Two more . . . from 9/1/19

For many years now, I have been leading worship services in partnership with Wildwood’s Worship Pastor, Greg Hill.  (BTW: We are incredibly blessed to have this man leading our worship each week as a congregation!  But I digress . . .) As a part of every worship service we plan, we actually schedule down to the minute the content that is going into each service.  This kind of precision is necessary when multiple programs are working in tandem throughout the building (children/student/adult classes, multiple worship services, etc.) As such, Greg and I have a running joke that goes something like this:

Greg – “How long is the sermon going to be this week?”

Mark – “Two more minutes than I think.”

This may sound or seem silly to you, but I promise it is really how I feel.  No matter if I have 25 minutes for the sermon (like 3 weeks ago when we took extra time to honor the Hesses), or if I have 35 minutes (like I had two weeks ago), or if I have 30 minutes (like yesterday when we celebrated communion), I always wish I had 2 more minutes . . . 27, 32, or 37.  I know that if I had those “two,” invariably I would want 2 more.  Why is that?

You could say it is poor planning, but I actually script things out quite a bit . . . it actually has less to do with me as it has to do with God.  I am not blaming God, but worshipping Him as I say that.  His Word is just so much greater than any time can contain.  If I was simply sharing with you my opinions or personal philosophies, I would need to find ways to STRETCH time, but when God’s Word is at the heart of the sermon, who can exhaust it?

That said, I am going to be experimenting this fall with sharing “two more” with you from the previous message here on my blog.  I won’t do this every week most likely, but just as the Lord leads (and time allows).  I wanted to start this week because there were a couple of things from yesterday’s message I wanted to expand a bit upon.

NOTE:  You can find the 32 minute (ha ha) version of my 30 minute sermon from yesterday by clicking here (yes, it was my fault the service went 2 minutes long.)

Three added thoughts from Authentic (part 3):

  1. “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.  For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” – Matthew 23:5.  In this verse I made the observation that Jesus was calling out the Pharisees and scribes as “actors wearing costumes” instead of possessing an authentic relationship with God.  In the message we talked about how the Pharisees wore fancy costumes as they worshipped that included “can’t miss them” phylacteries and fancy fringes.  Jesus here was not saying that people could not wear these accessories, but that they should not wear them FOR THE PURPOSE OF IMPRESSING OTHER PEOPLE.  If those items were helpful for worship or to encourage others, I don’t think Jesus would have called them out, but these items were designed to gain personal approval, so Jesus rejected them as a mere costume . . . an imitation, not authentic faith.  I made the application to our use of social media.  There is nothing wrong with the use of social media in connection with our faith . . . but we should not show our practice of our faith through social media as a means to convince other people how spiritual we are.  If we want to post to social media a picture of our Bible while we are having a quiet time in order to encourage our friends and family with a great truth we saw . . . go for it!  But if we want to post a picture of our quiet time on social media just so people know we are having a “quiet time” then we are venturing into phylacteries and fancy fringes.  It is a statement directed at our motivations as much as our actions.  Next time before you post, ask yourself, “why am I posting this? To gain the approval of others (so they will think I am more spiritual/a better person), or because I want to serve them through directing them to this truth or practice?”
  1. “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 23:9.  Interesting that Jesus does not here say that they should not seek to be called “father” but that they should call “no man father.”  Now, this is not a rejection of the nuclear family, but it is calling out people’s ultimate allegiances.  In the first century, there were various “traditions of the fathers” . . . different streams of thinking passed down from famous rabbis of the past.  Some would say they were of “Father John” while others would say they were of “Father Sam,” etc.  The trajectories can end up way off when people attach themselves to thought “fathers” and take that person’s understanding, theology, philosophy as “gospel” and stop running the opinions of that person through the grid of Scripture.  I made the statement in the message that in our world today, people are equally tempted to associate with the teachings of people. Historically, there are people like Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, or John Wesley – whose theological legacies have influenced millions.  Even today, people attribute much of their understanding of different issues to MacArthur, Piper, Keller, or others.  Jesus here is not denying the value and input of others . . . but He is warning against allowing any human being (and their interpretations/understandings of things) to take precedence over the Scriptures.  Our Heavenly Father Himself is the ultimate authority, and any other human leader is only ultimately authoritative as they are speaking in line with God’s revealed truth in Scripture.  God’s Word itself is to be our ultimate guide. 
  1. “The greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:11-12.  It is fascinating that Jesus ends this section of His message with this statement.  At first glance, it seems like He was just making a generalized/disconnected statement . . . but this comment directly ties to the preceding context.  The Pharisees were promoting a religion that sought to elevate self by showy practices, earthly honors, and fancy titles.  Jesus cuts right to the chase and lets us know that the truly AUTHENTIC followers of God are best known by the love they show for others and the way they serve them.  Isn’t that amazing?  The Pharisees and scribes knew their bibles better than the average person, cared about theology, sought to be extreme in their “practices of personal piety,” and flat out wanted to “look” spiritual.  Yet, Jesus says they were merely actors . . . imitations that missed the mark.  The truly spiritual were not those who elevated themselves, but those who humbled themselves.  The truly spiritual were not those who knew “everything” but those who knew Him.  The truly spiritual were not those who pursued showy practices or fancy titles, but those who rolled up their sleeves to care for another – even if no one saw it (or tweeted about it).  If you want to pursue an authentic relationship with God, it begins with Christ and it plays out in modeling His love and service for others.  Can I get an “AMEN” to that?

Just a few things to continue to reflect on from yesterday.  Now if I only had 2 more minutes 🙂

Authentic (part 3) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, September 1, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 23:1-12.  This message was part 3 in the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below you will find the audio from the message to listen to, download, or share.

 

To listen offline, click the link to download:

Authentic #3 9.1.19

 

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch the worship service, visit our Facebook stream by clicking here.

 

Authentic (part 3) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, September 1, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 23:1-12.  This message was part 3 in the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below are a set of questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 23:1-12
  3. What are some of the ways you see people “acting” religious?
  4. From what you know, how does Jesus HELP US in attaining righteousness, instead of simply TELLING US to “be good”?
  5. What are some of the things you are tempted to do/say/post so that others will know you are “spiritual”?  How can you ensure that your relationship with God is more than just “social media” deep?
  6. Have you ever struggled with finding your authority primarily in human authors/pastors/theologians MORE THAN in Jesus and the Scriptures?  What do these verses say about that?
  7. How do you balance giving proper respect to earthly authorities, with having God as your chief authority?
  8. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

Authentic (week 3) Sermon Preview

Every February people all over the United States gather to watch the Academy Awards . . . a night celebrating the year in film, and a night to honor the most outstanding achievements of the past year.

Two of the most coveted Oscars handed out on that night are the prizes for best actor and best actress.  Over the past 5 years, these awards have gone to:

  • 2018 – Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
  • 2017 – Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Frances McDormand (3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • 2016 –   Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Emma Stone (La La Land)
  • 2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Brie Larson (Room)
  • 2014 – Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

These roles represent a lot of variety in genre and personality . . . but each of these roles share something in common.  All 10 of these Oscars were awarded to people who were not playing themselves.  Gary Oldman won the award for playing Winston Churchill not himself.  Emma Stone won for playing Mia Dolan, not Emma Stone.  Now, you may be saying, “Of course!!!!  It is an award for ACTING, not BEING!”  In fact the bigger the gap between the actor’s native persona and the character they play, the greater the acting job (see Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking as exhibit “A”.)

Now I say that, because in this Sunday’s Scripture passage (Matthew 23:1-12), Jesus confronts the Pharisees and Scribes of His day and says they are merely ACTING like God’s children.  Jesus sees a big gap between what these religious leaders were saying and doing, and who they really were on the inside.  Far from giving them an award, Jesus was calling these hypocrites out for judgment.  They may have received the support of the academy of their peers, but God saw past the show . . . and was not impressed.

Can you and I relate to this story?  Do we talk a better “game” than we live?  Do we put on a show at Bible study and church that is better than we really are?  And if so . . . so what?  And if we want to change . . . how do we change?  And what HOPE does Jesus provide in the midst of this all (HINT:  A LOT OF HOPE!!!)

These are just some of the things we will be looking at as we tackle part 3 of our “Authentic” sermon series this Sunday at Wildwood.  Hope to see you in our 9:45 or 11:00 service.  Join us for worship, the Lord’s Supper, community, and a deep dive into God’s Word.  See you Sunday!

This is Wildwood! Episode 6: Following Jesus into Community with Joyce Harwell

This is Wildwood! Episode 6: Following Jesus into Community with Joyce Harwell
Follow into Community

 
 
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Jen Cochell and Joyce Harwell

At Wildwood we we believe God wants to grow our faith in Him and our love for others.  One of the ways in which we have seen God grow these things is through personal involvement in community.  One of the ways many women at Wildwood (and in Norman) connect in community is through involvement in our women’s ministries (WOW – Women of Wildwood).  One aspect of women’s ministry that is launching right now is Women’s Bible Studies (which meet on Wednesday nights and Thursday mornings during the school year).  Today on the podcast, Joyce Harwell (longtime women’s Bible study leader) and Jen Cochell (Staff person working with women’s ministry) stop by to talk more about how God has used these groups in the past . . . and how you can get involved this fall!

 

  • To get more info or sign up for women’s bible studies, click here.
  • To find out more info about women’s ministry in general, click here.

Authentic (Part 2) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, August 25, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 21:18-22, 28-32.  This message was part 2 of the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below is the audio from the sermon to listen to online, download, or share.

 

To listen offline, click the link to download:

Authentic #2 8.25.19

 

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch a video of the entire service, visit the Facebook stream by clicking here.

 

Authentic (part 2) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, August 25, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 21:18-22, 28-32.  This message was part 2 in the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below, you will find questions related to this message for personal reflection or group discussion.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 21:18-22, 28-32
  3. What are some examples you can think of where an “imitation” has proven hurtful to you in your life?
  4. Think of your experience with religion (particularly Christian religion) in your past.  What are some of the activities you have seen Christians do that could have the possibility of being merely a “leaf” (having the appearance of godliness, but no real substance behind it)?  In your experience, how can you tell if someone’s relationship with God (including your own) is bearing the “fruit” of authenticity?
  5. On a scale of 1-10 (where “1” is non-existent and “10” is exemplary), how would you rate your prayer life right now?  What is the correlation you see between an authentic faith and going before the Lord in prayer?  What is one thing you can do to increase your dependence upon the Lord in prayer?
  6. In the parable Jesus tells of the two sons in 21:28-32, which of the two sons do you resonate with the most?  (NOTE:  We ALL can be the “obedient” son if we simply choose to respond in faith to Jesus today!)
  7. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

Authentic (part 2) Sermon Preview

One of the realities of living in our world is dealing with imitations.  

Often, imitations are merely benign alternatives to an original recipe . . . things like:

  • The generic “Dr. Thunder” as a cheaper alternative to Dr. Pepper.
  • The Knights of the Roundtable clothing label as a less expensive Polo.
  • (or my personal favorite) “Stars and Bucks” Coffee shop that I saw in Bethlehem in the West Bank (since it seems Starbucks has not yet expanded to that region!)

These copies are harmless . . . or even beneficial, providing clothing and soft drinks at more affordable prices.  

However, not all imitations are as pain free:

  • I have a friend who received a counterfeit hundred dollar bill at his garage sale.
  • I know many who have been solicited over the phone or by email from someone pretending to be the Social Security Administration or a Utility Company, requesting personal information so they can “help” you.

In these instances, great harm comes from the imposter . . . who looks friendly, but actually is up to no good.

In the first century, Jesus (the authentic Son of God) came into the world to seek and to save the lost.  Upon His arrival, Jesus encounters a brand of imitation religiosity that filled the cup and clothed the bodies of many of His fellow countrymen.  Having a form of “godliness” these contemporaries to Jesus practiced a religion with great pomp and circumstance, but upon further examination, they were exposed as a self-righteous imitation of genuine faith.  To make matters worse, the nature of their counterfeit put themselves (and those under their care) at risk of great harm when judgment would come.  Because Jesus cared for these people, and because He wanted to give them a chance to repent, He spoke forcefully and directly about their condition and where it was headed.  

Though we live 2,000 years later, nothing has changed about the human condition.  People today are just as sinful as they were 2,000 years ago, AND religious people today are just as capable to dealing in imitations than professing an authentic faith.  

What makes the difference between imitation religion and authentic faith in God?  How can we pursue authenticity in our relationship with God . . . and what is at stake?

These are just a few of the questions we will be tackling in part 2 of our “Authentic” sermon series this Sunday at Wildwood Community Church.  We will be looking at Matthew 21:18-22, 28-32.  We look forward to seeing you Sunday in our 9:45 or 11:00 service. 

This is Wildwood! Episode 5: For the Community with the Russells

This is Wildwood! Episode 5: For the Community with the Russells
For the Community

 
 
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Brian Hayes with Chase and Julie Russell

At Wildwood we are For the Community Following Jesus Together with us to the Glory of God.  One of the expressions of this value is our “Hey Neighbor” block party trailer that is available for Wildwood members to use to host block parties in their neighborhoods.  In today’s episode, we talk with our Adult Ministries Pastor Brian Hayes about why we invested in block parties, and also we talk with Wildwood members Chase and Julie Russell about a block party they recently hosted in their neighborhood.

 

  • If you are interested in more info about hosting a block party, click here.
  • If you are interested in more info about any of Wildwood’s Community Outreach opportunities, click here.

Authentic (part 1) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, August 18, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a message based on Matthew 21:12-17.  This message was part 1 of the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below you will find the audio from the sermon to listen to online, download, and share.

To listen offline, click the link to download:

Authentic #1 8.18.19

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch the worship service, visit our Facebook stream here.

 

Also, included in the worship service today, were video tributes to Bruce Hess (celebrating his 40 years in ministry).  Those tributes are found below: