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Spiritual Growth: Faith and Suffering

Today Pastor Ed Allen continued his sermon series in Philippians on "Spiritual Growth:  What it is, how it happens, and why it matters."  Today we looked at Philippians 1:27-30.

He began the message with the Don't-Miss-This point of the day:

God graciously gives his people faith and suffering so that they can enjoy fearlessly working in radical community to tell others the great news about Jesus.

In verse 29, Paul says that it has been "granted" to the Philippians to believe, but also to suffer for him.  Our faith is a gift from God.

The foundation of our connection to God is God Himself moving in our lives.  God steers our whole experience.

But our suffering is also a gift from God.

A frank conversation about suffering is critical for us because:

-- Suffering is inevitable, but we have tried to sanitize our lives in an effort to eliminate it.

We're undone when it comes, but it will come.

-- Our culture is growing increasingly antagonistic to Christian thought and values.

We will be opposed.

-- God uses our response to suffering to convince others that His story is true and powerful and unconquerable.

God graciously gives his people faith in suffering.

"Conduct yourselves" has the idea of living as good citizens.  We're in a new culture, the culture of Jesus. 

We were made for community.  In John 17, when Jesus prayed for us, he prayed that we would be one.

We exist to be used by God to draw others into authentic Christian community.

This is a challenge to us.  Into that, we're called to stand firm in the one spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.  We mustn't stay unconnected!

We need to invest in this and choose it.

Our church has together built a new building for our community.  Now we're getting ready for our next assignment.  We are to contend for the faith of the gospel, and there's nothing casual about this.  It's all in, or not at all.

Challenge:

Think about where you are today.  Maybe you're

-- Unconvinced, and you know it.

We're glad you're here!  God's inviting you into a life-changing adventure.

-- Unconvinced, but you don't know it.

We hope you're unsettled by God's assault on casual faith.

-- Convinced and looking for your next assignment.

You're not looking for a good church, but you're looking for your next assignment.  We'll be happy if it's here with us.

-- Convinced and you've been sitting awhile.

You're not yet connected and invested.  You may have legitimate reasons for this.  One caution is not to let it be an excuse too long.

-- Convinced and you're all in.

Pastor Ed mentioned that he loves working with you.

Let's pray that this next season will be the most fruitful we've ever seen in ministry.

Kevin's Testimony

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Kevin Baugh presented his testimony at the start of the service today.  Here are his remarks as he prepared them (not exactly as he delivered them):

I have a confession to make…

 

The man who brought me to Christ was a used car salesman…

 

Why am I telling you this?

 

Well, when Pastor Ed asked me if I would be willing to tell you my story I immediately said yes... but honestly had no idea what I was going to say. 

 

Indeed, my first reaction was HOLY COW… I’m a total basket case!  What the heck do I have to offer?  How can my story be of value to anyone?  More importantly, what part of my story would actually be useful for my Gateway Family?

 

To be totally honest, I have been wrestling with this question ever since Pastor Ed implored each of us to invest ourselves more deeply – or, to use his words, “to let Gateway feel the weight of us.” 

 

I have been praying on that question since it was asked… and this little note is the beginning of my answer.

 

The man who brought me to Christ, asked one simple question.

 

Do you know my Jesus?

 

When he asked it, I thought it might be some kind of joke.   After all, here I was, A graduate of the Naval Academy; a fully trained Navy SEAL; An honors graduate of the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University; and A PhD candidate in Georgetown’s School of Government. 

 

On top of this I was working full time at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University as the Associate Director for Government and Industry Relations.

 

At the time, I would have called myself firmly Agnostic.   You know the type – someone who is convinced that there is something more than me in this world – but someone who was also highly skeptical about the true nature of God – and whether we as flawed human beings could possibly have any insight whatsoever into the underlying powers of the universe.

 

I had come to this belief pattern through a long and circuitous route – touching on Judaism, various Protestant churches, Catholicism, Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism.   I won’t say that I am well versed or that I was particularly well schooled in any of these disciplines – and had anyone asked I probably would have claimed my parents' Presbyterianism as my core faith in part because I loved the amazing scholarship and intellectual precision of the few Presbyterian Ministers that I knew personally. 

 

I also knew that Atheism was not where I came down – in part because, Atheism opened more questions than in answered – and I was convinced that the Atheism of Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung which killed tens of millions of people was clearly something that, as a student and scholar I could write off as a mere accident of history. 

 

For me, being Agnostic was nice and safe (as I was sure that God, whoever and wherever and whatever he was) would understand my sincere confusion and forgive me.

 

But then things changed.

 

I was in San Diego for work, and my sister asked me whether I might enjoy coming to her church to hear her sing.  (She is an awesome singer) and I of course said sure!

 

The next day, I went with her to her church which was one of those rock n roll California churches.   I remember thinking how much it looked like a concert stage – and I took a seat on the right hand side of the auditorium.  My sister wanted to introduce me to the Pastor and to some of her friends – but she hadn’t realized that her Pastor would be out on vacation.  Instead, a visiting Pastor named Ken Poure was going to do the service.

 

After the initial music and greeting, Pastor Poure walked onto the stage with a newspaper in his hand and asked his simple question…   “Do you know my Jesus?”  He said it with a twinkle in his eye – and I could tell immediately, that this was going to be – if nothing else – humorous to watch – and I sat back to enjoy the show (almost wishing for popcorn)!

 

Ken’s schtick was to pull stories out of the daily paper and relate them to God’s place and purpose – and he went through several stories and then started to talk about the big reasons why people don’t believe in Jesus.   The big three, if I remember them correctly were:  Whether or not Jesus was a real living human being; Whether or not Jesus was truly born of a Virgin; and, Whether or not the resurrection actually happened.

 

I remember agreeing with Poure that these were difficult questions to answer – and that I would be really impressed if Poure (an admitted used car salesman before he became a minister) could explain all of these puzzles to my satisfaction, in a short amount of time.

 

Poure began his explanation with the same thought experiment that C.S. Lewis did on his path from Atheism to belief in Jesus.   As a literary scholar and author, Lewis asked himself how Hamlet, could ever come to know Shakespeare.   It’s a great problem to think about.  How can a created thing ever come to know its author?

 

As I puzzled on this topic, Poure explained how his path to ministry came about through a deal with God… though I don’t remember exactly what his deal was, I do remember that his wife strongly cautioned him against it (he went through it anyway….)

 

Not wanting to keep us all on the hook, Poure then told us that Lewis realized that the only way Hamlet could ever get to know Shakespeare would be for Shakespeare to write himself into the play.  He left the parallels for us to make in our own mind – but I was blown away having never thought of an idea like this before.

 

I was also an idiot.

 

Like Poure, I decided that I would make my own deal with God…   That I would be his, if he could successfully clear up my doubts.  Furthermore, I promised that any truth which he shared with me I would happily share with anyone whom seemed ready to receive it. 

 

I also asked that if there was anyone who confronted me with something that I didn’t understand – that I would be able to easily disarm that person by saying that I had no clue on that issue – and that God only allowed me to share with others what I fully understood.  (You would be amazed at how often this has worked for me.)

 

Let me close by telling you that God has kept his side of the bargain.

 

If you have questions about whether Jesus truly lived; Was born of a Virgin; or was Resurrected, I would be happy to share with you what I know and what I have come to believe.

 

Let me also tell you that I have personally experienced the miraculous in my own life – even before I fully dedicated my life to Jesus, and there are a few awesome stories there… but this is not the right time for those stories.  If you’re interested in these things just ask me about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, or how my business is doing.

 

I am deeply grateful to the Gateway community for its willingness to adopt me, as the Lord continues his work in me.  I cannot adequately express my thanks to the Men and Women of this congregation who have helped me to realize and to cherish the importance of community and fellowship.   I thank Jesus that each of you were there when I needed you most, and I pray that I can pass along that blessing to others who can experience the love of Jesus through me. 

Posted by Kevin Baugh with

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