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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