May
05

The Fourth Man, Part 2

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The three young men demonstrated a risky faith by challenging the king’s nutritional demands. Their proposal proved to everyone that they had the better diet. But in Daniel 3, their faith shifted from risky to radical as they proposed that they had a better God.

Daniel 3 is the fertile soil of children who grow up in Church. Without dramatic effect, the story is simple enough. Nebuchadnezzer created an idol and required everyone to bow before it whenever the music played. Our three young heroes refused to bow and were brough before the king. When the king questioned them, their response was bold.

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t we want to make it clear to you that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Nebuchadnezzer listened to their response and had “mad respect.” He was angry, but had enough respect to have them bound by his strongest men.

As the story progresses, the King looks into the furnace and notices there is a fourth man. Let’s do the math. Three young men went into the fire, and one additional is present for a total of four.

Let me take a quick left turn. I think the fact that the story is about three men speaks to the importance of community in the midst of challenging times. How much harder would it have been for any of the three to face the king’s wrath as individuals? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) Which brings me to this question. Who is with you in “the fire” of trial and tribulation?

But it wasn’t just a community, it was a spiritual community. The fourth man, I believe, is a pre-incarnate appearance of none other than Jesus Christ. This phenomenon is known as a theophany. We don’t know when he went into the furnace or how long he stayed, but we do know that when Shadrach, Meschah and Abednego came out their bonds had been burned away and they didn’t even smell of smoke.

The good news of the story is that they were delievered from the fiery furnace. But I think their real deliverance came at the moment of their confession and profession of faith. Just like you, and just like me.

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May
04

The Fourth Man

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I grew up in church, where Bible stories were plentiful. There were stories of boys defeating giants and nations crossing seas on dry ground while enemies were detained by pillars of fire. Old, crusty prophets stood their ground against entitled pagan kings and were fed by ravens. These stories were formative in my concept of who God is and what He could do. Which is why I love the stories from the Book of Daniel.

Daniel begins with Israel in captivity in the land of Babylon. King Nebucanezzar was large and in charge, and looked to the Israelites to find the best of those who could enhance his world dominion. Out of his quest came four: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These four were summonsed to begin training to be among Nebucanezzar’s elite. When they entered the corps of the elite they were introduced to a diet, which they rejected. The diet was composed of meat and wine, which people in our 21st century American culture would be standard. But the young Hebrew men were committed to their own cultural diet of vegetables, fruit and water.

Their insitence provided and opportunity to present a challenge to the Babylonians, which, as the story goes, the Hebrews famously won. After the test, their eyes were brighter and everyone looked healthier. The Babalonians conceded that the Hebrews had a beter diet.

This story represents a risky faith. We have a better way, and we’ll prove it. But the rest of the story of the Book of Daniel moves beyond a risky faith to a radical faith which claimed that the God of the Hebrews was superior to the gods of the Babalonians.

This is where we live in our culture today. Like the four Hebrew young men, modern Christians can make assertations regarding the logic of risky faith. Yes, our “diet” can be verified as better than others. But what happens when we move our competion beyond the physical realm of food and exercise to the realm of the spiritual?

Tomorrow I’ll get into the conflict between three of these yound men and the spiritual battle regarding the object of our worship. In the meantime, be well and be safe!

Categories : Uncategorized
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What lessons are available in the cave? Let me share four for your consideration. First, when you find yourself in a cave, remember you’re in the cave with a King. Those who gathered there may not have recognized David as such in that moment, but it was true nonetheless. This reminds us that we are not alone! King Jesus is with us in the depths and darkness of the caves of life.

Second, the king understands your situation. David understood the displacement, the distress, the discontent and the grief of all of the cumulative grief and loss. I can imagine David listening to each person who arrived at Abdullam, nodding with empathy as they shared their stories. Jesus, of course, was “a man of grief, acquainted with sorrows.” Hebrews points out that he experienced what we experience while he was here on earth. We’re not only in the cave with a King, we’re in the cave with a king that understands.

The third lesson we can learn is that we don’t have to stay in the cave forever. Caves are temporary shelters, not permanent homes. David went into the cave, but eventually emerged as God led him into the next phase of his life and leadership. Don’t forget that Jesus experienced a cave for three days. On the other side of the cave is a resurrection to something new and remarkable.

Finally, caves have a purpose. They help us discover our meaning, our purpose, our calling and our mission. Sometimes those things can only be learned in the experiences of the cave. It is critical that we don’t waste our dwelling time and miss the opportunity that lies before us as we emerge. Those who joined David in the cave experienced transformation. The entered a people who were rejected by society and struggling with personal challenges. But they emerged as an army that would become renoun as David’s mighty men of valor. God has something for us on the other side if we walk by faith. Your life, like their’s can be transformed into something beautiful and beneficial.

What is God revealing to you about you in your confinement? What are the possibilities that are on the other side?

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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“So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Abdullam.” (1 Samuel 22:1)

For many of us, these past six weeks have created a deep sense of isolation and loneliness. Social distancing is poor phrasing, because we are by nature social creatures. I prefer to call it physical distancing. Even though our physical proximities are limited, we can still have social nearness through technology. Regardless of what we call it, it is an isolation that we neither created or have chosen.

I’ve always enjoyed the story of David in the cave of Abdullam because of the multiple layers of spiritual lessons it provides. David is known for his famous victory over the giant. But thereafter the story takes an unforeseen shift. In quick succession, David lost his job, his wife, his home, his counselor, his best friend and his self respect. 1 Samuel 21 concludes with saliva running down his beard, scratching the gate of the enemy like a madman.It was his lowest moment to this point in his life. During this period he penned Psalm 142, where he laments, “no one cares for my soul.”

Desperate and on the run, David looked for a place of peace, a respite of sorts. A place to regroup and think. But in the very next verse, his family arrived. There are two mentions of his family prior to this point, and neither are positive. The first is when Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint one of his sons as king. Jesse did not esteem David enough to call him from the shepherd’s field to be presented. The second was prior to the battle with Goliath, where his brother Eliab criticized his presence and youthful curiosity. Let’s not think that the family’s arrival cues a system of support. By familial association, David’s family became collateral damage. Because he was on the run, they were on the run.

But wait, there’s more. Soon after more began to arrive. There were those in trouble or distress, literally “under pressure or stress.” There were also those who were in debt, followed by those who were discontent, experiencing a deep bitterness of soul due to mistreatment or injustice. That’s quite a collection of people!

I believe that David had a choice. He could have chosen to walk away, saying “who needs it? I have my own problems.” But he didn’t run away like many do instead of facing their problems. He didn’t see the burden, he saw the blessing.

Caves bring the blessing of clarity to our lives. The cave was an opportunity for David to deal with an important question: Do I really want to be king? Is this what it looks like to be a king? Look at these people! Here he learned that if he could lead anyone, he could lead everyone.

It reminds me of Jesus, whose ministry followers were similarly in distress, in debt or discontented.

So here’s today’s question. What is the great thing that God has for you that your confinement is providing clarity? Tomorrow I’ll post the rest of my thoughts and share four lessons we learn in the cave.

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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The COVID-19 pandemic has many thinking about scarcity. I can remember my dad tell stories about rationing during World War II. While we’re not there (yet), there are those I talk to who have concerns about the availability of toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, hand soap, and hand sanitizer. These conversations reminded me of what Michael Hyatt described as scarcity thinking and abundance thinking in his book, Your Best Year Ever.

Scarcity thinkers are entitled and fearful, while abundance thinkers are thankful and confident.

Scarcity thinkers believe there will never be enough, while abundance thinkers believe there’s always more where that came from.

Scarcity thinkers are stingy with their knowledge, contacts and compassion, while abundance thinkers are happy to share their knowledge, contacts and compassion with others.

Scarcity thinkers assume they are the way they are, while abundance thinkers assume they can learn, grow and develop.

Scarcity thinkers default to suspicion and aloofness, while abundance thinkers default to trust and openness.

Scarcity thinkers resent competition, believing that it makes the pie smaller and them weaker. Abundance thinkers welcome competition, believing that it makes the pie bigger and them better.

Scarcity thinkers are pessimistic about the future, believing there are tough times ahead. On the other hand, abundance thinkers are optimistic about the future, believing the best is yet to come.

Scarcity thinkers see and focus on challenges as obstacles, while abundance thinkers see challenges as opportunities.

Finally, scarcity thinkers think small and avoid risk, while abundance thinkers think big and embrace risk.

You may have seen something like this from another source. You may even have something to add to Hyatt’s list. As people of faith and children of an Almighty God who created the universe, I’m not sure we have the option to choose scarcity. Scarcity is motivated by fear. Abundance is motivated by faith in the God who has promised a more abundant and meaninful life right now (John 10:10).

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Apr
13

The Law of the Harvest

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Over the weekend I finished It Takes What it Takes, by Trevor Moawad. If you’re unfamiliar with him, he’s a mental coach who works with professional athletes and NCAA athletic programs. The quote that stood out to me from the book is as follows: “You are what you do, and you’ve become what you’ve done.” Simply put, you have to accept the responsibility for the choices that we have made, and if you don’t like what you see in your life, change your behavior(s).

That bold statement reminded me of a verse I’ve been meditating upon for the past two weeks. “Don’t be misled–you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant” (Galatians 6:7, NLT) You probably are more familiar with older translations which say, “You reap what you sow.”

Paul packed a lot in that simple verse, which is more clearly understood as The Law of the Harvest.

Law #1: You reap what you sow. Simply, if you plant corn, you can expect a harvest of corn, versus beans or wheat. Like begets like.

Law #2: You reap more than you sow. In the world of agriculture, the farmer has faith that the one seed he plants in the ground will yield exponetially more. One seed of corn may produce hundreds of kernels on multiple ears from a single stalk.

Law #3: You reap later than you sow. An experienced farmer knows that it takes many days and weeks for the seed to produce a harvest. The harvest always comes later…sometimes much later than we expect.

The Law of the Harvest reminds me that what I do today will beget something similar, sometimes much greater, somewhere in the future. This principle is neutral. You can plant good seeds of good deeds and habits that reap a greater reward in the future. A person can also plant bad seed which will obey the same principles.

Each day we have the choice before us as to what we will plant. Each seed that is sown is not an isolated act or incidence. It will produce a large return at a later time. So let’s choose wisely each day.

Apr
08

Prayer for the Week

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Father, I abandon myself into your hands.

Do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you, I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul.

I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

Amen

–by Charles De Foucauld

Categories : Easter, Prayer
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Apr
06

Disrupting Thinking

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My wife is an elementary reading teacher, specializing in helping kids with reading comprehension, accuracy and fluency. She spends her days in small circles of children helping them improve what would arguably be the most important skill anyone could possess. Because of her dedication as a teacher she is always looking for ways to improve her craft so she can be on top of her game day in and day out. One of the resources she has shared with me is a book titled, Disrupting Thinking, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

Beers and Probst teach a three-fold technique for comprehension that I think is applicable to how we read and understand the Bible. Since many of us have a little more discretionary time on our hands due to COVID-19, I want to share what I think are the most transferrable concepts from this approach to reading.

First, begin with the book, which for my purposes is the Bible. When you read a passage ask these questions: Who is speaking? Who is the passage addressed to? What is this verse or these verses about? In other words, who is saying what to whom?

Next, move to your own thinking about the text. What surprised me about the verse(s)? What does the writer think I already know? What changed, challenged, or confused my thinking? What did I notice? This is your mental interaction with what you’ve read. But don’t stop there!

The final phase is to move the passage from your head to your heart. Here are two important questions: What did I learn about me from reading the text? And, How will this help me as a person of faith grow and mature?

To me, the approach is designed to create the discipline of moving the text on a page of the Bible to a cognitive interaction which results in personal action. Good books of all genres are transformative, and the most transformative book ever composed is sacred Scripture. The Bible is more than a compliation of stories, it is life giving. But it only gives life when it intersects with your faith being lived out on a daily basis. Next time you read a passage from the Bible, take a moment, and a pen and notebook for that matter, and walk through the process I’ve outlined. See if it makes a difference.

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Apr
03

The Key to Our Strength

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One of the recurring themes of the Psalms is the question, “How long, O Lord?” That seems particularly relevant given the times we live in. But it wasn’t just the Psalmist who raised this question while enduring hardship. Its a theme that runs through the Old Testament that also serves as the context for one of the more familiar verses of Isaiah.

The setting of Isaiah 40 is a prophetic word of hope that is offered to a people who are preparing for exile and captivity. Israel’s deportation to Babylon is one of the key events for the people of God who had once been delivered from slavery in Egypt. The prophet voices the questions of the people in chapter 40:27: “O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say that God ignores your rights?” Those seem to been the questions that many people are asking today.

In the context of the setting, Isaiah reminds the people of several important truths about how to endure suffering and displacement, first of which is to remember the strength of God. God has clearly demonstrated his strength in his creation. “Look up to the heavens, Who created the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, not a single one is missing. Because of his great power and incomprehensible strength, not a single one is missing. Have you not heard? Have you not understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding” (Isaiah 40:26, 28). One needs to look no further than outside their window to see evidence of God’s power. Its displayed throughout the universe.

The second word of encouragement that Isaiah offers is that God’s strength is transferrable. “He gives power to the weak; and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion” (Isaiah 40:29-30). This strength that God possesses is available and transferrable to those who seem to be in obvious need as well as those who are presumed to be strong because they are young. Everyone is succeptable to weakness and powerlessness. Everyone is eligible to receive God’s strength which is perfected in our weakness.

So here’s the key. “But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). God’s strength is not only transferrable, its a renewable resource. And that strength is renewed through the process of waiting and trusting in the Lord.

Christine Caine once said that “Patience is my capacity to tolerate delay. Its trusting that God is good, that God does good, and that he knows what he’s doing no matter how long it takes; no matter what his purpose is.” Waiting enables us to find renewal and rest, which in turn allows us to reorient ourselves to our situation and realign ourselves with God.

“How long, O Lord?” As long as it takes. But waiting time is not wasted time. During our present challenges, remember that God is at work in our world as well as in our individual lives. You have what it takes to endure!

Categories : Patience
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Throughout history, nothing has been more polarizing than suffering. Some will view human suffering as a reason to not believe in God, while others will see suffering as a reason to run directly into the arms of God. This is the time for us to say to our cities and communities, “hope is right in front of you!” The Church has had a disaster plan in place for 2,000 years — the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that momentous act, Jesus conquered sin, death and the grave. With that said, let me share three observations for the Church.

First, the light is on. While we may not be “here” in our facilities, we’re actually everywhere! The buildings we occupy once or twice a week are not representative of our reach. Wherever we live and wherever we go we are mobilized for the cause of the Kingdom and the sake of the gospel.

Next, the Church is not in retreat. We’ve merely repositioned ourselves for ministry. If you’ve ever wondered what Jesus meant about new wineskins, this is it! We need to remember that the first building constructed for the exclusive purpose of Christian worship was not erected until A.D. 350. For the first three and one half centuries the gospel flourished without a building. I think we can do this!

Finally, we need our individual members now more than ever because our communities need us collectively. We’re better together. Lovingly meeting the needs of the members of our communities is the most relevant thing we can do. Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ!

Categories : Church
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Lord Jesus Christ,

We are so thankful that you have said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

We are thankful for the ease with which you walked upon this earth, the generosity and kindness you showed to people, the devotion with which you cared for those who were out of the way and in trouble, the extent to which you even loved your enemies and laid down your life for them.

We are so thankful to believe that this is a life for us, a life without lack; a life of sufficiency. It’s so clear in you, the sufficiency of your Father and the fullness of life that was poured through you, and we’re so thankful that you have promised the same love, the same life, the same joy, and the same power for us.

Lord, slip up on us today. Get past our defenses, our worries, our concerns. Gently open our souls and speak your word into them. We believe you want to do it, and we wait for you to do it now.

In your name, Amen

Categories : Prayer
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Mar
21

Words on Worry

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“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25)

Worry is the anxiety we feel that is fostered by uncertainty regarding the future. Jesus spoke these words in the middle of The Sermon on the Mount, giving six reasons why we are not to worry.

Do not worry because you are valuable to God! “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

Worry does not change anything! “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

God regularly demonstrates his faithfulness to his children! “Andy why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

Worry produces conflict with our faith and trust in God! “So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things.” (Matthew 6:31-32)

God already knows your needs! “…and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:32)

Our priority is to focus on God’s kingdom and trust his promises to care for us! “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34)

Jesus offered those words nearly 2,000 years ago. And they are just as relevant today!

Be blessed today,

Pastor Tim

Categories : Worry
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Mar
13

Our Response to COVID-19

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Dear First Baptist Family and Friends,

As you know, this is the time of year when the spread of viruses represents a significant concern for many individuals and families in our community.  This year, in particular, these concerns have been increased given the rapid spread influenza, pneumonia, and COVID-19 (coronavirus).
 
Out of our responsibility as Shepherds and leaders, and particularly in support of members of our community who would be most vulnerable to these conditions, our Church Staff and Executive Board are implementing the following preventative measures to do our part to ensure as safe an environment for church members as possible:

We are encouraging everyone to please stay home if you are showing any signs of illness.  Remember that you can live stream our services at our website (www.fbcdsm.org/media) or watch them at your convenience. If you cannot attend worship, you can also make contributions online (www.fbcdsm.org/ways-to-give.aspx).

During worship we are encouraging the alternative form of greeting one another by placing your hand over your heart as a sign of Christian love. In similar manner, greeters will now wave to everyone rather than shaking hands or hugging.

We are suspending communion through the month of April. We will also suspend providing donut holes before and after worship through the month of April. Coffee will continue to be provided on Sunday morning by servers.

Any food, including Wednesday night dinners, will be plated and served individually by people wearing food service gloves.

Those who have volunteered to make hospital visits will suspend their ministry. The Pastoral Staff will continue to provide pastoral care to those who are admitted to the hospital as permitted.

Frequent hand washing with soap and water is encouraged! Hand sanitizer is available in each class room as well as in the Narthex.

Please make sure to cough or sneeze into your elbow, turning away from others as much as possible. Kleenex tissues are available throughout the building.

In addition to our regular cleaning, we will be regularly cleaning and disinfecting all doorknobs, handles, and frequently used surfaces at the Church.

Parents: please remember that we always regularly wipe down all toys in the nursery.

We appreciate your willingness to work together to promote the health and well-being of our entire community.  We will continue to monitor the latest recommendations from governmental agencies and hope that these measures will soon be unnecessary. You can find the latest information at The Iowa Department of Public Health website (www.idph.iowa.gov) or the National Center for Disease Control website (www.cdc.gov).

To that end, let us be faithful and vigilant in our prayer for those nations, communities, families and individuals most affected by this outbreak, and for the medical personnel and government officials seeking to respond. Finally, let us show respect to those who are deeply concerned about these viruses and resist any temptation to invalidate their concerns or personal precautions.
 
God’s blessings to you all,      
The Church Staff and Executive Board of First Baptist Church
Categories : Uncategorized
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“The Kingdom of God deals not only with the immortal soul of mortals, but with their bodies, their nourishment, their homes, their cleanliness, and it makes those who serve these fundamental needs of life veritable ministers of God. Are they not serving the common good? Are they not working sacramental miracles by cooperating with that mysterious power which satisfies the want of every living thing by making the grain and tree to grow? If they do their job well, that job itself is their chief ministry to others and part of their worship to God. Whenever they strive to increase their serviceableness to humanity, they make another advance toward the Kingdom of God.”

“We praise thee, O God, for our friends, the doctors and nurses who seek the healing of our bodies. We bless thee for their gentleness and patience, for their knowledge and skill. Make thou our doctors the prophets and soldiers of thy kingdom, which is the reign of cleanliness and self-restraint and the dominion of health and joyous life. Strengthen in their whole profession the consciousness that their calling is holy and they they, too, are disciples of the saving Christ. Amen.” — Walter Rauschenbusch, as quoted by Dennis L. Johnson, To Live in God.

Categories : Uncategorized
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From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another” (John 1:16, NLT)

Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity for us to consider the blessings of God that we might ordinarily overlook. When given the opportunity to take inventory, we quickly realize that we are amazed at how much we have received from God, so much in fact, that it makes our burdens and challenges pale in comparison.

In his epic introduction, the Apostle John presents his theology of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This year, the sixteenth verse became the basis of last week’s sermon. The word picture that John offers is one of waves that come crashing into the seashore. If you’ve been to the ocean, you know that ocean waves come continuously without pause. They don’t stop. Ever. And that image is how John wants us to think of the gracious blessings of God.

These continuous blessings contain invitations for us to respond. Each blessing is an opportunity for us to acknowledge and respond to God with praise, thanksgiving, and love. The key is how we respond. In the narrative of our Lord, we see three responses to his blessings.

Some are receptive, such as the woman in Mark 14:1-9, who anointed Jesus prior to his crucifixion by breaking an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. The text reports that it was a magnanimous offering worth one year’s wages. While there is some debate regarding the identity of the woman, it appears clear that she had experienced forgiveness for what many may have considered unforgivable. She responded to Jesus grace with confession and contrition which resulted in transformation. Grace changes lives.

Others, on the other hand, are resistant. Three of the four gospels record a story of a wealthy young man who approached Jesus one day inquiring what must be done to receive eternal life. Jesus, in response to the “rich young ruler” cited commandments 5-10. The young man said, “check! What remains?” Jesus said that he needed to sell everything and follow him. The young man, torn between two interests, went away sorrowful. The idolatrous grip of money was overwhelming. It is apparent that he wanted to add Jesus to his divided heart. Grace doesn’t work that way. So he walked.

While some are receptive and others are resistant, there is a third type — those who actually resent grace. John 6 is devoted to the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Free bread and fish was more than enough reason for Jesus’ audience to drop everything to “follow” him. Jesus recognized their shallow pursuits, stopped, and said, “Unless you eat my bread and drink my blood, you cannot be my disciple.” They were offended by Jesus’ words and followed him no more. They were interested in bread, but not the bread of life.

God’s waves of grace, the bread of life, is what we’re offered. And its beneficial. But we have to respond. May we continue to be receptive to the waves of God’s grace, and allow him to continue his work of transformation in our lives!

Categories : Thanksgiving
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Oct
02

Your Table is Ready

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I like to try new restaurants, but I’m challenged with a problem you may find relatable. I have chronic order envy. If you’re not familiar with order envy, its basically evaluating my order against the orders made by others in my dinner party and comparing mine to theirs. It seems that I usually wish I had ordered what someone else ordered.

Psalm 23:4 makes a shift in location. The Psalmist transitions from being out of doors…green pastures…still waters…a valley of shadows…to indoors. In Bible times, people only ate with trusted friends and family. The table was reserved for the closest, most trusted relationships. But in Psalm 23, this table is set in the presence of enemies. It sounds strange to us, but it was even more strange to David’s original audience.

But King David was not the only one who experienced this phenomenon. Hundreds of years later, Jesus found himself in a similar position at the last supper. John 13:1ff tells the story of Jesus inviting the disciples to “table” to observe the Passover in preparation for the crucifixion that would happen the following day. Who are his guests?

One of the guests was Peter, who denied him later that night. Another was Judas Iscariot who had already planned the insidious act of betrayal of Christ.

Yet Jesus was resolved to behave with radical inclusivity as a means of introducing the Kingdom of God. He humbly served those at the table, Peter and Judas included, by washing their feet. He behaved with a redemptive spirit as he offered Judas the “sop” as an act of honor and an invitation to friendship. Then he relinquished control as he watched Judas exit the dinner to carry out his plan.

Paul does not directly cite this event in Romans 12:17-21, but I think it must have been on his mind. He counseled the Roman readers to do the right thing by overcoming evil with good and then leave their enemies in hands of God. The behavior of those who wish me harm is not my problem. The behavior of those who attempt to do wrong does not make me exempt from doing the right thing. That’s hard, but Jesus did it. And he expects me to do the same.

Categories : Fear
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Sep
26

Block and Tackle

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Football season is in full swing. For many, its the most wonderful time of the year. I remember when my son started playing tackle football. One of the key components of practice was The Oklahoma Drill. Football fans and former players alike know the Oklahoma Drill as a measurement of strength on strength. Two players are lined up across from each other like gladiators and compete against each other. The drill reinforces the fundamentals of the game of football. Blocking and tackling. As the television analysts like to say, “the game is won or lost in the trenches.”

Old Testament shepherds were also concerned with the basic fundamentals of caring for the sheep. Psalm 23:4 reminds us that “Your and and your staff protect and comfort me.” Shepherds were equipped with these two devices. The rod was a short stick that may have resembled a billy club. Legend has it that young shepherds had to cut a sapling and then carve their own rod, making it a custom piece that fit his hand. The rod could be used to club an animal that threatened the sheep. It could also be thrown with deadly accuracy. The purpose of the rod was for protection.

The other piece of equipment was the staff. We have envisioned the staff as a long stick with a crook at the top. The staff was used by the shepherd to guide the sheep and keep them on the proper course. The purpose of the staff, therefore, was to provide guidance.

Looking at Psalm 23:4 as a unit of thought, we learn that God’s presence, protection and guidance all go together. The protection and guidance of God is based on relationship more that responsibility. Meaning, the closer we draw to God, the more we experience his presence. And the God who is present in our lives is armed and equipped to guide us brings comfort to our souls in the midst of all fears.

Categories : Fear
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Sep
23

Reframing the Narrative

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Paul not only found joy in his relationships, Philippians 1:20-30 also informs us that Paul was able to find joy through the acceptance of his circumstances. He was in prison. He wasn’t in denial of this adversity. Rather, he chose to reframe the physical realm into the spiritual realm. How did he do that, and what can we learn?

The first thing Paul offered was a humble view of reality. (Philippians 1:19-20) He maintained confidence that he would be delivered, although he was not certain what form that deliverance would take. Would deliverance mean that he would be released from prison? Or would he be executed? He acknowledged the reality of death, and his only desire was that if execution was in his future that he would not recant his faith.

Second, Paul possessed a clear priority. (Philippians 1:21) He never lost sight of Christ as his ultimate goal and priority in living. The word “gain is a financial term, meaning dividend. He understood that whatever happened to him, his investment would pay a rich reward!

Next, Paul’s attitude was positive. He was able to view his challenge as a “win-win.” (Philippians 1:22-26) The word “desire” is used 31 times in the New Testament and is usually associated with strong, sexual lust. Paul’s positive outlook saw the benefits of heaven, and on the other hand the benefit of others faith and growth should he be released. Interestingly enough, he’s good either way.

Finally, Paul maintained a healthy self identity. (Philippians 1:27-30) He could have worn the label “inmate,” but instead chose a healthy self identity. He was and continued to be a child of God, and would never accept anything less. He was not focused on who he was, but on whose he was.

What is the narrative you’ve chosen about your adversity? Like Paul, let joy reframe the narrative until the unseen becomes as clear as what is seen.

Categories : Joy
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Sep
22

Live Stream @ FBCDSM

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For the past year, the Tech Team at First Baptist Church has been working to develop a live video stream of our Sunday Morning Worship services. Through the dedicated work of these talented members, we are up and running!

The full worship service streams live each week beginning at 10:00 am. Following the live stream, the sermon videos are archived on our website to allow people to watch them at their convenience. The production quality is in high definition, making the viewing experience comfortable and enjoyable.

We made this investment for several reasons. First, we wanted our services to be accessible to people who cannot be present with us in person. From people who are traveling to those who are home bound, we have discovered that the live stream provides the viewer with a sense of community, albeit virtual. Another reason we made this step was to provide people who are exploring faith or looking for a church home a safe and anonymous experience prior to taking the step to worship with us in person. Finally, we wanted to provide support to small communities of faith that are either without a pastor or who can no longer afford a pastor. As we move forward, I’m sure there will be many other reasons that we’ll discover.

I’d like to invite you to check it out. You can find the live stream, the archived video, and yes, even the archived audio only sermons at www.fbcdsm.org/media. There you will find the links and clear instructions on how to engage.

My prayer is that God will use our new ministry for his Glory. And, we’re thankful to Him for the technology that makes it possible!

Categories : Sermons, Worship
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This was the August 29 daily reading from A Year With C.S. Lewis. It was originally published in his book The Weight of Glory.

“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch my self very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.’ But excusing says, ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.’ If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what seemed at first to be the sins turns out to be nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven.

But the trouble is that what we call ‘asking forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.

What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some extenuating circumstances. We are so very anxious to point those out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.”

Categories : Forgiveness
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Aug
29

Present Tense

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Like some children, I grew up afraid of the dark. My strong, depression era dad could not justify the electricity expense for a nightlight, so I was left to sort it out on my own. My mother did help by offering these comforting words: There’s nothing there in the dark that isn’t there in the light. Believe it or not, that calmed my overactive imagination.

Fear establishes the limits of our lives. If you’re afraid of heights, you stay low. If you’re afraid of water, you stay dry. If you’re afraid of the dark, you stay near the light.

Psalm 23:4 describes evil through the imagery of a valley of dark shadows. Darkness is often a metaphor for darkness in Scripture. For example, at the crucifixion the sky became dark during the middle of the day for “a space of about three hours.” Paul said that evil people prefer darkness to light because light exposes their evil deeds. The good news is that Revelation reports that the lights are always on in heaven!

Back to Psalm 23:4. Even though we walk through the valley of dark shadows, we fear no evil. That reminds me that in those moments I am to be tenacious, not tentative. Evil is not diminished. It is real. It exists. God never promised that evil would never touch my life. He does promise that I don’t have to face it alone. I am not powerless in the face of evil, for God is with me. Even when all other companions must turn back, God is there.

My response to evil, therefore, is to not allow it to rule my life with fear. I am to be ruled by faith. I don’t have to be brave and courageous. I have to trust that God is bigger that whatever I’m facing. So what happens when my life is ruled by fear instead of faith?

Numbers 13-14 tells the story of the children of Israel at Kadesh Barnea. Having traveled some 200 miles from Egypt, spies were sent into the land of promise on a recon mission for 40 days. They came back with “an evil report,” meaning that while they could confirm the land was bountiful, there was no way the people of the land could be conquered. Discord set in and the people rebelled in spite of Caleb and Joshua’s protests. Imagine how they allowed fear to overrule their faith one mile from the promised land, especially in light of the deliverances they had experienced–everything from the plagues to the parting of the Red Sea!

Which brings me to this question. What will it take for you to trust that God is with you? What does God have to do to prove himself once again that he’s faithful? This is when we have to learn to preach the gospel to ourselves. God understands the pain of evil, which is why Jesus came to earth and went to the cross. But on the other side of that cross stands a garden of resurrection. That’s the gospel! Preach it to yourself!

Categories : Evil, Fear
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Aug
17

On Liturgical Worship

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This was in today’s reading from The Book of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

When a song isn’t working for you (during worship), consider praising God, because that probably means it is working for someone else who is very different from you. Offer your worship as a sacrifice rather than requiring others to sacrifice for your pleasure or contentment. There is something to the notion of becoming one as God is one; it doesn’t mean we are all the same; it just means that we are united by one Spirit. After all, we can only become one if there are many of us to begin with.

Liturgy puts a brake on narcissism. Certainly, there is something beautiful about contemporary worship, where we can take old things things and add a little spice them, like singing hymns to rock tunes or reciting creeds as spoken word rhymes. But liturgy protects us from simply making worship into a self pleasing act. So if a song or prayer doesn’t quite work for you, be thankful that it is probably really resonating with someone who is different from you, and offer a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).

Categories : Worship
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Aug
12

Know Fear

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What fears lurk in your heart? Crime? Racial tension? Terrorism? The political landscape? The economy? Failure? Disappointing others? Insignificance? Loneliness? Change? Missed opportunities? Aging? Illness? Dying?

Fear is a difficult thing to admit. Often we will use euphemisms like being stressed out or overwhelmed to avoid this confession. Regardless of what you call it, its real, and its presence is making itself known in American culture like never before.

The primary Greek word for fear is phobos, as in phobia. It is considered a neutral word, meaning that our understanding is based on the context of usage. On one hand it can mean cowardice, and on the other it can describe a truly religious person.

It was used in three ways in classical Greek. First, it could convey the idea of running away from danger. Second, it could refer to the opposite of courage as one seeks to avoid danger. Finally, it could describe the awe or reverence one possesses for an exalted ruler or person who is infinitely superior. In all, the word is used some 47 times in the New Testament, and generally speaks of fear in a positive sense as in the “fear of the Lord,” or as a description our appropriate response to evil.

It goes without saying that fear is part of our neurological hardwiring. It can produce a necessary and helpful signal that we need when facing danger. With almost no conscious help from us, fear tries to keep us safe. Gavin de Becker even calls fear, “a brilliant internal guardian.” At the level of intuition, fear is a gift that can potentially save our lives.

Unfortunately, much of our fear is manufactured. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to call fear, “False Evidence Appearing Real.” Like an illusionist, fear leads us to believe things that are not real. We see the magician saw the assistant in half, knowing full well its a trick, but at the same time wanting to believe what we have seen that cannot be explained.

I like what Paul wrote to Timothy about fear. He boldly said, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT). Its interesting that Paul does not use the word phobos, but instead uses a stronger word — deilos. This word is always used in the negative sense, and refers to a deep cowardice that one has. Paul wanted Timothy, and us for that matter, to know that this kind of fear does not come from God. Did you notice that the word “spirit” is in lower case? So as we experience life we have to make a choice about which spirit is going to govern our thoughts and feelings. If my spirit is in control, I’m going to be vulnerable to all manner of fear. But if God’s Spirit is in control, I have the resources needed to prevent me from becoming paralyzed by something that may or may not happen. Power, love and self-discipline are resources available to me only through God’s Spirit.

In his book Unafraid, Pastor Adam Hamilton used an acronym of his own to help us navigate the fears that plague us. Check it out:

Face your fears with faith.

Examine your assumptions in light of the facts.

Attack your anxieties with action.

Release your cares to God.

There’s a lot of unpacking there that I could do, but I’ll let the four principles speak for themselves. The point is that God has already provided the resources you need to live unafraid.

Categories : Fear
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Aug
07

Joy Through Acceptance

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Viktor Frankl knew the reality of suffering and deprivation as a prisoner of war in World War 2. His experience in Nazi prison camps enabled him to see life at its worst. Some individuals survived the horrors of those camps, while many did not. Frankl wanted to know why. After studying his fellow prisoners, Frankl concluded, “Everything can be taken from men but one thing…the last of all human freedoms…the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

In the first century, there were very few buildings dedicated solely to the purpose of incarceration. Often, prison cells were a part of a larger building that was used for other purposes. The most unpleasant of these would have a limited number of cells below ground, with a central cell used for the most dangerous prisoners. Dangerous criminals would have been whipped and then locked in stocks in the inner most cell. In other instances, people could be placed under house arrest, where a guard would be posted in regular living quarters. During his ministry, Paul experienced both extremes of Roman imprisonment. Imprisonment was not a punishment for a crimes. A person was only imprisoned to be held while awaiting trial.

Even in this circumstance, Paul could see the good contained within his adversity. In Philippians 1:12-14, he wrote, “that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the good news. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.” Paul maintained that his imprisonment is to Christ, not Rome. He was jailed for proclaiming an illegal religion that contradicted Ceasar’s insistence of lordship. The palace guard was an elite company of soldiers comprised of 10,000 men. They were the emperor’s special task force that was highly trained. In all likelihood, Paul was chained to one of those guards, wrist to wrist, 24 hours a day. He was the positive in his adversity because he seized the opportunity to advance (literally, “cut through”) the gospel.

Not only did Paul have a unique opportunity to share the gospel with influential men, his attitude was contagious, as other believers became emboldened. Like King David, we see that giant killers raise up giant killers.

Paul was not only able to see the good in his circumstance, he could celebrate the good within his circumstance. He wrote, “so I rejoice, and I will continue to rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18) Paul had a big picture focus. He didn’t allow the imperfections of others to cause him to lose his joy.

Finally, Paul remained hopeful within his adversity. In verse 19, he wrote, “For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.” He knew that there was something good on the other side of his imprisonment. That good could be his release from prison. But because of his faith, the good could also mean that if he was not released from jail he would be released to life eternal in heaven.

Like Paul, we need to remember the life of Jesus. On the other side of the cross lies a garden of resurrection. That truth does not just apply to Jesus and Paul. That truth is our reality as well.

Categories : Joy
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Aug
05

Joy in Connections

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I never get tired of seeing those television news clips or viral videos of deployed soldiers returning home to surprise their families. These gotcha moments occur anywhere from school classrooms to professional sports stadiums. Those stories make me happy, and always bring a smile to my face. But what if it was my son or daughter returning home? That’s one difference between happiness and joy…a connection.

The Book of Philippians is, in part, an epistle that is about joy. In Paul’s letter we find several ways that he experienced and expressed joy. The first eleven verses of chapter one describes his joy in the relationships he had formed with the people of that faith community.

For Paul, the foundation of all connected relationships began with his relationship with Christ. Christ influenced all of his relationships regardless of their roles or functions. Because of his relationship with Christ, Paul had deep gratitude for these men and women. They were not burdens–they were blessings, and expressed that gratitude in the language of prayer.

Paul’s use of the word fellowship in this passage is not a reference to Sunday-after-church-potlucks. True Christian fellowship (koinonia) happens when people partner together for a common cause. So these relationships fostered shared mission and ministry among the people

Not only was Paul thankful, his heart was filled with love. In addition to sharing the common bond of mission and ministry, they share the common bond of adversity. They did not recoil from Paul’s challenges to live lives of service.

Beyond their fellowship and shared adversity, Paul was also able to celebrate their authenticity. As they grew together in the Lord while in the midst of obstacles, their character became more and more sincere.

These three characteristics of connected relationships–a common cause, a common adversity, and sincerity in the face of struggle, produced fruitfulness in their lives. God was working in this congregation so that he could work through this congregation. This truth brought great joy to Paul.

Categories : Joy
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Jul
25

Discovering Joy

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“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” — C.S. Lewis

I find the concept of joy to be elusive. Not just for me, but for people in our Christian communities. Part of the reason is that we have made joy synonymous with happiness. While that comparison may work in secular culture, it does not work in Scripture. Happiness, which is rooted in “happenings,” is based on external factors and forces. For example, if someone gives me a gift, I become happy. But that happiness is fleeting, not unlike the child on Christmas morning that soon turns his attention from the new toy to the box that packaged it.

Joy is internal. And because it is internal, it is insulated from external factors and forces that rage against one’s life. Jesus was a man of complete and continuous joy, and maintained that joy despite a wide variety of disappointments and frustrations.

So how do we comprehend joy? I liken joy to the tree described in Psalm 1:1-2: “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

If joy is likened to a tree, that tree is rooted in righteousness. It is planted with intent by God’s design and desire. Its not an accident. It’s fertile, meaning it has the possibility to reach its potential. And it’s designed to bear fruit.

The tree is designed to withstand all seasons of life. There are season of growth, fruit bearing, rest and lament. Each season is necessary to the process of joy. Think about what a 200 year old oak tree has withstood. It stands, having weathered all kinds of challenges. While the tree is weathered, it does not wither. Leaves fall from the tree in autumn, but leaves that wither are a sign of death.

Like those massive trees, you have been designed to prosper, meaning that you have the potential to thrive and increase your capacity. Every new tree will strive to survive. But in time, the tree begins to thrive. As the tree thrives they develop the capacity to prevail. And the capacity to prevail when the pressures of life come allow us to anticipate and even expect those pressures and face them victoriously.

Don’t let your demand and entitlement for happiness diminish your pursuit of joy. Joy is within your reach. You just need to grow your root system deeper.

Categories : Joy
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