)

Comfortable Danger: How Grace Cures an Anxious Heart
From the series Stuff Jesus Talks About But We Don't
Mark 10:17-31

You need uncomfortable encounters with God to root out secret idolatry that threatens your well being now and for eternity. 

An awkward conversation

Mark 10:17–22 (ESV)
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

An impossible task

Mark 10:23–27 (ESV)
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

A gracious God

Mark 10:28–31 (ESV)
28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Receiving the Kingdom Like a Child (message outline)

Receiving the Kingdom Like a Child
Mark 10:13–16
Stuff Jesus Talks About, But We Don’t

How children help us overcome barriers that blind us to the heart of the gospel.

Recognize how persistent our stubbornness is

Mark 10:13–14a (ESV)
13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant 

Recognize that our stubbornness offends God

Mark 10:14 (ESV)
14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

Receive God’s kingdom understanding that we are powerless to help ourselves

Mark 10:15–16 (ESV) 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Why Hell Matters Message Outline

Why Hell Matters 
Mark 9:42-50
Stuff Jesus Talks About, But We Don’t

Know the seriousness of negative influence

Mark 9:42 (ESV)
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Feel the urgency of fully following Jesus 

Mark 9:43–48 (ESV) 
43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Live accordingly with passion

Mark 9:49–50 (ESV) 
49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

The Importance of Why

Today's reading:
Proverbs 22:17–19, Psalm 119:49–72, Isaiah 56, Matthew 4

I read the above scripture this morning and made a few notes, but before that while running I listened to a panel conversation amongst a few well known pastors at the recent SBC meeting in St. Louis. I was challenged by it, but also discouraged because I don’t do well what they are talking about and don’t see a clear path to get there. But then as I was praying this morning I reflected on these verses:

Mark 11:1–3 (ESV)
11 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’ ”
 Which led me to pray this: (slightly edited for clarity)
Jesus, you are all knowing. You saw all this coming. Even now, even then at this moment, you were preparing to die for us. Jesus, I worship you, because you deliberately and intricately kept walking toward the cross even as you forsaw these details. O Jesus, to talk about the what and how of evangelism, as I felt like I was hearing this morning, while bypassing the why simply does not work on my heart. Jesus, it grieves me deeply. But the moment I actually begin to see you steadily moving toward the cross as I do here in this text, even in the simple planning of setting up for this final Passover, where you will institute the Lord’s supper, then Jesus I am moved in my heart to want to talk to people about you. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Eating a Box of Doughnuts

(I learned after writing this earlier in the week that today is National Doughnut Day.)

I love doughnuts and Richmond is a mecca for great doughnuts. Krispy Kreme is two miles from my study. Sugar Shack is four miles from my house. I haven't been to the Duck Donuts here, but i’ve been to the one in Duck, and wow. Dunkin’ Donuts is two miles from my house. Not as good, but I don’t usually turn them down. Now, I don't average eating a donut per month, but I sure do like them. There is nothing like a Krispy Kreme just after it's come off the conveyor belt (which I could go do right now if I chose to).

But eating a whole box of doughnuts, yourself  . . .  everyone knows that’s a terrible idea. But let's use the idea of eating a box as a metaphor for something that’s ok to do a little of, but not good to do a whole bunch of. Let me show you what i mean. 

Monday, Memorial Day, I did not feel well. It was the worst day of a cold or allergy thing. But I got up early anyway and hit the ground running. I followed my morning disciplines as usual: reading, Bible reading and prayer time for an hour and a half or so. Then I was able to get in about an hour of message work. But then we had other things on the schedule. 

When we returned a couple of hours later, I was tired,  didn't feel good, and had been up a long time. I laid down, but instead of napping or reading, I started watching a crime drama on my phone that I like. No problem, right? That depends. I have a bit of an addictive personality and with streaming video, like doughnuts it can be hard to stop at just one. Over the course of the afternoon I watched 4 or 5 episodes, that's 4 or 5 hours, almost the equivalent of watching three movies! Then that evening I watched a movie with Kat and Noelle. Again, you may be thinking, it was ok to take it easy. But I didn’t feel good about it.

The consequences of my actions were clear on Tuesday. My ability to focus on the serious work of sermon prep was greatly diminished. I could not focus. My mind was addled by so much consumption of entertainment the day before. I depend on being able to spend at least two hours per day studying and no matter what I tried, nothing worked. My mind, nor my heart would engage. 

Occasionally people tell me, “Gene, I can’t read the Bible, I don’t get anything out of it.” I can’t help but wonder if that is not the result of a distracted state of mind, due to gobs of mindless entertainment. That atrophies our ability to engage God in his word.  

Tuesday evening, I came across this paragraph in a book on leadership. Regarding a leader’s reading it said: 
You should read a book or article only for what it is worth. If you find that the book is not contributing to your life and leadership, set it aside. The world is filled with books and other reading material. And in this respect, time is more valuable than money. Is the book making you think? Do you find that it is sparking new thoughts and reflections as you read? If so, read on. If not, set it down and move on.
From Conviction to Lead, Al Mohler
If a book isn't making me think I should not waste time on it. Watching Netflix almost never makes me think. It is the equivalent of eating donuts. And a good donut every now and then is wonderful. But if I eat a whole box of them at once, it is going to make me feel lousy.

Eating a box of doughnuts literally or figuratively has numerous negative effects:
  1. Remorse. You know you shouldn’t.
  2. It makes you feel bad
  3. It’s not good for you in the long run. 
  4. It has a way of encouraging more of that behavior in the future.
  5. You feel useless for doing anything else for a good while.

For the sake of being able to meet God in his word we must learn to discipline ourselves (and children in our care). We need our brains to think, to be creative, and to listen to God. There's too much of great importance to be done in the world to gorge ourselves on the wrong stuff.

Getting the Gospel Message Outline

Getting the Gospel
Mark 9:30-41
Re-engineering Home

1. You never outgrow the message of the cross

Mark 9:30–32 (ESV) 
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

2. Choose the lowest place 

Mark 9:33–37 (ESV) 
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

3. Cooperate generously

Mark 9:38–41 (ESV)
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Reflections on Reading the Gospel of Mark in One Sitting

Sunday at Bethany Place I challenged those present to read the gospel of Mark from start to finish at one time. We talked about the frustration of longing for change and not experiencing it. We talked about the definition of insanity as to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. So the challenge went like this: Many of the books in the Bible were written to be read aloud all at once. Perhaps we could hear the call of God more clearly and be more impressed with the glory of Jesus by reading an entire book of the Bible at once, especially one of the gospels. I had done this before with some longer books and all of the shorter ones and knew something about the spiritual benefit of this practice.

Probably a couple dozen people said they planned to take the challenge. I’ve heard from several others later that had done the reading. Sunday night I took my own challenge. I was tired when I started. At about the halfway point I was getting sleepy. I changed positions twice to stay alert, but I stuck with it. It took me 55 minutes. I tell you how long it took me so you will not think that It’s like trying to jump over the moon. It’s very doable. It was not at my best nor doing my best reading. However, here is some of what I wrote Sunday night after reading: 
My soul is full. I am more at peace at this moment than I’ve been in some while, though I know sometimes reading like this would leave me troubled and deeply convicted. I’m reminded of this word of Jesus, in John 15:John 15:3 (ESV) Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
This is primarily talking about how the word of God is active in accomplishing the initial work of God of salvation in us. But it’s a phrase I haven’t dwelt heavily on. I heard my friend Brian White once say, reading the Bible is like taking a spiritual bath. I know that my sins are covered and are remembered no more, but right now i am experiencing that in real time! Often on Sunday evenings I’m fighting off tremendous discouragement. It is just a thing that most pastors I know wrestle with. But now I’m full of joy and hope.
Would you try this? Think of the ways we squander time. What if God would do a new work in you simply through an extended time of reading his word! What if the breakthrough you’ve been longing for you or someone for whom you care deeply lies behind a new practice of extended reading time in the word of God?

I can’t promise that every time you do extended reading of the Bible that it will be a glorious experience. It certainly isn’t always for me. Don’t get discouraged. Rather, apply another famous word of Jesus:
Matthew 7:7–8 (ESV)7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
You’ve likely heard that the Greek verbs in these verses depict ongoing action meaning, “keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking,.” Persistent and extended reading of the Bible is a way this seeking and knocking happens. Perhaps a new crop of the fruit of the Holy Spirit within you awaits. How can we refuse such an opportunity? I’d love to hear how it goes.

Re-Engineering Faith Outline

Re-Engineering Faith
Mark 9:14-29
Re-Engineering Home

1. The danger of discouraging people 

Mark 9:14–18 (ESV)
14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

2. The danger of frustrating Jesus 

Mark 9:19–24 (ESV)
19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

3. Fixing our faith

Mark 9:25–29 (ESV)
25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Prepared to Stand Alone

The longer we live in a habit of thinking, speaking, working, driving, or relating, the deeper the groove we dig and the harder it is to change that habit. Some of us are no longer stuck in a rut, or a valley, we are in a deep gorge and see no way of scaling the walls of difficulty the we have managed to build over time. 

Jesus once asked a man, “do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6) Perhaps we don’t change because deep down the circumstances we live in have become a part of who we are. Though where we are isn’t a lot of fun, it’s what we know, and the prospect of real change or the price of that change scares us, so we stay the same. We need to want to change, to want to get better.  

Something happened to Jesus’ original set of 12 apostles. They were once average guys, doing life, minding their own business, and looking out for themselves. For a long time after Jesus gathered them, they still argued about who would be the greatest and the like. But after a few years with Jesus, they lived with selfless boldness. They each had the courage to stand alone in the face of withering persecution and in the end, death. How did this happen?

It took time. It did not happen fast. But there were milestones along the way. They originally brought their own dreams to their relationship with Jesus. They were trying to work him into their plans. They saw his power and initially had visions of greatness, their own greatness, like a bunch of groupies following a professional athlete. But over time, their lives were transformed so that they joyfully sacrificed themselves for Jesus’ honor. 

Is it possible we have stopped believing this kind of change still happens? Have we despaired of change in ourselves or in those who are closest to us? God’s power and character have not changed. Our confidence in God and in his slow process of effecting change in us is what has changed.

In the next two Sunday mornings at Bethany Place, we will look at texts that show important milestones as to how this kind of change happened in the disciples and how it can happen in us. I plead with you to come (or attend your own church) with a fresh sense of hope. Our confidence must be in God to work through his word, his Holy Spirit making it come alive in us to bring long awaited change. And if our faith is shaken, perhaps we need to pray along with the dad we will meet next Sunday who cried out to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Here's the outline for this Sunday’s message, Prepared to Stand Alone.

I close with a quote from Martin Luther about the role preaching plays in how God brings change: 
No one desiring comfort should wait until the Holy Spirit presents Christ to him personally or speaks to him directly from heaven. He gives His testimony publicly, in the sermon. There you must seek Him and wait for Him until He touches your heart through the Word that you hear with your ears, and thus He also testifies of Christ inwardly through His working.

Prepared to Stand Alone Message Outline

Prepared to Stand Alone
Mark 8:34-9:13 
Part of the Series: Re-engineering Home

How do we develop in those closest to us the conviction and confidence to follow Jesus even when it means suffering?

Grasp a clear call

Mark 8:34–9:1 (ESV)
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Capture a vision of Jesus’ power

Mark 9:2–8 (ESV)
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

Do Hard Things

Mark 9:9–13 (ESV)
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Re-engineering Home

Family oriented message series are not unusual around Mother's Day. But they concern me because they run the risk of appearing to leave out a significant portion of people. For instance, when I've preached a series on parenting in the past, I've had young single people express to me that they didn't see how such messages related to them since they didn't have any children. I knew one day they might, and some who have said such things to me now have children. But at the time, the person had such a narrow focus on the immediate present that they couldn't see how a series of messages on parenting had any relevance to their lives.

I was a weird teenager, but I liked it when my pastor would preach on such things, and I remember highlighting verses in my Bible when the pastor would talk about family oriented matters. I was young and idealistic and couldn't imagine that I wouldn't one day be married and have kids and so I was very interested. But when life doesn't go as we dreamed, It can be painful to listen to such preaching if it does not grasp the pain with which some

So as I preach these next few weeks I know that some of us want or have wanted to be married but it hasn't yet happened. Some of us wanted to have children and haven't. Some of  us through divorce, or separation, or death now feel very alone. Some of us are single parents running a crazy marathon with wild sprints interspersed where you are mom, dad, sole provider, coach, cook, financial manager, spiritual leader, tutor, chauffeur, and everything else in between. Maybe you've heard family oriented messages in the past that seem to ignore that many, if not a majority of people now live outside of the image of a house with a mom and a dad, a few children, and a dog. Let's not make that mistake. 

So another Mother's Day to Father's Day season is upon us and it's important for us to go there, but we will go beyond what is normally understood for such a message or a message series to be about. For the next few weeks at Bethany Place, I plan to preach a series of messages from Mark 8-9 called Re-engineering Home. We will apply Jesus teaching to what happens literally where you live, meaning where you sleep, whether you live alone or with a small army and a dog. Because it is at home, at the place where we are most ourselves, even if we feel we don't actually spend much time there, that the Christian faith must work and then work out from there. Following Jesus doesn't work from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. Applying the gospel there will provide leverage for following Christ across every part of life. You can see the outline for Sunday's message here.

Do Try This at Home Outline

Do Try This at Home
Mark 8:27–9:1 (ESV)
Re-Engineering Home: Part 1

1. Use the right dictionary

Mark 8:27–30 (ESV) 
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 

2. Practice some sentences

Mark 8:31–33 (ESV) 
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 

3. Defy orders

Mark 8:34–9:1 (ESV) 
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 
9 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Who Delivered Jesus to Die?

Who delivered Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; – but the Father, for love! 

It is essential to keep together these two complementary ways of looking at the cross. On the human level, Judas gave him up to the priests, who gave him up to Pilate, who gave him up to the soldiers, who crucified him. But on the divine level, the Father gave him up, and he gave himself up, to die for us. As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both_‘I_did it, my sins sent him there,’ and ‘he did it, his love took him there.’ The apostle Peter brought the two truths together in his remarkable statement on the day of Pentecost, both that ‘this man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and forknowledge" and that "you, with the help of wicked man, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Peter thus attributed Jesus death simultaneously to the plan of God and to the wickedness of man. For the cross which . . . is an exposure of human evil, is at the same time a revelation of the divine purpose to overcome the human evil thus exposed. 

John Stott, The Cross of Christ. p. 61

Friday, March 11, 2016

A "New" Path for Prayer

A few of you may know what a big deal it is for me to say that our recent sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer provoked a significant change in the way that I approach daily prayer. Since 1989, I have followed the same path with only occasional diversions. The approach I learned at that time, literally transformed my life. You can read about that here. But I have followed a different approach for more than two months. I would have sent this sooner, but I didn’t want to claim a transformation in my approach to prayer prematurely.

To be fair, this new approach is influenced by the old one. I previously followed an elaborate version of the ACTS acrostic: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. It’s a great outline for prayer and I am in no way criticizing that. But slowly preaching through the Lord’s Prayer caused me to wonder why I was not following the path that Jesus actually taught his disciples to use. So that is what I have done now since just before the beginning of this year.

There is a place for both spontaneous prayer and for prayer that follows a structure. Following a structure is helpful in times when you don’t feel like praying. For instance, having a specific path for prayer helps me find my way out of the dark woods of fear or discouragement or when I wake up in the middle of the night paralyzed by some concern or the thought that there is just too much to do. When that happens, if I just lay there hoping I’ll go back to sleep, that’s about as effective as trying to wander out of the woods in the dark with no path and no compass. But when I get up and follow this prayer path, well, more often than not by God’s grace, I find my way out of the woods. It works like this:

Here’s a document that follows the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer with many other scriptures listed that go along with each phrase. Each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer serves as a prompt to provoke further prayer along that theme. I use only one verse at a time from these passages. For instance, the first passage listed under “our Father in heaven” is Psalm 139. So I look up Psalm 139:1 and I use that single verse to help me pray with more depth from the phrase, “our Father in heaven.” So I might pray something like this:

O Lord, you are our Father, and as our Father, you have searched us and known us. You are the one to whom we can have confidence in our praying because you know everything about us. You understand us better than we understand ourselves because you have searched us and you have known us, you have searched me, and you know me.

In that way, I'm following Jesus’ themes and I'm using other scriptures to help ensure a healthy direction of my praying and to keep me from just praying the same words over and over. The next day I’ll likely use Psalm 139:2. I go through the Lord’s Prayer in this way using only one verse at a time from the list in the table to help me. This is how I do it; there are no rules here, and this is no magic formula. This process helps me and so I’m sharing it with you.

The passages I list may not seem obvious to you at first or ever. If so, add your own. Feel free to customize this in whatever way you wish. I would love to hear about passages you add to the various sections.

You may wonder about your intercessory prayer lists. There are a couple of ways to work these in: You could work intercession into the phrases, “your kingdom come,” or “give us this day our daily bread,” as you go through the prayer. However, if your lists are long you could bog down there for a long time & miss getting to pray through the rest of the prayer. So, you may want to hold your lists to the end or work into your daily routine a separate time for intercession.

I’d love to get your reaction to this approach.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lead Us Not Into Temptation Message Outline

Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Matthew 6:18, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Praying Like Jesus

How are you flirting with disaster?

1. Pray for guidance and deliverance

Matthew 6:13 (ESV) 
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 

2. Beware of the danger of misplaced confidence

1 Corinthians 10:1–5 (ESV) 
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 

3. Develop situational awareness

1 Corinthians 10:6–13 (ESV) 
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 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. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Forgive us Our Sins (Message outline)

Forgive us Our Sins
Matthew 6:12, 14-15, 18: 15-35
Praying Like Jesus

1. Tie your forgiveness to your forgiving

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 (ESV) 
12 and forgive us our debts, 
as we also have forgiven our debtors. 

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

2. Practically work through relational issues

Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV) 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” 

3. You will never finish forgiving

Matthew 18:21–35 (ESV) 
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Give Us this Day Message Outline

Give Us this Day
Matthew 6:11, 35-34
Praying Like Jesus

How can we grow generous hearts when we are consumed with anxiety about our wants and needs?

Simply ask God daily for your daily needs

Matthew 6:11 (ESV)
11    Give us this day our daily bread,

Live with open hands
Matthew 6:19–24 (ESV)
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Put first things first
Matthew 6:25–34 (ESV)
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.