Showing posts with label Wildwood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wildwood. Show all posts

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A babe and a dying messiah

December 20, 2009—Bruce Hess, "Christmas Contrasts"

Bruce preached a unique and excellent sermon today. He walked through the song "Silent Night" and contrasted its lyrics (and the corresponding picture of Christ's birth) with passages speaking of Christ's death. He spent very little time commenting on the texts and much more simply allowing the words to speak for themselves. I'll content myself with doing the same. (Note: Bruce exclusively used the NLT today, so that is the source for all Scripture citations.)

Silent night:
Mark 15:6-13
Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.

“Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

Holy night
Mark 15:16-19
The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship.

All is calm
Mark 15:11-14
But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

All is bright
Matthew 27:45,51
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock... the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart...

Round yon virgin, mother and child
Psalm 22:6-8,12-18
But I am a worm and not a man.
I am scorned and despised by all!
Everyone who sees me mocks me.
They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
“Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
let the Lord rescue him!”

My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
melting within me.
My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones.
My enemies stare at me and gloat.
They divide my garments among themselves
and throw dice for my clothing.
Luke 23: 35-36
The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine.

Holy infant
John 19:17
Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha).

So tender and mild
Matthew 27:46
At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

John 19:28-29
Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips.

In heavenly peace
Matthew 10:34
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword."

Sleep in heavenly peace
Luke 23:46
Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.

Bethlehem was remarkable, beautiful, and strange—but it was only the first step on the road to Calvary and a cross. It is beautiful because it ends with an open tomb and the promise of his return.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stars and Stones—Sermon notes, 12/13/09

December 13, 2009—Bruce Hess, "The Star That Becomes a Kingdom"
(All references NASB unless otherwise noted.)
Sermon text: Matthew 2:1-11
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:


Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

This week's message was a meditation on the incarnation, but one rather unlike our normal meditations. Bruce summed up the entire sermon in two words: "domino effect." The Son of God entered the world in a moment that was both much louder and much quieter than anything we might have done ourselves. But from that shining star, from the angels singing, from a baby in a manger, came a stunning transformation in all the world that is still ongoing.

Bruce noted that the star shining to guide the coming wise men has a significance that reaches beyond its own life. It represents Christ: a light of revelation that spreads to to all the world (compare Luke 2:21-32, John 8:12, Matthew 13:31-33 and Daniel 2:31-45, especially vv. 31-35 and vv. 44-45). "The ultimate result of this—that one day, the kingdom of Christ will fill the whole earth—begins with a star," Bruce said.

Bruce then asked two important questions that this raises:
  1. Who is included in the kingdom?
    The answer is straightforward: according to Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Jesus Christ, and He alone, gives us entrance to the kingdom of God. We come only by believing in Him (see John 3:36 [NIV]). For our part, we are completely incapable of earning our own salvation by sheer good deeds, and cannot pay the cost for our own sin.
  2. What are the children of the kingdom to do?
    Bruce opened his answer by noting that "the dominos haven't all fallen yet." We, he said, are the dominos: the light that began in the star now spreads through us. In Matthew 5:14-16 [NLT], Jesus told his disciples that they were the light of the world. We are to show the world our good works with one aim: all people glorifying the father. His two takeaway points here were:

I really appreciated how Bruce drew attention away from the manger and to the whole picture of history. The manger was a stunningly powerful moment, but part of its power is how it informs all history before it and transforms all history after it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Philippians in a Phlash—Sermon Notes, 12/6/09

December 6, 2009—Bruce Hess, "Philippians in a Phlash"
Sermon text:
The book of Philippians, all 104 verses.
Bruce finished his series on Philippians today, concluding by summarizing the entire book and reviewing the main points covered in his sermons over the past months. (Where I took notes on his sermons, I will linke to them.) He reminded us that Philippians was one of Paul's prison epistles, written while under house arrest in Rome, and that it is one of Paul's most personal letters, and certainly his most affectionate. Most of all, the letter is deeply saturated with the person and work of Jesus Christ: out of the 104 verses in the book, 51 of them mention our Lord.

Bruce's outline roughly followed the contours of the book's chapters. For each chapter, he proposed a theme and a life response.

Chapter 1—An Essential Perspective: Difficulty is common in the spiritual life. We must keep centered on our lives with Christ (v. 6). Bruce brought up the example of climbing a telephone pole for repairs: it's easy, as long as one leans back into the belt instead of trying to climb with one's own arms. Likewise, we can only succeed when we lean into Christ. Here, Paul introduces the theme that carries the rest of the book. As Bruce put it, "Keep the main thing the main thing," and the main thing is the gospel (see vv. 5, 7, 12, 16, and 27).

Chapter 2—An Essential Mindset: Humility in serving is integral to the spiritual life. We must live distinctively as children of God. This chapter is a lengthy call to selflessness. We are given a perfect picture: Christ has modeled the right attitude for us (compare Mark 10:45). Just as importantly, the selflessness and humility we are called to are not things we muster up ourselves but something God accomplishes in us. Paul then supplies two more examples: Timothy (vv. 19-24) and Epaphroditus (vv. 25-30). "Selfishness," Bruce said, "will sap the life of an individual. Selfishness will sap the life of a church."

Chapter 3—An Essential Dependence: Reliance on the flesh submarines the spiritual life. We must press on to daily dependence on Christ. Relying on the flesh for our relationship with God will lead us to total failure. All our good works are simply "rubbish"—the Greek word σκυβάλον, which Bruce translated as "stinky crap." We cannot coast, but must press on and focus forward, regularly asking, "Have I settled?" and "Do I live in the past?" We should remember that our citizenship is heaven, not here on earth. The only permanent things in this world are people and the word of God. Thus, we should daily ask, "How can I advance the gospel?" remembering that our strength is in Christ alone.

Chapter 4—Essential Living: Maintaining right choices is vital to the spiritual life. We must choose wisely. Here, Bruce reminded us of the five ways in which Philippians calls us to choose wisely:
  1. Defuse disharmony (vv. 2-3): We must rejoice in the Lord (v. 4), relying on gospel truth. When we do, everything else diminishes in importance by contrast with the hugeness of the gospel.
  2. Choose prayer over anxiety (vv.4-7): Bruce commented, "Remember that God is large and in charge." The rhyme neatly sums up a great deal of truth. We must also hold fast to his promised peace.
  3. Choose to focus wisely (vv. 8-9): A worldly focus on evil and scandal runs smack up against Paul's instruction to set our minds on good things. Paul offers up here a "menu for our minds."
  4. Choose contentment daily (vv. 10-13): Though we are tempted to think, "If only ___, then..." we should instead depend on Christ. The reality of our relationship with Christ is our ultimate strength. "He will give you the grace for the place," Bruce commented.
  5. Choose to invest in the kingdom of God (vv. 14-19): We are blessed by giving now, and we will be blessed more in heaven when we receive our reward.

Finally, Paul gives a simple but powerful benediction, one that I intend to memorize and use to bless and encourage others:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Philippians 4:23

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mutual funds: Sermon thoughts, 11/22/09

November 22, 2009—Bruce Hess, "Right Choices: Choose to Invest in the Kingdom"

Sermon text:
Philippians 4:14-19
Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Bruce preached this week on money: a topic to send shivers through the soul of any evangelical preacher worth his salt. Perhaps I exaggerate, but given the history of the evangelical movement over the last twenty years, it's hardly surprising that money is a touchy subject. Since Bruce has been moving through the book of Philippians verse by verse, however, he could hardly ignore the subject. I think he did an excellent job in his treatment of these verse and the topic in general.

Bruce began by noting the context of Paul's discussion of giving: his own bold statement that he could be content no matter what the circumstances. (For a discussion of that passage, see my notes on that sermon, one of Bruce's best that I've heard.) Keeping that in mind helps us understand that Paul is not getting at his own gain in the passage; he earnestly desires the good of the Philippians.

The first point in the text is that Paul applauds the generosity of the Philippians (verses 14-16). Bruce noted that Paul boasts about the Philippians to other churches (see 2 Corinthians 11:9), and that they were one of the only churches to support him financially. Moreover, he observed, they didn't have an abundance of wealth from which to give. They gave despite being in "deep poverty" (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Their resources were not the issue; God could and did use even their relatively small gift. Their hearts were the issue.

Bruce's second observation was that the Philippians embraced the principle of eternal investment (Matthew 6:19-21). He illustrated this point by noting that we're like a northerner living in the South near the end of the American Civil War. Even if rich in Confederate money, the best plan would not be to try and gain more Confederate money, but to use only enough to live on and turn the rest into gold useable elsewhere after the war. We are temporary citizens here, and we should turn as much of our wealth in this age, which perishes, into eternal reward. Where you put your treasure determines whether you are moving toward or away from it as you approach death.

"The only money we're ever going to see again," Bruce commented, "is the money that's invested in the kingdom of God."

The second point Bruce drew out of the text is that Paul assures the blessing of the Philippians (verses 17-19). His joy was not in what the Philippians had given for its own sake, but because it yielded a reward for them. It was a good investment. The "pleasing aroma" referenced in the text looks back to the old covenant practice of offering sacrifices to God—not for sin, but simply to show love for him. Our giving today does not earn salvation; it is a picture of our love for God, and only one of many such sacrifices in the new covenant (see Romans 12:1-2, Hebrews 13:5,16).

Bruce noted that Paul's closing promise that God would supply all the Philippians' needs is often memorized and used without the supporting context. God's supply was not a blank check, but assurance that he would provide for the Philippians' daily needs even as they had given beyond their means. As Bruce put it, God provides "for our needs, not our greed."

Bruce then explained Jesus' words, quoted in Acts 20:35, that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Recipients are blessed, God is blessed (because he delights in our generosity), the giver is blessed now (by the joy of giving) and the giver is blessed in the future (with reward in heaven). "Too often we're just tipping God rather than investing spiritually," Bruce finished. We can't out-give God.

Bruce's closing questions for application were solid:
  • How much of your money is going to gospel causes?
  • Is He your God?

This last question was particularly fitting in context, and while I wish he'd dwelt on it even more, I'm so glad he touched it. The ultimate supply for our needs is not financial, but spiritual—because our deepest needs are spiritual. We have a need for rescue and restoration that cannot be met without God being our God.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Petition Repetition

November 15, 2009—Mark Robinson, "Can You Hear Me Now," pt. 2
Sermon text: Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"

And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
Mark opened this week's sermon (see his own introductory thoughts here)—like last week's—with an analogy to cell phones. If someone called you again and again, he pointed out, you'd either answer or demonstrate that you really didn't want to talk to the person calling you. The sermon text leaves us asking if God is in fact that person: the one you have to call over and over and over again to get through, no matter how important, because they just don't answer the phone.

It's a reasonable question. Jesus compares God to an evil judge who gave justice to a widow only so she would stop pestering him. We naturally ask, "Is Jesus really saying that God only answers our prayers so that we'll leave him alone?"

Of course, as with last week's sermon, the answer is revealed in how the story is told. God is good, so if even an evil judge will eventually hear a righteous plea for all the wrong reasons, how much more will God delight to hear our prayers? We should, as Luke points out at the beginning of the parable, be encouraged not to give up praying, even when it seems our prayers are going unanswered. God who is just will certainly respond more righteously than the evil judge.

Mark commented, "Waiting in prayer is a very significant thing for each of us." Every Christian who has walked in The Way for any length of time has probably had to wrestle with the question of seemingly unanswered prayers. Whether it is for a friend's salvation, a parent's health, or a child's rebellion, most of us have spent long months or years praying for something to happen, and waited a long time for the answer. Sometimes the answer we've prayed for never comes. Jesus' parable offers two lessons for us as we seek to endure in prayer.

First, we need to keep an accurate view of God's character. Jesus draws a contrast between a good Father and this wicked judge. We are like the widow: we do not have the power or authority to effect a change in the circumstances we are praying about. We are utterly dependent on the judge to accomplish our hopes. If we believe that God is like the magistrate in the parable, we will pray reluctantly, if at all. When we do pray, we will find ourselves trying to twist God's arm so he will do as we wish. In contrast, if we believe God is good and that He delights to answer our prayers, we will pray with confidence. We will be able to trust that He is good and working for good. We can believe that God is working, no matter how little we see.

Second, we are called to keep the faith. Prayer and faith are directly related. Why are we praying? Is it because God does not already know the outcome, or because he calls us to participate with him and to grow in faith? Mark argued that prayer fixes our faith on the One whose plan is already working.

Mark often does something I really appreciate: instead of offering up simple checklists for his applications, he raises questions for us to ponder. Instead of simply offering condemnation to the people who don't meet the requirements and pride to those who do, he challenges us to examine our own hearts with the questions he offers.

Today, he offered up two applications, one a question and the other an encouragement:
  • Are you praying consistently about the things that trouble you?
  • Pray with other believers, in church, with family, and with friends.

Mark's closing point deeply resonated with me today. Our vantage point, he noted, is too narrow to truly see how God is working. He is doing more than what we can see—much more! When we repeat our prayers, it is not because we do think God has not heard, but because we believe He has.

Repetition of prayers is a declaration of faith.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flower bazookas - 500 words, 11/11/09

To men: remember that flowers are a veritable bazooka amongst weapons of love. (There's a turn of phrase you don't hear very often: "weapons of love." I'm going to use it regularly.) You should make a point to bring home flowers as often as you can, in as many unexpected and varied ways as you can. Go to the grocery store as a generous overture, and come back with flowers. Don't do it to get a favor, or to manipulate; bring her flowers because you love her. One last thing: bring whatever kind she likes best.

Actually having work to do is incredibly fulfilling. As much as it sounds nice to get paid to sit around and do nothing, it's actually quite frustrating. Simply put, man was made to work. God designed us for it. Work became unpleasant after the Fall; it was instituted from the beginning. Thus, when we aren't working, we very soon feel useless, and life begins to become rather dull and frustrating. Having experienced that recently, I am really enjoying being able to meaningful work to the glory of God. (Though if someone wants to pay me to simply read and write...)

My content on this blog has been low all year. The reasons have varied even while the results have remained the same. Shockingly enough... that's not going to change, for what I might call obvious reasons (the new blog PJ King and I just launched). In some sense, the reasons haven't changed: part of the reasons I've written so little of late is because I was spending many an hour working on getting the HTML and CSS properly set up and building images. It's nice to finally be able to write there. Long story short: writing beats coding.

I'm inclined to think the old saying, "When as Rome, do as the Romans" has limited value. There are times and areas of life where that's good advice. There are also times when it's awful advice. For example, hypothetically speaking: if I were in a community where education and intelligence were seen as tolerable at best, would it behoove me to act uneducated and intelligent? Or should I find some other course in which I tried not to offend but did not mask my personality? Or should I tray to sway the community? It's quite a balancing act, I think.

Last Sunday night, Wildwood Community Church hosted a worship night. I was blessed to be able to participate with the worship team, as I am on Sunday mornings. There is such joy in coming before God with people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds, to offer praise and adoration to Him. One of the great joys of this particular service was the children: in normal Sunday services, the children are all in Sunday school. Here, they worshiped among and with us. It was a small, beautiful picture of heaven.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Prayer - Sermon Notes, 11/8/09

November 8, 2009—Mark Robinson, "Can you hear me now?" pt. 1
Sermon text: Luke 11:5-13
Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'

"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Our executive pastor Mark Robinson preached today. Earlier this week, he blogged on this week's sermon topic: prayer.

Mark began by directing our attention to the context: this teaching moment follows what we call "The Lord's prayer." Some of Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. He does so, and then immediately follows by telling them the parable and giving them the illustration of a father with his children. Jesus not only told his disciples what to do, he helped them understand what that would mean for their lives.

There were two points in the sermon, and I applaud Mark for letting the text define the structure of his sermon rather than the other way around!

1. Ask, seek, and knock (vv. 5-10):
Mark first asked, quite pertinently, if Jesus is in fact comparing God to the begrudging neighbor. The passage certainly seems to read that way. The answer? —absolutely yes, but in an entirely favorable way. The conclusion of the passage points out that if even a begrudging neighbor will help, how much more will God, who delights to give good gifts?

If we doubt that, it's because our daily experience does not always seem to line up. We often feel that God is not hearing us or is not willing to come to the door with bread. This passage is a rock for us in times like that, though, because Jesus doesn't offer up a "maybe," here. He firmly promises that, no matter what our experiences, God does hear and answer us.

We might also feel that God will not hear and answer our prayers because we misunderstand the doctrine of God's immutability: if God doesn't change and is truly sovereign, the reasoning goes, then our prayers cannot change anything. Of course, this runs directly contrary to Scripture: time and again God answers prayers. Some prominent examples include Moses, Hezekiah, and Jonah. The apostle James bluntly informs us that we do not have because we do not ask. Clearly, God both is unchanging and answers our prayers.

Mark concluded the first section of the sermon with one very straightforward and important question: what would you pray for today if you knew God would hear and respond? No request is too small, no prayer has been prayed too many times, and no situation is unchangeable.

2. Believe God gives good gifts (vv. 11-13):
Mark pointed out that the choices Jesus presents in this passage are not as strange as they seem to our minds. There are snakes that look like fish, and white scorpions that, when curled up, might look like an egg. No father but the very most cruel would use either as an opportunity to play a mean trick on his child, though. Of course, Jesus points out that even "good" fathers are actually evil—so how much more will a good God give good gifts?

Yet the passage goes even farther than that. It doesn't merely say that God, like men, will give what we ask for. It says that he will give us his Holy Spirit. He will give us himself. That was a stunning promise when it was spoken: they lived in a day before the full coming of the Spirit, when the greatest blessing imaginable was for the Holy Spirit to come and rest on a person. That he would freely come to all believers was jaw-dropping. Of course, it still is, because it means that God will give of himself freely. We can make light of that because it's familiar to us, but it is incredible.

This brings home Jesus' point with a hammer blow: if God will give us his own Spirit, what would he hold back? Of course, we feel like we get scorpions instead of eggs sometimes: children we pray for die, marriages we pray for fall apart, and so on. First, we must remember that God knows what is truly good for us, even when we do not. Second, God works for what is best for us, not what we think is best for us—and he often does so through painful circumstances.

In the end, we must trust God—and when we do, we have the joyous liberty to ask Him, knowing that He will give us good things, and that He will not give us bad things. He is good, and that is our rock. It is, in fact, the point that the entire passage turns on: even evil men give good gifts... how much more so God, who is good?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Great expectations - Sermon notes, 11/1/09

This week's message was by John Abernethy, our pastor for marriage and families. I've only heard John teach one other time, but I've always heard exceptionally good things about him from people I trust. Today's message was on expectations in relationships. Rather than a single sermon text, he taught from several passages throughout Scripture. As such, I'll quote those in the text as we go along.
Psalm 33:18-22, NASB
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
         On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
    To deliver their soul from death
         And to keep them alive in famine.
    Our soul waits for the LORD;
         He is our help and our shield.
    For our heart rejoices in Him,
         Because we trust in His holy name.
    Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us,
         According as we have hoped in You.
The passage points us to focus on God: on His promise, his name, his all-sufficiency. His lovingkindness is hope, he is help and shield, he is our trust, he is hope. No one but God will meet our needs; no one but he can meet our needs.

With this as his foundation, John moved on to discuss how so often our relationships suffer because of our expectations.
Proverbs 13:12, NASB
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
         But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
He argued that expectations are not only a regular source of conflict in many relationships, especially marriage; they're also something we can actively deal with and change. "Understanding, verbalizing, and changing expecations can have a large impact," he said. The expectations that we have are learned, so they can be relearned; the things we pick up from friends, family, and media can be substituted for better, healthier (more Biblical, I add!) expectations of each other, no matter the relationship.

John commented that there are three ways he sees expectations causing problems, summarized by three U's: Unaware, Unreasonable, Unspoken.

We are often unaware of the expectations we have. We expect our days to pass, our spouses to interact with us, and our friends to behave in rather particular ways, but we often don't realize exactly what it is we're anticipating until our hopes have been deferred. Then we find ourselves frustrated and angry because of those expectations. We need to carefully think about what it is that we're expecting of our days and our relationships - even as simply as writing a list.

Unreasonable expectations can upset us just as quickly, and have unpleasant consequences. John pointed to the example of Peter: a man blessed for recognizing that Jesus was the prophesied messiah, and then moments later rebuked for telling christ he wouldn't go to the cross. Peter's expectation was for an earthly king, but that wasn't what Christ had come to do; his expectation was unreasonable. We require humility to hear that our expectations are unreasonable, and gentleness and kindness to tell others as much.

Finally, we often deal with the consequences of unspoken expectations. People cannot meet expectations they are unaware of, even if they are reasonable. Especially in marriage, this one is both one of the most common and the most easily resolved problems: it simply requires straightforward communication.

Our goal is to be sweet to others souls, setting them before us and serving them.

I thought the message had a lot of good content, and it was filled with a lot of practical application. John's heart for marriages came through very clearly, and he's both a good communicator and a good teacher. I did wish that he would have spent some more time dwelling on Christ as our soul-satisfier. It is good to deal practically with our expectations, but in the end we will always be thirsty until we quench our thirst in him.
John 4:10-14, ESV
Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Act of Worship: Sermon Thoughts, 10/25/09 (a day late!)

This weekend proved busier than I expected, in a number of ways, not least in working on my current secret project. That should be unveiled in all its glory sometime in the next two weeks. Keep your eyes open. I think you'll enjoy it. Between that and an extra long work day today - a surprising training opportunity that stretches my days out to nine and a half hours! - I simply haven't had a chance to sit down and type until now. A day late it may be, but I'm determined not to slack off on sermon summaries after only one week.


October 25, 2008 - Bruce Hess, "Right Choices: Choose Contentment Daily"
Sermon text: Philippians 4:10-13, NASB:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
This was an excellent sermon, and one that Jaimie and I found very timely.

Bruce opened by noting how powerful and how pervasive advertising is in America - it's everywhere, and it performs entirely on the basis of discontent. "If you don't have this," it says, "you're nothing." But this discontent, far from satisfying us, will rob us of the joy that God longs to give us.

The two-point sermon (thank you, Bruce, for sticking to the text's outline instead of substituting your own for a convenient three points!) focused on our struggle with contentment and Paul's secret for contentment.

We struggle with contentment for two basic reasons. First, we have a bad case of what Bruce called the "if only" syndrome - "If only I had ____, I would be content." This is simply not true... it's nonsense, in fact. The discontent never ends, and as soon as we have that ____, we're questing on for something else. The important question to ask, then, is whether there is anything we would put in that blank. Do we find anything but Christ ultimately satisfying? Second, we fall prey to discontent because we don't trust God. We forget and underestimate the power of Christ that now dwells in us. If we remembered that, we would know that God supplies all our needs just as faithfully as He has given us salvation. (More on this later in the sermon!)

It's striking that in verse 10, Paul notes that he had "rejoiced in the Lord greatly" - while in prison! He was glad for a financial gift the Philippians had given, but he rejoiced in Christ;. A brief moment of application: we have an opportunity to similarly encourage people in ministry, especially those who we have let fall by the wayside, whether in prayer or financially. More, by contrast with most of us, Paul proclaims in verse 11 that he had "learned to be content." What was his secret? First, contentment is learned. It's not instinctive for us; our fallen selves tend in exactly the opposite direction. Second, it was not his financial circumstances. Paul was content in good circumstances and bad. Bruce's comment here was dead on: "Just because someone has a lot does not mean they will be content... Prosperity can feed discontent." He pointed us to a very helpful prayer: Proverbs 30:8.

Paul's secret was "all about attitude... there [was] an active reliance on the reality of his relationship with Christ." As Paul himself pointed out elsewhere, he had learned not to boast in anything but knowing God. Bruce pointed us to a fabulous passage in Jeremiah that's worth memorizing:
Jeremiah 9:23-24:
Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD.
Similarly, Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us that our contentment is grounded in God's promise: He will not leave us, and He will not forsake us. We can rest in the confidence that we are His. In particular, we are assured by all of Scripture that we may rely on God's providence, and that His provision is perfectly sufficient (see Philippians 4:13). We rely on God's indwelling power - the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead! - for our provision. We can rest assured that we will have all that we need. Remember: that means that rich or poor, God has met our needs according to His perfect wisdom. As Bruce said, our attitude toward God should be, "Whatever you call me to experience, you will provide for, and I will rely on that."

I think the best moment in the sermon was Bruce's closing. He spoke to the issue dearest to my heart, reminding us that all of these things ultimately come down to whether or not we are glorifying God. "Contentment at its core," he said," is an act of worship: worshipping God for the sufficiency of His power, for the reality of his provision." God owes us nothing; we owe him thanks for everything, because every part of our life is a free gift.

Our response can be summed up in three parts. First, rejoice in your relationship with Jesus Christ above any other person or thing in this world, for He is our great treasure (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Second, keep your eyes on eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17). Finally, count your blessings: don't lose sight of all that God has done, blinded by the greed of this world.

I appreciated how saturated with Scripture this sermon was. Bruce didn't make it more than about two minutes at a stretch without reading or quoting Scripture, and doing it well and accurately. That sort of sermon is too rare in many churches, and it's always a joy to hear.

I challenge you, as I was challenged, to walk this week in contentment, remembering that contentment is an act of worship.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sermon thoughts, 10/18/08

I think I'm going to begin making a regular habit out of blogging on the teaching at my church, Wildwood Community Church in Norman, Oklahoma. The more time I spend in the church, the better I like it and the more respect and regard I have for the elders and staff there. My goal in writing these posts is encouragement of the wider body of Christ with how God is working here - and perhaps a bit of self-instruction, as I remember to learn from the teaching. It's too easy to be overly critical of a sermon or a Sunday school class, and correspondingly to miss how God is speaking. We can quite easily confuse discernment and careful consideration with simply criticizing. I intend to combat that tendency in myself and hopefully encourage others by sharing what I learned from the preaching.

For today, you might find my wife's post on the same sermon to be edifying - I did!

If you find the material useful, I'd encourage you to check out the blog of Mark Robinson, our executive pastor. (I'll make a point to highlight his blog whenever I'm referencing one of his sermons, as he often has notes on his blog that tie in.) You may also enjoy Jeremy Horton, our college pastor's blog.

I'll quote whichever version the teaching pastor used in their sermon for the sermon text, and then summarize the sermon as well as provide some thoughts of my own if I have any that are relevant and hopefully edifying.


October 18, 2008 - Bruce Hess, "Right Choices, Choose to Focus Wisely"
Sermon Text: Philippians 4:8-9, NASB
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I'll open this post the way Bruce did his sermon. (Note: this would ordinarily have driven me nuts, but, as I'll explain later, I think it was right on in this case.)

Bruce spent a few minutes talking about how much of our time we spend filling our thoughts with all that is wrong, negative, gloomy, unjust, and sinful in this world. He noted that it's not merely "sinful" movies, music, and so on that's at issue here, but the news media and most other sources of information in our day. Very rarely do we hear about, much less spend our time on good things.

This, Bruce pointed out, is thoroughly unbiblical. He then moved into the text and started unpacking for us why it is good to watch news stories like the one posted above. The passage breaks down neatly into two main points and a consequence.

The first point is that we need to think right. Bruce commented that "true" here means more than simply not false, but extends to thinking on more than mere opinion. Focus on the real truth - the word of God, and the good news of Christ (see John 17:17 and Colossians 1:5). Honorable things and just things are actions that match God's behaviors and His heart toward people. When we see people behaving with honor and executing justice and doing right, we should really let it sink in. Lovely things are gracious, beautiful, or winsome - his pictures were of a stunning sunset or a nursing mother. For commendable things, he noted that we should remember kindnesses and well-done deeds. Last but not least, he emphasized that the conclusion of the verse, "any excellence... anything worthy of praise" points us to exactly that: anything that is excellent and worthy of praise.

The second point, he noted, is that we should not only think right, but also live right. He didn't spend a lot of time on this, not least because there was a good deal more going on in our service than normal, though I wish he had!

Last but not least, he dwelt on the promise that concludes the passage: if you think on these things and practice as Paul did, the God of peace will be with you. It's a striking promise, and the more so in context. Only two verses earlier, Paul instructed the Philippians that if they chose to thankfully pray instead of being anxious, God's peace would guard their hearts and minds. Here, he goes a step further: not only will God give His peace, He who is peace will give Himself, His own presence. It's a stunning promise, and one that we would do well to dwell on. (It is, in fact, something true that we should think about!)

Bruce's points of application for the sermon were good and practical. First, we need to evaluate our intake - of media, of conversation, of anything that influences our thoughts. Second, we need to examine our own conversations and make sure that we are focusing on the good things listed above. As an aside during his walkthrough of the text, Bruce hit on the fact that we should make a point to commend what is commendable and comment on what is lovely - with families, especially.

To Bruce's application, I would add one point of my own, which is that we need to choose to actively meditate on these things and to imitate Paul (and the other apostles, and Christ Himself). This is why I liked his use of the video to open the sermon. It's immensely practical, and it's the sort of story that is out there. It's not explicitly Christian, but it definitely fits in the "if there is anything worthy of praise" category. The best way to meditate on these things is to find them and enjoy them, and remember them as we go throughout the day.

One thing that struck me as terribly important in the passage, and that I was sad we didn't have time to cover today, is that Paul strongly emphasizes following his example. The Philippians were to practice what they had learned and received from him, what they had heard him say, and what they had seen him do. We should, too. It's good to remember that we have Biblical examples on which to model our lives, and that Paul is not merely a teacher of good doctrine but also a model of good practice.

Last but not least, Bruce noted (and I agree) that the point of this passage is not to stick our fingers in our ears, saying "Lalalalalala" and pretending that bad things do not happen. We need to be wise, discerning, and aware of the world. However, we should make it our practice not to live there mentally. We need to spend our mental energy on what is good. That's a significant mindset change from most of what we see in our culture, even in the church, and it's a good reminder.

When we fix our eyes on Christ and think on things that are like Him, we will be actively pursuing the sanctification of our minds. We will be transformed as our minds are renewed. And God Himself will be with us!